Cambridge City Council Notes  

updated Monday, November 13, 2017 10:16 AM

Featured Items on the Nov 13, 2017 City Council Agenda

City HallFor the moment at least, all six incumbents who ran to retain their seats seem to have been reelected. We'll know for sure on Friday (Nov 17) unless the closeness of the results warrants a recount. In the meantime, here are a few items of interest on this week's agenda.

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $2,274,829 from Free Cash to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund. Funds appropriated to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund will be used to fund specific projects which will require individual appropriations by the City Council for the related projects in the future.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board to adopt the Alexandria Zoning Petition regarding Innovation Space in the PUD-3A and PUD-4C Districts.

Manager's Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report 16-86, regarding a report on which public campaign finance options are legal for municipal elections in Cambridge; and Awaiting Report 17-84, regarding potential plans and options, responsive to community concerns, for creating a program of tax revenue financing for candidates running for City Council and School Committee in the City of Cambridge.

This is a topic that deserves a lot more discussion than was ever permitted in either the NLTP Committee (no idea why it would even be discussed as part of "neighborhood and long-term planning" or "public facilities" or "arts and celebrations") or the Government Operations Committee. It's not something Cambridge could even do without approval from the State Legislature and it's not at all clear that such approval would be forthcoming. In addition, there has been no indication of what scale of funding would be asked - and that's important in light of the fact that the total campaign expendtitures for the recent City Council election now totals about $600,000 and climbing. The correlation between campaign spending and electoral results is also not at all clear. The cost per #1 vote as of today among successful City Council campaigns runs from a low of $9.75 to a high of $33.50 (these numbers will rise).

It's also worth noting that MANY Cambridge voters are now consulting the Cambridge Candidate Pages and other resources to learn about candidates, and that costs NOTHING. Indeed the number of visitors to the Cambridge Candidate Pages last week went like this: Nov 4: 1,082; Nov 5: 1699; Nov 6: 6,632; Nov 7 (Election Day): 11,058; Nov 8: 3,584; Nov 9: 941. That's a lot of visits for an election that had about 22,600 voters, and the Cambridge Candidate Pages aren't even linked from any City website.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a Transportation Task Force to develop a large and comprehensive street safety and education plan that speaks to the needs of bicyclist, motorists, and pedestrians, and that can be easily disseminated and understood by all citizens. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Oct 30, 2017]

At this point I'm leaning toward the belief that we should transition toward a single Transportation Board that has subcommittees for transit, motor vehicles, bicycling, and pedestrians. Single issue advocacy has become King and ideas like balance and collaboration among stakeholders has become all but lost. It's become militant with single-issue advocates using social media to pack any and all meetings. I gave up going to these meetings. It's become just Bad Political Theater at this point and, contrary to claims of relative safety, it's really all about turf - establish a beachhead and then defend it even against reasonable criticism.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City departments and report back to the City Council with an update on the City’s plans to expand the curbside composting program citywide.   Councillor Cheung

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 Oct 12, 2017 to discuss a Zoning Petition filed by Christopher D. Smith, et al., to create a new Section 13.913 Graduate Student Housing Production Requirement. This petition would require new graduate housing to be built in conjunction with the development of commercial uses in the proposed Planned Unit Development 7 District as well as a phasing plan to implement graduate housing development.

Everyone agrees with the idea that MIT and other universities should provide adequate housing options for their students. As we saw with the recent Volpe Petition, this has been acknowledged by MIT and they are planning accordingly. This Smith Petition, on the other hand, is not only moot but misdirected. - Robert Winters

Comments?

City HallWith the 2017 municipal election just a week away and the Volpe Petition settled last week, it's doubtful that more than a handful of people are even paying attention to this meeting. Here are the items that piqued my interest:

Charter Right #1. Right of first refusal 2 [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Oct 23, 2017]

This was one of three interrelated Orders submitted last week. The first, Oct 23 Order #6, was a statement of support for House Bill 3017 that would give tenants the Right of First Refusal in the event that a property is put on the market for sale. The second, Oct 23 Order #7, is a proposed Condominium Conversion Ordinance that would, among other provisions, also grant a right of first refusal to existing tenants. Both of these Orders were referred to the Housing Committee. The third, Oct 23 Order #8, calls for Home Rule legislation to adopt a local Right of First Refusal Ordinance in Cambridge independent of any action the State may or may not take. Order #7 and Order #8 both appeared as Late Orders at the Oct 23 meeting.

