FaTeague - Dec 9, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda
There are basically two noteworthy items on this week's agenda and both of them relate to Kendall Square. The first is the Ames Street Land Disposition. There's a public hearing at 6:30pm on the proposal by the City of Cambridge to sell a 20-foot wide strip of public land along the eastern edge of Ames Street between Main Street and Broadway in Kendall Square. The land would be sold to a private owner with the condition that it would be combined with adjacent land to enable the construction of a residential building with ground floor retail. The public hearing is being held pursuant to the requirements of Section 2.110.010 of the Cambridge Municipal Code, regarding Disposition of City Property. [text from the call of the meeting]
The Cambridge Revelopment Authority (CRA) supports the plan as does the Planning Board as indicated in:
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation supporting the proposed Ames Street Land Disposition.
Most reasonable people, including most or all of the city councillors, will likely agree with the assessment of the Planning Board. Nonetheless, the hearing is likely to bring out those who continue to object to last year's approval of the downsizing of a rooftop garden in exchange for a greatly extended time during which it will be maintained for public access (an additional 28 years). Some will likely testify that this is some kind of scandalous giveaway to big, bad corporations. Others will argue that the City should somehow try to leverage the delivery of All That Is Good in exchange for this unimportant strip of the public way. This is nothing but bad political theater.
Communication #3. A communication was received from Charles Teague, 23 Edmunds Street transmitting his reply to Cambridge City Council response on Open Meeting Law Complaint dated Nov 5, 2013.
Speaking of bad political theater, the meaningless saga continues of the unhappy activist filing Open Meeting Law complaints when votes don't go his way. This week's agenda brings a tedious 76 page communication from Charles Teague, the new right-hand-man of Councillor-Elect Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone. The thought that this kind of pointless harassment may become the norm for the new City Council is enough to drive away even long-term Council-watchers like me. Is this what civic activism has degenerated into? Will every significant City Council vote now be subject to complaints filed with state agencies?
In baseball, when the 3rd out is registered in the bottom of the 9th, you accept your loss and head for the locker room. You don't file a protest with the Baseball Commissioner. The antics of Teague and company are the civic equivalent of bad sportsmanship, and this may soon become the norm.
You can never predict how an idiotic complaint like this will ultimately turn out, but the incident that was the subject of the complaint is simple to describe:
(a) MIT filed several iterations of a zoning petition for an area in and around Kendall Square where MIT owns a significant amount of property. The petition went through many public hearings before finally coming to a vote on Apr 8, 2013.
(b) During the weeks and months leading up to ordination, MIT representatives met with all of the city councillors and developed a memorandum of understanding that included substantial commitments.
(c) Prior to final ordination on the night of the vote, a series of amendments were proposed by several councillors. Councillor Kelley objected strenuously to the late arrival of the proposed amendments. There were so many opportunities to propose amendments during the months, weeks, and days leading to this vote, that there was no excuse for trying to rush these amendments through.
One such proposed amendment by Councillor vanBeuzekom would have required "net zero" energy standards on any new buildings. This enjoyed a temporary victory on a 5-3-1 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Simmons, vanBeuzekom, and Mayor Davis voting YES; Councillors Kelley, Maher, and Toomey voting NO; and Councillor Reeves voting PRESENT. This led to very clear expressions from MIT representatives that such a requirement would invalidate the commitments to which they had previously agreed. This was communicated to Councillor Maher and through him to Mayor Davis. When informed that this burden could threaten MIT's other commitments, Mayor Davis reluctantly asked to change her vote from YES to PRESENT which defeated the amendment 4-3-2. This was a vote change that Mayor Davis clearly did not relish, but she did it for the greater goal of passing the entire package. All of this took place in full view of the public.
(d) The MIT/Kendall zoning petition was then ordained on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor vanBeuzekom voting NO (as expected) and Vice Mayor Simmons voting PRESENT. The revised Letter of Commitment from MIT was approved unanimously.
There was NOTHING unusual in what transpired that evening. However, a photograph of MIT representatives explaining their position to Councillor Maher was used to claim that some sort of shenanigans had taken place. This led to a complaint being filed long after the period for such complaints had expired. The City Clerk and City Solicitor drafted a response that was approved by the City Council, and we now get this 76 page followup from the disgruntled political activist.
Many people have noted that the current City Council has at times engaged in pointless interpersonal bickering, and this is fair criticism. However, unless some of the newly elected councillors and the incumbent councillors take some affirmative action early in the 2014-15 term to set a good tone, we may find ourselves looking back longingly toward the relative peace and harmony of the 2012-13 City Council. - Robert Winters
Home Stretch - Dec 2, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
This Monday should be an interesting day. The City Council Recount commences at 8:30am at the Moore Youth Center (12 Gilmore St. by Hoyt Field), and at 5:30pm the City Council will meet in City Hall at the same time the Central Square Advisory Committee will be meeting next door in the Lombardi Building to hear testimony and discuss a housing proposal for 10 Essex Street. [The Planning Board will hold a hearing on Tuesday on the same proposal.]
