Cambridge City Council Notes  

updated Monday, January 26, 2015 3:03 AM

Early Marathon Monday - Coming up at the January 26, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

This should be a rollicking meeting (still up at the high school) with plenty of interesting and controversial items on the agenda. Honestly, there are enough significant items to fill the agendas of several meetings. To provide time for a fair discussion of all of them, this would be a good time to use the Charter Right option to spread some of them over the next several weeks. It may also be wise to refer some of them to the appropriate Council subcommittees for more detailed discussion. Here are some of the items that are especially noteworthy together with some brief comments.

Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an appropriation of $10,000 for the Healthy Aging through Healthy Community Design grant from the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging to the Community Development Grant Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will allow for the Community Development Department to collaborate with the Council on Aging and the Cambridge Public Health Department to ensure that the bicycle network planning process incorporates measures of and actions for mobility and accessibility for the 55+ population on bicycle infrastructure.

Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the status of the reconstruction plan of Pearl Street.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back on any progress made in acquiring state funding for design and construction of the portion of the Watertown branch B&M Line railroad property to construct the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway and on the feasibility of a low-cost, temporary paving solution for the Greenway in order to realize the community benefits while the path awaits permanent construction. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Order Number Two of Jan 5, 2015.]

Charter Right #4. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Community Development Department to abandon the "Complete Street" plan for Pearl Street. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Order Number Seven of Jan 5, 2015.]

BicycleThese are some of the bike-related items on the agenda. Manager's Agenda #3 is a bit mysterious to this 55+ daily cyclist since I]ve always understood the "bicycle infrastructure" to be the street network. There are, unfortunately, some people in the City administration who are convinced that cyclists need to be segregated into separate facilities rather than share the roads with motor vehicles. This is also the central issue with Manager's Agenda #5 and Charter Right #4 which is a proposed City Council Order to stop the City from removing all parking from one side of Pearl Street in order to segregate those pesky cyclists. My sense is that the Order in Charter Right #2 was only delayed as a response to the Pearl Street plan in order to force a discussion. There is, however, a big difference between making use of an abandoned rail line as a bike/pedestrian path and radically changing the way an existing residential street functions.

Expect some serious self-righteous commentary during Public Comment about how the unenlightened residents of Cambridgeport are standing in the way of progress by not bending over and accepting what is being shoved at them.

Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a communication from Director of Environmental Health Sam Lipson relative to proposed amendments to the Tobacco Ordinance along with new red-lined draft amendments addressing the most recent changes requested by the Council at its meeting of Dec 15, 2014 regarding e-cigarettes being banned in workplaces and hookahs being allowed in restaurants. Also attached is the Appendix A list of parks and plazas (Option B) that was previously sent to the Council.

Unfinished Business #15. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 30, 2014 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.28 entitled "Restrictions on Youth Access and Sale of Tobacco Products and Smoking in Workplaces and Public Places. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Jan 5, 2015.

Not much to say on this other than to observe that the last several City Council meetings have brought out a significant number of people passionately opposed to the banning of smoking in public parks.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-116, regarding a report on Cambridge Youth Programs usage rates and space.

This report reminds me of similar reports back around 2000 that showed less than full utilization of some of our well-intentioned youth programs and facilities.

Manager's Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Joseph Barr as the Director of the Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, effective Mar 2, 2015.

Welcome back, Joseph.

Manager's Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-103, regarding a report on making the Foundry Building available for a major installation of the 2015 Fab Lab Conference.

Manager's Agenda #24. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Disposition Report for the Foundry Building.

The evolving story of "The Gift" continues.

Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-144, regarding the drafting of a framework for a Community Benefits and Mitigation Plan. [Attachment]

Manager's Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.

Both of these reports have been a long time coming, and the substance of either one of them could dominate an entire City Council meeting. Read the reports and form your own opinions.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to Yoni Appelbaum on being named The Atlantic's politics editor.   Councillor Cheung

Yoni Appelbaum is an incredibly insightful fellow, and The Atlantic chose well in naming him as their politics editor. Perhaps he can exchange notes with Thomas Edsall, a son of Cambridge, who currently writes a weekly New York Times opinion column and who was political editor of the Huffington Post from 2007 to 2009 after working many years as a newspaper journalist.