Personally, I believe any longtime-owner-occupied property should be exempt from any such proposed regulation. Such homeowners may choose to offer long-term tenants a chance to own, but that should be their choice and not a government mandate.

Order #1. That the regular City Council Meeting scheduled for Mon, Nov 6, 2017 be changed to a Roundtable/Working Meeting to discuss the Comprehensive Housing Policy that was forwarded to the Housing Committee on Sept 18, 2017.   Mayor Simmons

Honestly, few if any of the six councillors who are seeking reelection will be focused on this topic or any other topic unrelated to their reelection, and that's perfectly understandable.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City Departments to develop a document explaining how to ride a bike safely in Cambridge, and post in visible locations, on every Hubway station in the city.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

That's a document I may wish to write. I would make it a multi-part project with several sections: (1) How to Drive Safely in Cambridge (and elsewhere); (2) How to Bike Safely in Cambridge (and elsewhere); and (3) How to Walk Safely in Cambridge (and elsewhere). The City's answer to all of these questions during the past year generally involved white plastic posts, minimal public process, and segregation. Judicious use of green paint on the pavement in Inman Square, in contrast, has done more to enhance safety than any of the "demonstration projects" or future proposals to relocate cyclists onto busy sidewalks.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to convene a Comprehensive Arts Working Group, comprised of people from across the broad spectrum of ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds in our community, in order to begin drafting a Comprehensive Arts Planning Framework that shall help better incorporate the Arts into City planning and update the City Council on progress made toward appointing the members of this working group by the final City Council meeting of this term.   Mayor Simmons

Art by committee is unlikely to inspire anyone, but it would be good to give more thought to the aesthetics of new and reinvented urban spaces from the very start along with the function of those spaces. I don't mind all the murals, but we could do a lot better than just murals. - Robert Winters

Comments?

CountdownThe municipal election campaigns are heading into the home stretch right alongside the disposition of the MIT Volpe Zoning Petition. The Volpe vote is expected next week (Oct 30) and Election Day is Tues, Nov 7. Here are the items I found most interesting on the agenda:

Update: The MIT Volpe Petition was ordained as amended on an 8-0-1 vote with Councillor Carlone voting PRESENT. The associated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining MIT's commitments was also approved on the same 8-0-1 vote.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a communication from the Planning Board relative to the Christopher D. Smith, et al., zoning petition regarding graduate student housing production associated with development in the proposed PUD-7 district.

I will simply say that any zoning petition that is only applicable to one specific owner/developer (as opposed to the property - independent of ownership) should not be approved. The underlying goal of universities providing more housing and more affordability for its students is great - and necessary, but lobbying for that goal should not be done via a zoning petition. It's worth noting that MIT is now proactively addressing this need for additional housing, especially for graduate students. It's also worth emphasizing that not all graduate students want to live in campus housing.

Manager's Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to information in response to discussion at the Ordinance Committee hearing of Oct 17, 2017 regarding the Volpe Petition.

Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 16, 2017. Planning Board hearings held July 25, 2017 and Sept 12, 2017. Petition expires Oct 31, 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 Oct 3, 2017 to continue discussion on a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center site in Kendall Square; said discussion to include the Planning Board and Community Development’s response to the petition and staff recommendations as to changes and remaining issues to resolve and any other matter that comes before the committee.

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 Oct 17, 2017 hearing to continue discussion on a zoning petition by MIT to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay district (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation systems Center site in Kendall Square; said discussion to focus on a final review of the zoning, review of the Design Guidelines and review of the Letter of Commitment.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting the Letter of Commitment from Massachusetts Institute of Technology relating to the amended zoning petition for PUD-7 District for the Volpe Transportation Center Site.

