Preview of Sept 25, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are the items that drew my attention this week:
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 17-55 and 17-64, regarding an update on Bicycle Lane Implementation and Outreach.
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 17 persons as a members of the Pedestrian Committee for a term of two years.
Manager's Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 18 persons as a members of the Bicycle Committee for a term of two years.
Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 20 persons as a members of the Transit Committee.
While I'm glad to see all of these appointments and reappointments to these volunteer committees, there is an important point that needs to be stated. These are ADVISORY committees. They consist of a lot of really dedicated people who put a lot of time and thought into their committee work, and we are grateful for their service. However, recommendations from these or any other advisory committees should never be the final word. City staff and ultimately the elected officials bear that responsibility, especially when a committee consists primarily, if not exclusively, of advocates for a single point of view. Do members of the Bicycle Committee take into account the needs of all residents and others who need to travel through the city? Do they factor in all four seasons? Are the needs of delivery vehicles taken into account? What happens when what is ideal for transit users is in conflict with a proposal from the Bicycle Committee? What happens when the needs of residents and local businesses conflict with the demands of a subset of cycling advocates?
I served on the Recycling Advisory Committee for two decades. During that time I always tried to evaluate any proposals from the point of view of all residents - and not just the most zealous recycling advocates. I'm not at all convinced that this is done in some of these other advisory committees. In fact, I honestly believe that anyone with a contrary view would never even be appointed to the Bicycle Committee.
One day the Envision Cambridge consultants, its associated Advisory Committee (of which I am a member), and City staff will issue its recommendations and hopefully lay out a workable vision for city planning for the near future and the long term. Should the City Council adopt those recommendations without debate? Will modifications to the plan be forbidden? Of course not. When the Recycling Advisory Committee offered recommendations they were rarely accepted without question.
Nonetheless, as Mr. Barr's report spells out, the Cambridge Bicycle Plan "lays out a vision for where the City intends to implement bicycle facilities in the future". Did the Cambridge City Council ever really analyze that plan? Was any of it open to revision or negotiation? Or was it just accepted as a non-negotiable plan for the sake of political expedience? Does it address actual safety or is it primarily about "comfort", convenience, and "turf"? Most importantly, was any effort ever expended to balance the needs of all road users?
Manager's Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-30, regarding a report on partnering with DCR and the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association to revitalize Magazine Beach.
I'm grateful to all of the people who are helping to transform this space into something great.
Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an amendment to the Foundry Demonstration Project Plan.
How many years has it been now?
Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Community Preservation Act (CPA) recommendations for FY2018. [Attachments]
No surprises here – the legal maximum of 80% for subsidized/regulated housing, and the legal minimum of 10% each for open space acquisition and historic preservation.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Law Department, the Community Development Department, and any other appropriate City departments to update the City Council on what is being done to address the Council’s request for actions on vacant and abandoned buildings. Councillor Devereux
There are plenty of good steps that can be taken, but the City Council needs to start by rethinking their earlier non-starter proposal that would have levied fines so steep that any court on the planet would recognize it as a regulatory taking. They can also try working with these property ownerts to bring about best outcomes.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Information Technology Department and other appropriate City personnel and report back to the City Council on the effectiveness of the SeeClickFix system. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
The system works well in some ways, but it really depends a lot on which department is responding. It has also degenerated in some ways into a vehicle for advocacy were some users flood the system just to push their point of view. - Robert Winters
Interesting Agenda Items on the Sept 18, 2017 City Council Agenda
The City Council meeting last week was dominated by a rhetorical clash over municipal political campaign finance (or perhaps, more correctly, over how to use this as a wedge issue in this year's municipal election campaign). This week appears to be more routine, though anything is possible in the midst of the political season.
Here are some things I find interesting on this week's agenda:
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Fee Ordinance and, if required, an appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer fee on sale of all residential, commercial and institutional properties where the buyer pays 1% of purchase price on any amount in excess of $2.5 million and an additional 4% of the purchase price on any amount more than $5 million.
Charter Right #3. City Council support of H.3512 in the Massachusetts Legislature, allowing Massachusetts to obtain a fee on large real estate transactions that will be put towards affordable housing endeavors.
As I said last week, there may be some merit in these proposals, but as long as the focus remains exclusively on raising more revenue to regulate even more housing while not solving the affordability question more generally, this is all just pissing in the wind.
Applications & Petitions #1. A Zoning Petition has been received from Joseph Maguire, SVP - Real Estate Development & Asset Services, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., to amend certain provisions of Article 13.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to allow for the creation of Innovation Office Space in the PUD-3A and PUD-4C Zoning Districts.
I would like to learn more about the motivation for this change. It seems minor, but interesting.
Resolution #9. Resolution on the death of Cleo Stoughton. Councillor Devereux
Cleo was a transportation planner at the Community Development Department. She recently passed away at the age of 28 after battling cancer.
Resolution #11. Congratulations to Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian for being honored for his exemplary work in reducing crime and incarceration rates by the Adolescent Consultation Services. Mayor Simmons
I just want to give a shout-out to Sheriff Koutoujian. His efforts to match prison inmates with work projects provided us with the labor to clear previously inaccessible parts of the towpath along the Middlesex Canal in Billerica. I was able to lead a better hike along the canal, and all of the prisoners enjoyed the work - a really great community service.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on the status of the Light Cambridge Committee and anticipated next steps. Councillor Maher
The idea here is to promote appropriate architectural lighting of culturally or historically significant sites in Cambridge. It does not appear to be controversial, but it does seem that lighting draws political attention like moths.
Order #4. That the Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee are requested to schedule hearings to take up the attached proposed Comprehensive Housing Plan for review and consideration in the near future. Mayor Simmons
I'll have to read this very long proposal a bit more carefully. Either that or you can explain it all to me. It just seems like we've been arguing the same points about housing for decades and we just keep spinning our wheels.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director to the Election Commission and the Election Commissioners with the view in mind of adding a link to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on the Election Commission website. Councillor Toomey
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a schedule for resubmitting a revised draft of the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance that incorporates clearer wording and/or more clearly explains each section in less technical jargon and is more coherent in its entirety, with the goal of seeing such an Ordinance adopted by the end of this City Council term. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
I was getting kinda curious about whatever became of this. Here it returns - just in time to shine a light on it during election season.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Office of Workforce Development and other appropriate City personnel to establish a comprehensive and robust skilled labor trades program, with a view toward increasing the number of Cambridge residents working in the skilled labor trades. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern
The truth is that the City could do more to address income inequality by taking on initiatives like this than all the combined political rhetoric on the issue. There are a lot of people now in Cambridge who need people to work on their houses and can afford to pay for that work. There's plenty of work to do.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to establish an aggressive outreach program to all property owners, with a view towards purchasing any properties possible and converting these properties into affordable housing. Mayor Simmons
I'm always a bit suspicious about initiatives like this. I don't know that I would be comfortable with the City scooping up any properties just to regulate them. It almost sounds as though the goal is to regulate as much housing as possible - like a back door recreation of rent control. I don't like the rampant speculation that's been happening with Cambridge residential properties, but I'm equally uncomfortable with putting so much residential property under government control.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on May 16 to discuss tenant protections, anti-displacement policies, and Inclusionary Housing tenant selection policies; the Committee will also discuss any updates received from the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA), including a report on the issuance of CHA Choice Vouchers to public housing applicants.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on July 26 to discuss the next steps for the Foundry Building including: financing, community benefit, non-profit ecosystem, and community engagement.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 6 to discuss the recently published “City of Cambridge Getting to Net Zero Action Plan: Fiscal Year 2016 Progress Report” and to receive a general update on the Net Zero Action Plan. Councillor Devereux stated that there is information in the report explaining how the City originally adopted the Net Zero Policy. It began with a citizen petition, and was later adopted by the City Council. The Community Development Department will be producing yearly progress reports to track movements on the way towards the ultimate Net Zero goal. This hearing is to discuss the first progress report.
No comments to offer on these committee reports - just links for you to read them if you wish. - Robert Winters
Fall Semester at the Sullivan School - Sept 11, 2017 City Council Agenda Highlights.
The City Council returns from Summer Vacation this week. In addition to appropriation requests for a wide range of essential programs, here's a look at what seems interesting - at least to me.
Manager's Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-45, regarding a report on formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor licenses, and Awaiting Report Item Number 17-72, regarding an update on the progress and plan to address the concerns relative to the sale of liquor licenses. [Reports from City Solicitor and License Commission Chair]
This City Solicitor's response is pretty much what was logically expected. The final paragraph states: "Therefore, in my opinion, the License Commission has no legal obligation to provide compensation to alcohol license holders who may be experiencing a devaluation of their alcohol license on the private market. There may be ways that the License Commission could mitigate the devaluation of certain alcohol licenses, such as by exercising its discretion not to issue new alcohol licenses, but there is nothing of which we are aware that would require the License Commission to do so."
The true value of a liquor license is in the income it can generate in the normal course of business. It was never meant to be a retirement investment. Like taxi medallions and confederate currency, not all things were meant to have lasting value.
Manager's Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Harvard Square Conservation District Study Committee, effective Sept 1, 2017: Christopher Mackin, Jerry Murphy, Christopher Angelakis, Jessica Sculley, William Barry, Joseph Ferrara and Kyle Sheffield.
Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Central Square Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective Sept 11, 2017: Tahir Kapoor
Never underestimate the value of our volunteer citizen boards and commissions. Congratulations and thank you to all the appointees.
Charter Right #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a Non-Binding Public Opinion Advisory Question Petition filed with the Election Commission on July 14, 2017. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Aug 7, 2017]
It's likely that we'll have more posturing on this issue at this meeting. It's worth noting, by the way, that the mailing address for the petitioners is the business address for Councillor Mazen.
There is a worthwhile conversation to be had regarding various ways to level the playing field for candidates, but this is not the way to do it. For starters, the statement of the petitioners reads more like an accusation than a proposal. More importantly, the proposal asks voters to "buy a pig in a poke". There are no specifics provided - only that public financing of political campaigns is to be supported like motherhood and apple pie. I will simply suggest that if a voter understood this to mean that new candidates would receive a small stipend to get their campaign started there might be a fair amount of support. On the other hand, if the goal is to grant $50,000 to every candidate to waste in any way they see fit, it's almost certain that voters would not support this. The details matter. It also matters that we use PR elections in Cambridge, and slates would certainly be formed just to aggregate money to support the slate candidates.
