Cambridge City Council Notes  

updated Tuesday, November 25, 2014 8:08 PM

In the Pipeline - Coming up at the Nov 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

6 inch water main - MWRA
6 inch water main - MWRA

The City Council was supposed to tour the Alewife area this morning to learn the things that all of them should already have known for some time. Perhaps the rain gave them a reprieve. Meanwhile, here are some things on tonight's menu:

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-132, regarding a report on monitoring aged pipelines to prevent unexpected breaks.

One of the realities of older cities is that some of the infrastructure has been in place for many decades and maybe even for a century or more. The Water Department used to have on display some of the water pipes that were excavated when replaced. They were so occluded that you couldn't believe water could even pass through them. It's not just the water pipes, of course. There are still plenty of "direct bury" electrical lines that are not in conduit, and blocks and neighborhoods that often operate at full capacity and beyond just begging for a failure. The gas line to my house recently had to be re-lined due to low pressure from the street. When they excavated, they found that the century-old gas line was so degraded and perforated that the packed earth was all that was keeping gas in the line. Renewing old cities is a neverending task.

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Calendar Item Number 2, dated June 16, 2014, regarding the legality and feasibility of instituting a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance.

The City Solicitor's analysis is an interesting read. The bottom line is this: "Although no Massachusetts court has analyzed the legality of a minimum wage ordinance, based on cases that have analyzed local legislation of the landlord-tenant "civil relationship," it appears that a minimum wage ordinance would lie outside of the City's authority under the Massachusetts Constitution."

Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Conversations final report, Strategic Recommendations for a Citywide Plan.

The more interesting process will be the comprehensive planning process that will soon commence. Hopefully that will be as productive as the one that took place in 1992 leading up to the Growth Policy Document: "Toward a Sustainable Future" that still stands at the core of the current "master plan" for the city. My greatest concern is that this could degenerate into an arena where competing factions spend more time lobbying for their predetermined positions that they do cooperatively sketching out balanced plans for te good of the city. The fact that this will get underway at the same time that municipal election campaigns are being organized will likely further pollute the waters.

One of the things I found interesting about the "Cambridge Conversations" process is how fundamentally different many of the public comments were from much of what now occupies the activist sphere. There is generally a tremendous amount of satisfaction with the way the city has evolved in recent years and the fact that so many people want to live here is proof of this. This is not so surprising in that most established neighborhoods have largely been unaffected by recent growth - except for the escalating cost of housing. Most of the growth has taken place in areas that were formerly industrial - consistent with established plans.

Quite a few people, including me, identified the lack of coordinated regional planning as a concern - especially transportation planning. My guess is that the stickiest point next year will revolve around housing. Everybody will say how important affordable housing is, but the battle lines will be drawn between those who support additional housing development in Cambridge and the region vs. those who want to severely restrict new housing with the possible exception of subsidized low- and moderate-income housing.

The best outcome next year will be if the focus can be on "place making" in interesting and creative ways instead of just fighting over how much density or how high the buildings should be. People all over the country are moving back into cities, and figuring out how best to accommodate that trend and create great urban environments should be high on the priority list.

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Normandy Real Estate Partners and Twining Properties to amend Article 20.000 of the Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 20.800 entitled Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Subdistrict within the Central Square Overlay District.

This is guaranteed to get a lot of attention in the coming months. Rather than prematurely argue the merits of the petition, I'll simply say that this is a symptom of a serious problem with the current Cambridge City Council. An extensive planning process (K2C2) was completed about two years ago that culminated in recommendations for Kendall and Central Squares. The City Council has been in a state of paralysis since then. They are under no obligation to support all of the recommendations, but they certainly should be discussing them and proposing changes that can garner majority support. Instead, they have done nothing. So a property owner has to come forward with a zoning petition to jump-start the process.

Order #2. 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

I really don't think that traffic signage should be about "encouragement" other than the occasional "SLOW" sign. The City lacks the authority to arbitrarily establish speed limits, but there are some specific street types for which that authority should be sought. For example, a one-way street with parking on both sides and a relatively narrow travel lane should have no greater than a 25mph speed limit. Streets with bike lanes should be regulated in such a way that motor vehicle speeds in lanes adjacent to a bike lane should not be more than 15-20mph above typical bike speeds. There should also be much stricter enforcement of all traffic laws (and, yes, that includes cyclists).

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to assess the possibility of adding dedicated cycling infrastructure to Pearl Street as a part of the reconstruction process.   Councillor Cheung

Councillor Cheung's order conveniently uses the phrase "dedicated cycling infrastructure" rather than "cycle track." Contradicting many of Councillor Cheung's assertions is the Vassar Street example where traffic is now routinely choked, there is almost no safe space remaining in the roadway except to "take the lane," emergency vehicles now avoid the street for safety's sake, and trucks routinely park on the sidewalk due to the extreme inflexibility of the road design. For a great example of cycle tracks in practice on Concord Ave., see cambridgecivic.com/?p=2285 and especially the video at vimeo.com/55394832.

It's also an established fact that when parking is removed travel speeds increase. I'm sure the City would then decide to turn Pearl Street into an obstacle course of speed tables and raised intersections. What is the incentive for complicating the road in this way? Have there been many bike accidents along this road? In the map at youarehere.cc/p/bicycle-accidents/cambridge, all I see is darkness on Pearl Street - few, if any, reported accidents. In other words, this is a "solution" in search of a problem. The preferred alternative would be to do a complete repaving of the street with appropriate street markings. Kids can continue to ride legally on the sidewalks if they wish.

Order #5. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Election Commission and the appropriate City departments to determine a feasibility study and subsequent action plan, instituting suffrage for immigrants in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

This notion comes up every decade or so and thankfully has gone nowhere each time even when a home rule petition was able to squeak by before getting buried by the state legislature. We already have a suffrage mechanism for immigrants. It's called citizenship. Many people, including me, feel that citizenship and the right to choose elected officials are indistinguishable. I would not want non-citizens electing my representatives - even in municipal elections.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to examine ways to streamline both the City's process and the City's technology for replying to Massachusetts Public Records Law requests and to examine how major cities' open data and FOIA requests are handled, including options for a full time data management team including representatives of the City Clerk's office, the City Solicitor's office, and IT.   Councillor Mazen

The only question in this regard should be which information should be publicly available - not the cost or difficulty in obtaining it. It's understandable that accessing some documents may require significant time and that there should be a cost associated with that, but this should not apply to the wide range of data that can be made publicly available with relative ease. - Robert Winters

Comments?

STEM and Root - On the Agenda of the Nov 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

It's a very short agenda this week. Here are a few items of interest with brief comments.

Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the License Commission to approve the jitney application of Groupzoom, Inc., d/b/a Bridj for a six month pilot program.

Bridj has been described as a cross between a bus and a taxi service. It's a Cambridge-based company that ran into regulatory roadblocks several months ago when planning to launch its service in Cambridge. These are interesting times with the emergence of services like Uber and the widespread availability of applications for mobile communication devices that make services like Uber and Bridj possible. This recommendation from the Cambridge License Commission is for a six-month pilot program but it does seem like the future is upon us and we'll be seeing a lot more services like this in the future. There was a day when omnibuses and trains were all run outside of government control. Could we be going Back to the Future?

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Whitehead Institute, Nine Cambridge Center, to amend the Zoning Ordinance, Sections 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 to provide for an increment of 60,000 square feet of GFA to be allowed by special permit in a portion of the MXD District, in Section 14.70 by retitling "Special Provisions Applicable Within the Ames Street District" and by adding a new Section 14.72 "Special Provisions Applicable Outside the Ames Street District.