Resolution #86. Congratulations to Jim Braude on being named the new host of Greater Boston.   Councillor Toomey

Another great choice of our friend and former Cambridge City Councillor Jim Braude.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to reach out to representatives and city officials in Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Everett and Somerville to gauge interest in forming an inter-city committee which would meet three times per year to discuss and develop strategies for common issues that would be best handled regionally with support from the state.   Councillor McGovern, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments and elected officials from Somerville to arrange a public meeting of the two cities to discuss regionalism and potential regular scheduling.   Councillor Mazen

I have spoken with several city councillors during this past year about this very idea and I think it's an idea whose time has come, especially in regard to regional housing and transportation planning and economic issues of mutual interest. Somerville has big plans for Union Square and there's a need to expand housing opportunities in the urban core of Greater Boston. Few would disagree about the need for a more coordinated discussion of regional transportation. Some of our elected officials and their counterparts in neighboring cities and towns would be well-suited for this kind of inter-city committee.

Order #6. That the attached amendment to the Municipal Code entitled "Prohibition on the Use of Polystyrene Based Disposable Food Containers," together with the input of the Recycling Advisory Committee, be referred to the Ordinance Committee for a hearing and report.   Councillor Cheung

On balance this is probably a good thing but, as we saw with the discussion of the proposed plastic bag ban, the alternatives are not always so obviously beneficial from an environmental perspective.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to contact the current owners of the Vail Court property and demand that graffiti be removed, exterminators assess the property, and any other maintenance that would improve the appearance and safety of this building be conducted immediately.   Councillor McGovern, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Simmons

The Vail Court saga continues. Perhaps the political contributions of the property owners to local City Council campaigns can be redirected toward rodent extermination and graffiti removal. That might be a good step toward clean elections.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to ask all City Departments to have documents and presentations made available to the public and the City Council at least three business days in advance of the scheduled meeting to allow ample time for review.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Why stop there? Each City Council committee should have its own web page where information on all matters before the committee is posted so that it's easy to understand all issues that have been decided, are under consideration, or are planned to be taken up by that committee. Instead of City Council personal aides, there should instead be staff charged with gathering, organizing, and posting this information and facilitating the business of the committee. Each Roundtable meeting should also have a page containing all relevant reference material, but meetings should not be postponed simply because of late submissions of reference materials.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to create and fund the position of ombudsman, with degrees of both organizational independence to serve as an advocate and organizational ties to be effective, to serve as a liaison with and an internal advocate for community members.   Councillor Cheung

I'm sure there will be a number of people speaking during Public Comment in favor of this proposal. I respectfully disagree with that point of view. There are plenty of helpful City staff who are always available to assist the public, but advocacy should be left to residents and their various organizations.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to take the necessary measures to formally designate the 2nd Floor meeting room at the City Hall Annex, located at 344 Broadway, as the Bayard Rustin Meeting Room.   Councillor Simmons

Bayard Rustin was a great man, but it is perhaps advisable to reserve the naming of public meeting rooms for distinguished Cantabrigians.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to work with applicable boards and commissions to assist them in clarifying yearly goals and initiatives, to provide increased administrative oversight and accountability where necessary, and where possible, discuss ways to increase resident involvement.   Councillor Mazen

I'm not quite sure what the real intention of this Order is. Most if not all of the City's boards and commissions already do set annual goals and objectives. Public input is generally very welcome, but it's not always so easy to know the specifics of what is before a given board - even if they have a posted agenda. It is, however, a lot better than it used to be.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to report to the City Council any existing agreements that may have been signed between the City of Cambridge and Boston 2024, the US Olympic Committee, or any other organizations representing Olympic interests and that the City Manager is requested to bring any proposed agreement regarding the Olympics to the City Council for discussion and debate prior to signing.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Kelley

Perhaps I'm misreading this, but it sure seems as though we're setting Cambridge up to be voice of the Loyal Opposition in all matters relating to the 2024 Olympics bid. Boston employees will be under a gag order and all of the criticism will be routed through voices in Cambridge and Somerville.