There's not a single City Council Order on the agenda this week, but there are a few noteworthy items as the 2012-13 City Council heads into its final month.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Council Order No. 28, dated Sept 9, 2013, regarding establishing a committee to monitor the progress of the non-zoning recommendations of the C2 Committee.
The proposal is to fold consideration of the non-zoning C2 recommendations into the scope of the existing Central Square Advisory Committee which has been around since the creation of the Central Square Overlay District over two decades ago. This will coincide with upcoming appointments to the committee to bring it back up to the 9 members specified in the ordinance. The zoning-related recommendations of the C2 Committee (as developed by CDD staff) will likely be where most of any controversy will play itself out, but the non-zoning recommendations will have a lot to do with defining the fabric of Central Square in the sense of "place-making."
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, regarding the creation of a short term task force that will consider drafting a municipal ordinance related to outdoor lighting.
The Teague Petition on this subject may have died last year due to its shortcomings, but a task force was promised to come up with a more appropriate proposal. These appointments mark the beginning of that process. Recommendations are anticipated in the spring. It's not surprising that Charles Teague is one of the appointed members, but it will be interesting to see whether or not he can work cooperatively with the other 11 appointees. As with most things it's better to have a balanced committee that can gather input from all stakeholders. This also applies to the soon-to-be-appointed "Net Zero" task force.
Unfinished Business #13. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 7, 2013 on the petition received from Boston Properties to amend the Zoning Ordinances and Zoning Map in the Ames Street area. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 2, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Nov 12, 2013. Petition expires Feb 5, 2014.
Communications #2. A communication was received from Kathleen Born, Chair, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Board transmitting the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Support for Boston Properties Ames Street Zoning Petition including a response to a request from the Ordinance Committee regarding fast food permits for the MXD District together with a Letter of Intent for the Ames Street Housing Project between the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and Boston Properties Limited Partnership.
The Ames Street Zoning Petition has another City Council hearing scheduled for Dec 9, so this matter won't be voted until at least then. The communication from CRA Chair Kathy Born provides some details behind various provisions in the petition which is primarily about facilitating construction of housing on this stretch of Ames Street.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 20, 2013 to discuss a petition by the City Manager to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to define and list Registered Marijuana Dispensary, delete Section 11.700 and create a new Section 20.700 entitled Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts.
The proposed ordinance change is now taking shape, but it's probably a good idea to think of this in conjunction with proposed statewide ballot questions that could potentially legalize marijuana outright. It would be reasonable to speculate that regulations now being developed for dispensaries would become the basis for future regulations for general sale of this drug should any such ballot questions prevail.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 21, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on a zoning petition filed by Christopher H. Lutz, et al requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by rezoning an area on the northern border of Richdale Avenue from Upland Road to Walden Street from its C1-A designation to residential C-1.
There's not much to say about this except to note that the petition arose from a proposed redevelopment of the former Hathaway Bakery on Richdale Ave. for up to 54 units of new housing. Because the petition is opposed by owners of more than 20% of the affected area, it will require 7 votes out of 9 city councillors to pass the petition. As this may be difficult to achieve, it may well be the case that negotiation will be the preferred course of action for those unhappy with the proposed development. - Robert Winters
Lame Duck for Thanksgiving - Nov 25, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
5:00pm Special Presentation - First Annual Cambridge Volunteer Appreciation Day (Sullivan Chamber)
There's not a whole to say about this meeting, but some comments will likely follow late Sunday or on Monday morning. Here are a few items possibly worthy of comment:
Order #3. That the City Council go on record urging Kevin Sheehan, representative of Boston Properties, to meet with representatives of Unite Here Local 26 to address concerns over the size, scope and precedent of mixed-use development by Boston Properties at the site adjacent to the Boston Garden. Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development to ensure that the City of Cambridge is aware of transportation and pedestrian improvements being discussed or planned along the Webster Avenue corridor so that any future changes in this area within Cambridge will complement a regional plan. Councillor Toomey
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 16, 2013 to discuss ending homelessness in Cambridge with the Senior Policy Group on Homelessness.
Aftermath - Nov 18, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The election has passed and the lame duck session commences from now through the end of December. Depending upon how a possible City Council election recount turns out, in addition to the two councillors who did not seek reelection (Davis, Decker), two incumbents will not be returning in January (Reeves, vanBeuzekom). The atmosphere this Monday should be somber at best, but the business of the City continues. Here are a few notable items:
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the zoning requirements that will allow a Registered Marijuana Dispensary as regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to be sited in Cambridge. [proposed text and maps]
Perhaps some people will soon be able to legally score some weed at the Fresh Pond Shopping Center or in NorthPoint.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Ames Street Disposition Land Report, pursuant to Chapter 2.110 of the Cambridge Municipal Code. [attached letter]
Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Boston Properties Ames Street Zoning Petition.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 21, 2013 on the petition received from Boston Properties to amend the Zoning Ordinances and Zoning Map in the Ames Street area.