The proposal seems sound, but the fact that it does not propose to build housing (only contribute money toward that goal) might translate into some resistance. Not every site is appropriate for housing and this may be one such site. It also proposes to simply expand an existing structure. However, this petition should focus some attention on the bigger picture of adding housing in Kendall Square in locations such as the site of the Volpe Transportation Center down the street. I'm sure there will be some who will say that no changes should be approved until the "Master Plan" process is complete, but that really borders on the ridiculous in a district such as this.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Michael Brandon, 27 Seven Pines Avenue, regarding the Planning Board appointments.

Translation: Mr. Brandon is unhappy with the recent appointments to the Planning Board. His description of the appointments: "Despite the dedication, expertise, civic-mindedness, and good intentions of the board members, this same-as-it-ever-was, opaquely picked panel of powerless project tweakers is obviously designed and inherently destined to obey the administrative staff's instructions and support the rampant, unplanned, uncoordinated, uncontrolled overdevelopment of the city's neighborhoods and natural resources that continues to degrade the quality of residents' lives." I beg to differ. The current Planning Board members and the new appointees are all great people whose interests align well with the great majority of Cambridge residents.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to locate the additional funding needed to move forward with the archiving and preservation of all City Council records in the Vault Phase II project.   Councillor Simmons

Cambridge is an historic city that should appropriately maintain all of its historic treasures - including the records of City Council proceedings. Whether or not this project can be completed in the current budget cycle, it does have to happen. The City has done a lot in this regard over the last decade or so, especially in conjunction with the opening of the new Main Library and its most excellent Cambridge Room.

STEM and rootCommittee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on Oct 28, 2014 for the STEAM working group and its subcommittees to discuss how best to present their research to the greater Cambridge community and for working group members to collectively put forth sound recommendations around: STEAM workforce development, the alignment of all stakeholders, access for all to the innovation economy, and partnerships that will speed the journey.

I have been looking over the committee reports on this for a while now and it's hard for me to get a clear picture of what's going on other than some "brainstorming," creating some kind of web portal, and creating a new "coordinator" job. Maybe this will all turn out great, but so far it seems more like a lot of politically-oriented people riding on board the current national STEM bandwagon. One might think from these reports that education and excitement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has been thoroughly lacking in elementary and secondary schools in Cambridge. That's not the case. There is, however, a gap between the world of MIT, Harvard, and a host of science and technology-oriented companies in Cambridge and many young Cambridge residents who could benefit from jobs and other opportunities in these schools, labs, and companies. I worry that advocacy relating to the Foundry Building as well as much of this other STEM/STEAM discussion may lead to enhanced opportunities for young people who were already going to find good opportunities anyway. Only time will tell if those who might otherwise have been left out will somehow get excited about the opportunities around them and get a head start on developing the kind of skills that will be necessary to access these opportunities.

Frankly, this isn't something that should be bubbling up from a couple of City Council subcommittees. Efforts in this regard should really be growing out of a partnership between the Cambridge School Department, our great local universities, and some of the companies that have been locating in Cambridge during the last few decades. They have had some representation at these committee meetings, but it would be so much better if they were driving the initiative. Otherwise the whole initiative could just come and go with only an extra job left in its wake. The entire Cambridge School Department and all the other local schools have to be at the root of any lasting change.

I am old enough to remember President Kennedy's exhortations on the importance of science and mathematics education in the era of the space program. So many young people, including me, drew inspiration from what was happening during those years. I don't know what the modern-day equivalent inspiration might be, but that's really what is needed in order to get people jazzed about mathematics, science, and related fields. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Boards & Commission ReceptionThere's a reception this Wednesday honoring the many volunteer members of Cambridge's boards & commissions. The City administration, the Mayor and, presumably, all of the city councillors actually appreciate the efforts of these residents who give their time and energy in support of their city - all without compensation. Some board members deserve special thanks and recognition for their willingness to serve on regulatory boards such as the Planning Board which often has to decide controversial cases. Their public service and generosity often puts them in the crosshairs of malcontent activists who thrive on negativity.

The long-awaited appointments of several new Planning Board members are on this week's agenda. As with every current member of the Planning Board, the new appointees will bring wisdom and a generous spirit to the Planning Board. Unfortunately, the anti-everything activists await them only with slings and arrows. One especially sorry individual even characterized the appointments in a message titled "Healy-Lite locks and loads his 'Planning' Board" stating that "Member-for-Life Chairman Hugh Russell and five other real estate and construction industry reps were retained and extended" and "three more connected pro-development insiders added to the team." His unhappiness is apparently tied to his great disappointment that an applicant who has repeatedly been involved in lawsuits against the City was not appointed (shocking!). The appointments by City Manager Richard Rossi are, in fact, excellent choices and his message to the City Council shows just how responsive this City administration has been to feedback from the public.

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of the following citizens to the Planning Board effective Dec 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly.

Nov 3, 2014
To the Honorable, the City Council:

I am pleased to inform you that I have appointed the following citizens to the Planning Board effective Dec 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly. They will be serving on the Board with continuing members Steven Cohen, Tom Sieniewicz, Hugh Russell, and Ahmed Nur (Associate Member).

Let's extend a hearty welcome to Mary Flynn, Luis Bacci, and Thacher Tiffany who will lend their various talents to the planning of their city. Let's also extend heartfelt thanks to outgoing members Pam Winters and Steve Winter who have given so much of themselves over the years as members of the Planning Board. As with the newly appointed members, they are our neighbors and friends.

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of members to the Police Review & Advisory Board effective Oct 23, 2014: Mertin Betts, reappointment to a 5-year term; and Beverly C. Sealey, appointment to a 5-year term.

Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Ivria Glass Fried as a member of the Conservation Commission for a term of 3-years effective Nov 1, 2014.

Much attention has been focused on the Planning Board appointments, but there are many City boards - and hundreds of appointments to be made. The Police Review & Advisory Board (PRAB) and the Conservation Commission are two boards that also serve crucial functions within the City of Cambridge requiring special expertise. We're lucky to have as much available talent in Cambridge as we do.

Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation to change the street name "Rumeal Robinson Place" to Norfolk Place.

I have lived long enough in Cambridge to remember that street being renamed in honor of former CRLS basketball star Rumeal Robinson who went on to achieve fame in both college basketball (Univ. of Michigan) and in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks and several other teams. After his playing career ended he tried his hand at property development in Jamaica and ended up being arrested and charged with bank fraud, bribery and wire fraud. He was found guilty and served time in jail. His adoptive mother, Helen Ford, was swindled out of her home by one of Robinson's business associates when Robinson asked her to use it as collateral for a loan. The agenda item contains only the message from the City Engineer: "I have received requests from property owners and residents of Rumeal Robinson Place, formerly known as Norfolk Place, to change the name of the street back to Norfolk Place. I have consulted with both the Historical Commission and the Traffic Department regarding this request and have also met with the residents and property owners of the street. All parties are supportive of the requested change." Considering the background, it's no surprise that everyone is in agreement that the name of the street should revert back to Norfolk Place. [You can read one account of the story here.]

Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-19, regarding an update on the Concord-Alewife Plan.

The short version is that the Concord-Alewife Plan was well-conceived and the associated zoning was adopted by the City Council in 2006. At the core of the plan was the goal of introducing housing into this previously commercial precinct to transform it to a mixed use district. Now that the recovering economy has led to housing production in this area, some activists have risen up over the last few years to oppose it. The plan will not be reviewed separately but the City expects to "develop recommendations for possibly updating the plan and zoning in the Concord-Alewife area as the early phase of the upcoming Citywide Planning process in the context of the overall city goals and objectives." Next year is shaping up as an interesting battleground between the pro-growth and no-growth forces. Quite a few cans have now been kicked down the road that we'll now have to travel.