Order #17. That the City Council go on record in support of the We the People Act.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

It's a sure bet that some people will step up to the microphone in support of this Order. The referenced Act centers on a proposed U.S. Constitutional amendment in response to the Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested not to enter into any future contracts to obtain electricity from TransCanada and to investigate the possibility of entering into an agreement to obtain up to 100% renewable power for all municipal electricity needs.   Councillor Carlone

Buy the cheapest electricity regardless of the source. Focus your advocacy on making alternate energy sources more economically competitive rather than just making economically poor choices based on political criteria.

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Staff to explore the potential for installing composting facilities inside City Hall and other key municipal buildings.   Councillor Carlone

Perhaps the intention of this Order is to facilitate organics collection at City Hall and other municipal buildings. That's NOT the same thing as installing composting facilities in these buildings which will likely be problematic and ill-advised.

Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to determine if they can be of further assistance in understanding how the portion of the [Grand Junction Multiuse] path from Binney to the Somerville border can be completed and to report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council with language that could create a Grand Junction Overlay District that would help to create incentives and ensure the completion of the Grand Junction Multiuse Path.   Councillor Toomey

Anything that helps to facilitate the improvement of this corridor to support a multi-use path is worth it - as long as future rail passenger service can still be accommodated. This corridor has great potential for linking Cambridge and MIT with new and existing housing in Somerville and Allston and beyond.

Order #25. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of executing the recommendations of the STEAM Working Group with the appropriate City departments.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Carlone and Councillor McGovern

Committee 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 conducted a STEAM Summit on Dec 10, 2014 to present research by the STEAM Working Group and to present the Working Group's recommendations.

I can't speak to the specifics and I'm still skeptical of the focus on creating new agencies and new staff positions to support this, but I do agree with the underlying goals. I would much prefer realigning existing staff in the schools and elsewhere to achieve the goal of matching local residents, especially those who have been traditionally disadvantaged, with job opportunities in fields requiring science, mathematics, and engineering skills.

Order #26. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of creating a survey in collaboration with the Community Development Department and other appropriate departments to gather data on the positive impact of the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance on the lives of Cambridge residents and families and to determine the feasibility of hosting a town hall meeting where tenants and families who benefit from the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance can come together to share their experiences and provide valuable feedback on how to perfect the program.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Cheung

Together with the Incentive Zoning Nexus Study and possible revisions to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, we may see a lot of activity this year on the various tools for producing housing and other benefits from the money generated by new development.

Order #27. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of renaming Area 4 "The Port."   Vice Mayor Benzan

There's really no need for a feasibility study for a change like this. Just do it and have future documents reflect the change. It will be a little confusing having one neighborhood called Cambridgeport and another called The Port. Perhaps we should again refer to them as The Upper Port and The Lower Port. There's also the annoying little detail that there hasn't actually been a port in either neighborhood for ages. Perhaps we should also change the name of a part of North Cambridge to The Brickyards in honor of another discontinued use. - Robert Winters


Happy New Year!Here are a few items of interest at the first meeting of this brand new municipal election year. Though the Sullivan Chamber in City Hall appears to be fully renovated, this meeting is taking place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at CRLS.

Reconsideration #1. Reconsideration filed on Dec. 16, 2014 by Councillor Mazen on Part (2) relating to granting special Permits in Section 10.43, remained in committee. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 29, 2014 Part (1). Planning Board Hearing held Nov 18, 2014. Petition expires Feb 10, 2015.

The Teague Petition consisted of three parts - the obvious, the misinterpreted, and the absurd. The obvious part calls for making the expiration dates for zoning petitions consistent between state law and the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance. This first part was passed to a 2nd Reading on Dec 15 and is expected to be ordained shortly. The misinterpreted part is the basis of Mazen's filing for Reconsideration. At issue is the distinction between the phrases "Special permits will normally be granted" vs. "Special permits may be granted". There was a Late Order passed at the Dec 15 meeting asking for further clarification. The Planning Board unanimously recommended leaving the "will normally be granted" language intact and the City Council on Dec 15 voted to leave the matter in committee. Councillor Mazen apparently disagreed and feels that the proposed new language should have been passed to a 2nd Reading. In truth, the Planning Board has always had discretion in the granting of Special Permits and the existing language is perfectly consistent with this. The 3rd part of the Teague Petition that "All permits, including, but not limited to, Building Permits, Special Permits, and Variances shall comply with the Master Plan for the City of Cambridge" was a non-starter for a variety of reasons.

Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the authorization to borrow an amount not to exceed $39,000,000 for the purpose of refinancing existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid.

Excerpts: "The purpose (of this Order) is to refinance existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid."... "While the City received favorable interest rates at the time of the sale of these bonds because of its Triple A rating, current market conditions would allow the City to refund the remainder of the eligible maturities (those with 10 years or longer remaining in principal and interest payments) to realize savings of approximately $190,000 annually through 2028, which equates to $2.4m in gross savings."

Resolution #8. Resolution on the death of George L. Hinds, Sr.   Councillor Toomey
[George was known to many of us as "The Mayor of Fayette Street". Obituary]

Resolution #12. Resolution on the death of Sister Mary Mark Pizzotti, DM.   Mayor Maher
[Sister Mary Mark was Administrator of Sancta Maria Nursing Facility for 42 years. Obituary]

Having lived in Cambridge for only 37 years, I don't always appreciate the passing of significant Cantabrigians. In the case of Sister Mary Mark, I only know of her role at Sancta Maria through the words of others. George Hinds, on the other hand, has been a neighbor of mine for all the years I've lived here. He died on Christmas Day at the age of 85. I knew him first about 30 years ago as that grumpy guy who didn't appreciate when I would sometimes park my old VW Beetle near his house. As the years passed, talking with George became an indispensable part of my walking down Fayette Street, and I always looked forward to talking with him. I will really miss seeing him. George's son and other family members will, no doubt, continue the tradition among the sidewalk ambassadors of Fayette Street.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back on any progress made in acquiring state funding for design and construction of the portion of the Watertown branch B&M Line railroad property to construct the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway and on the feasibility of a low-cost, temporary paving solution for the Greenway in order to realize the community benefits while the path awaits permanent construction.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Kelley and Councillor McGovern

I don't believe anyone will object to the intent of this Order. Off-road options for biking and walking, when they become available, are great additions as linear parks and as transportation resources. I don't know that I agree with temporary solutions as they have a way of becoming semi-permanent. There's really no down side for Cambridge or our neighboring towns in getting this done. I only wish we had better inter-governmental mechanisms to make these kinds of things happen with fewer bureaucratic delays.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to report back on Policy Order #5 of May 19, 2014 regarding the feasibility of taking the Vail Court lot by eminent domain for the “public good.”   Vice Mayor Benzan

This blight has existed for ages and it's about time something was done. I don't know what the best use is for this property or whether an eminent domain taking is the best course of action, but there needs to be some pressure applied. When this Order was passed 8 months ago, some explanation was offered by one city councillor who knows the owner and who has used that abandoned property as a parking space for the bus he used during his 2013 campaign, presumably at no cost even though the in-kind value of that parking must now be in the thousands of dollars dating back to Fall 2013. [Correction: Rent has been paid for this parking space. Suffice to say that all elected officials should take care to avoid the appearance of any conflicts of interest, including a situation where the City Council threatens an eminent domain taking.] - Robert Winters

PS - It will be interesting to see what the City Council does with the following:

LATE ORDER     Jan 5, 2015
WHEREAS: The reconstruction of Pearl Street and the subsequent removal of a significant amount of parking spaces to create a bike lane has caused much concern and opposition; and
WHEREAS: Cambridge is dedicated to increasing safe biking opportunities and providing means for alternative transportation; and
WHEREAS: Cambridge also must maintain a balance with residents who have a real need for automobiles as well as a place to park them; now therefore be it
RESOLVED: That the City Council go on record opposing the option of removing parking along the length of Pearl Street to create a bike lane; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to instruct the Community Development Department to abandon "Complete Street" plan for Pearl Street.


Quick Update on last night's (Jan 5) City Council meeting:

(1) There were many people there for the Public Comment portion of the meeting addressing the proposed changes to the Smoking Ordinance - specifically the prohibition of smoking in public parks and outdoor patios of restaurants. One definitely gets the sense that any support for those proposed prohibitions is quickly going up in smoke.