I won't go into all the details here, but there are many reasons to support the MIT Volpe Petition (as currently amended and coupled with the proposed Memorandum of Understanding) and few reasons to oppose it. That said, this is coming before the City Council a week before Election Day, and there may be some political reasons that one or two councillors may manufacture in order to justify voting against it just to appeal to a particular constituency. In contrast, both co-chairs of the Ordinance Committee (Councillors Carlone and Cheung) deserve a lot of credit for moving this forward and shaping it along the way. MIT officials and those associated with the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) also deserve praise for addressing so many of the requested changes and benefits from a range of stakeholders while still maintaining their fiduciary responsibilities. I don't think the City could have had a better partner in this than MIT.


Order #1. That the City Manager is advised that ensuring the safety of cyclists at intersections is of critical importance to the Council, and providing for that safety will require a review of the causes and response to these two listed collisions, as well as other collisions and near collisions.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Devereux

There have been more than two such collisions, and the number of near misses is much higher. There are places where separated facilities make sense, but what the City did to Cambridge Street is ludicrous and I fear that they may repeat this error elsewhere unless there is some kind of intervention.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Commissioner of the Department of Public Works to update the City Council on the plan for snow removal relating to the new infrastructure in Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

In this, I believe global warming may be an essential part of the City's future plans for minimizing snow impacts on their poorly conceived road reconfigurations. If it does snow, some streets may simply become impassable for motor vehicles and for bicyclists. Where will they pile the snow? My guess is that they'll just ban all parking on some streets until springtime even for relatively minor snow events. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Notable Items on the Oct 16, 2017 City Council Agenda

Harvard Square - from an American Splendor story by Harvey PekarThe posted agenda is relatively light, but there may be more to come from MIT on the Volpe Petition which must be ordained no later than Oct 31. The items I found at least a bit interesting were:

Manager's Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-78, regarding a Police Substation in Central Square.

It seems pretty clear that the Police Commissioner understands the need for police presence in Central Square. The issue is whether this is best accomplished with a fixed structure (whether it be a storefront or a stand-alone structure) or a more mobile presence. We should see a more detailed plan within the next several months.

Manager's Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-80, regarding a report on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study.

Just some good information about what's underway regarding open space. If, in addition, plans for the Volpe Center parcel proceed as proposed, the whole Kendall Square area will one day be dramatically improved and better connected. Better sooner than later.

Manager's Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City Council’s draft Guiding Principles and Goals developed with the assistance of Big Sky Blue Consulting over the course of three public goal setting meetings held during this term.

I have to admit that I don't put a whole lot of stock in these goal-setting processes, but it is interesting to see what the Council comes up with as a snapshot of current sentiments. The devil is usually in the details, and goal statements are generally light on the details.

Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 16, 2017. Planning Board hearings held July 25, 2017 and Sept 12, 2017. Petition expires Oct 31, 2017.

There have been some indications that MIT may come forward at this meeting with some commitments and timelines - possibly including greater details on its current and future plans for greater on-campus housing options for graduate students and other affiliates. The expiration date of this zoning petition is October 31 and there are just two more regular Council meetings before then (Oct 23 and Oct 30) [corrected]. An additional Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic has been scheduled for Tues, Oct 17 at 2:30pm.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Arts Council regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways on certain streets in Cambridge, propose two streets to pilot as neighborways, and create a process by which a group of residents can request that their street be considered as future neighborways.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

This sounds interesting, but a few specific illustrations would be helpful. Just think how things might have played out if Cambridge Street residents and businesses were allowed to participate in a process like this instead of the "take it or leave it" approach the City took in reconfiguring that street with no real public process.

Order #8. The City Manager is requested to consult with relevant City staff to propose immediate and forward-looking measures to improve and prioritize conservation of Cambridge’s tree canopy before the Urban Forest Master Plan is in place.   Councillor Devereux

Committee Report #1. 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 26, 2017 to follow up on Policy Order #2 of June 20, 2016 to discuss the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance and possible ways to improve this ordinance to protect the tree canopy while protecting individual property rights.

We all love trees, right? One assumption that seems to run through this report is that tree removal on a neighboring property is something neighbors necessary oppose, but there are cases where a resident may actually want a neighboring property owner to remove a tree. I happen to be one of those residents. If neighbors mutually agree that a tree should be removed would any of the proposed ordinances stand in the way of this? - Robert Winters

Comments?