Order #2. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, the Department of Public Works and Boston Properties BXP to determine the financial feasibility of the repair needed to the Galaxy: Earth Sphere sculpture and fountain.   Councillor Mazen

There's some interesting background (and photos) on this in former Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Associate Director Thad Tercyak's article "MBTA Role in Cambridge Center Project – Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project, 1979-1989". The artist's name, by the way, is Joe Davis.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a listing of all available land and buildings currently on the market or potentially for sale in order to initiate a discussion about land purchase and subsequent development of 100% mixed-income housing.   Councillor McGovern, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Simmons

I'm sure some developers would also like to get a copy of that listing once it becomes a public record. It will save them a few bucks on research. Two points can here be made. First, it's not such a good idea to show your cards in potential real estate transactions. Second, consider carefully how neighborhood residents will perceive their City government. Most people tend to want to preserve what now exists - even if this is not in their overall best interest or that of the city and the region. The choice they may end up with is between a developer wanting to build lots of gilded condos or the City wanting to build subsidized housing. It's likely that neither option will match the ideal of existing residents. - Robert Winters

Comments?

From Evacuation Plans to Traffic Calming – Notable Items on the October 27 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Evacuation!Here's a grab bag of interesting items.

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-82, regarding a report on the feasibility of preparing a climate change checklist and evacuation plan for residents.

Everyone can appreciate the need to know how to "get out of Dodge" in the event of a serious emergency, but it's interesting how the motivation has shifted over the years from "nuclear attack" to "climate change". It's worth noting that the motivating City Council order was specifically about climate change but the Manager's response wisely refers to general emergency preparedness "utilizing an all-hazards approach."

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-48, regarding the appointment of the Central Square Action Team strategies that will help Central Square capitalize on and enhance its designation as a Cultural District.

This is a good move for Central Square and its current "Cultural District" designation. Overdependence on one or two people from the Central Square Business Association was not sustainable. Now there will be a lot more stakeholders who can steer things in good directions and exercise greater creativity.

Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on Participatory Budgeting in Cambridge.

I am interested in this experiment but I'm also very skeptical. Putting cash ($500,000 to start) on the table when there are potentially competing interest groups can be risky business. Years have passed and people are still debating what should go into the Foundry building that was given to the City. I can easily imagine a scenario where one interest group packs a few meetings demanding that their pet project be funded. It's also very problematic that few, if any, of the "neighborhood organizations" in Cambridge are especially representative of their respective neighborhoods. The devil will be in the details. The City will hold an information session on Tues, Oct 28 from 6:00-7:30pm at the Citywide Senior Center for community members who are interested in serving on the Steering Committee (SC) or learning how to otherwise get involved with PB in Cambridge. I hope that more than just the usual suspects attend this meeting.

Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-45, regarding the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance.

This communication gives revised language for a "Checkout Bag Ordinance." The key requirement would be that "Retail Establishments which provide Recyclable Paper Bags or Compostable Plastic Bags shall charge for each such bag provided not less than an amount established by Regulations promulgated by the (Public Works) Commissioner. This Checkout Bag charge shall be retained by the Retail Establishment." Note that the fee would be for any checkout bag that is not deemed "reusable" including paper bags. There are some provisions for short-term exemptions. The penalty would be "not more than $300 for each violation and each day a violation occurs shall constitute a separate offense."

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-84, regarding the Planning Board process.

There are a number of sensible improvements that can and should be made, but why on Earth must everything in Cambridge be turned into a process that takes anywhere from a half year to several years to complete? Does this really produce a better product in most cases?

Communication #3. A communication was received from Patrick W. Barrett III, 41A Pleasant Street, regarding the policy order on Lots #5 and #6 of Oct 20, 2014.

The main point I take from this letter is that a long planning process for Central Square took place a couple of years ago that led to numerous specific recommendations. Our new "activist" City Council has done nothing with that report other than to cherry-pick particular ideas that match the personal politics of specific councillors. In terms of the bigger picture, the City Council has shown great expertise in sitting on its hands.

Communication #4. A communication was received from Peter Valentine transmitting information on sitting.

See above remark.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to commission a study of Cambridge Youth Centers with a focus on use rates and underutilized space.   Councillor Mazen

Though I gladly welcome some correction on this, my observation over the years has been that some of the City's youth centers have been created as much for political reasons as for practical need. We all hope that these centers are well utilized, but past reports have shown this to not always be the case. Now that people are talking about STEM, STEAM, the Foundry Building, pre-K and various other possible initiatives, it's definitely time to honestly assess what already exists and to see how everything can be made to work effectively for everyone. This is a good Order.

Order #2. The City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Arts Council, and the Department of Public Works to determine the feasibility of creating and maintaining one or more street piano(s) in one or more parks and/or plazas in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

It was fun having the piano in Lafayette Square a few years ago and we could use more public pianos, miniature golf, and other good stuff. Often the best initiatives are the simplest ones.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Department, the Fire Department, and other appropriate City departments to review the negative impacts, if any, of street-narrowing initiatives.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor McGovern

This Order strikes at the heart of the zealotry exhibited by some City staff who are on a mission to make the landscape as hostile as possible toward motor vehicle operators. Calming traffic is a good thing, but when all flexibility in the roadway is eliminated all it can take is one vehicle to break down or a minor fender-bender and traffic can be brought to a standstill. The "road diet" advocates are, in my humble opinion, ignorant of the realities of actual road usage, especially in winter conditions.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the appropriate City departments to install a raised intersection and traffic-calming measures in front of Cadbury Commons on Sherman Street.   Councillor Cheung

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the status of the Masse Hardware Company sites located at 243 Walden Street and 253 Walden Street and, if available, consider acquiring one or both sites for mixed-income affordable housing of a suitable scale and report back to the Council regarding findings.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

These two Orders appear to directly respond to the housing development proposed for the Masse properties on two corners of the intersection of Walden and Sherman Streets. It is also worth noting that Orders such as #17 nowadays make reference to "middle-income affordable housing" rather than just "affordable housing." This seems to acknowledge the political reality that those who object to proposed housing developments may not be too keen about replacing those proposed high-priced condos with a low-income housing.

Committee Reports #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on Oct 8, 2014 to review the City Council's most recent goals and to make recommendations for the FY16 Goals; said goals to include a goal relating to City-wide planning.

I could say much about this meeting that was supposed to be about all of the City Council's major goals. One city councillor used this meeting to repeatedly press for the single, overly specific goal of hiring a "STEAM coordinator." That seemed to entirely miss the point of the meeting. One of the more positive goals expressed was for the re-invigoration of philanthropy as a means of funding various initiatives. With some of the big companies locating especially in Kendall Square, that goal could potentially be very consequential. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Here are a few items on this week's Agenda that seem interesting and worthy of comment.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-36, regarding a report on the feasibility of offering residents an online option to complete the City's annual census.

This is a welcome option that will hopefully streamline the census and save on postage. Ideally, the City could avoid mailing out the form to those residents who have already completed it online.

Applications & Petitions #3. A petition was received from Alvin Helfeld, et al., 417 Concord Avenue, requesting the Fern Street remodeling plan be reevaluated so that parking is allowed on the left side of the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City project and traffic planners to see if a compromise can be reached which will allow parking on one side of Fern Street while accomplishing City efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.   Mayor Maher and Councillor McGovern

Fern Street Plan

In addition to complaints about the loss of parking in the planned design for Fern St., City officials also plan to force bicycles off the street and onto the sidewalk. This is apparently a nondebatable issue. It's one thing to safely accommodate children by allowing sufficient space on sidewalks away from business zones, but narrowing road lanes to force other cyclists off the road is both wrong-headed and hostile. At least in this case there appears to be about 15 ft. of road width that might safely accommodate both a motor vehicle and a bicycle sharing the lane. Otherwise a cyclist has no choice but to be forced onto the sidewalk. We would all like to see an interesting and artistic plan for this street, but the current plan still needs work.