It's worth noting that Communication #12 comes from Adam Strich, the person who delivered the signatures to the Election Commission for this proposed ballot question. His words should make clear where these petitioners are coming from: "It’s hardly a secret that more than a few councillors are in the pocket of special interests, big developer in particular. I would imagine, however, that you didn’t enter into public service aspiring to become corporate stooges and shills. But whatever idealism you may have had was gradually eroded by the realities of local politics – in particular, by the need to maintain a war chest large enough to fund the practically endless campaigning required of you. All of that is completely understandable; I’m not here to judge. I would hope, though, that you retain some sense of unease regarding this state of affairs, and that such feelings would lead you to embrace the opportunity to provide public funding for municipal election campaigns, so that you can finally serve the hardworking residents of this great city, rather than your current robber baron overlords. Thank you."
Councillor Toomey has a somewhat different view. See Order #23. Perhaps throwing even more money into the furnace of municipal election campaigns isn't really the answer.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Christopher D. Smith, et al., to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding sections and provisions to Article 13.000 regarding Graduate Student Housing Production Requirements.
Some candidates and advocates have been referring to this as the MIT graduate student petition. However, it didn't come from the MIT Graduate Student Union and, in fact, 4 of the 16 signers are new City Council candidates hoping to exploit the controversy. Most people will agree that MIT should be providing more housing for graduate students and possibly for post-docs. In fact, MIT agrees. How much graduate housing is appropriate is open to question and should not be prescribed in zoning. Most MIT graduates have preferred to live off-campus and generally choose to do so as long as they can find a place where they can afford the rent. Hopefully MIT can provide greater clarity regarding its plans to build more graduate (and undergraduate) student housing - both how much and where - between now and the vote on the Volpe Petition. Perhaps a Memorandum of Understanding can be signed with some commitments. That would be the better approach.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to streamline recording and transcription requirements in line with those currently in place for the Planning Board for the Board of Zoning Appeal and the Historical Commission. Councillor Devereux
There does come a point of diminishing returns. Is it really that important to have a play-by-play of every discussion regarding dormers, paint colors, and types of shingles?
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on a Police Substation in Central Square. Mayor Simmons
I'll once again say that a multi-service space for police, MBTA workers, and public information - with a public bathroom - would have been the right approach. Separate little huts for each of these purposes isn't the best plan. We could, however, use a little more police presence in Central Square regardless.
Order #10. That the City Manager update the City Council on progress for the goal of 1,000 New Affordable Units by the end of the decade. Mayor Simmons
If you factor in all the Inclusionary units in the pipeline we might actually be doing pretty well. However, the greater problem is not the number of regulated "affordable units" so much as the general loss of affordability in market housing, and that can only be solved regionally. I hate to break it to you Cambridge, but you cannot house the world unilaterally.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study. Councillor Toomey
This is useful information in the ongoing discussion of the Volpe Petition. What will the Big Picture be for residents and workers navigating their way through the greater Kendall Square area when everything is built out?
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff to identify and share with the City Council possible solutions to regulatory or legislative gaps on the local or state level that would help clarify how emerging types of conveyances can most safely and effectively be incorporated into Cambridge’s Urban Mobility planning and infrastructure investments. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and the Fire Chief with the view in mind of creating and developing city wide alternate routes for fire apparatus and emergency police vehicles in an emergency situation that would avoid travel routes where there is backed up traffic. Councillor Toomey
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of procuring additional fire apparatus, especially rescue vehicles and ambulances, in the East Cambridge and the Port area. Councillor Toomey
Every day I see how some of the City's well-intentioned roadway reallocations effectively choke some roads, make it more difficult for buses and delivery vehicles to navigate, and make it virtually impossible to pause to pick up or drop off people or goods. Curb access is disappearing even as the need for improved curb access is increasing in a world of online shopping, Uber and Lyft vehicles, and a variety of new modes of transportation. The only thing the Traffic Department (a.k.a. the Department of Wishful Thinking) seems to prioritize is novice cyclists. I shudder to think what we'll have to contend with when there's either snow or a motor vehicle breakdown. The City is rapidly removing all flexibility in the roads. Pretty soon the only way a driver will be able to yield to an emergency service vehicle will be by running down some "flexi-posts".
Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Fee Ordinance and, if required, an appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer fee on sale of all residential, commercial and institutional properties where the buyer pays 1% of purchase price on any amount in excess of $2.5 million and an additional 4% of the purchase price on any amount more than $5 million. Councillor Toomey
Order #22. City Council support of H.3512 in the Massachusetts Legislature, allowing Massachusetts to obtain a fee on large real estate transactions that will be put towards affordable housing endeavors. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
There may be some merit in these proposals, but as long as the focus remains exclusively on raising more revenue to regulate even more housing while not solving the affordability question more generally, this is all just pissing in the wind.
Order #23. Establishment of a "Cambridge Municipal Election People's Pledge" program. Councillor Toomey
This "modest proposal" does manage to make a few interesting points - most significantly regarding the amount of money being spent this year and in recent years on some municipal election campaigns. While some candidates speak ill of money from "developers", some of these same candidates have a political base encompassing the loftier socio-economic classes and are graced with $500 and $1000 checks like the falling of autumn leaves. It's also interesting how many candidates pay big money or campaign managers and even pay people to canvass for them. That's not how things used to be done. Candidates had actual supporters for many of those tasks. Maybe the dirty little secret now is that some campaigns only have as much support as they can purchase.
I can't say that I support all of Councillor Toomey's proposals in this "People's Pledge", but some of them do have some merit. In the meantime, we can settle on disclosure - making abundantly clear where campaign funds come from and how efficiently those funds are spent. Let the voters judge.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 2, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planning Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center site in Kendall Square.
I'll simply say that if the current City Council cannot settle this with a good outcome by the Oct 31 expiration date, then perhaps they should be judged accordingly a week later. There are some great opportunities here if these nine councillors can earn their pay and create those good outcomes. - Robert Winters
A Midsummer's Night - Featured Agenda items for the August 7, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
The summer's only City Council meeting will be held at the Attles Meeting Room at CRLS. In addition to essential items like board appointments and the ordination of (some iteration of) the City Council zoning petition to legalize and regulate short-term rentals, there will likely be a significant turnout during public comment on several other hot items now being fueled by social media. Here's my short list of interesting or potentially controversial items. Comments to follow Monday morning.
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Jones and Hall Houses at 66-68 Otis Street, received from the Historical Commission. [Report]
Not much to say here other than how much I appreciate these detailed reports from the Cambridge Historical Commission.
Manager's Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-8, regarding a report the Urban Agriculture Ordinance. [Report]
The attached report is actually a proposed zoning amendment (that would go along with the more general Urban Agriculture Ordinance) that would permit beekeeping under certain conditions as an allowed use in residential, institutional, office and laboratory zones, as well as in conjunction with retail, manufacturing, and light industry uses (if I am reading it correctly).
Upshot: The Beekeeping Zoning Petition was referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board. The City Manager reported that there may still be a way to go with the rest of the proposed Urban Agriculture Ordinance
Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised version of the Short-Term Rentals zoning petition text, incorporating changes from the July 5, 2017 Ordinance Committee hearing. [Text of Revised Version]
Unfinished Business #9. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to create a new Chapter 4.60 – to regulate Short-Term Rentals (STR). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 26, 2017. Planning Board Hearing held May 23, 2017. Petition expires Aug 29, 2017.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 5, 2017 to continue the discussion on the City Council petition on short-term rentals and will potentially discuss the feasibility of grandfathering non-conforming uses related to STR, breakdown of owner adjacent full unit STR statistics, clarification of whether a small two family can be treated as an operator occupied single STR unit and implementation by Inspectional Services Department.
This is really the central topic for this meeting. Not all points are yet agreed upon, but it is expected that this zoning amendment will be ordained in some form at this meeting. It's important not only for Cambridge as other cities may possibly pass similar ordinances based on this model.
Upshot: The STR zoning petition was ordained unanimously with some clarifications, especially in the change from a proposed 2-year schedule for inspection and licensing to a 5-year schedule. The City Council reiterated that landlord approval and, if applcable condo association approval is mandatory. Councillor Mazen wanted to permit tenants to list their apartment on Airbnb without seeking landlord approval. There were also amendments proposed, primarily by Councillor Carlone, to not permit "owner-adjacent" units to be eligible for short-term rental, but those amendments were defeated on 4-5 votes with only Calone, Devereux, Mazen, and McGovern in favor. Everybody acknowledged the efforts of Craig Kelley and especially Wil Durbin in shepherding this over the past year to a successful conclusion. [Text of Ordinance #1397]
Charter Right #1. A rezoning petition has been received from MIT/GSA Volpe to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. [Text of MIT/Volpe Petition]
Order #16. 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 to continue to pursue a Grand Junction Overlay District and to confer with MIT about incorporating plans for the Grand Junction Path into the design process for the Volpe Site and report back to the City Council by Sept 18th, 2017. Councillor Toomey
There's really nothing to do on this topic at this meeting, but it is the next big thing before the City Council. The Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee already held their first hearings on the petition (in spite of the pointless Charter Right) and additional hearings are expected in September. The expiration date of the petition is Oct 31, 2017 - one week before the municipal election. If the City Council blows this opportunity to get a good outcome it will be unforgivable. This is where Councillor Carlone can play a pivotal role with his professional background if only the City Council can rise above the politics. The order regarding the Grand Junction corridor isn't really directly related to the Volpe question, but Volpe represents leverage.
Upshot: Though there was no action item here, Ordinance Committee Co-Chair Carlone made clear that he expected that some contribution by MIT toward the realization of the Grand Junction Path should be part of any Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) tied to ordination of the MIT/Volpe Petition.
Unfinished Business #10. An amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 6 entitled “Animals” to insert a new Chapter 6.20 entitled “Restrictions on the sale of animals in Pet Shops.” The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 10, 2017.
This is not a zoning matter and there's no deadline for when it should be ordained, but it's possible that something could happen at this meeting.
Upshot: The proposed ordinance was ordained on an 8-1 vote with Councillor Maher voting NO.