(2) Discussion of Reconsideration #1 bordered at times on the ridiculous. It seems that the real issue may simply have been the failure to take a vote to close discussion at the previous meeting before disposing of the underlying matter (Teague Petition - Part 1 passed to 2nd Reading, other parts left in committee for further discussion). Reconsideration failed 3-6 with only Councillors Carlone, Cheung, and Mazen in favor and the vote of the previous meeting stands. Late in the meeting Councillor Mazen brought up Part 1 (uniformizing expiration dates for zoning petitions) and it was ordained unanimously as expected.

(3) There was a good discussion between the City Council and representatives of the Cambridge Police Department that covered a number of topics. Vice Mayor Benzan was prominent in that discussion and spoke of his brother being a Cambridge police officer and of Deputy Superintendent Joseph Wilson having previously been his Assistant Scoutmaster. This was definitely one of those "little town within the big city" moments.

(4) There were several Late Orders at the end of the meeting on which some councillors exercised their Charter Right to delay discussion and consideration until the next regular City Council meeting (Jan 26). Perhaps the most significant was a proposed Late Order from Councillor Toomey that the City Council go on record opposing any plans to remove parking along the length of Pearl Street to create a separated bike lane (as opposed to an ordinary bike lane striped on the road surface) and to instruct the Community Development Department to abandon the "Complete Street" plan for Pearl Street. There will, no doubt, be a lot of public comment on this later this month. - RW

Closing Out the Year - Dec 15, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

New Year Ahead!This will be the last City Council meeting for the year. Here are a few items that piqued my interest:

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Board of Zoning Appeal, effective Dec 15, 2014:
Reappointments: Thomas Scott, Douglas Myers, Slater W. Anderson, Andrea A. Hickey
New Appointments: George Best, Jim Monteverde, Alison Hammer

The rejuvenation of the City's boards and commissions continues. The application deadlines for several other boards expired recently and we should see additional appointments with the new year. It's worth noting that there are other current opportunities for citizen involvement, including the new Participatory Budget Pilot Program. Next year will also bring out lots of participants in the Citywide Comprehensive Planning process. Next year will also be a municipal election year, so if you have ever considered candidacy, this is probably the time to start thinking more seriously about it.

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Teague, et al Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 12, 2014 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Charles D. Teague, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to clarify the existing ordinance so that said ordinance can be enforced: to (1) align the zoning amendment expiration date in the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to be the same as state law; (2) align the Special Permit criteria with adjudicated state law; and (3) require that the master plan be followed whereas following the master plan is optional under state law.

There were three parts to this petition. The first part called for a technical correction in the expiration dates for zoning petitions and was noncontroversial - a simple correction that the City Council should have addressed more than a year ago when they were first alerted to the discrepancy by the City Solicitor. The Planning Board endorsed this correction. The second and third parts of the petition were soundly rejected by the Planning Board for a variety of reasons and presumably the City Council will see things similarly. Additional comments may be found here. Mr. Teague is becoming something of a serial petitioner who generates far more heat than light.

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the results of the bi-annual City of Cambridge Citizen Telephone Survey for 2014.

As the Manager's communication notes: "Affordable housing/housing was reported as the 'single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today' by 18% of respondents in this year's survey. This is up from 8% in 2012 and replaces education (10%) as the most important issue identified. Traffic/bikes, a new issue this year, was also identified as the 'most important issue' by 10% of survey respondents. Other new issues raised in the 2014 survey include development/overdevelopment (3%), construction (2%), climate change (2%), and parking (1%)."

Statistical surveys are not always so easy to interpret, but one thing I've always noted in these bi-annual surveys is the disconnect between the priorities of the activist community and the priorities of the residents at large. A big challenge as we enter into the Citywide Comprehensive Planning process will be to promote participation by people representing the whole city and not just those who have the spare time (and the fervor) to go to meetings. It's also very likely that priorities are not uniform across the city. In some locations traffic congestion will be a far greater issue than the affordability of housing, while in other locations the opposite will be the case. The activists will promote the view that the city is going to hell in a handbasket yet the surveys consistently indicate general satisfaction. So it goes.

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the revised ordinance titled "Checkout Bag Ordinance", the related regulations and application for exemption. [Attachments]

Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.67 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 24, 2014.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone regarding the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance.