This seems pretty straightforward - particularly for those who actually believe in the need for new residential construction in the Kendall Square area.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a special committee, to be comprised of both City Councillors and of Cambridge residents, to take up the work of holding monthly conversations about the lessons learned from the Malvina Monteiro lawsuit, and about how the City can improve upon its internal handling of race and class matters as an employer, beginning as of the start of the next calendar year. [Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor Simmons on Order Number Eight of Nov 4, 2013.]
I'll simply reiterate what I said two weeks ago when this was introduced: "In accordance with the City's Plan E Charter, this is a matter properly handled within the Personnel Department with the guidance of appropriate City Council Orders directed through the City Manager. If the next City Council chooses to again take up this matter in one of its standing committees, they are free to do so."
Resolution #9. Congratulations to the 2013 preliminary elected School Committee members and City Councillors. Councillor Decker
Yes indeed, but not everyone his happy about the fact that the City Council will be going from four women to just one woman. Rumor has it that some residents are already looking toward the next municipal election in 2015.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report for Nov 8, 2013 from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, to discuss City Clerk's Office staffing.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor David P. Maher regarding informal discussions relating to staffing in the City Clerk's Office.
Apparently, in the aftermath of the election this committee wasn't able to muster a quorum - hence the additional communication to report on informal discussions that took place in the absence of a quorum. One of the issues under discussion relates to a point that I brought up at a previous Gov't Operations Committee meeting. The City Charter specifically states that the City Council directly hires just three people - the City Manager, the City Clerk, and the City Auditor. These appointees then chose their staff which includes such important positions as the Deputy City Manager, various Assistant City Managers (department heads), and the Deputy City Clerk. However, it has been the recent practice of the City Council to actually vote on the appointment of the Deputy City Clerk which is not really in agreement with the City Charter. The Gov't Operations committee is now trying to clarify this and other related issues.
Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons transmitting congratulations to everyone who ran for election in the City Council race and notifying her colleagues that she will be unable to attend City Council meetings for a period of three or four weeks due to recovery and recuperation from a medical procedure.
In the hectic atmosphere of a municipal election we sometimes forget that the candidates are human beings. We all wish our good friend Denise Simmons the very best during her recovery and recuperation. - Robert Winters
Counting Down to the Count - Nov 4, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
It's the Eve of The Count - the night before the 2013 Municipal Election, and there's no getting around the fact that there will be some nervous energy flowing through the Sullivan Chamber. Some activists would have preferred to have a controversial issue or two voted at the 11th hour which might sway some voters, but this is not the case. There are, however, a few noteworthy items on what has traditionally been a short agenda on the eve of an election.
Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Mr. Owen O'Riordan as Public Works Commissioner effective Nov 1, 2013.
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Mr. Stephen J. Lenkauskas as City Electrician for the City of Cambridge effective Nov 1, 2013.
Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Ms. Andrea Spears Jackson as the full time License Commission Chair for the City of Cambridge, effective Dec 9, 2013.
The Rossi Administration continues to take shape with a trio of excellent appointments.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a proposed Home Rule Petition which would provide an exception to the residency preference requirement for Cambridge police officer and fire fighter appointments for those high school graduates who were Cambridge residents at the time of graduation from high school.
Though I'm not entirely familiar with the background of this, it seems to be a simple case of fairness.
Resolution #28. Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox on the occasion of becoming Major League Baseball's World Series Champions. Councillor Toomey
We approve of this Resolution unanimously (and the crowd roared its approval).
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City personnel regarding the enforcement of rules and regulations governing bicycle riding, mandatory white lights on bicycles, and data collection of injuries resulting from cyclist-pedestrian conflicts. Vice Mayor Simmons
Let's make a list of some of the laws we would like to see actually enforced in Cambridge. I completely agree that cyclists must obey the same laws as motorists or pay the consequences, but I would also aggressively fine people who park their cars more than a foot from the curb (very unkind to cyclists) and motorists who "block the box" causing traffic congestion. It's not exactly martial law when police and parking control officers simply enforce existing, sensible laws.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the report of the net direct debt per capita which lists Cambridge as one of ten cities with the highest amount of net direct debt per capita; specifically how this report should be interpreted and what this means for Cambridge, now and in the future. Councillor Cheung
I read something about this the other day. I don't think it's an issue of great concern, but am looking forward to the response.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a special committee, to be comprised of both City Councillors and of Cambridge residents, to take up the work of holding monthly conversations about the lessons learned from the Malvina Monteiro lawsuit, and about how the City can improve upon its internal handling of race and class matters as an employer, beginning as of the start of the next calendar year. Vice Mayor Simmons
The Vice Mayor has been hosting meetings on this topic for some time, and dissenting opinions (like mine) were greeted with flagrant hostility by some of the attendees. In accordance with the City's Plan E Charter, this is a matter properly handled within the Personnel Department with the guidance of appropriate City Council Orders directed through the City Manager. If the next City Council chooses to again take up this matter in one of its standing committees, they are free to do so.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis transmitting to the City Council an Open Meeting Law Complaint from Charles Teague together with a proposed City Council response to the Attorney General, prepared by the City Clerk in consultation with the City Solicitor, for the City Council's review and approval. [HTML version of draft response]
The bottom line is simply this: Mr. Teague wants the City Council to be compelled to take the following actions in response to his allegations: 1) admit intentional violation of Open Meeting Law on April 8, 2013 which led to the failure of the "Net Zero Emissions Amendment" (NZEA) to MIT's zoning petition; 2) order correction of Zoning Ordinance by including the NZEA as Davis' first vote was legal, her change of her vote was not legal, and therefore cannot be honored. MIT can simply file another zoning petition to remove the NZEA; and 3) not appoint Councillors Maher & Reeves as chairs of any committees for the next two-year term.