Resolution #8. Congratulations to Superintendents Steven DeMarco and Christine Elow. Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey
I would like, in particular, to celebrate Christine Elow's appointment. She has been an extraordinary representative from the CPD in matters relating to Central Square and she is very deserving. Cambridge residents should feel very good about our Police Department and where it is headed. Our new Police Commissioner Branville Bard assumes command on August 21.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and the City Arborist with the view in mind of drafting appropriate language for an ordinance that would require a public hearing before the Ordinance Committee or any other appropriate department before the removal of 4 or more trees from private property. Councillor Toomey, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern
These are always sticky proposals when perceived public benefit clashes with private property rights.
Order #13. The Cambridge City Council is calling on Governor Charles Baker and his administration to cease any efforts in enacting any Massachusetts legislation that would be used to detain, hold or jail anyone that has met any requirements to be released under Massachusetts Criminal Statutes. Vice Mayor McGovern
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to establish a public fund that can be utilized in the event that the Trump Administration withholds federal funds from Cambridge as a Sanctuary City. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
There probably is some acceptable middle ground here that acknowledges that local police departments are not federal agents and should not be required to act as such in detaining people whose actions wouldn't normally warrant arrest and detention. This is at least as much about practicality as it is about political ideology.
Order #14. Order Relating to Bicycle Lanes. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey
Anyone who actually reads this Order will likely see it as very reasonable. Nonetheless, social media is now lighting up calling for there to be no discussion or consideration due to claims that the Order would "kill all the momentum that advocates have gathered toward building protected bike lanes". Their description suggests a juggernaut that has every intention of running over all who would oppose or even question their agenda. I found it interesting that none of the "calls to action" I have seen so far provide the text of the Order. I suspect that it might "kill all the momentum" if people understood that there is nothing unreasonable being proposed in the Order. This is unfortunately a political turf war at this point being fueled by self-righteous activists who cannot possibly imagine that other points of view exist.
Upshot: The Boston Cyclist Union and allies successfully packed the meeting with many of their speakers referring to the Order as a "moratorium" which it obviously is not. Mayor Simmons substituted new language and a stripped-down version of the Order was approved. There are lots of tools for improving bicycle safety. Unfortunately, any such discussion is apparently off-limits and non-debatable. No discussion of traffic calming, parallel "calm streets", shared streets (or woonerfs), or maintaining standard bike lanes in places where curb access for vehicles is warranted. It's "separated bike lanes" or nothing. I'm very disappointed in this group of city councillors.
Order #15. Porter Square Intersection Update. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone
The Porter Square intersection currently sucks on may levels. The question is whether or not a modification would suck less or possibly more. What should really happen (but it won't because it would be prohibitively expensive and might involve property takings or getting air rights over the commuter rail tracks) would be a radical reconfiguration of the whole area.
Order #22. That the City Manager confer with relevant City departments and report back to the City Council on the status of the City’s plans to review and possibly implement a municipal Broadband system. Councillor Kelley
Order #25. That the Municipal Broadband Task Force be reconstituted and that the City Manager is requested to report back on successful cost-effective procurement for phase II by the end of calendar year. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung
Though I'm interested in where this may be going, my chief concern is that the price tag could be astronomical and that we might be investing in technologies that might become outmoded soon after we have made the investment.
Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council, at the first meeting in September, as to the progress and plan to address the concerns regarding the sale of liquor licenses. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
I seriously doubt whether a solution to this dilemma can be devised that will satisfy anyone. Sometimes you just have to take a big loss.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, regarding a request of a copy of City Council's Executive Session Minutes from June 12, 2017.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a copy of an Open Meeting Law Complaint Decision - OML 2017-106, filed by John Hawkinson on Mar 13, 2017, alleging that the City Council improperly redacted certain August and October 2016 executive session minutes and that said minutes failed to include a summary of the discussions. [Conclusion: There was no violation of the Open Meeting Law.]
It's unfortunate that the Open Meeting Law has become little more than a means to annoy City staff. Complaints like the ones referenced above all involve trivial matters rather than matters of substance.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a Non-Binding Public Opinion Advisory Question Petition filed with the Election Commission on July 14, 2017.
I don't know how many will come out to speak on this or how the City Council will act on it. Personally, I feel that the proposal is Not Ready For Prime Time. The case for tax-funded political campaign financing simply has not been made in the context of Cambridge's PR municipal elections. I hope this matter is not placed on the municipal ballot until a more comprehensive discussion has taken place. It is worth noting that there are many new candidates this year and obtaining voluntary contributions does not seem to be a heavy burden for the more credible candidates who actually well-rooted in Cambridge. I will also continue to question the belief that municipal election campaigns need to be very expensive. Indeed, the greater problem is excess spending rather than inadequate funds. [CC Receipts][CC Bank Reports].
Upshot: Councillor Cheung exercised his Charter Right on this matter based on the loaded language in the preamble in the proposed ballot question: "the undue influence of a few wealthy donors and special interest groups on municipal elections" and "the potential to erode the people's confidence in their elected officials" and "undermining the objectives of responsible government". The petitioners would have fared better if they had dropped all that language and just popped the question. Personally, I suspect the timing of this ballot question was done very deliberately to mesh with themes now being emphasized by some City Council candidates and their endorsing organizations. For example, the Cambridge Residents Alliance has on this year's City Council candidate questionnaire" Will you work for establishing a program that increases voter participation by providing some city funds to candidates running for City Council?" That said, it was a Mazen group that proposed the ballot question.
There was some interesting maneuvering at the end of the City Council meeting (which had been extended to 12:45am). Councillor Mazen proposed having a Special City Council Meeting on Wednesday morning on this specific matter due to this being an "emergency" because the deadline for inclusion on the ballot is imminent. This would be a violation of the state Open Meeting Law which requires 48 hour notice. Ironically, Mazen did this at the suggestion of the above-referenced individual who files Open Meeting Law complaints regularly. In the end the time of the meeting expired and no action was taken. The petitioners may still attempt to gather the necessary 6500+ signatures to place the question on the ballot. - Robert Winters
Here Comes Summer - Featured Attractions for the June 26, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
The City Council goes on Summer Vacation after this meeting except for what will likely be a fun-filled Midsummer Meeting on August 7. Here are a few items that drew my attention this week:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-31, regarding a report on the status of the Community Garden program.
This is useful information. However, any property owner can make space available for gardeners - residential property owners, institutional owners, and others. Even the narrowest strips of land can be gardened. Some of the best community gardens in Cambridge have been on private property.
Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-6, regarding an analysis and evaluation of "pop up" bicycle lanes.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to accelerate the planning and installation of two or more protected bike lanes by September, to produce a plan by October 2017 for the roll-out of protected bike lanes on all major city thoroughfares, to ensure that the Bike Plan recommendations are fully implemented on all road projects, and that additional infrastructure changes to provide for safety are implemented when possible. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern
First, don't count on there being any actual analysis and evaluation of the "pop up" bicycle lanes. Unless there's a fatality in one of them they'll remain regardless how dysfunctional or unnecessary thay may be. As for this latest Council order on the subject, I'm now finally starting to get a sense of what the word "progressive" really means - pushing through changes with minimal analysis and without consulting those affected under the belief that they will one day agree with you. In other words - the opposite of actual democracy. There is a place for segregated bike paths - primarily along arterial roadways, but there are plenty of reasons why they are not ideal for streets with many cross streets and driveways. They also send the rather clear message that cyclists are not welcome on the road and they should stay on the sidewalk like obedient children.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Street Performers Ordinance as well as Arts Council staffing and programming.
Not much to say here - just interesting information.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 17-46, 17-47, 17-48 and 17-49, short term rentals.
The regulation of short term rentals has become the central legislative theme for this year. There will be at least one more Ordinance Committee meeting to refine things, and ordination is expected at the Midsummer meeting (August 7).
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an amendment to the City’s previous submission of a Home Rule Petition to the Legislature whereby I requested authorization to include in the planned reconstruction (the “Project”) of the King Open / Cambridge Street Upper School and Community Complex (“KOCSUS”) the area that is presently occupied by the public swimming pool known as the Gold Star Pool (the “Pool Site”) and to construct subsurface geothermal wells in a portion of Donnelly Field that lies directly along and adjacent to the current southerly boundary of the KOCSUS site.
Again, not much to say here - just interesting information.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Affordable Housing Trust with the view in mind of immediately contacting the Episcopal Divinity School to begin negotiations for the purchase of 8-acre Episcopal Divinity School site for construction of critically needed affordable housing units including single occupancy spaces and middle income housing, particularly housing for eligible Cambridge residents, families, starter apartments for young adults, veterans, homeless and seniors who have been displaced. [Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor McGovern on June 19, 2017.]
It's very unlike that any portion of this site will become available for subsidized housing - for a variety of reasons. It is, however, fun to listen to the well-heeled activists come up with creative ways to oppose it while still trying to look like high-minded progressives. For this, thank you Councillor Toomey for filing the Order.
Unfinished Business #10. An amendment to the Municipal Code Ordinance that Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” be amended by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.” The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 26, 2017.
Perhaps this will be ordained at this meeting. My only question is: "What will the Cambridge City Council ban next?"
Applications & Petitions #2. A rezoning petition has been received from MIT/GSA Volpe to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 7, 2017 to have a general discussion to receive an update on the planning that has been going on for the Volpe Project. [appended materials]
This has been a long time coming. If you want to learn more and participate, MIT is hosting a workshop on Thurs, June 29 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm in the Kendall Marriott hotel. There will be plenty of other opportunities in the future to be heard.