Councillor Carlone has expressed interest in having this matter voted at this meeting. Several points are worth noting. First, a significant number of Cambridge residents do most of their shopping outside of Cambridge due to access and affordability (can you say "Market Basket") , so a City ordinance will likely have limited effect. Second, it's so simple for people to bring their own durable bags for their regular shopping and it's bewildering that many people continue to come home with unnecessary plastic bags. Third, there are differences between the originally proposed "Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance" and the modified "Checkout Bag Ordinance" with related regulations forwarded by City staff. On balance, the latter is the preferred alternative. Above all, there should have been (and hopefully soon will be) a lot more promotion of reusable bags in addition to the enactment of prohibitions and penalties.

Manager's Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the C.F. Hathaway & Sons Bakery at 15-33 Richdale Avenue, received from Executive Director of the Historical Commission Charles Sullivan.

I'll simply once again express my gratitude to the Cambridge Historical Commission for all their research and excellent publications. They're all keepers.

Manager's Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Foundry Building process, including the City's plans to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (the "CRA") to redevelop the Foundry building in a way that meets the vision and objectives expressed by the City Council and the community.

It's been interesting witnessing the dynamic between the practical and financial necessities of carrying out a project like this and the desires of interested parties to gain some measure of control. In a way it's like a microcosm of the difference between managed government and highly politicized government. All things considered, I'll take the former.

Resolution #2. The Cambridge City Council go on record commending the STEAM Working Group, the STEAM Summit Steering Committee, and the STEAM Summit presenters and thanking all of the attendees for supporting the Economic Development & University Relations and the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebrations committees' initiative to take actionable steps toward creating a better, more prosperous future for learners of all ages.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Mazen

While I applaud the effort, especially the sincere desires of Vice Mayor Benzan for whom this has consistently been a high priority, as an educator I find myself somewhat skeptical of the outcomes. I have seen so many iterations of "the next big thing" in education - the New Math, technology in the classroom, a parade of new curriculum promising to cure all ills, differentiated instruction, flipped classrooms and more. In the end it will always come down to the personal connection between teachers and students. In some respects this latest initiative is reminiscent of the days of trade schools and "manual training" - what was old is new again. I really do hope that great things come of this latest installment, especially insofar as there's such a pressing need to connect all young residents to the economic opportunities necessary for social mobility that are available locally. [Did that sound too lofty coming from me?] In any case, good luck!

If there's one thing I wish would have happened it would be to have a collaboration between mathematics people from all levels of education in Cambridge (elementary schools through Harvard and MIT) getting together to develop a comprehensive view and plan to make the greatest impact outside of the context of City Council subcommittees. Perhaps there are still some opportunities for such a collaboration.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to initiate a program to deploy body cameras for police.   Councillor Cheung

Order #2. That the Civic Unity Committee schedule a meeting to discuss the local impact and ramifications of these recent events upon Cambridge and the City Manager is requested to ensure that the appropriate City personnel are available to participate in this meeting, and to ensure that proper notice goes out to the community to ensure that those who wish to attend and take part in this conversation can do so.   Councillor Simmons

As others have pointed out, there would be a huge contradiction between forbidding surveillance cameras on city streets while installing them on every police officer. It would be worthwhile to at least have the hardware available for optional use by police in appropriate situations. Regarding Order #2, I do hope that a discussion of street obstructions is part of the agenda. Freedom of speech and the right to obstruct (either roadways or abortion clinics) are not interchangeable. Rallies and marches are as American as apple pie, but people still have a right to go about their business. - Robert Winters


The Central Square Olympics - Dec 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Central Square Olympics!After a year or two of thumb twiddling, moratorium threats, and Master Plan myth-making, things are starting to perk up again in Central Square. At the previous meeting, the Twining/Normany zoning petition arrived to reignite the conversation. In response to City Council inaction, that petition now seeks to amend the zoning in a very small (though still important) portion of Central Square to allow greater heights in exchange for the provision of new housing, additional retail and more. Some aspects of the petition reflect goals expressed in the prior C2 recommendations. Many of us now wonder how we came to this point where initiatives by residents, the City Council, and the City administration were left to gather dust, and a zoning petition from a private developer was necessary to get things moving again. At tonight's meeting we now also have an Council Order calling for a hearing and finally some movement on the moth-balled C2 plan and recommendations. It's just a hearing, mind you, without any actual zoning proposal.