Fern Street cross section

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Finance to discuss the feasibility of introducing a Home Rule Petition requesting an increase to the residential exemption.   Councillor Toomey

Somerville has already done this. The standard used to be that the City Council could exempt up to 20% of the assessed value of an owner-occupied home from the local property tax. In 2003 the state legislature amended this to permit up to a 30% exemption, and the City of Cambridge has chosen to do this since then. Since the tax levy is independent of this, the net effect (for owner-occupied homes) is to shift the tax burden onto higher-valued homes. In FY15, the break-even assessed value in Cambridge is approximately $1,282,800. Somerville's home rule petition was approved and increased the allowable exemption to 35%. It seems certain that a similar petition from Cambridge would also be approved if the City Council chose to pursue this option.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor with the intent of producing language for an affordable housing overlay district to be considered by the City Council.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #20. The City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of collaborating with partners like the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), and/or companies in the private and public sector to achieve the desired development objectives in a manner most cost-effective to the City and that ensures the City will retain a high degree of control over the ultimate outcome of the City-owned Lots 5 and 6.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Order #5 doesn't specify whether this "affordable housing overlay district" would be in one or more specific areas or if it would be city-wide (in which case it would be silly to call it an overlay district since it would a city-wide change to the Zoning Ordinance). Coupled with Order #20, one gets the impression that the intention here may be to simply designate some parts of the city as areas where only families whose combined income is below a certain threshold are welcome. This is the antithesis of the more thoughtful inclusionary zoning that creates an incentive for more economically integrated "affordable" housing units, especially in new higher density housing proximate to transit. The required percentage of inclusionary units can and should be debated and possibly increased, but inclusion beats the alternative of economic segregation. It should also be emphasized that Central Square and environs, in particular, should not be the sole location for such a proposed overlay district.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back on possible next steps to advance the creation of the Grand Junction Multi Use Path on City and CRA-controlled property identified as Phase 1 in the Grand Junction Feasibility Study.   Councillor Toomey

The timing of this Order follows the recent release of MIT's study on its share of this corridor.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to take all steps to ensure that the owner of the property on the Belmont-owned portion of the Silver Maple Forest is informed of the opposition to the use of Cambridge land is used for this project.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

Yeah, I'm sure the property owner is completely oblivious to the nearly decade-long series of challenges to the proposed project and the fact that building on the Cambridge portion of this parcel is unwelcome. Did the sponsors of this Order read the following statement from the City Manager in his report last month?: "The project is located within the Little River watershed, which is 8.16 square miles and the larger Mystic River watershed, which is 76 square miles. The project area represents approximately 0.3% of the total Little River watershed and 0.03% of the Mystic River watershed. The project will provide a conservation easement on a total of 7.95 acres, including all of the 2.6 acres in Cambridge."

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Affordable Housing Trust to investigate the status of the Tokyo restaurant site on Fresh Pond Parkway and if available, consider acquiring this site and report back to the Council regarding findings.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Mayor Maher

When I read Orders like this one, I am reminded of the efforts over 20 years ago by some city councillors to create a "Land Bank" consisting of every undeveloped City-owned parcel, no matter how small, that might possibly be available for "affordable housing" development. The plan was hatched with absolutely no regard to the sentiments of existing residents. In fact, included in that plan was the possibility of repurposing a building and part of the playground in Corporal Burns Park on Banks St. as affordable housing. Thankfully that plan went down in flames. Building new housing in the Greater Boston area, including "affordable housing," is essential, but we should also be wary of efforts to identify every single available parcel for this single purpose. Large housing developments are perfect for the including of affordable housing units and a good case can be made for increasing the required percentage of inclusionary housing units in those projects. The Tokyo restaurant site may or may not be a good site for the Affordable Housing Trust to acquire (though it's likely unavailable), but all such proposals have to be considered in the context of their surroundings. It would not be wise to create an atmosphere where residents see the City as an invasion force. In the long term that would likely be counterproductive.

Order #14. That the following amendment to the Zoning Ordinance be referred to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for hearing and report: That the areas bounded by Garden, Walden and Sherman Streets and the park currently zoned Business A be rezoned to Residence C-1 to be consistent with the surrounding area.   Councillor Cheung

This is interesting in that the site where Masse's Hardware and its warehouse existed for many years remains zoned in recognition of its previous commercial use even though the abutting neighborhood, including the site of Paddy's Lunch across the street, is zoned as Residence C-1. This proposed amendment would uniformize the zoning. The result would be that fewer housing units could be built there by removing the anomalous zoning that now exists which allows for higher densities. This is not a site that's close to transit, so the case for "smart growth" and higher density housing really is not applicable here. That said, it's unfortunate that zoning proposals are so often reactive than proactive.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of hosting a Cambridge Challenge Competition for Transportation that offers a prize to the resident or group of residents that come up with the best viable solution to solve our greatest traffic issues.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen

This could be an interesting exercise. I especially like seeing some of the "out of the box" thinking that can result from these kinds of exercises. Don't be too shocked if some of the proposals include monorails, personal flying machines, or quantum tunnelling. This is Cambridge, after all. Among the entries, I'm sure, will be some creative and viable concepts. Hopefully not all of them will be shot down by residents fearful of change. My own fear is that City insiders will use the exercise to justify forcing more cyclists off the roads and onto the sidewalks.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Arts Council, the Department of Public Works to determine the feasibility of creating an adult playground in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

I though Cambridge was an adult playground. (It is for me.)

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Personnel Director and City Solicitor to determine if a point system similar to the system that awards preferences to Cambridge residents for Affordable Housing units can be used in the hiring process thereby providing a local preference for Cambridge residents when applying for positions within the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

The potential flaw in proposals like this is that it presumes that anyone wishing to work for the City of Cambridge can afford to live in the City of Cambridge. Thankfully there's no residency requirement being proposed. We all would like to see more Cambridge residents getting Cambridge jobs, but if every city and town chose to make this too rigid a rule this would create more problems than solutions. A little incentive may good, but not too much.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 30, 2014 with the Community Development Department to provide updates on inclusionary zoning, linkage, the Nexus Study, the three expiring use buildings (Briston Arms, the Close Building and Fresh Pond Apartments) that the City is working to preserve and preferences for affordable housing waitlists.

As many wise people have pointed out, it's far more cost effective to preserve existing affordable housing than it is to build new affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Trust and the Community Development Department have made the preservation of these expiring-use buildings a high priority. The Nexus Study and possible revisions to the linkage fees from new commercial development are long overdue. The Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance may also need revision, but everyone needs to understand that requiring additional inclusionary units also likely means permitting additional density. That's most likely a good trade-off. One idea that I hope is explored is the idea of a stepped increase in the percentage of inclusionary units required for larger housing developments. - Robert Winters

Comments?

A Taxing Situation - September 29, 2014 Cambridge City Council Notes

Property Tax AssessmentsShort agenda this week. Quite likely the most discussed items will be the Orders from last week that were delayed via Charter Right. There's also the formality of tax classification that will be the subject of a 6:30pm hearing.

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2015. [Manager's letter]

The essentials:

  • The FY15 property tax levy of $341,445,455 reflects a $12,900,510 or 3.93% increase from FY14. The increase in the levy of 3.93% is also well below the five-year average annual increase of 4.92%.
  • The FY15 adopted operating budget increased by 2.91%.
  • The FY15 residential tax rate will be $7.82 per thousand dollars of value, which is a decrease of $0.56, or –6.68% from FY14.
  • The commercial tax rate will be $19.29, which is a decrease of $1.15, or –5.63% from FY14.
  • This recommendation includes the use of $14.65 million in reserve accounts to lower the property tax levy: $2.0 million from overlay surplus and $12.65 million in Free Cash. The certified Free Cash amount of $160.5 million is the highest amount in the City’s history and represents an $18.3 million increase over last year.
  • Approximately 72% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY15 tax bill. In addition, another 13% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250. Therefore, a total of 85% of the residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $250.
  • As a result of market activity in calendar year 2013, which is the basis of the FY15 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 11.53%. Total commercial property values also increased by 11.15%.
  • For FY15, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $30,143,180,521, a 10.98% increase over FY14 values.
  • For FY15, the City was able to increase its levy limit by approximately $29.4 million, to $475.4 million. Approximately $18.2 million of this increase was due to new construction.