Order #1. City Council support of Massachusetts House of Representatives bill H.3542, legislation to establish a Massachusetts Infrastructure Bank designed to encourage borrowing and facilitate growth for municipalities. Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux
It's an interesting idea, but my sense is that it would make more sense for municipalities facing far greater challenges and with fewer resources than Cambridge. Our AAA bond rating has its advantages.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested work with the Department of Public Works and the Cambridge Arts Council to formally review the use of the Fern Street path as currently designed and consider options to ensure that the path functions as a safe, shared bicycle and pedestrian path and to work with the Department of Public Works to consider whether it is appropriate and feasible for a skateboarding feature to be included at Danehy Park. Councillor Devereux
The planners delivered a skate park that was never mentioned when they were selling the concept to neighbors as an artsy bike path.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Department of Public Works and Cambridge Fire Department (CFD) staff and other relevant City officials to determine if new facilities are needed by either DPW or CFD to best carry out their respective missions in the future and, if so, what type of facilities they would need and how much space that would require and where they might possibly be located. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern
This is an important matter that has to be explored, but sufficiently large sites are disappearing fast - especially in parts of the city where access to and from the site can be done efficiently.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on May 17, 2017 to discuss updates and data collected thus far for the Retail Strategic Plan, and other matters pertaining to the Study. [appended materials]
This continues to be an interesting topic both in the committee and as part of the Envision Cambridge process. That said, the City doesn't control economics or consumer habits, so the best we can do will always be a good guess. - Robert Winters
Almost Summer - June 19, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
As is often the case, a packed agenda is followed by a light agenda. Here are a few items of possible interest on this relatively lean menu:
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and any other appropriate City departments on the feasibility and cost of installing computerized traffic signals along the City’s main corridors. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen
This Order could easily have been written 40 years ago when the issue wasn't climate change so much as air quality. Back then a number of two-way streets were made one-way in order to move traffic through more quickly. I might argue that some of those one-way streets should be restored to two-way so that desirable routes can be made less circuitous. [Word has it that the Prospect Street bridge to Union Square, Somerville may be restored to two-way traffic - a good idea, in my opinion.] Of course all the best technology will still not resolve the problem of intersections with heavy traffic on both streets. Shorter or longer signal cycles won't change the average throughput for an F-rated intersection when traffic is queued up in both directions.
Order #3. That the matter of reviewing the placement of the Committee Reports section within the City Council agenda be referred to the Rules Committee for consideration. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Kelley
There is a certain logic in doing this consistent with Robert's Rules of Order. One could argue that Committee Reports are more in line with "Old Business" and City Council Orders are really "New Business", and Old Business is generally taken up before New Business.
Order #5. City Council opposition to dismantling of the Dodd-Frank reforms that were put into place following the 2007-2010 Great Recession. Councillor Carlone
The race is on to see which City Council candidates will most effectively associate themselves with national politics in this election year. There's plenty of red meat to work with - even though the City Council has close to zero influence in national and international affairs.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Affordable Housing Trust with the view in mind of immediately contacting the Episcopal Divinity School to begin negotiations for the purchase of 8-acre Episcopal Divinity School site for construction of critically needed affordable housing units including single occupancy spaces and middle income housing, particularly housing for eligible Cambridge residents, families, starter apartments for young adults, veterans, homeless and seniors who have been displaced. Councillor Toomey
A few years ago it was Shady Hill Square and a call to pack subsidized housing into the middle of that Square just to stick it to the residents who wanted to preserve the open space that was part of the original design of this group of buildings when built. Now the call is to insert subsidized housing into a parcel facing Brattle Street with land values somewhere in the stratosphere. It's hard to interpret this as anything other than a statement sticking it to Brattle Street just because it's Brattle Street.
Order #7. That the City Council go on record opposing H.R.38 and S.446, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, and calls on its representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to vote against these bills, and to work with their colleagues to oppose these bills. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
See Order #5 above. That said, the lunatics are clearly running the Congressional asylum if they really believe that gun-toting dudes from the deepest red states should have license to pack heat in Massachusetts just because they come from or simply visited a wacky state in order to get a gun and a license. Even some bars in the Wild West required patrons to check their weapons at the door.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on May 30, 2017 to discuss the role of police officers in the community, the installation of a police substation in Central Square and the stationing of a uniformed police officer in City Hall.
Though I like the idea of having a police officer in the vicinity of City Hall, I really don't think the best use of highly-trained police is to serve as professional greeters. Regarding the installation of a police substation in Central Square, this would only make sense if done as a multi-purpose storefront location for police, MBTA workers, public information, and a public bathroom. That, of course, would require coordination among different agencies, so it will never happen. - Robert Winters
Coming up at the June 12, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
It's a loaded agenda this week. Not so many Council Orders, but plenty on the City Manager's Agenda and Committee Reports. Here are a few brief comments on some of these matters.
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for authorization to transfer a leasehold interest in the property at 1-15 Vail Court to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust and to appropriation $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures to facilitate the abatement and demolition of the existing structures on the site.
The Vail Court project slowly moves along. In an ideal world there would be a more comprehensive plan for not only the Vail Court property but also the adjacent parking lot at Prospect St. and Bishop Allen Drive that could transform that whole block into something great. I haven't heard anything lately regarding challenges to the compensation for the eminent domain taking.
Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-4, regarding current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community.
The gift that keeps on giving. </sarcasm>
Manager's Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-39, regarding a report on the City's policy of conducting CORI checks on applicants of the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program.
As the Manager's letter notes: "It is a state requirement that every staff person or volunteer who works with children in a licensed summer camp or a childcare setting must have gone thru the CORI process." Indeed, even those of us who teach at Harvard Summer School have to submit to this every year. However, as the letter says: "The CORI record results are not used in any way to deny young people an opportunity to participate in the Mayor’s Program." Seems fair enough.
Community Benefits $$
Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Community Benefits Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2017: Kathryn Fenneman, Risa Mednick, Elizabeth Aguilo, Cibele Goncalves, Daniel Liss, Rowan Murphy, Amy Salomon, Geeta Pradhan, Susan Lapierre, Paul Parravano, Ellen Semonoff, Sandra Clarke, and Lisa Peterson (Chair)
Manager's Agenda #20. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,728,500 from Free Cash to the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund.
Manager's Agenda #21. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,366,506 from Free Cash to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund.
This represents the culmination of an idea that was first proposed some years ago - namely that instead of "mitigation" being worked out in what sometimes were side deals with individual councillors in order to gain their support, money is now to be deposited into the General Fund, worthy recipients and projects will be vetted by the advisory committee, and then ultimately voted by a majority of the City Council. I'm still not sure how this would work for donations of real property (as was the case with the Foundry Building).
A Bonanza of Planning Board Reports
Manager's Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Zoning Petition regarding rooftop spaces in the Harvard Square Overlay District.
"...the Board believes that a more comprehensive examination of Harvard Square’s zoning needs, including community discussion, should be undertaken before implementing a single limited zoning change."
Manager's Agenda #23. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the petition to rezone the block bounded by Third Street, Cambridge Street, Second Street and Gore Street from Business A to a new designation Business A-5.
"...the Board believes that this petition would benefit from additional study and input from the community to determine if it should stand alone or if there should be a broader vision for the area as a whole, and also to determine the range of impacts such change(s) might have. Some of this study may occur in the future as the Envision Cambridge process focuses on major corridors, including Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street."
Manager's Agenda #24. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Observatory Hill Village (Mahon, et al.) Zoning Petition.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 18, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by the Friends of Observatory Hill Village to establish the Observatory Hill Village Overlay District.
According to the petitioners, "the zoning petition was submitted to preserve the business residential mix [in this 3-block long stretch of Concord Ave.]. Developers have an economic interest and an incentive to replace commercial retail buildings with high end housing. This puts the businesses at risk." It seems likely that this petition is headed for re-working and re-filing.
Manager's Agenda #25. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation (no recommendation at this time) on the Zoning Petition regarding vacant or abandoned buildings.
The key sentence here is: "The Board also believes that the proposed fee structure needs to be reconsidered, especially in consultation with the Law Department as to the legality of certain of its provisions." Basically, the fee that was proposed is a clear regulatory taking and could never pass legal muster. Perhaps if they can replace that with something reasonable this petition could be re-filed and perhaps some good will come of it.
Manager's Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the City Council Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 31, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to create a new chapter 4.60 to regulate short-term rentals (STR).
There may be some additional details to be ironed out prior to ordination, but this is the petition that seems destined to pass. It will likely be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting and enter the queue for ordination in a couple of weeks or at the Midsummer meeting in August at the latest. The petition expires Aug 29.
Manager's Agenda #27. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Cockrill, et al., Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.
Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 24, 2017 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et al. to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.
This petition was apparently filed by industry people who favor the proliferation of short-term rentals with minimal regulation. It won't be ordained and the City Council would be wise to just let it die without even being passed to a 2nd Reading. It's interesting that the first signer after whom the petition is named doesn't even support it. In the committee report Councillor Devereux suggests that in light of this fact the City should reconsider how petitions are named. In fact, there's already an established precedent for this situation. In the year 2000 the "Yoder Petition" was renamed the "Tringo Petition" when Ralph Yoder stated that he no longer supported the petition that bore his name. The new name was derived from the second signature on the petition. Perhaps we should now refer to the "Cockrill Petition" as the "Stonehouse Petition" after the next valid signature on the petition, but for all we know he may not support it either. Seriously, the petitioners should really be taken to the woodshed for how they pushed this petition.
Manager's Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-7, regarding an update on the City's Community Choice Electricity Aggregation Plan.
I'm now almost convinced that this may be a good thing. I've been getting offers for several years now from energy companies who want me to sign up with them and lock in a reduced rate. The Eversource rate is then often later adjusted to be lower, so I've always told them to take a hike. Apparently, with the City's arrangement I could go back to Eversource at any time if I don't like the relative cost, so I suppose I'll just go along. It's an opt-out arrangement, so many of us will just allow laziness to prevail.
Manager's Agenda #34. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to be used to conduct geotechnical, and environmental services to support the site assessment for a Concept Plan to site the new school on Callahan Field and future Feasibility Study for the Tobin School project.
This could yield an attractive option to construct the new school adjacent to the existing school. The entire area used to be brickyards and then landfill.
Manager's Agenda #36. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Department Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for the citywide curbside organics program.
If all goes well we could have citywide organics collection possibly by next April. This appropriation will provide for purchase of a rubbish packer and purchase and delivery of curbside bins, kitchen collector pails and other materials and services necessary to roll out the program to approximately 20,000 households (in addition to the 5,200 households on the Monday trash route that currently have organics collection).