A few observations: Anyone who was at that public meeting witnessed the very public response of the MIT representatives when this 11th hour amendment was introduced. There was nothing secret about it. They simply alerted the City Council that their "memorandum of understanding" (which was the basis upon which the votes of several city councillors depended) would be null and void if the NZEA was approved. In response, Mayor Davis chose to very publicly rescind her vote for that amendment so that the zoning petition would be voted favorably in accordance with the many concessions that had been made during months of negotiation. She took the time to very carefully explain her actions at that time. Some activists did not like the outcome, so they took issue with the procedures. Teague's Remedy #2 is especially comical in that he wants that single amendment to now be made law without regard to the rather obvious fact that the whole zoning petition may have failed had it been included. Simply noting that "MIT can simply file another zoning petition to remove the NZEA" ignores the fact that it would require a 2/3 majority to do so. Teague's Remedy #3 simply proves what an arrogant fool Mr. Teague is (as if this was ever in doubt). - Robert Winters
Another Monday - Oct 21, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
As Election Day draws near, the business of the City continues. Here are a few items of interest:
The City Manager's Agenda features 10 responses to the 34 items on "Awaiting Report". I'm sure the city councillors will do their best to grow the list back again with what are often questionable requests that could be more easily answered in person.
Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-34, regarding appointing a task force to further examine the Connolly Petition.
It's been entertaining to watch the spin associated with this whole matter. The bottom line is that few people disagree with the concept of encouraging highly energy efficient building construction, and the response from the City Manager reflects this. However, the Connolly Petition was, in fact, a zoning petition that would have mandated that any new development over a modest size not only meet energy efficiency standards (which many new buildings already do), but also that any energy needs that cannot be met on-site instead be purchased from a restricted list of suppliers and/or supplemented by the purchase of renewable energy credits (RECs). The petition also specifically mandated that this should apply to every tenant in the new buildings. [Note - I have repeatedly suggested that this goes well beyond what can be legally mandated via zoning.]
On the substance of the Connolly Petition, the majority of the City Council disagreed with the petition as drafted. This has been made clear in responses in candidate forums and in statements in the Cambridge Chronicle. Most challengers in this year's election have also made clear that they could not support the petition as drafted. The Mayor and City Manager convened a forum of experts a few weeks ago at the Cambridge Public Library and these experts generally disagreed with the substance of the Connolly Petition. The establishment of this task force can only be viewed as a way to craft an alternative that could actually be supported - and not in any way as what Mr. Connolly is now calling "a huge win for the hundreds of residents who signed on to our online petition." This is delusional at best.
My sense is that this task force will likely focus not only on new construction (which, let's face it, is what many of the petitioners wanted to block), but on developing policies and programs applicable to all Cambridge buildings. If this can "re-energize" some of the initial efforts of the Cambridge Energy Alliance and tap into grant money to help homeowners and other property owners to make their buildings more energy efficient, then this will be an outcome we can all support. The Connolly Petition was a lemon, but the City administration will make some lemonade.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been filed by Christopher H. Lutz, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by rezoning an area on the northern border of Richdale Avenue from Upland Road to Walden Street from its C1-A designation to residential C-1.
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been filed by John Chun, et al. requesting the City Council amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge in the entire district currently zoned Residence B located in the Cambridge Highlands neighborhood, situated north of Concord Avenue, south of and adjacent to the Blair Pond Reservation, and east of and adjacent to the municipal boundary with the Town of Belmont by deleting the designation Residence B and substituting therefore a designation of Residence A-2.