Charter Right #1. That as we undertake the Cambridge Conversations and the Master Planning Process, the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to study emerging business types in Cambridge and how they are affected by the use regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, and to recommend changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will help classify such businesses in a clear, rational way that supports the long-term interests of the community and instruct the Community Development Department to evaluate appropriate ways to facilitate home-based businesses above and beyond what is currently allowed. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Five of Sept 22, 2014.]

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to begin testing strategies to enhance such engagement at the earliest opportunity by methods such as requiring developers to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood and provide a report along with the permit application describing public input and changes to the project as a result of such input and to suggest changes to the Planning Board rules, which could be adopted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Ordinance, which could be enacted by the City Council to codify successful community engagement strategies. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Six of Sept 22, 2014.]

Both of these Orders from last week are helpful. There's nothing especially complex about these proposals. As in the case of a current zoning petition that would make expiration dates for zoning petitions consistent with state law, the most useful proposals are usually pretty obvious and the only question is why it takes so long for city councillors to propose them. Much of this is just good housekeeping.

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing "no smoking marijuana" signs in city playgrounds and that signs further provide that persons found to be doing so could be fined in accordance to Massachusetts General Laws: CHAPTER 94C, Section 32L. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Fourteen of Sept 22, 2014.]

Please see comments from last week. If there is one new ordinance I'd love to see in Cambridge, it would be an ordinance mandating the reduction of visual clutter from regulatory signs. You can barely walk twenty feet along many Cambridge streets without encountering another such sign. Enough! - Robert Winters

Comments?

Interesting Items on the September 22, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here's a sample of what's on this week's relatively brief agenda.

Order #3. That the Government Operations, Rules & Claims committee is requested to hold a meeting to discuss changing the terms used in Council "Orders" to more accurately reflect their message.   Councillor Kelley

Perhaps Councillor Kelley is interpreting "Order" as might be expected as a former member of the United States Marine Corps. Perhaps the more appropriate interpretation is like when you order from a menu. If this were done verbally, the conversation might go something like this:

Councillor: Excuse me, sir, but may I have fries with that cheeseburger?
City Manager: Thank you for your Order, councillor, but we're all out of fries. Would like like some cole slaw instead?

OR, as it often goes:

Councillor: What do you recommend?
City Manager: The Alewife with lemon pepper is good.
Councillor: I'll Order that!

Order #5. That as we undertake the Cambridge Conversations and the Master Planning Process, the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to study emerging business types in Cambridge and how they are affected by the use regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, and to recommend changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will help classify such businesses in a clear, rational way that supports the long-term interests of the community and instruct the Community Development Department to evaluate appropriate ways to facilitate home-based businesses above and beyond what is currently allowed.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to begin testing strategies to enhance such engagement at the earliest opportunity by methods such as requiring developers to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood and provide a report along with the permit application describing public input and changes to the project as a result of such input and to suggest changes to the Planning Board rules, which could be adopted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Ordinance, which could be enacted by the City Council to codify successful community engagement strategies.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of conducting a series of walks through Alewife for the purpose of better knowing the area in preparation for the Dec 1, 2014 roundtable discussion about city-wide planning   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

These are the kinds of Orders many of us have been waiting to see now that time-wasting distractions like the Carlone Petition have been put to bed. Order #6, in particular, proposes a specific procedural change that could help prevent some of the misunderstandings that have been associated with various development proposals.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Finance Department to determine the possible structure, size, and plans for a discretionary budget.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

This smells like trouble. My prediction is that if such a "discretionary budget" is established with which city councillors can vote to fund projects outside of the usual budget process, there will be pressure to grow the budget steadily every year so that councillors can fund extracurricular projects outside of city management. I'm particularly intrigued by the squishiness of the Whereas statement that "With detailed criteria and procedures - and with an agreed upon culture that emphasizes city efficiency and emergent needs, and not personal projects - a Discretionary Budgeting process can make the city even more responsive and innovative." Does anyone seriously believe that such an agreed upon culture will rule the day and that personal projects would be de-emphasized? Anyone ever hear of The Foundry?

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant state-level authorities regarding the potential for enhanced pedestrian safety measures along Memorial Drive in the vicinity of the MIT Sailing Pavilion.   Councillor Carlone

This is a pretty good Order. If one were to make a list of roads and locations in Cambridge that are especially treacherous, that list should include quite a few places along Memorial Drive that are dangerous not only for pedestrians crossing the road but also for motor vehicle operators who park alongside vehicles moving at speeds well in excess of the posted speed limits. I would also put most of Fresh Pond Parkway and Alewife Brook Parkway on my list of dangerous roads for pedestrians.

Don't bogart that joint, my friend.Order #14. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing "no smoking marijuana" signs in city playgrounds and that signs further provide that persons found to be doing so could be fined in accordance to Massachusetts General Laws: CHAPTER 94C, Section 32L.   Vice Mayor Benzan

I believe this Order may need a few more clauses, such as:
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Cambridge Arts Council to prepare a permanent archive for all of the hysterically funny graffiti that will continue to appear on or around these signs; and be it further
ORDERED: That a sufficient budget be allocated for the frequent replacement of said signs so that they may be freshly defaced with new jokes and funny pictures.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting information on the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition recommending referring to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for further hearings and reports.

So like, hey man, how did we miss the expiration date for the zoning petition to expand the area where the medical marijuana dispensary can be built? Bummer, man! - Robert Winters


Postscript: On Applications & Petitions #1, an application from Starbucks requesting permission for three benches in front of 1662 Mass. Ave., Councillor Carlone objected to the placement of the benches directly in front of the premises due to it not being ADA compliant. Though he perhaps didn't explain his objection so clearly, his point was correct. The proposed placement of the benches abutting the building is right where a blind person would least expect them. Good call, councillor.

On Order #3, Councillor Kelley would like to change the term "Ordered" to "Requested" in the wording of City Council Orders. City Clerk Donna Lopez explained that the current wording is consistent with state law and City Council rules. Councillor Mazen opined that the word "Ordered" should be interpreted literally by the City Manager so that he would do exactly what the City Council dictated regardless of other considerations.

On Order #8, Councillor Mazen pushed the envelope even further in his argument for giving the City Council their own "discretionary budget" outside the management of the City administration. The central theme in his argument was that city councillors possess expertise in some areas beyond what City staff can comprehend. You have to love the hubris. This, by the way, is the same Councillor Mazen who several months ago stated, in response to issues raised about personal staff for councillors, that each city councillor should have "full staff". Apparently a single aide is not adequate to support the grand plans and brilliant vision of some individual councillors. Councillor Kelley was refreshing in noting that the proposed "discretionary budget" seemed more like a "City Council slush fund". The matter was referred to the Finance Committee for further discussion after most of the city councillors were dismissive of the proposal.

Comments?

The Ides of September - Sept 15, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

This week's central agenda item is the vote to approve the appropriation of CPA funds.

80% for Affordable HousingManager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:

1A. 80% of the FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($6,240,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;

1B. 10% of FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($780,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

1C. 10% of FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($780,000) allocated to Open Space;

2A. 80% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($1,360,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;

2B. 10% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($170,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

2C. 10% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($170,000) allocated to Open Space;

3A. 80% of the Fund Balance ($2,400,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Affordable Housing Trust;

3B. 10% of the Fund Balance ($300,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

3C. 10% of the Fund Balance ($300,000) allocated to Open Space;

4A. Appropriate ($10,000) from the Fund Balance for the cost of the Community Preservation Coalition Membership Dues.