City HallHere are the choice items on this week's menu:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2018. [Tax Rate Letter]

Highlights: The FY18 property tax levy is $389,080,359, an increase of $16,406,272 or 4.4% from FY17. The 4.4% property tax levy increase is below the FY17 increase of 5.1%, and slightly above the fiveyear annual average (FY14-FY18) increase of 4.19%. With approval of the recommendations, the ten-year annual average (FY09-FY18) increase will be 4.85%. The FY18 residential tax rate will be $6.29 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.20, or -3.1% from FY17. The commercial tax rate will be $14.81, which is a decrease of $1.31, or -8.1% from FY17. In FY18, commercial property owners will pay 65.4% of the property tax levy, the same share as in FY17. Consequently, residential property owners’ share of the FY18 tax levy is 34.6%, also the same as in FY17.

Based on the FY18 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 7.87%. Total commercial property values increased by 14.36%. The median percentage tax increases for residential properties will be 2.8% for single-family homes, 5.2% for condominiums, 0.7% for two-family properties, and 1.1% for three-family properties. For FY18, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $43,619,137,030 a 10.1% increase over FY17 values.

Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-66, regarding additional information requested on a Grand Junction Overlay District.

This responds to a City Council request last week for additional information. We first suggested the use of this RR corridor as a bicycle/pedestrian connection in 1999 when I served on the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee. Back then I saw it primarily as a way of providing direct access to the open space and fields of Magazine Beach for the people of East Cambridge. My view now is that this would also make housing options in East Somerville and Allston more attractive for MIT students and staff and for people who work in Kendall Square and along the corridor. I really hope this becomes a reality within the next few years.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the MIT Volpe PUD-7 Zoning Petition with suggested changes. [Letter][Revised Petition][Redlined Petition]

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 Sept 13, 2017 to continue discussion on a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Center site in Kendall Square.

I am cautiously optimistic that we may see ordination of some amended form of this zoning proposal before the expiration date at the end of October. Much depends on what commitments MIT is willing to make in the weeks before ordination (independent of the disproportionate demands of the Smith, et al. petition re: graduate student housing). This really could become a great space, and I hope the planners can find room for some fun attractions, e.g. a batting cage where people can take a few swings.

Applications & Petitions #2. A Zoning Petition has been received from Peter Kroon, et al., transmitting a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that would amend the Harvard Square Overlay District.

Read the petition and draw your own conclusions, but my read of this petition is that it wants to bring some of the best features of the recently ordained Central Square Restoration Petition up to Harvard Square, e.g. the transition from regulating "fast food" to instead regulating "formula businesses". It also prioritizes housing in the upper floors of any taller new buildings. (Don't worry, there's no towers expected anytime soon.)

Resolution #11. Congratulations to the Central Square Business Association for a successful Dumpling Fest and Central Flea.   Mayor Simmons

Special thanks go to Michael Monastime, the new Wizard of Central Square, for pulling off one of the biggest daytime attractions Central Square has seen in years.

Resolution #12. Congratulations on Bill Cavellini, Bernard LaCasse and the Cambridge Arts Council on a successful restoration of the "Beat the Belt" Mural.   Mayor Simmons

I wish I could have attended the dedication. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who helped.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City departments with the view in mind of implementing systems in Harvard Square.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung

The order contains a generally good list of suggestions for transportation and public amenities in the Harvard Square area. I hope that the inclusion of more bicycle lanes doesn't translate into additional mistakes like the Brattle Street Lanes of Confusion.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested, in as timely manner as possible, to determine if Cambridge can legally assist DACA beneficiaries by collecting donations from individuals and organizations. Managing and dispersing such raised donations on a reimbursement basis to Cambridge DACA beneficiaries.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Cambridge works with plenty of nonprofits and religious entities that can provide the suggested services without running afoul of any state laws.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to create a volunteer bike registry program that can accept donations that will go to fund environmentally friendly projects in the City.   Councillor Toomey