Order #2. That the City Council condemn President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and urge Governor Charles D. Baker to publicly commit to ensuring that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts similarly adheres to the goals and ideals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung
Nobody should be surprised by the introduction of this City Council order. My guess is that neither the Commonwealth nor the City will be changing any plans as a result of the bloviations of the current occupant of the White House.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to determine how Visual Preference Surveys (VPS) could be incorporated into the planning and zoning process. Councillor Carlone
I did one of these surveys not long ago. It seemed like a useful exercise for things like building heights relative to street width and how retail fits in with residential. That said, I don't know that it would be wise to make this a binding requirement so much as an advisory measure of public support for various options. I hate to think where we'd be if every proposed change was subject to plebiscite.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the License Commission with the intent of formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor license. Councillor Toomey
The value of liquor licenses may go the way of taxicab medallions. I have sympathy for someone who sank a lot of money into the purchase of a liquor license from an existing license-holder, but the old phrase "caveat emptor" still applies. Taxpayers should not be asked to bear the lost value of something freely purchased by a willing buyer from a willing seller. Times change. The loss of value of a license in no way reduces the ability to operate a business profitably.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on May 22, 2017 to discuss the creation of a section in the agenda entitled “General Council Discussion;” and dedications to identify a suitable location site to honor the commitment to the City made by City Councillor and State Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. and to identify an appropriate building to dedicate to Richard C. Rossi’s decades of service to Cambridge.
I attended and gave testimony during the first part of this meeting. The topic grew out of a City Council order from Councillor Kelley to carve out a section in the City Council agenda where any councillor could inform his colleagues what he's been working on in a manner that doesn't violate the Open Meeting Law. What interested me is the emergent (and questionable) practice of some councillors holding unpublicized and essentially private meetings leading to policy proposals. There is a better way. Any councillor can give adequate notice and hold a public meeting of an ad-hoc committee (possibly with just one councillor) on any topic. Anyone interested in that topic could then attend and possibly provide useful input.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 23, 2017 to discuss a proposed Municipal Code amendment to Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.”
It looks like the City Council may finally be running with the Running Bamboo Ordinance. Now they'll have start thinking about the next thing to be banned. - Robert Winters
Budget Passage - Notable May 22, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items
Order #1. City Council endorsement of the letter of Community Representative and former Mayor Henrietta Davis to Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack regarding the Allston I-90 project, prepared in consultation with the community and City of Cambridge officials. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern
You should really understand the whole proposed project and not get too caught up in the details of whether or not the River Street exit ramp from Storrow Drive should be preserved as is. [Jan 19 Cambridge presentation] It's a VERY interesting project and there's no question that the current state of the affected area is ripe for significant change in every way.
The FY2018 Budget
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 2, 2017, May 10, 2017 and May 9, 2017 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $568,246,680.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 10, 2017 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,973,850.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 10, 2017 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $19,912,815.
Councillors - Please limit your "thank you" remarks to under one minute per councillor. Your unanimous vote on the Budget will send that message clearly enough.
Peace, Love and Understanding
It's not what you think. Then again, maybe it is.
Order #2. City Council in support of Somerville officials in their efforts to achieve 20% affordable housing in all development projects. Councillor Carlone
This is pretty clearly about whether or not a waiver should be granted in the Assembly Row project. The situation there was that the developer (Federal Realty) was eligible for the waiver because it had entered into a master planned agreement with the City of Somerville prior to the raising of the affordable housing requirement for a building of that size from 12.5 percent to 20 percent. On Thursday, May 18 the waiver was granted, so this Order is essentially moot (unless there are additional projects permitted prior to the increase in the inclusionary requirement).
There is, however, one very questionable aspect to this City Council Order. It is not addressed to the Somerville Board of Alderman but rather calls on the Cambridge City Council "to stand in support of Somerville officials, like Alderman Matthew McLaughlin, in their efforts to achieve 20% affordable housing in all development projects." This reads an awful lot like a candidate endorsement. The Order also calls specifically for sending "a suitably engrossed copy of this resolution to Somerville Alderman Matthew McLaughlin on behalf of the entire City Council." This Order should really be amended to address the issue rather than the incumbent Somerville Alderman seeking reelection this November. - Robert Winters
Interesting Items on the May 15, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here are a few choice items on this week's menu:
Charter Right #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, apologizing to his Colleagues, City Manager and City Staff for not attending tonight's meeting in order to attend a conference on climate change adaptation and expressing his thoughts and apology for the events at the Budget Hearing. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on May 8, 2017.]
Let's get this one all clear up front. The issue here is that one city councillor (Mazen) acted abusively toward City employees during a recent Budget Hearing and used a malcontent resident's letter as cover to justify his inquisition. Last week's (May 8) City Council meeting ended with a heated interchange resulting from Mayor Simmons' defense of City employees which upset the super-sized ego of the offending councillor. The story should probably end there since nobody wants the drama to continue. There is an Order on this week's agenda (#7 - see below) that may represent some sort of resolution of this matter.
My hope is that one positive outcome of this kerfuffle is that councillors might get a better grip on what constitutes decent behavior toward City employees and of what is appropriate under the City Charter (which spells out quite clearly that if a city councillor wants to take issue with a department or any individual employee he or she should deal with the matter through the City Manager). If a councillor wants to propose any policy changes, that's what City Council orders are for, and they require a majority vote - though, quite frankly, city councillors often vote for policy orders without challenge or discussion out of a misplaced sense of courtesy toward their colleagues. If a matter is referred to a City Council committee for further discussion, it is incumbent on the sponsor(s) of the Order to convince his or her colleagues about the merit of the proposal. In the case of proposals involving elections (such as paying people to vote or using public money to subsidize City Council election campaigns), a convincing case was never made for those proposals.
Applications & Petitions #3. A petition was received from Cambridge Arts Council requesting eleven temporary banners to be hung on light poles along the north bound traffic lane side of First Street between Binney and Cambridge Streets, announcing the Cambridge Arts River Festival on Sat, June 3, 2017 from 11:00am to 6:00pm along the East Cambridge Waterfront in Lechmere Canal Park and in the DCR parklands adjacent to Cambridge Parkway.
Applications & Petitions #4. An application was received from Cambridge Arts Council requesting permission for two temporary banners across Massachusetts Avenue at City Hall and across JFK Street at Mount Auburn Street announcing the Hong Kong Boston Dragon Boat Festival on Sun, June 11th.
I highlight these only to remind everyone of the many attractions that occur during the months of May and June. The Riverfest worked out pretty well in the Lechmere Canal area last year, though many of us still would like to see it eventually return upstream to the area near the Weeks Footbridge.
Resolution #7. Resolution on the death of Harold J. Aseph III. Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey
Just read this. It's one of the most thoughtfully and beautifully written death resolutions I've ever seen from the City Council. [It was written by Fran Cronin.]
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of installing one or more park benches around the Fresh Pond Reservation for the benefit of Cambridge residents, particularly senior citizens who would benefit from such conveniences. Mayor Simmons
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate staff about providing some appropriate seating on the grassy hill at Kingsley Park. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
These would be welcome additions - and not just for senior citizens.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the School Department, Human Resources, and any other relevant City departments to determine what it would look like financially and logistically for the new Tobin School to house half of Cambridge’s 3 and 4 year olds with the goal of providing universal pre-k split between the Tobin School and another school to be redesigned in the near future. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Devereux
I'm interested to see what the cost implications of this might be. It will likely be quite expensive. Having looked at what parents with good incomes shell out for the two pre-K schools and a day-care facility on my (very short) block in Cambridge, I'm sure some of those people would love to have a "public option". It could be the only affordable option for people of lower income.
Update: Councillor Carlone (wisely) suggested that it would be preferable if any pre-K options were diversified in the sense that they should be smaller groupings spread throughout the city rather than be concentrated into one or two school buildings.
Order #4. That a Standing Committee made up of three School Committee members, three City Councillors the Superintendent, the City Manager, as well as other members to be determined, be established to meet monthly to discuss issues pertinent to the School Department and the City and to improve communication between the School Committee and City Council. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
The City Council should think long and hard about the wisdom of this. It could go either way in terms of resolving conflicts or creating conflicts between these two elected bodies. I could easily see this becoming a place where some city councillors try to steer things that are really meant to be decided by the School Committee and the School Department. On the other hand, there are some matters such as community schools and after-school programming, that falls under the Department of Human Services Programs even though they take place in public school buildings and which the City Council clearly has some policy-making role. They may want to reconsider the plan of meeting monthly. That seems too frequent. Quarterly (and as needed) would be more than enough. Even then it would be meeting more frequently than half of the other City Council committees.
Update: Councillor Kelley floated the idea that perhaps there should be a charter change that "combines the School Committee and the City Council". This, of course, can only be interpreted as a suggestion that the School Committee be eliminated and its functions turned over to a subcommittee of the City Council. I am eager to hear how School Committee members feel about the idea.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City departments with a view in mind for a city-wide expansion of the piloted North Massachusetts Avenue and Kendall Square store frontage limitations, entrepreneurial co-working space, and local retail zoning regulations. Councillor Cheung
A current topic of discussion in the Envision Cambridge process is "Corridors", i.e. main thoroughfares in the city, including most retail locations. I doubt whether a single city-wide standard is appropriate, but some of these "corridors" could use a little reinvention.
Update: Councillor Mazen expressed his desire that an co-working space be subsidized - either from taxes or through some kind of nebulous "inclusionary" requirement. This, I suppose, would then require some City department to decide who will be eligible for this subsidized space - and the slow shift toward government control continues. Councillor Devereux suggested that this needs more study in concert with the ongoing Retail Strategic Plan. Councillor Carlone suggested that this proposal should be put on hold for now and that it is becoming clear that retail can no longer be supported everywhere.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor’s Office, the City Clerk’s Office, and the Finance Chair to establish a framework for periodic Roundtables throughout each term that will provide City Councillors opportunities to invite different Department Heads in for open, unrestricted discussions on topics of interest to the City Councillors. Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen
This was exactly the intention of the City Council when Roundtable meetings were first established - way back around 1999. The City Council unearths its own history. As for "unrestricted discussions", I do hope that this does not include inquisitions and/or browbeating of department heads or other City employees. - Robert Winters
Update: Though most councillors seemed generally supportive of the idea, Councillor Devereux suggested that rather than do this as City Council Roundtable meetings they should be done within meetings of the Finance Committee which would allow public comment. Mayor Simmons explained that the idea was to have a more general discussion - not just about finance-related matters. Councillor Devereux wanted some clarification of what the expectations would be noting that Roundtable meetings with City departments often center around some kind of formal presentation followed by questions and discussion.