Manager’s Letter     Full Report

The information is provided here only to highlight the City's continuing commitment to dedicating the maximum 80% of Community Preservation Act funds toward Affordable Housing initiatives and the minimum 10% each to Open Space Acquisition and to Historic Preservation. These are the only three permissible uses for CPA funds.

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Charles D. Teague, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to clarify existing ordinance so that said ordinance can be enforced: align the zoning amendment expiration date in the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to be the same as state law, align the Special Permit criteria with adjudicated state law and require that the master plan be followed whereas following the master plan is optional under state law.

As to the first proposal regarding expiration dates of zoning petitions, this is a simple correction that the City Council should have addressed when they were first alerted to the discrepancy by the City Solicitor. I wrote here on July 29, 2013: "The ambiguity between zoning petition expiration dates can be simply resolved via a minor change in the Zoning Ordinance. It's baffling why no city councillor has yet proposed this solution."

The second proposal calls for changing the language in the Zoning Ordinance so that Special Permits "may be granted" rather than "will normally be granted" by the Planning Board if all the Special Permit criteria are met. This would be a major change from a relatively clear process with established criteria to an environment in which there may as well be no criteria at all.

The third proposal is actually pretty funny (as well as absurd). Mr. Teague was perhaps the single most outspoken person making the claim during last year's municipal election season that Cambridge had no master plan. Now he's saying that the very thing he said did not exist must now be followed to the letter. Even if Mr. Teague had a change of heart regarding his beliefs, it would perhaps be a good idea if he tried to understand the difference between planning principles and legally enforceable ordinances. It's an important difference.

Resolution #18. Declare Sept 21, 2014 as Gratitude Day in the City of Cambridge.   Mayor Maher

I am most grateful to Mayor Maher for this Resolution.

Order #4. Scheduling of Roundtable/Working Meetings on Oct 6, 2014 with the Affordable Housing Trust, Dec 1, 2014 to discuss city-wide planning including discussions with the Planning Board and Jan 12, 2015 to discuss city-wide planning including discussions with the Planning Board.   Mayor Maher

Order #5. That the Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee schedule a meeting to review the City Council's most recent goals and make recommendations for FY16 Goals to include the addition of a goal relating to City-Wide Planning.   Mayor Maher

It's worth noting that these steps addressing City-Wide Planning are taking place the week after the distraction of the Carlone Petition was finally eliminated. This is not to say that there won't be other zoning petitions forthcoming. In particular, it seems likely that those who wish to block the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment and those opposed to building housing in the Alewife area may yet have a few cards to play.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public meeting held on July 9, 2014 to discuss the Community Development Department's efforts to preserve expiring use buildings, and a discussion about inclusionary zoning and the Nexus study.

In the spirit of moving on to more important business, it's about time that these housing-related matters are fully addressed. In particular, an increase in the inclusionary zoning requirement will likely have to permit additional density to cover the cost of the additional "affordable" units. That will likely require some uncomfortable political choices. The preservation of expiring use buildings is now a top priority of the Affordable Housing Trust and the Housing Division of the Community Development Department. Suffice to say that the cost of preserving existing affordable housing units is generally far less than building new affordable housing units. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Back in Session - Notable Items on the Sept 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

SeptemberSummer's over. Here are a few agenda items that caught my eye.

Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-72, regarding a report on evaluating parking around the Sullivan Courthouse.

There is little doubt that issues of traffic and parking will continue to be part of the discussion of the future use of the Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. A proper comparison should be between the previous active use as a courthouse/prison vs. the proposed uses for office/housing/retail. The availability of on-street resident parking and an analysis of the existing structured parking in the area are part of this discussion. This report addresses the former.

Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-80, regarding a report on fluoride in the City's water supply.

Read Saul Tannenbaum's take on this: https://www.cctvcambridge.org/WaterFluoridation

Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-75, regarding a report on possible options for preserving the Silver Maple Forest. [Letters from DPW Commissioner Owen O'Riordan and DCR Commissioner John Murray]

Most people, including the City Manager, feel that this area would be preferably preserved as open space but, as the report and the attached letters indicate, "it's complicated" and there are plenty of competing priorities when it comes to land acquisition.

Applications & Petitions #8. A zoning petition has been received from CJUF III Northpoint LLC to amend certain provision of the City of Cambridge Zoning Ordinance that govern the Planned Unit Development in the North Point Residence District to allow limited amounts of off-street retail parking.

This appears to address the need for sufficient parking to support retail uses planned for the North Point area. This is completely in line with the nearly universal desire for mixed use development in this area and elsewhere in the city.

Communications #7. A communication was received from Gerald Bergman, 82 Elm Street, regarding the ongoing debate about the Carlone Petition.

Most communications sent to the City Council in recent years have been boring repetitions of talking points pushed by various advocacy groups. Gerry Bergman's letter, in contrast, is a substantial appeal that greater attention be paid to the affordability of housing. Whether you agree or disagree with the points he makes, Gerry's letter offers detailed suggestions and is worth reading. Even if the affordability of housing is an issue that can only be meaningfully addressed regionally, it's important that Cambridge continue to hold up its part of that conversation.

Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Peter A. Vellucci.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Mayor Emeritus Walter J. Sullivan.   Mayor Maher, Councillor Toomey and Councillor Simmons

I note these resolutions simply to once again note the loss of these two major Cambridge political figures on the same day in early August.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that details how many City jobs have been outsourced to outside vendors since 2010, how the decision is made to consider outsourcing a job that was originally an internal hire, how the outside vendors are chosen, what the benefits to the City are of outsourcing these jobs to outside vendors, and whether individuals working in these positions have the same job benefits and protections as those who work directly for the City have.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that outlines what the City's hiring process is, whether Cambridge residents are given preference when applying for jobs, whether internal candidates are given preference over external candidates, and what the City's procedure is for encouraging employee advancement and professional development for current employees.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

Both of these Orders seem like reasonable requests for clarification of policies regarding the hiring and advancement of City employees. They provide an interesting contrast with the discussions and resulting ordinance of 20 years ago that mandated residency for many City jobs. Whether or not you agreed with that short-lived ordinance (it was repealed a few months after ordination when a new City Council took office), the simple fact is that the high cost of housing in Cambridge creates a significant dilemma if the ideal is to have people who work in (and for) Cambridge also live in Cambridge.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Community Development Department and report back to the City Council with a summary of previous recommendations for the Volpe Center site included in planning studies such as but not limited to, ECAPS, Neighborhood Planning Studies, K2, and efforts by the East Cambridge Planning Team and that the report summarize zoning and zoning overlays, and outline the development potential and limitation of this area.   Councillor Toomey

The future of the Volpe Transportation Center site in Kendall Square may well prove to be one of the major planning opportunities for the next few years if it does become available for redevelopment. Much of the housing recommendations in the K2 study were focused on the Volpe site and there have been indications that the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and the Community Development Department are eager to realize those recommendations in some form or another.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and any other appropriate City or State Departments to create a pedestrian stairway leading from the sidewalk on Alewife Brook Parkway to the Fresh Pond Mall parking lot.   Councillor McGovern

Though this seems like a perfectly reasonable idea that builds upon what people are already doing today, I expect that ADA requirements will drive up the cost and complexity of such an accommodation to the point where nothing happens.

Order #10. The City Manager report back to the City Council with an update on work underway to recommend changes to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, next steps to be taken by staff and the City Council toward the goal of amending the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to increase the ratio of required affordable units, and implications of such an increase so that the City Council can be prepared to take up changes to this important Ordinance.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is a timely Order that acknowledges the fact that there will be trade-offs associated with any change in the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, e.g. the need to permit additional height and density in order to deliver the desired affordable housing units.