I would register my bike in a heartbeat and agree to adhere to any and all traffic laws. (I already do.) That said, I don't know that we would see much tangible benefit from such a voluntary program. If it could convince more cyclists to take more seriously their responsibilities as road users perhaps there might be some marginal benefit.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of subsidizing the rate of the “100% Green” option in the Cambridge Community Electricity Program to ease any financial burden that residents who want to use entirely renewable energy may feel when purchasing, using existing income thresholds such as the Fuel Assistance Program.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

This is a very slippery slope. Relatively few residents opted into the more expensive “100% Green” option because people generally make rational economic choices. Just because City officials feel that choosing this option is a worthy goal doesn't mean that taxpayers should be subsidizing it. Buying groceries from the local market may be a worthy goal in support of local businesses, but many of us will still do much of our shopping at Costco and Market Basket. Should taxpayers pick up the difference if we do all our shopping locally? I don't think so. - Robert Winters

Comments?

City HallHere 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 where some users flood the system just to push their point of view. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Interesting Agenda Items on the Sept 18, 2017 City Council Agenda

City HallThe 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

There's already a link there, but you can get some easier to digest summaries here and here.

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

Comments?

Fall Semester at the Sullivan School - Sept 11, 2017 City Council Agenda Highlights.

City HallThe 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

Comments?

A Midsummer's Night - Featured Agenda items for the August 7, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Midsummer NightThe 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

Comments?

Here Comes Summer - Featured Attractions for the June 26, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

On Vacation - See you in AugustThe 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

Comments?

Almost Summer - June 19, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

On the HorizonAs 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

Comments?

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.

Vail Court - 2013
Vail Court in 2013

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

Comments?

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


Punching Out Your Cake and Having it Too – a chronology of the proposal for personal Council staff
(posted April 28, 2006)

Jan 1998 - The vote for who was to be mayor went on for several weeks as Ken Reeves held out until there were 4 other votes for Katherine Triantafillou, an outcome sincerely supported by at most two councillors (Reeves and Triantafillou). The would-be mayor rounded up her supporters for the coronation. A congratulatory cake was ordered. As the vote occurred and there were momentarily 5 votes on the table for Triantafillou (Born, Davis, Duehay, Reeves, Triantafillou), Councillors Galluccio and Russell changed their votes to Duehay. Councillors Born, Davis, and Duehay then changed their votes to Duehay and Mayor Duehay was elected. Councillor Galluccio was then elected vice-mayor. Meanwhile, in the room next to the Council chamber, Alice Wolf aide and Triantafillou supporter Marjorie Decker exploded in anger and punched out the cake, police were called, and a grudge began that remains to this day.

Feb 1998 - Mayor Duehay made good on the deal by hiring Galluccio campaign worker Terry Smith to work in the Mayor's Office "to assist the mayor and vice mayor". This marked the first time (to my knowledge) that any councillor other than the mayor received personal staff (except for a brief experiment with interns some years earlier). Resentment grew among other councillors about the special treatment one councillor received in exchange for delivering the mayor's job.

1999 - Frank Duehay and Sheila Russell announced they would not seek reelection. Jim Braude, David Maher, and Marjorie Decker were subsequently elected to the City Council as incumbent Katherine Triantafillou was defeated, principally as a result of Marjorie Decker winning her seat.

2000 - After 1½ months without electing a mayor, Anthony Galluccio was able to secure 6 votes to become mayor (Braude, Davis, Galluccio, Maher, Sullivan, Toomey). David Maher was elected vice-mayor. Terry Smith became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. David Maher did not request any personal staff. Kathy Born suggested during the Budget hearings that the idea of personal staff for councillors be referred to the Government Operations Committee. Ken Reeves said at this time, "I don't believe the vice-mayor needs the extra staffing and not us." Note that this was a reference to the previous administration (Duehay-Galluccio).

Around this time, the Government Operations Committee met to discuss the proposal for personal staff. The estimates given for City Council staff were: (1) $390,250 for a low-level, bare bones proposal; (2) $157,450 for 8 part-time staff with no benefits; (3) $72,300 for one legislative research assistant. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi said personal staff was tried briefly about 10 years earlier with interns. Michael Sullivan voiced concern about keeping in touch personally with his constituents and wondered how he would find enough things for this person to do. Most of the councillors spoke in support of giving themselves personal staff. Kathy Born said that if she found her job to be too much, she could hire her own staff person, only she would have to pay for it out of after-tax money, unlike an employee of a business. She suggested higher Council pay with the option of paying for a staff person out of this additional pay. The option would remain for a councillor to act as a “full-time councillor” without staff. Jim Braude said that a councillor could lend his or her campaign the money for the staff person.