Councillor Carlone won the wisdom prize by proposing that such freewheeling discussions with City departments take place within existing City Council committees whose focus aligns with the particular department - and not just the Finance Committee. In fact, many years ago most of the City Council committees aligned almost exactly with City departments. It might be a good idea to move back closer to that system so that City Council discussion could be better aligned with what City government actually does.
At the very least, we can probably do with much shorter PowerPoint presentations at City Council Roundtables and more freewheeling informal discussion. That was the original idea when Roundtable meetings were established nearly two decades ago. - RW
Noteworthy Agenda Items from the May 8, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are the agenda items this week that I found interesting:
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the recommended appointment of Kathleen L. Born as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority for a term of five years.
The appointment of Kathy Born to the CRA by Bob Healy in 2012 was an inspired choice, and City Manager Louis DePasquale continues the inspiration. One correction to the manager's message is that Kathy actually served four terms on the Cambridge City Council. She was first elected in 1993 and served from 1994 through 2001 including one term as Vice Mayor.
There are only two Boards which the City Manager appoints that are subject to City Council approval - the Cambridge Housing Authority and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, so this appointment must formally be passed to the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning Etcetera Committee before going to the City Council for confirmation (which as assured).
Contrary to the statement in this petition, there were actually 17 registered Cambridge voters who signed the original petition. If 5 of them submit a letter to withdraw the petition, even if these are the authors of the petition, that still leaves 12 registered voters who have not written to ask that the petition be withdrawn - 2 more than the minimum requirement. I believe this means that the original petition remains intact. It's a moot point, however. The petitioners have extracted their desired pound of flesh out of the developer and that's really what this petition was all about.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City’s transportation planning staff to reach out to Bridj’s Founder and Chief Executive Matthew George to discuss whether there are opportunities for collaboration in meeting the needs of Cambridge residents for more flexible transit. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen
This would make for an interesting way to navigate around the municipal procurement regulations. Though I'm sure this company may have something to offer, the City would have to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) or similar device to ALL possible bidders. Those who call the shots at Bridj could then submit a proposal and possibly sign a contract. The real question is whether the City has an identified need around which an RFP could be written. It's not the role of the City to approach private companies asking if there's anything the City can do to keep them afloat.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to create a permanent office or public-private initiative for the purpose of fostering charitable giving in Cambridge and to work with non-profits to study the local charitable giving landscape, measuring the estimated maximum charitable carrying capacity of the city. Councillor Mazen
This is a good intention, but perhaps the more important goal should be to promote existing charitable giving organizations like the Cambridge Community Foundation rather than creating new City administrative positions.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 19, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by creating a new Section 11.900 Maintenance and Security of Vacant or Abandoned Buildings. The proposed zoning would require that any building that is deemed to be vacant or abandoned for longer than 90 days shall be registered with the Inspectional Services Department, shall be secured and maintained so that it does not exhibit any evidence of vacancy, and shall pay an annual registration fee.
The basic premise of this initiative seems to be to come down hard on any property owner who leaves a property vacant for too long - either due to land-banking, wanting to flip a property for a tidy profit, or because of a dysfunctional property owner. I have serious concerns about the confiscatory nature of the original proposal that actually sought to extract the entire assessed value of a vacant property by means of fees in in only two years. That is clearly a regulatory taking and it would never stand up to a court challenge. It's also an obnoxious example of government overreach. I assume the language will be modified to make this merely combative and confrontational rather than confiscatory.
Nobody likes having important properties (such as the Harvard Square Cinema) sitting vacant for years, but the best way to get good results is still to open up a conversation with the property owner. It would be better if parties other than City officials or elected councillors had those conversations.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, apologizing to his Colleagues, City Manager and City Staff for not attending tonight's meeting in order to attend a conference on climate change adaptation and expressing his thoughts and apology for the events at the Budget Hearing.
I greatly appreciate Councillor Kelley's calling out the unforgivable misbehavior of one obnoxious soon-to-be-former city councillor at last week's Budget Hearings. - Robert Winters
The Budget Hearings continue this week on Tues, May 9 at 6:00pm (School Department Budget) and on Wed, May 10 at 9:00am (City Budget). The budget is available online at: www.cambridgema.gov. [Complete schedule with Budget Book references] [multi-year comparisons]
Wednesday's departments are as follows (the underlined ones are the ones that have been pulled (so far) by councillors for discussion).
May Day at City Hall - Noteworthy agenda items for the May 1, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
The real action this week commences Tuesday at 9:00am with the first of the two FY2018 City Budget Hearings. Here's the lineup for the May 2 hearing:
Here are a few items from the City Council meeting's relatively brief agenda that caught my eye:
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $240,000 of Virtual Net Metering (VNM) credits to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover invoices related to the VNM agreement for the photovoltaic project known as “Summer Street Solar.”
As the communication states: "Under the agreement the City will receive monthly checks from Eversource representing the value of the credits and will pay the solar developer 85% of the credits received. Checks will be deposited into a revenue account. ... The City executed this and other virtual net metering agreements as part of the strategy our energy broker recommended to help finance the procurement of 100% renewable energy. ... The 2008 Massachusetts Green Communities Act created incentives for solar developers to work with municipal entities to develop projects. The municipality executes an agreement with a solar developer to purchase the entire output of a commercial scale solar array at a set price per kWh and then effectively sells the entire output of the array to the utility in return for net metering credits equal to a higher price per kWh. ... The City has signed five VNM contracts for close to 6 megawatts of solar, including, most recently, rooftop arrays at Alewife MBTA and the route 128 MBTA facility in Westwood.
Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Arvilla Sarazen. Councillor Toomey, Mayor Simmons
I was saddened to see this notice of the death of Arvilla Sarazen. I have crossed paths with Arvilla countless times over the years - in East Cambridge, at events of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee, at the Cambridge Senior Center where she often worked at the front desk, and elsewhere.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the necessary stakeholders to determine the practicality of buying the Tokyo site and converting it into affordable housing units. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux
Let's not forget that this idea was first introduced at the Oct 20, 2014 City Council meeting. What has happened since then? Is the property actually for sale now or is this just wishful thinking?
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Dennis Simmons, regarding Policy Order #13 from Apr 24, 2017 Meeting.
This communication illustrates Mayor Simmons' capacity to look at a broad range of possible consequences of the vote on an Order that most of her colleagues probably barely read before giving it their stamp of approval. As the Mayor clearly states, "I very much believe that taking steps to move toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 is a laudable goal, and communities across the globe need to be taking more aggressive and coordinated actions to protect our environment." She continues, "That said, I believe that the City Council must be more mindful in how we work toward this goal. It would be irresponsible of us as a governing body to create policies in service of any specific goal without pausing to contemplate and acknowledge the impacts they may have on various aspects of our community. There is always the danger of doing the right thing the wrong way, and we must be mindful of the fact that enacting policies too broadly can potentially create negative unintended consequences for segments of our community. In this case, I am specifically thinking about the impact that Policy Order #13 may have upon the small business community of Cambridge, and upon individual homeowners."
The current City Council has repeatedly shown a tendency to vote for populist measures that appeal to whatever group can mobilize people to show up at City Hall. Whether these city councillors actually read and understand what they are voting for - especially any broader consequences and the impact on homeowners and small businesses - remains to be seen. - Robert Winters
It's Budget Season - Featured Items on the April 24, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here's a look at some of the more interesting items on this week's agenda.
Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the FY2018 submitted budget and appropriation orders.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $20,000,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport neighborhood, and the Port neighborhood.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including roof repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at an elementary school.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.
The Budget Hearings are scheduled for Tues, May 2 and Wed, May 10 at 9:00am for the FY2018 City Department Budgets and for Tues, May 9 at 6:00pm for the FY2018 School Department Budget.
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as member of the Community Preservation Act Committee for a term of five years, effective Apr 24, 2017: Anna Aldric and David Kale
Manager's Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Recycling Advisory Committee for a term of two years, effective Apr 24, 2017: New Appointments: Ilana Bebchick, Joel Dashnaw, David Frank, Martha Henry, Susy Jones, Liz Marr, Michael Papas, Anne Sherman, Matthew St. Onge, Quinten Steenhuis, Kristen Watkins Reappointments: Keith Cialino, Debby Galef, Rob Gogan, Debby Knight, Janet Mosley, Laura Nichols, Meera Singh and Mary Verhage
Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Envision Cambridge Focus Area Working Groups on Economy, Housing, Climate and the Environment, and Mobility. The Focus Area Working Groups are tasked with developing recommendations on topic-specific goals, strategies, and targets and indicators.
Items of interest to those who live in fear of being watched
Manager's Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a notification of a request from MIT to perform a test installation of a range of sensor technology along Massachusetts Avenue between Vassar Street and Lansdowne Street, in proximity to the MIT campus.
Manager's Agenda #30. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-15, Council Order Number 7 of 11/21/6 and Council Order Number 2 of 3/27/17, regarding an update on language in a proposed surveillance technology ordinance.
Manager's Agenda #20. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Harding, et al Zoning Petition.
Unfinished Business #6. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge in Article 8.000 entitled "Nonconformity" by deleting Section 8.23 in its entirety and substitute a new Section 8.23. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Apr 17, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Mar 21, 2017. Petition expires June 27, 2017.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 6, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances in Article 20.50 entitled “Harvard Square Overlay and Harvard Square Historic District” by adding a new Section 20.54.7 Exempting rooftop spaces from FAR.
I expect the "Nonconformity" zoning amendment will be ordained at this meeting. The proposal to make it easier to open active roof decks in the Harvard Square area remains in committee, and the combatants have entered the ring.
Airbnb and related stuff
Communication #10. A communication was received from Rebecca Rutenberg, Chief Operating Officer, The Novus Group, transmitting the Airbnb -Cambridge Housing Report.
Communication #15. A communication was received from Caitlin O'Neill, Director of Public Policy, Sonder, 271 Cambridge Street, regarding model language for professional short-term providers.