Order #5. That the City Council go on record re-filing a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 17.20 to increase the setback requirement abutting Linear Park and to clarify form and density language with the residential neighborhood. Councillor Maher
That's three more zoning petitions in the queue.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel, City partners, and the Governor's Office to develop a contingency plan to ensure that Cambridge residents who see part or all of their rent subsidized by federal funding will not see their housing jeopardized in the event of a future shutdown of the federal government. Vice Mayor Simmons
Even though the shutdown of the federal government is over for the moment, this Order illustrates the dilemma that state and local officials face if and when we go through this again. Cambridge has long been supportive of public housing options within Cambridge, but much of this housing is funded by sources outside of Cambridge. If the flow of money is restricted, it cannot be easily replaced by local revenue sources. Vice Mayor Simmons' order is specifically about the Section 8 program (rental vouchers), but the hard reality is that federal policies and Congressional dysfunction can quickly disrupt local housing options. The Order calls for a contingency plan, but the local options for response are limited.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Dec 7, 2012 to tour Harvard University.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Mar 5, 2013 to tour Lesley University.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Apr 5, 2013 toured the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
I note these more for amusement than anything else. For a long time now I have noted on the City Council Committees page regarding the University Relations Committee: "No reports have been filed by this committee. Until such time as reports are filed, it will be assumed that this committee has not actually met." The committee has apparently met 8 times dating back 18 months (Apr 2012), but these are the first reports being filed. Perhaps we'll see the other five reports on the eve of Election Day. - Robert Winters
OctoberFest - Oct 7, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Notes
Here are a few items of interest.:
City Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request from Leggat McCall Properties that the City of Cambridge consider the disposition by a long-term lease to Leggat McCall of four-hundred twenty (420) parking spaces and a portion of the ground floor retail space at the City-owned First Street Garage.
There are a number of good reasons to do this as outlined in the City Manager's letter, but the devil is in the details and the City should not settle for just the promise of a grocery store and a better retail environment.
Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the proposed zoning petition regarding Medical Marijuana Regulations. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Number Nine of Sept 30, 2013.]
It's pretty clear that these dispensaries will have to go somewhere and the proposed districts in NorthPoint and in the area of the Fresh Pond Shopping Center may be the best available option.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to review the permitting process and any zoning and building code barriers to greater adoption of solar energy. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on Order Number Fifteen of Sept 30, 2013.]
It's hard to understand why Councillor Decker felt the need to delay this Order other than to continue her pointless sniping of her less favored colleagues. As I said last week, this Order is the kind of energy efficiency initiative that actually makes sense in that it addresses what all property owners could potentially choose to do to conserve energy and save money and makes so much more sense than mandating "net zero" buildings.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Director of the Information Technology Department and with any other relevant City staff and City partners to determine the feasibility of bringing free wireless internet access to Central Square, and to report back to the City Council on what must be done in order to make this a reality within the next year. Vice Mayor Simmons
This is a good idea - even if it means having to suffer even more hipsters playing with their apps on their razor-thin Macbooks and other devices. My personal choice would be to create several designated areas for hot dog stands.
Order #4. That the City Council go on record strongly urging the Cambridge Housing Authority to reopen the public decision about the smoking ban that is scheduled to go into effect on Aug 1, 2014, in order to allow for a more robust discussion and greater collaboration with all of those will be directly impacted by this policy change. Vice Mayor Simmons
You just gotta love the exceptionalism. We go through a huge battle to make bars and restaurants more healthy and pleasant by driving out the smokers, yet when the same standard is applied to public housing there's outrage. I would never allow smoking inside my building, and I don't think the City or the Cambridge Housing Authority should permit it either. What kind of "collaboration" does Councillor Simmons have in mind?
Order #6. That the Mayor is requested to form a new standing committee of the City Council -- a Non-profit Relations Committee. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I have two objections to this proposal. First, the University Relations Committee is a relatively recent invention and it has never had a particularly heavy burden. If anything, incorporate this new focus into a modified "University and Nonprofit Relations Committee". My second objection the reference in the Order to any future Community Benefits Process. This could so easily become the committee assignment of choice due to the potential patronage benefits associated this any such process.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council the Assessing Department's findings regarding the feasibility of granting small commercial properties a modest exemption on their real estate property taxes. Councillor vanBeuzekom
This law states: "With respect to each parcel of real property classified as class three, commercial, in each city or town certified by the commissioner to be assessing all property at its full and fair cash valuation, and at the option of the board of selectmen or mayor, with the approval of the city council, as the case may be, there shall be an exemption equal to not more than ten percent of the value of the parcel." This is an interesting idea in that it would potentially provide a small benefit to small businesses at the expense of larger businesses. I look forward to what the Assessor has to say about this idea.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a report on how the city planning team supports and encourages safe bicycle lane travel citywide Councillor vanBeuzekom
My only concern about this Order is that it's almost exclusively about the blocking of bike lanes and, though cyclists may resent seeing vehicles stopped in those lanes, this is not an especially great hazard. As a daily cyclist, I'm far more concerned about problematic road surfaces and the idiocy exhibited by both cyclists and motor vehicle operators at intersections. If we are to take action against illegal parking, start by going after any driver who fails to park within a foot of the curb.