Order #6. That the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing to discuss the C2 plan and recommendations and that the Community Development Department be prepared to present any changes or recommendations to this plan and that members of the C2 Committee be invited to attend.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan

There is, of course, a decent chance that nothing will come of any of this. The municipal election year is quickly approaching and our wonderfully progressive councillors dare not tread any path that might irritate their potential supporters. Besides, don't you know that we have to produce a Master Plan before doing anything whatsoever? Well, that's what at least some moratorium-lovin' reactivists would have you believe. In contrast, it's great watching the City of Somerville charge forward with Union Square plans and other projects. Perhaps we should create a sister city relationship with our northern neighbor.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how all the Citywide Planning efforts will impact staff workload, and any capacity considerations the City Council should take into account when contemplating these or other initiatives.   Councillor Cheung

Yes, but perhaps we should add a clause to the order specifically addressing the City Council workload which apparently must be very, very burdensome. [Please pardon the sarcasm.] See above paragraph. That said, it will be most unfortunate if the upcoming Citywide Planning effort ends up being largely an exercise in staff-intensive hand-holding leading nowhere.

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-107, regarding a report on next steps to advance the creation of the Grand Junction Multi-use Path.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and members of the public to determine what, if any, changes should be made to the Harvard Square "Super Crosswalk" complex, to include the bike crossing at Church Street   Councillor Kelley

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate, through the up-coming winter, any opportunities to expand the use of off-street snow removal equipment, with particular attention to the concerns of wheelchair access, essential pedestrian routes, and off-grade cycle tracks.   Councillor Cheung

I'm grouping these three items together because they all have some relationship to bicycle use in Cambridge. The proposed Grand Junction Path is a great initiative in that it provides an amenity over and above the existing road network. There are a lot of people who enjoy such amenities for recreation and, in this case, the new route may actually provide a useful transportation connection between MIT, East Cambridge, and Cambridgeport and (hopefully) housing opportunities in Allston, Somerville, and beyond.

On the other hand, as evidenced by last week's Bicycle Network Plan open house, some City staff remain hopelessly naive about actual cycling in Cambridge (and elsewhere). They see the segregation of cyclists off the road as the preferred alternative. The images they show of streets like Vassar Street show nothing but sunny days and no conflicts with vehicles or pedestrians. The reality that those of us see daily is quite different - a less-safe roadway narrowed to the point where there remains very little room for cyclists to safely share, ice and snow and blocked entries in the winter, significant conflicts with pedestrians (and wrong-way cyclists), and trucks and taxis with no other option than to park on the sidewalk. The north side of Concord Avenue near Fresh Pond is even worse. The segregationists would like to replicate this design on Magazine Street. Even worse, the plan for Massachusetts Avenue from MIT to Harvard appears to favor wedging cyclists into a narrow corridor between parked cars and the curb with countless obstructions and conflicts. This will likely also involve the narrowing of road lanes to the point where road cyclists will be endangered and the inevitable double-parked car will bring traffic to a standstill.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street transmitting five reasons why hosting the Olympics is a terrible idea.

Order #11. That the Council go on record in opposition to any bid to host the Olympics that does not begin with broad community discussion and deliberation, including stakeholders from surrounding communities that would be impacted were the Olympics to be held in Boston.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley

There are differing opinions on the value of hosting the Olympics. One concern I have is that the people of the Greater Boston area tend to be a bit on the parochial side and they're likely to resent all these outsiders. There's also some legitimate concern about the illegitimacy of the process of procuring the Olympics. There's a chance that some improvements in transportation infrastructure could come of it all, but there are no guarantees. I'm personally skeptical about the substitution of planning for a multi-week event for actual long-term planning for decades to come.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a draft framework for a Community Benefits and Mitigation Plan no later than Jan 26, 2015.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

This is a can that has been kicked down the road for several years now. Every new project, especially those that require zoning changes, seems to come with its own roll-your-own ideas about community benefits and mitigation. We can do better. - Robert Winters


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 and especially the video at

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, 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


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


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


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


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.