Order #5. Proposed amendments to the Zoning Ordinance creating a regulatory framework to ensure the City's short-term rentals are legal, safe, and fair. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 4, 2017 to conduct a general discussion on short-term rental uses throughout the City.
It's very important that this matter be resolved soon, but I have yet to see a completely coherent proposal that provides flexibility for homeowners but which does not overreach. As for the investors who are intentionally buying up multifamily houses so that they can run them as Airbnb profit-makers rather than as homes for actual people, I wish you all frontier justice. To those who paid far too much for your buildings and who now argue that the only way they can make ends meet is to rake in gobs of Airbnb cash, I say "Caveat Emptor". You should have bought a place in Malden.
Brief snippets of wisdom
Communication #8. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, regarding the reason humans don't need robots. [“The reason humans don’t need robots is that humans can be any kind of robot they want, and the reason for that is that they possess within themselves the ultimate chip, which is The Creator of All of Existence.” True or not true.” – Peter Valentine, 4/6/2017]
Birds, bees, flowers, trees, parks, and gardens
Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-17, regarding a report on a Tree Task Force to protect the Urban Canopy.
Order #1. That the City of Cambridge partner with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Cambridge Neighborhood Association to revitalize Magazine Beach. Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Conservation Commission and report back with a status update of the Community Garden program. Councillor Devereux
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department to present zoning regulations that allow urban agriculture to the City Council as soon as possible so that an Ordinance Committee hearing can be scheduled. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to hold a community meeting to discuss the lighting design proposed for the path, steps being taken to make the lighting appropriate for the natural context of the Reservation, and steps being taken to make Greenway path safe and useful during evening commuting hours. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux
I could go on at length on a number of these matters - the great efforts of Cathie Zusy and others with Magazine Beach, some very short-sighted rules pushed by the City on community gardens under its jurisdiction, the absurd delay in adopting at least something on urban agriculture, and some of the overstated fears expressed regarding lighting on the proposed Fresh Pond Greenway - but perhaps another time. I'm sure there will be plenty of comment.
Minimal substance, but sure to draw comments
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to ban all City employees from using City funds on services provided by United Airlines when alternatives exist. Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons
Order #10. That the City Manager, in instances where there is no significant additional cost defined in regulations, or conflict with law, is requested to refrain from entering into new or amended contracts to purchase professional, technical, scientific or financial services, goods, construction labor and materials or other services, or supplies from businesses that enter into contracts to provide such services, goods, materials or supplies to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux
I really despise Orders like these. In the former, an airline screws up and promises to do better, so the City Council wants to ban the use of City funds on that airline. Plenty of companies screw up at one time or another. Should they all be boycotted? As for the latter, that Trump wall is perhaps the single most stupid proposal I have ever heard from a U.S. President, but asking the City Manager to filter all contracts based on this criterion is just as stupid.
Obscure but curiously interesting
Order #9. That the Public Safety Committee begin a public discussion of potential methods of regulating an internet-based delivery system that makes any part of any road a possible loading platform in a way that allows such uses to continue without putting other users of Cambridge’s roads in danger or unreasonably obstructing traffic. Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux
Now that I have read this Order carefully, it appears that the genesis of this Order is the belief that cyclists are incapable of any wisdom or road sense. This Order wants to encourage delivery vehicles, taxis and similar services to temporarily park in the middle of full travel lanes rather than pull to the curb. The authors apparently believe it is better for cyclists to pass vehicles on the right where active loading and unloading of cargo and passengers is taking place. This is lunacy. My guess it passes without debate.
Good intentions that will likely turn that $30K roof repair into a $150K roof repair
Order #13. Urge the Cambridge Legislative Delegation in the State Legislature to do everything in its power to bring Massachusetts closer to 100% renewable energy by 2035, and ensure that the benefits of renewable energy are realized by Massachusetts residents from all walks of life and supporting a goal of using 100% clean and renewable energy in Cambridge, including in building energy use and transportation, by 2035. Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern
Who could argue with the rosy future painted by this Order? Well, at some point these matters do eventually get translated into things like stretch building codes and super-stretch building codes, and then one day when you just want to fix that leak in your roof and a City inspector informs you that in order to meet the new code your choice is to fix the roof in secret over the weekend without a permit or pay five times the cost in order to meet all the new standards. When that day comes, I do hope that our legislative do-gooders are as generous with their grant money as they are with their mandates. The devil is always in the details. - Robert Winters
Springing into April - Agenda items from the April 3, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting
The BIG ITEM at this meeting is the ordination of the amendments to the City's Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. Then there's also the call for impeachment of the President. Here are some nuggets that caught my attention:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,250,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to facilitate the complete renovation of the building located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue.
I'm glad that this building is being rehabilitated for this purpose, but I am astonished at the size of the appropriation - apparently just for this one residential building. Is this what the costs are "to meet the requirements of the City’s Net Zero standards"?
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $2,875,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($1,940,000) and to the Public Works Public Investment Fund ($935,000) to cover winter 2016-2017 snowstorm expenses associated with snow plowing contracts, salt, other material, repair costs and equipment.
I would like to request that the contract not be renewed for whoever was responsible for using the front of my and my neighbors' houses as a snow storage area for snow moved there from elsewhere. My only other complaint is that apparently the City's snow clearance guidelines no longer include plowing all the way to the curb on snow emergency routes even for relatively modest snow events. This led to cars being parked 3-5 feet from the curb on some of these streets. The result is a significantly narrowed roadway that is less safe for everyone. I could understand this being the case in an especially harsh winter (like two years ago) where there's just no place else to put the snow, but this should not have been the case for this relatively mild winter.
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Betsy Allen as the new Director of Equity and Inclusion (formerly known as Director of Affirmative Action) for the City of Cambridge, effective Apr 10, 2017.
Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Vision Zero Advisory Committee, effective Apr 3, 2017 for a term of two years: Nicholas Dard, Anne Kreider, Jennifer Quick, Peter Kuhlmann, Stephen Varrichio, Becca Wolfson, Nathanael Fillmore, Stacy Thompson, Richard Fries, Wendy Landman, Amy Flax, Sean Peirce, Jim Gascoigne, Michael Muehe, Diane Gray, Todd Robinson, Michele Trifiro and Steve Crossley
I hope this newly appointed advisory committee will focus on actual safety rather than recommending disruptive changes to roadways that are more political than practical and which primarily serve to marginalize cyclists (literally).
Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with suggested modifications, the Zoning Petition to Amend Section 8.23 - Reconstruction of Nonconforming Structure or Use Following Fire, Explosion or Other Catastrophe.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 29, 2017 to discuss a proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment to strikeout Section 8.23 entitled “Non-conformity” and substitute in place thereof a new Section 8.23.
The modifications suggested by the Planning Board are sensible. The City Council may also wish to consider time extensions beyond the allowed time frame via special permit in case of extraordinary circumstances.
Update: The petition was amended by substitution using language recommended by the Planning Board, then passed to a 2nd Reading.
Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to amendments to Title 6 of the Municipal Code entitled "Animals" to include a new Chapter 6.20 entitled "Restrictions on the Sale of Animals in Pet Shops".
Very well, but where will you purchase mice and other live food for your pet snake or other animal?
Update: These amendments were referred to the Ordinance Committee.
Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge in Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions in Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text to Sections 11.200 through 11.206. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Apr 3, 2017. Planning board hearing held Dec 20, 2016. Petition expires Apr 4, 2017.
This should be all set based on the language that was passed to a 2nd Reading on March 20, and the vote will likely be unanimous unless there are some problematic last-minute amendments. It remains to be seen whether the 20% affordable mandate will be viable in the long term or if it only serves to exacerbate the gap between high income and low income residents. My greatest concern is that the current policies will eventually lead to a future where only very high income people can buy or rent unrestricted housing units and the only option for everyone else will be to file an application with a City housing agency to obtain housing.
Order #2. That the City Council call upon the United States House of Representatives to support a resolution authorizing and directing the House Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, including but not limited to the violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution. Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung
This will certainly bring the TV crews out. [ABCNews story] City Council Orders don't generally get titles, but perhaps this one could be called "An Order Calling for Hard Right Conservative VP Mike Pence to Assume the Presidency". Be careful what you wish for. I received an email appeal recently about this Order with the subject heading "Support Bold Action by the City Council". It would perhaps better be characterized as a symbolic action meant to achieve nothing more than the attention of ill-intentioned Congressmen, Senators, and the Executive Branch. What exactly that achieves is yet to be determined.
Update: This purely symbolic order passed on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor Maher voting NO and Councillor Toomey voting PRESENT. The real question is which councillor gets the most quotes in the local press and the most face time on national TV.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 15, 2017 to discuss next steps on bike and transit safety in Cambridge.
Suffice to say that I am very concerned that for purely political reasons some Cambridge streets may soon look like a forest constructed of upright PVC pipe, marginalized cyclists, dangerously narrowed roadways, loss of parking in places where it's needed, and no net additional safety. I am often reminded of the fact that "skyways", i.e. elevated highways, were one touted as the be-all-end-all solution to traffic problems. Decades later many of these misguided visions are being dismantled as the wrong solution. - Robert Winters
FYI - Current Rules and Goals: Cambridge City Council & Cambridge School Committee
City Council Rules 2016-2017 (adopted Feb 29, 20160
City Council Rules 2014-2015 (adopted January 7, 2014, amended Feb 10, 2014 to reflect current Council committees)
City Council Goals - FY2012-2013 (adopted Dec 13, 2011)
City Council Committees (for the current term)
School Committee Rules (adopted January 7, 2008)
School Committee Goals (adopted October 7, 2008)
Research Assistants? I don't think so...
May 2, 2006 – The Cambridge City Council voted 8-1 on May 1 in favor of giving themselves personal “research assistants.” Only Councillor Craig Kelley had the fortitude to raise any questions about the proposal. So it appears the proposal will sail through the Budget Hearings with barely a raised eyebrow. While I have raised the issue of the genesis of this proposal, the question of its merits and its implementation have not been addressed here. So, here are some observations, questions, and suggestions for our elected officials, City administration, and residents to consider:
1. There was a time when our elected officials enlisted citizens to assist them in research matters relating to public policy. Cambridge is perhaps the best city in the United States in which to find experts in almost any matter that the City Council (or School Committee) may need to better understand. There is a wealth of evidence over the last 65 years showing how citizens have worked with elected officials in the development of public policy. If the City Council feels burdened by the research needs of its committees, there is an enormous pool of talent available at no cost. Currently, the City Council makes very little use of this very available resource.