Order #10. That the City Manager, the Police Commissioner and their designees shall not activate or cause to be activated any security cameras, surveillance cameras, or any other video or audio recording, watching or listening devices or implement any policy relating to such cameras unless in either case there shall be held a prior affirmative vote of the majority of the City Council specifically authorizing the contemplated activation or implementation. Councillor Decker
I would like to see the authorization of a reasonable number of such cameras put to a vote of the City Council just so we can see which councillors are opposed to what most law enforcement officials see as a reasonable and very helpful tool for finding and prosecuting criminals. It would be especially nice if this could take place prior to November 5th so that I can further narrow the number of choices on my municipal ballot.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee and Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations Committee for a joint public meeting held on Aug 5, 2013 to discuss the future of the Foundry Building.
In spite of the previous report on this property and the recommendation to sell it, there is no way this will politically happen. What will be interesting is to see if there is any creative way to deliver some of the benefits people seem to want without having this be a huge, permanent financial burden on the taxpayers. - Robert Winters
Let's Go Down to the Levy - Sept 30 City Council Agenda Notes
The most significant agenda item is the public hearing and vote relating to the proposed FY2014 tax rates.
City Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Mass Dept. of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2014: [Full Report]
(1) The FY14 property tax levy of $328,544,945 reflects a $11,597,175 or 3.66% increase from FY13, the lowest increase since FY06.
(2) Pending approval from the Mass. Dept. of Revenue, the FY14 residential tax rate will be $8.38 per thousand dollars of value, a decrease of $0.28 or -3.23% from FY13. The commercial tax rate will be $20.44, a decrease of $1.06 or -4.9% from FY13.
(3) As has been the practice in recent years, $11 million in reserve accounts is being used to lower the property tax levy.
(4) Approximately 74.1% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY14 tax bill. In addition, another 13.5% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250.
(5) The median tax bills show a 2.54% increase for single-family homes, a 2.54% decrease for condominiums, a 2.85% increase for two-family homes, and a 4.38% increase for three-family homes. These figures factor in the residential exemption ($215,649 for FY14).
(6) In large part due to new construction, the City's excess levy capacity (as defined by Prop. 2½) increased by approximately $13.4 million, or 12.87%, to $117.5 million in FY14.
City Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a notification from the State Department of Revenue that as of July 1, 2013, the City of Cambridge certified free cash balance is $142,176,089.
This is the highest amount in the City's history and represents a $26.3 million increase over last year.
City Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the proposed zoning petition regarding Medical Marijuana Regulations. [Full Report]
Basically, the plan is to create two "Medical Marijuana Overlay Zoning Districts" where dispensaries could be located. One area is on either side of Fresh Pond Parkway (including the Shopping Center) and the other is in the NorthPoint area. Related public health regulations governing these dispensaries are expected to follow.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Superintendent of Schools and the Assistant City Manager for Human Services with the view in mind of appointing a task force to recommend an approach to four year old education in Cambridge Mayor Davis
This appears to be an outgrowth of last week's Roundtable Meeting with the School Committee. Pretty soon we'll have a record number of Task Forces.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to review the selection process for the Inclusionary Unit program with a view toward making the process favorable towards former and current Cambridge residents. Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to establish an owner's handbook to be given to all residents living in Inclusionary Units, and for the Community Development Department to establish formal, annual check-in meetings with all Inclusionary Unit residents. Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to report back to the City Council on the style, quality, and long-term care of all Inclusionary Units. Vice Mayor Simmons
This is a curious suite of Orders from Councillor Simmons reflecting questions and concerns about the operational aspects of the City's generally very successful Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance.
It's worth noting that the naysayers from the "Cambridge Residents Alliance" (CRA) recently stated: "We reject inclusionary zoning as the primary way to develop affordable housing by including a small percentage of affordable units in large towers of market-rate housing. In fact, those developments have a ripple effect on surrounding neighborhoods, driving rental prices up and leading to a net loss from the city of residents who need affordable units." The CRA's preferred approach seems to be centered on policies designed to concentrate low income residents in specific areas, especially in and around Central Square. Their thesis that increasing the supply of housing causes housing prices to rise is questionable at best.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate new technology methods of communicating street sweeping to residents, with the specific request that an "opt-in" text alert be sent to residents who own parking passes (and resident guest parking passes) by linking geo-coded phone numbers with locations that are to be swept. Councillor vanBeuzekom
"No parking on the Odd side of the street or your car will be tagged and towed." - I guess that's not clear enough for the new wave of residents who can't survive ten minutes without their blessed little iPhones.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Department of Public Works to devote a greater number of resources towards the challenge of improving the cleanliness of Central Square. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I can't argue with the intent of this Order, but it's really more about how the available resources are deployed than just the raw amount of resources. Also, there has to be a lot more required of those property owners in Central Square who are not doing their fair share. For example, if the patrons of the Middle East cover every post and utility box with stickers and other graffiti doesn't it make sense that the good owners of the Middle East should hire someone to clean up their mess? It's not right to just dump all the responsibility on the DPW.
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to review the permitting process and any zoning and building code barriers to greater adoption of solar energy. Councillor vanBeuzekom
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 21, 2013 to discuss the proposed "Net Zero" amendment to the Zoning Ordinance....