Order #12. The City Manager is requested to work with the City Clerk and the IT Department to create a searchable, sortable public online resource which clearly displays all policy orders that have come before the City Council, including also: each City Council member's voting record, information on the City Manager's progress on each order, any departmental notes related to any given order, and an estimated timeline related to any given order.   Councillor Mazen

For any consequential City Council Order, this is usually achieved by the inclusion of language in the Order requiring a report back from the City Manager. The inclusion of each councillor's voting record seems more politically motivated than anything else and, besides, most Orders pass unanimously. It is perhaps better to let the City Manager and the various City departments do their job of prioritizing and acting on City Council orders without unnecessary bookkeeping of every action taken and when. Then again, if micromanagement is your thing, then this Order is for you. For the most part, the City administration has been very responsive to City Council requests over the last few years even when juggling many such requests.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 14, 2014 to review expenditures/allotments in reference to the City Council Travel and City Council Resolutions with possible amendments, the position of Deputy City Clerk and any other items that may properly come before the Committee.

The central recommendations of this report are that (a) individual councillors should get an increase in their annual allotments for job-related travel; (b) councillors should restrain themselves from submitting excessive numbers of resolutions; and (c) Paula Crane should be appointed as Deputy City Clerk. These are all good proposals. There was some discussion of placing a strict quota on how many resolutions each councillor could file, but it does seem that voluntary compliance is the better way to go with public shaming of any councillor who goes overboard.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 30, 2014 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 27, 2014 to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

These are the reports of the two Ordinance Committee hearings concerning the Carlone Petition which will hopefully be euthanized in short order. Even Councillor Carlone acknowledged that this was really about putting the brakes on at most three projects currently in the pipeline (Courthouse redevelopment, New Street housing, and Alewife Triangle housing). It will be in everyone's best interest if this petition is put to sleep and attention redirected toward the proposed citywide planning process. That said, the intense focus by some advocates on the Courthouse and other projects could lead to other zoning petitions in the coming weeks that are more site-specific.

One thing I'll say specifically about the second Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic was how effectively some of the more specious claims by some advocates (regarding the Alewife area and New Street) were refuted. Specifically, requirements for any new development in the Alewife area would produce greater flood storage capacity than now exists, and any "brownfield" aspects of proposed housing sites on New Street are subject to full review and required remediation. In short, redevelopment would yield cleaner sites and greater flood protection than doing nothing - in addition to any new housing that is provided. Then again, perhaps this is really all about traffic in the final analysis, and the fact that residential housing has minimal traffic impact is something people just don't want to hear.

UPDATE: The Carlone Petition was euthanized at the Sept 8 meeting. A motion to pass it to a 2nd Reading failed on a 3-5-1 vote with Councillors Carlone, Mazen, and Simmons voting YES; and Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillors Kelley, McGovern, Toomey, and Mayor Maher voting NO. Councillor Cheung was ABSENT.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor David P. Maher announcing the formation of a Special Mayor's Commission to explore the issues surrounding poverty and its effects on our community and Councillor McGovern will chair this Commission.

Good idea, Mr. Mayor, and you chose the right Chair.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting copies of two Acts of 2014 signed by the Governor, An Act Authorizing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to Lease Certain Parkland in the City of Cambridge; and An Act Authorizing the Commissioner of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to Convey a certain parcel of land in the City of Cambridge.

I look forward to hearing a little more detail about the second of the two documents having to do with land conveyed in the North Point area (possibly for the proposed skate park). The first of these concerns the lease of the Powder House at Magazine Beach to the City of Cambridge. This opens up the possibility of an active use of this structure in conjunction with the great restoration work now underway. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Midsummer Night's Distraction - July 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City SealThe City Council returns briefly on Monday for its only meeting of the summer. Due to renovations to the Sullivan Chamber, this meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway, CRLS. Here is a sampler of items of interest:

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $133,437.51 funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to the Grant Fund Police Salary and Wages account ($97,423.51) and to the Grant Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance Account ($36,014) which is a reimbursement of expenditures related to the 2013 Marathon Bombing during the week of Apr 15, 2013 through Apr 24, 2013 and will be used to offset overtime costs and to purchase a Morphotrak system used for identifying latent finger prints.

Though there isn't really anything controversial in this, I'm reminded of an appropriation a few months ago to cover costs associated with bomb-sniffing dogs that led to concerns about excessive police presence. In the end, most of us just got to pet Kevin, a very nice and very talented police dog.

Manager's Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to zoning text prepared by the Community Development Department in regard to a request made by the Ordinance Committee at its June 9 public hearing on the Chun, et al. Zoning Petition, which proposes amending the zoning in the Cambridge Highlands neighborhood.

Nothing special to say here - just that maybe third time's the charm. This is the Chun III Petition.

Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-71, regarding a report on the feasibility of streamlining the permitting process for one-day permits for food trucks visiting Cambridge for special events.

I suppose some steps have to be taken to ensure public safety, but I remember being a youngster in New York when all you needed was a low-cost vendor's permit and you could just park a cart along a road and sell hot dogs and other tasty stuff. I did that for a part of a summer and never once had to deal with regulators, inspectors, the fire department, or anyone else for that matter. When did eveything get so damn complicated?

Manager's Agenda #35. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-52, regarding a report on New Street improvements.

Not long ago, a City Council proposal to improve New Street was assailed by those who felt that improvements would facilitate the approval of new housing on that street - even though their original complaint was about the dreadful state of the street. Solution = Problem (to some). I hear that some paint has been applied to the street to better guide the traffic. The proposed improvements will be better still. The horror!

Manager's Agenda #37. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, request support from the City Council of my intention to submit an application for funding under the Commonwealth's Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (referred to as the "I-Cubed" program).

The report provides some explanation. "The I-Cubed program provides a mechanism for funding public infrastructure associated with economic development projects. It relies on new state tax revenues derived primarily from new jobs associated with the project to pay debt service on the bonds which are issued by the Commonwealth to fund the infrastructure." The application is for future development in the NorthPoint area.

Manager's Agenda #38. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Cambridge Conversations: Preliminary Summary of Process and Input.

The report covers only the initial "conversations" phase of the larger "Master Plan" process and mainly consists of a compilation of impressions expressed by residents. Some have suggested that the whole process may take several years.

Manager's Agenda #39. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to actions I am taking in light of the July 16, 2014 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the case of Merit Construction Alliance v. City of Quincy as it relates to the Responsible Employer Ordinance.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to determine if there are other options for requiring apprenticeship programs and to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on how to proceed in ensuring these programs remain part of the Cambridge Employment Plan.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

The Order is in response to the fact that the court decision renders some of the City's legally mandated apprentice programs unenforceable. Ideally, voluntary compliance with the intent of that law could still provide the same benefits.

Manager's Agenda #41. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendment to Chapter 6.04 of the Cambridge Municipal Code (the "Animal Control Regulations").

Those who fail to scoop the poop may soon have to pick up or pay more. Other proposed changes include giving Ranger Jean at Fresh Pond the authority to enforce all aspects of the Animal Control Regulations. Does this include speeding, lane violations, or failure to yield to smaller dogs?

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office 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 June 24, 2014 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code entitled "Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance." The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 14, 2014.

This matter was passed to a 2nd Resolution at the June 30 meeting and is now in the queue for ordination. As this is not an especially onerous regulation, it could well be voted and approved at this meeting.

Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Seth Teller.   Councillor Toomey

I knew Seth primarily via email and only met him briefly a few times. In addition to being a popular professor at MIT, he was recently very involved in organizing opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike Street (which will have its next hearing at the Planning Board on Tues, July 29). People who involve themselves in Cambridge civic affairs may often line up on opposite sides of an issue, but they are all players on the same field. When someone dies so unexpectedly, it leaves a void that crosses all lines.