2. There was a time when councillors collaborated much more than they currently do in committee work and in the development of policies. A well-functioning City Council committee should delegate responsibilities so that each member masters certain facets of the tasks at hand and shares this knowledge with the rest of the committee. In effect, councillors serve as staff to each other. I would argue that it is better that elected officials educate themselves.
3. Are these jobs going to be publicly posted with a job description? Who will be doing the actual hiring? If Councillor Smith wants to hire Mr. Jones as personal staff, will the mayor have veto power over the hire? Does the Personnel Department have a role to play here or are these to be political hires? None of these details have been discussed publicly and they are important.
4. If these “research assistants” are to be hired, there should be policies and safeguards to ensure that they are not working on behalf of any councillor's political campaign. Otherwise, this proposal will have the effect of using taxpayer dollars to support the political campaigns of incumbent councillors. In fact, maybe it's time to consider a similar disqualification for staff in the Mayor's Office. A founding principle of Plan E government is the elimination of political patronage in favor of responsible, professional government. Some of us still believe in this ideal. At the very least, strong guidelines should be established for what is and is not permissible.
5. The existence of this proposal within the budget of the Mayor's Office is very strange indeed since it involves personnel for councillors, not the mayor. Should we not infer from this that the consensus of the councillors is that the City Council staff is not up to the task? If the job of councillor has changed so much, should there not be some discussion of revamping the Office of the City Council to better match the needs of the councillors? Why are these tasks being outsourced?
6. Some councillors have recently stated that the filing of City Council orders requesting information through the City Manager is not enough and that councillors would be better served by having their own staff to get this information. This strikes me as contrary to the intent of the Plan E Charter which dictates that all matters involving City personnel be directed through the Manager. One can easily imagine a scenario where each councillor has his or her personal staff contact City department heads for information rather than filing an Order as a body to get a common response. If the consensus is that the City Manager is being obstructive or extraordinarily slow in responding, shouldn't the City Council take more forceful action in holding the Manager accountable?
7. If the term “research assistant” is meant to be factual, then perhaps these RAs should be topic-specific so that we can have people who have some background or aptitude for the tasks at hand. If, for example, research in energy-related matters is what is needed, then someone with that knowledge would be ideal. Is any such protocol being discussed to ensure that the councillors and the taxpayers will get the best quality research for their tax dollars? I would hope that matters like scheduling and event planning will be handled by the City Council Office rather than by “research assistants.”
8. Several councillors have complained that e-mail has had a dramatic effect on the responsibilities of a city councillor due to the time consumption associated with responding to these messages. I don't doubt this. However, there are efficiencies that can make such tasks much easier. For example, if each councillor receives 100 e-mail messages on a particular topic, then rather than making 100 shallow replies, I would advise responding to ALL of the issues of substance raised by residents in a single, comprehensive message sent (using blind-carbon-copy) to all of the people who sent messages. Those of us in academics have been doing this for years. It's much more effective to craft comprehensive messages sent to the whole class rather than many nearly identical messages sent to individual students. There are MANY ways to be more effective in e-mail communication. Then again, if individual responses are seen as more valuable in securing potential votes in the next election, that's a choice each councillor must make on his or her own - independent of taxpayer-supported staff.
In summary, I am not questioning whether or not some changes in staffing are warranted. I am, however, asking that any such changes be done in the best interest of taxpayers and that City funds are never used to either directly or indirectly support the reelection efforts of elected officials. - RW, May 3, 2006
Jan 1998 - The vote for who was to be mayor went on for several weeks as Ken Reeves held out until there were 4 other votes for Katherine Triantafillou, an outcome sincerely supported by at most two councillors (Reeves and Triantafillou). The would-be mayor rounded up her supporters for the coronation. A congratulatory cake was ordered. As the vote occurred and there were momentarily 5 votes on the table for Triantafillou (Born, Davis, Duehay, Reeves, Triantafillou), Councillors Galluccio and Russell changed their votes to Duehay. Councillors Born, Davis, and Duehay then changed their votes to Duehay and Mayor Duehay was elected. Councillor Galluccio was then elected vice-mayor. Meanwhile, in the room next to the Council chamber, Alice Wolf aide and Triantafillou supporter Marjorie Decker exploded in anger and punched out the cake, police were called, and a grudge began that remains to this day.
Feb 1998 - Mayor Duehay made good on the deal by hiring Galluccio campaign worker Terry Smith to work in the Mayor's Office "to assist the mayor and vice mayor". This marked the first time (to my knowledge) that any councillor other than the mayor received personal staff (except for a brief experiment with interns some years earlier). Resentment grew among other councillors about the special treatment one councillor received in exchange for delivering the mayor's job.
1999 - Frank Duehay and Sheila Russell announced they would not seek reelection. Jim Braude, David Maher, and Marjorie Decker were subsequently elected to the City Council as incumbent Katherine Triantafillou was defeated, principally as a result of Marjorie Decker winning her seat.
2000 - After 1½ months without electing a mayor, Anthony Galluccio was able to secure 6 votes to become mayor (Braude, Davis, Galluccio, Maher, Sullivan, Toomey). David Maher was elected vice-mayor. Terry Smith became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. David Maher did not request any personal staff. Kathy Born suggested during the Budget hearings that the idea of personal staff for councillors be referred to the Government Operations Committee. Ken Reeves said at this time, "I don't believe the vice-mayor needs the extra staffing and not us." Note that this was a reference to the previous administration (Duehay-Galluccio).
Around this time, the Government Operations Committee met to discuss the proposal for personal staff. The estimates given for City Council staff were: (1) $390,250 for a low-level, bare bones proposal; (2) $157,450 for 8 part-time staff with no benefits; (3) $72,300 for one legislative research assistant. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi said personal staff was tried briefly about 10 years earlier with interns. Michael Sullivan voiced concern about keeping in touch personally with his constituents and wondered how he would find enough things for this person to do. Most of the councillors spoke in support of giving themselves personal staff. Kathy Born said that if she found her job to be too much, she could hire her own staff person, only she would have to pay for it out of after-tax money, unlike an employee of a business. She suggested higher Council pay with the option of paying for a staff person out of this additional pay. The option would remain for a councillor to act as a “full-time councillor” without staff. Jim Braude said that a councillor could lend his or her campaign the money for the staff person.
One week later, the City Manager proposed a 23% pay raise for city councillors and a change in the ordinance to allow for automatic increases so that they would never again have to vote to raise their own pay. The pay raise was approved and the question of personal staff disappeared for the rest of the Council term.
2001 - Kathy Born and Jim Braude chose not to seek reelection. Brian Murphy and Denise Simmons were elected to the City Council.
2002 - Michael Sullivan was elected mayor on Inauguration Day. Henrietta Davis was elected vice-mayor. Unlike the previous term, Henrietta Davis did request and receive personal staff as vice-mayor when Garrett Simonsen, Davis' election campaign manager, was hired to the Mayor's Office staff as her assistant. Indications are that he served more than just the vice-mayor.
2004 - Michael Sullivan was again elected mayor, only this time Marjorie Decker was elected vice-mayor. Garrett Simonsen became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. Sullivan hired Kristin Franks (who had been Decker's campaign manager) as “assistant to the mayor and vice-mayor” but the indications were that she was working almost exclusively for Decker. By summer, Franks was gone and Nicole Bukowski, another Decker campaign worker, was hired as exclusive staff to Decker. For the remainder of the Council term, Bukowski waited hand and foot on Decker - and resentment among other councillors grew for the remainder of the Council term.
Late 2005 - Craig Kelley was elected to the City Council and incumbent David Maher was defeated. Speculation immediately began about who would be the next mayor. Some councillors reported that a plan was being discussed to give certain councillors personal staff as part of the vote-trading for electing the mayor.
Early 2006 - Ken Reeves was elected mayor and Tim Toomey vice-mayor. In a surprising turn of events, Bukowski continued to serve out of the Mayor's Office as personal staff to Councillor Decker - clearly a part of the deal to make Reeves mayor. Rumors circulated that there was a plan to assign some councillors additional committee chairs as justification for getting personal staff. When the committee chairs were announced, Councillor Decker (who, along with Councillor Galluccio, has maintained the worst record of committee attendance during her time on the Council) was surprisingly given four committees to chair. In contrast, Henrietta Davis (who has always been at or near the top in committee attendance) was given only one. This was seen by some as a way to justify Decker keeping her personal aide in exchange for her vote for mayor.
April 2006 - Ken Reeves submitted a budget for the Mayor's Office that is 54.3% higher than the previous year. The cause for the increase is a proposal for personal staff for all the remaining councillors at a recurring annual cost of about a quarter-million dollars. There was no public indication of any kind that such an extravagant plan was in the works. An order is on the May 1 City Council agenda (after the budget was already submitted on April 24 including the increase) formally calling for the major staff increase. The order is co-sponsored by Reeves, Toomey, Decker, Galluccio, Sullivan, and Davis. It is expected that, like every person hired to date as staff for the vice-mayor (and most of those on the mayor's staff), all of the new “research assistants” will be affiliated with the election campaigns of the officials they will serve. Curiously, these patronage hires will be occurring at a time when there are fewer major issues before the Council and when an unprecedented number of councillors are either serving in other elected positions or seeking election to other positions now or in the near future. - RW, April 28, 2006
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
One Ring to rule them all,
The nine Nazgūl arose as Sauron's most powerful servants in the Second Age of Middle-earth. It is said that three of the Nine were originally "Great Lords" of Nśmenor. They were all powerful mortal Men to whom Sauron each gave nine Rings of Power. These proved to be their undoing:
"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thralldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgūl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death" (The Silmarillion: "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 289).
The corrupting effect of the rings caused their bodily forms to fade over time until they had become wraiths entirely. Given visible form only through their attire, their original form was completely invisible to mortal eyes. The red reflection in their eyes could be plainly distinguished even in daylight, and in a rage they appeared in a hellish fire. They had many weapons, which included long swords of steel and flame, daggers with magical venomous properties and black maces of great strength.