Councillor vanBeuzekom's Order is the kind of energy efficiency initiative that actually makes sense in that it addresses what all property owners could potentially choose to do to conserve energy and save money. In the meantime, however, we have to suffer through the narrow focus and questionable legality of the election-motivated "Net Zero" proposal. - Robert Winters
CPA, MXD, Bikes, and Net-Zero - Mon, Sept 16, 2013 Cambridge City Council preview
Here are a few possibly interesting items in this relatively brief agenda:
Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate $10,307,500 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.
The CPA funds will be distributed as always - 80% toward affordable housing, 10% toward open space, and 10% toward historic preservation. There's a reason why I stopped going to the meetings - it never changes.
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Boston Properties requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map in the area included within the "Ames Street District."
The petition should be noncontroversial. It calls only for minor amendments to the zoning in the MXD district that will allow residential and retail development to proceed.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments as to potential locations, including Hubway stations, where posting cycling laws and etiquette would be in the public interest and feasible for the City of Cambridge. Councillor Cheung
We'll have to ask Emily Post about the appropriate etiquette, but reminding cyclists that they are operating a vehicle and must follow the same laws as motor vehicles is always a good idea.
Order #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Election Commission to establish a Right to Vote Task Force. Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Simmons
This Order is pure micromanagement of the Election Commission. It is doubtful that a comparable Order would ever be directed toward any other City department.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to revise the presentation of the FY15 City Budget document so that the details and costs associated with bicycle-related initiatives are presented as its own category and so that the City's bicycle-related initiatives (i.e. infrastructure improvements) can be tracked and monitored separately from auto-related initiatives. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I would like to see this only to learn the total amount of money that is being wasted to install a "cycle track" on Western Ave.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a task force to further examine the Connolly Petition to be comprised of, but not limited to, community advocates, members of the business community, property owners and developers, Cambridge Community Development representatives and other stakeholders. Councillor Decker
This Order augments the planned "Getting to Net Zero" panel discussion scheduled for Wed, Oct 2, 6:00pm at the Main Library and the Roundtable/Working City Council meeting scheduled for Thurs, Oct 10, 3:00pm to discuss Connolly, et al. net zero zoning petition. It should be obvious that any action along the lines of this petition should have involved all stakeholders and not just the 350.org and anti-development crowds. Perhaps this will put back on track whatever positive merits may be contained in this petition and that a more thoughtful (and legal) approach can be found to the satisfaction of all. - Robert Winters
Back to School - Mon, Sept 9, 2013 Cambridge City Council meeting preview
School is back in session for our intrepid Cambridge city councillors. After 6 weeks of vacation they return to a predictably long agenda with few controversial items. Here are some highlights (additional comments to follow):
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-15, regarding creating a short term task force that will consider drafting a municipal ordinance related to outdoor lighting.
This task force comes about as a result of the ill-fated Teague petition that would have prohibited some types of outdoor lighting in new buildings only. The task force has a goal of finalizing its recommendations by early 2014.
Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Popper-Keizer, et al Zoning Petition.
Manager's Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Craig Kelley Petition as proposed (Flat Roofs/Rainwater Separation).
No comment here on these two zoning petitions receiving negative recommendations from the Planning Board. Links are provided to the PDF reports.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to set up a $20,000 one-year Build Neighborhoods Fund from Community Benefits funds. [was: Order #16 of July 29, 2013]
However well-intentioned this Order from Councillor vanBeuzekom may be, there are some inherent risks associated with the distribution of public money to neighborhood groups. It's reassuring that the Order included the following: "ORDERED: That distribution of the Build Neighborhoods Fund use a system similar to the former Police Community grants - in that grant recipients use requirements and grant spending reporting is clearly communicated." With appropriate safeguards, small grants like this (up to $500) can be enormously helpful for graffiti removal initiatives, neighborhood cleanups, block parties and other "wholesome" activities.
Charter Right #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the rationale and thought process of the License Commission on the proposed increase of liquor license fees prior to the change taking effect. [was: Order #20 of July 29, 2013]
The License Commission recently jacked up the annual fees licensees are required to pay to cover enforcement and other costs. I have heard that there is some resentment from the proprietors of well-behaved restaurants that they have to bear the cost of misbehaved bars and nightclubs.
Resolution #89. Congratulating Jane Kenworthy Lewis on being appointed Acting Clerk of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Vice Mayor Simmons
Congratulations to Jane Lewis on this significant appointment. Jane was one of our original band of recycling advocates over 24 years ago and one of our hardest working volunteers. She also played a major role in the drafting of the City's Municipal Recycling Ordinance.
Resolution #132. Congratulations to Iram Farooq on being appointed Acting Deputy Director of the Community Development Department. Mayor Davis
If appointments like this are based on earning your stripes through great work, then Iram has more than earned her stripes during the recent planning processes for Kendall Square and Central Square. This really is a great appointment.