Resolution #36. Resolution on the death of Kensley David.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to devise and implement a system that will require the City to publicize and convene a community meeting within 72 hours of any catastrophic event - including but not limited to murders, shootings, or other similar episodes - that could impact public safety or the perception of public safety.   Councillor Simmons

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Police Commissioner and report back to the City Council and the community on the specific number of additional police officers that will be assigned to patrol Area IV neighborhoods, whether this increased police presence will be in place through the winter months, and what other additional measures will be undertaken by the Police Department in Area IV.   Councillor Simmons

Kensley David was the young man who was recently murdered on Windsor Street. The two Orders are in response to this tragedy.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to resume negotiations with Mr. Fawcett regarding the Whittemore Avenue Community Garden and to explore the possibility of securing this space by eminent domain.   Councillor Carlone

Many of us would love to see this community garden restored and made a permanent part of the city's inventory of community gardens. It's worth mentioning, however, that over the years there have been a number of such community gardens on private property that were voluntarily made available to residents thanks to the generosity of the property owners. One such garden on Putnam Ave. some years ago was at the center of a controversy when new housing was proposed for that lot. Would that property owner have ever made the lot available for a community garden if he knew that one day it would prevent other uses on that lot? Let's hope that in the present case some mutually acceptable agreement can be reached.

Order #4. That the City Council go on record affirming its support for the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest.   Councillor Carlone

Yeah, sure, let's have another resolution. Many of us would like to see open space like this preserved, but these orders are getting tiresome. It's interesting that the language of the Order is directed toward the property owner "sending him our warmest regards" but also calling for taking "any and all legal steps necessary to prevent the City from providing any water or sewer connections to the proposed Silver Maple Forest development site". That's something of a mixed message. The "Silver Maple Forest" is the 15.6 acre site of a controversial development project along Acorn Park Drive in the Alewife area located at the intersection of Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments regarding the loss of on-street parking spaces as well as the loss of a handicap parking space in Municipal Lot #8 as a result of the reconstruction/reconfiguration of Western Avenue.   Councillor Toomey

My greatest concern about the Western Avenue reconfiguration has been that in order to accommodate bicycles on the sidewalk it would lead to dangerously narrowed lanes in the roadway that would endanger those of us who prefer to cycle on the roadway rather than on the sidewalk. There is still much work to be done before the road is completed, but recent visits have only confirmed my fears. This roadway will be worse for both motor vehicles and bicycles, and I fully expect less safety for pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with community experts, local universities and the Cambridge Water Department to produce a research study determining the possible harmfully effects of continuing to fluoridate the city’s water supply.   Councillor Mazen

I don't really know that fluoride is needed in the water supply in this day and age when every toothpaste has all the fluoride needed to provide any necessary dental health benefits. That said, I do love the alarmist language in the order like "adding industrial-grade fluoride chemicals to the public water supply". The Order calls for a research study but already contains the conclusions that "Fluoride is classified by the FDA as a drug, not a nutrient, with many side effects and known neurotoxicity and therefore it is not appropriate to add to a city's water supply" and "More than 33 studies have reported an association between fluoride drinking water concentration and reduced IQ." Having consumed lots and lots of fluoridated water over the last 59 years, I can only imagine how brilliant I might have been had I only abstained from consuming this toxic beverage known as water.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process while also determining ways to make the special permit process more understandable and transparent to the public and look for opportunities to provide greater public involvement and engagement.   Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

This is, in my opinion, the real centerpiece of this meeting's agenda. The Carlone Petition introduced at the June 30 meeting would politicize all Special Permit development projects over a certain size. It's a dreadful proposal. There is, however, a perception in some quarters that the current Planning Board procedures for hearings and decisions on Special Permits do not permit adequate public review and input. Whether true or not, this Order proposes that the City Manager form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process. One simple revision that would make a lot of sense would simply be to have a proponent first bring in a concept and solicit public input prior to coming in with a fully-designed development proposal. Subsequent meetings would then benefit from this early feedback from the public.

If the City Council has any wisdom at all, they will pass this Order and ask that the City Manager move quickly to form this advisory committee and propose useful procedural changes at the Planning Board (which may soon see one or more new members). This could make things better for both residents and Planning Board members. This would be far better than disempowering the Planning Board and turning every development proposal into political theater before the City Council.

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and reach out to the principals at Vecna to work with them and assist the company with its plan to create new retail and open space opportunities which could significantly add to the vitality of this growing area of Cambridgepark Drive.   Mayor Maher

One of the most positive trends I've noticed over the last year or two is that ground-floor retail is being regularly characterized as a community benefit. It wasn't all that long ago that only open space and "affordable housing" were seen as community benefits. Nowadays there is a lot of emphasis put on "place making" and that's a very good development.

Order #20. That the City of Cambridge joins with our fellow citizens, municipalities and elected officials across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in calling for a boycott of Market Basket stores in the spirit of unity with current and former employees of Market Basket   Mayor Maher

As a regular Market Basket shopper, I do hope there's some kind of resolution soon. However, I don't think it's good that elected officials or elected bodies are calling for boycotts. That's a decision best left to individuals.

Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate departments and explore the feasibility of creating a Cambridge City Youth Council that will represent the youth population of the city and serve as an advisory board to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

I thought we already had such an advisory board - the Kids' Council. Their charge may be to coordinate services relevant to Cambridge youth, but advising the City Council could be added to that charge. Having a new, separate group seems a bit redundant. Modifying the existing Kids' Council seems like a simpler and more effective idea.

Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Community Development Department on the feasibility of producing a Cambridge Sustainability Plan with stated priority goals to complement Cambridge's Master Plan.   Councillor Cheung

I'm inclined to say that the policy goals contained in the Growth Policy Document (1992) coupled with the 2006 update is the Cambridge Sustainability Plan and it's a pretty good one. I would expect a few revisions to grow out of the next process but it's not like we have to revert to Square One.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing held on June 11, 2014 to explore the way forward for a shared use with a rail and trail path along the Grand Junction Corridor.

All good ideas, so let's get things moving. I would especially like to see some fresh ideas on how best to connect to the Somerville Community Path.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, 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 July 2, 2014 to discuss the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge to expand the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, MMD-1 to encompass 61 Mooney Street.

No comment - just the observation that Planning Board report has been received and with the Ordinance Committee report this matter could now be moved to a 2nd Reading putting it in the queue for ordination in September.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Leland Cheung transmitting information on The Rush to Build Walkable Urban Grocery Stores.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. regarding his appeal of a public records denial with the Division of Capital and Asset Management and Maintenance regarding the sale price of the Sullivan Courthouse.

Both of these communication have a relationship to the Legatt McCall proposal to redevelop the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. One of the benefits touted by the developer would be a new neighborhood grocery store to be located on the ground level of the First Street Garage. Regarding the sale price of the Courthouse property, I doubt whether that will be made known until the final transfer of title has taken place. As of this past Tuesday, no papers had been passed. It was anticipated that the transaction would be completed soon after the prisoners were evacuated from the jail and that took place last month. Perhaps we'll learn more at the July 29 Planning Board hearing. - Robert Winters

Comments?

FYI - Current Rules and Goals: Cambridge City Council & Cambridge School Committee

City Council Rules 2010-2011 (adopted January 4, 2010)

City Council Goals - FY2010-2011 (approved February 2, 2009)

City Council Committees (for the 2010-2010 term)
Note: The City Council Rules were amended to permit the splitting of the old Health & Environment Committee into the Community Health Committee and the Environment & Sustainability Committee.


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


Punching Out Your Cake and Having it Too – a chronology of the proposal for personal Council staff
(posted April 28, 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

April 27, 2006 Cambridge Chronicle story on the Council staff proposal 

April 27, 2006 Cambridge Chronicle story on the submitted FY07 Budget 

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

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.