One week later, the City Manager proposed a 23% pay raise for city councillors and a change in the ordinance to allow for automatic increases so that they would never again have to vote to raise their own pay. The pay raise was approved and the question of personal staff disappeared for the rest of the Council term.

2001 - Kathy Born and Jim Braude chose not to seek reelection. Brian Murphy and Denise Simmons were elected to the City Council.

2002 - Michael Sullivan was elected mayor on Inauguration Day. Henrietta Davis was elected vice-mayor. Unlike the previous term, Henrietta Davis did request and receive personal staff as vice-mayor when Garrett Simonsen, Davis' election campaign manager, was hired to the Mayor's Office staff as her assistant. Indications are that he served more than just the vice-mayor.

2004 - Michael Sullivan was again elected mayor, only this time Marjorie Decker was elected vice-mayor. Garrett Simonsen became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. Sullivan hired Kristin Franks (who had been Decker's campaign manager) as “assistant to the mayor and vice-mayor” but the indications were that she was working almost exclusively for Decker. By summer, Franks was gone and Nicole Bukowski, another Decker campaign worker, was hired as exclusive staff to Decker. For the remainder of the Council term, Bukowski waited hand and foot on Decker - and resentment among other councillors grew for the remainder of the Council term.

Late 2005 - Craig Kelley was elected to the City Council and incumbent David Maher was defeated. Speculation immediately began about who would be the next mayor. Some councillors reported that a plan was being discussed to give certain councillors personal staff as part of the vote-trading for electing the mayor.

Early 2006 - Ken Reeves was elected mayor and Tim Toomey vice-mayor. In a surprising turn of events, Bukowski continued to serve out of the Mayor's Office as personal staff to Councillor Decker - clearly a part of the deal to make Reeves mayor. Rumors circulated that there was a plan to assign some councillors additional committee chairs as justification for getting personal staff. When the committee chairs were announced, Councillor Decker (who, along with Councillor Galluccio, has maintained the worst record of committee attendance during her time on the Council) was surprisingly given four committees to chair. In contrast, Henrietta Davis (who has always been at or near the top in committee attendance) was given only one. This was seen by some as a way to justify Decker keeping her personal aide in exchange for her vote for mayor.

April 2006 - Ken Reeves submitted a budget for the Mayor's Office that is 54.3% higher than the previous year. The cause for the increase is a proposal for personal staff for all the remaining councillors at a recurring annual cost of about a quarter-million dollars. There was no public indication of any kind that such an extravagant plan was in the works. An order is on the May 1 City Council agenda (after the budget was already submitted on April 24 including the increase) formally calling for the major staff increase. The order is co-sponsored by Reeves, Toomey, Decker, Galluccio, Sullivan, and Davis. It is expected that, like every person hired to date as staff for the vice-mayor (and most of those on the mayor's staff), all of the new “research assistants” will be affiliated with the election campaigns of the officials they will serve. Curiously, these patronage hires will be occurring at a time when there are fewer major issues before the Council and when an unprecedented number of councillors are either serving in other elected positions or seeking election to other positions now or in the near future. - RW, April 28, 2006

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

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

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

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

The nine Nazgūl arose as Sauron's most powerful servants in the Second Age of Middle-earth. It is said that three of the Nine were originally "Great Lords" of Nśmenor. They were all powerful mortal Men to whom Sauron each gave nine Rings of Power. These proved to be their undoing:

"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thralldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgūl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death" (The Silmarillion: "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 289).

The corrupting effect of the rings caused their bodily forms to fade over time until they had become wraiths entirely. Given visible form only through their attire, their original form was completely invisible to mortal eyes. The red reflection in their eyes could be plainly distinguished even in daylight, and in a rage they appeared in a hellish fire. They had many weapons, which included long swords of steel and flame, daggers with magical venomous properties and black maces of great strength.