Resolution #141. Thanks to the Masse family and the FX Masse Hardware Co. staff for their many years of exemplary service and assistance to Cambridge residents. Mayor Davis
Some multi-generational institutions like Masse Hardware deserve their own chapters in the history of Cambridge. Though I understand that new housing will appear at Masse's Corner, I mourn the passing of the essential retail it provided for so many years. I am constantly aware of the steady slide from essential retail toward restaurants, cafes, and similar uses. We all love our restaurants and cafes, but now we often have to go to Somerville and elsewhere to buy our groceries, clothing, and other supplies. If there was one act of magic I wish the City could perform, it would be to invent a way that we can attract and retain essential retail in Cambridge. A classic diner or two would also be welcome.
Resolution #148. Thanks to Sergeant Kathleen Murphy, Cambridge Police Department, for her many years of service to the City of Cambridge and best wishes in her retirement. Mayor Davis
Yes, indeed. Sergeant Murphy has been a regular presence at the semi-annual rides organized by the Cambridge Bike Committee. I hope she'll continue to ride with us (without the uniform) for many years to come.
Resolution #149. Congratulations to City Councillor Leland Cheung and his wife Yin Zhou on the birth of their daughter Lela Marie Zhou. Councillor vanBeuzekom
If Councillor Cheung seems tired at the meeting, we'll give him a pass. Congratulations Leland, Yin, and Lela Marie!
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner as to whether the City of Cambridge currently reports crime gun information to the E-Trace system and, if not, explore the feasibility of doing so. Councillor Cheung
If we add some high-resolution security cameras on a few key streets, we may do a lot to assist Cambridge Police in solving serious crimes involving deadly weapons. Any word yet on the June 2012 murder of Charlene Holmes?
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant staff and report back to the City Council with a plan to review and adjust news box placement to ensure the general public’s access to the sidewalk is not unreasonably hindered. Councillor Kelley
This was the subject of much deliberation in the City Council during the months prior to the enactment of the Newsbox Ordinance in February 1999. Two things are worth noting. First, there were probably more newsboxes in 1999 than there are now as printed material has given way to electronic Spam, social media, and online shopping. Second, fenced-in outdoor dining and Hubway stations now consume (and sometimes obstruct) at least as much sidewalk space as any newsboxes.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff about the possibilities of starting street cleaning at a later time in the morning. Councillor Kelley
The 7:00am blaring of the announcement from the DPW sound car can be a bit annoying, but the tagging and towing doesn't start until a perfectly reasonable 8:00am and everyone knows that you can park after the street cleaning is complete. If you push back the start time, you also push back the time at which it's safe to park again. It's probably best to leave well enough alone. If you want to do something more meaningful, allow people with resident stickers to park free at metered spaces until 9:00am or 10:00am. Any councillors care to submit such an Order?
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City and CPS staff about the usefulness of an "Open Right" campaign to prevent "dooring" to cyclists and how such a public awareness campaign might be implemented. Councillor Kelley
Anything that can be done to better educate the public about this hazard is a good thing. Then again, they may forget while they're texting and juggling their coffee. Another Order I would suggest is to ask the Traffic & Parking Officers to strictly enforce the requirement that vehicles park within a foot (hopefully less) of the curb. It's incredible how many lazy drivers park several feet from the curb - and this can be a serious hazard for cyclists in the roadway.
Order #20. That the City Council go on record urging the President of Cambridge College to assent to a meeting with representatives of the Cambridge College security officers and with members of SEIU Local 615 to discuss labor issues and that the City Council refuse to attend any events at Cambridge College until such time that a meeting has been scheduled. Vice Mayor Simmons
Will this apply to the City Council Candidates Forum sponsored by the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association at Cambridge College on October 2?
Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate the use of green colored pavement within bike lanes along major roadways and at key intersections, especially considering Massachusetts Avenue, Hampshire Street, Broadway, Huron Avenue, and Concord Avenue. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I recall that this was done in the past in Central Square and elsewhere (with blue paint), but it didn't take too long for the paint to wear away. This would be a waste of paint along roadways, but there are some applications in and around intersections that might make sense.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on July 23, 2013 to review recommendations for the best practices in supporting neighborhood groups and to determine best strategies going forward.
As stated above, there are inherent risks associated with the distribution of public money to neighborhood groups. It is a fact that some neighborhood groups (and associations of neighborhood groups) are de facto political action committees. The City should support helpful initiatives from residents, but not politicized neighborhood groups.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on July 30, 2013 to discuss assessing the current status of Central Square following the Central Square Advisory Committee’s non-zoning recommendations and exploring potential options to make the neighborhood a safer and more family-friendly area.
This meeting featured a significant amount of input from residents about problematic behavior in and around Central Square. Other significant non-zoning elements include the design and maintenance of public space, retail, cultural and non-profit diversity, connecting people to the Square, environmental issues, the status of the municipal parking lots, monitoring public benefits, and traffic and transportation issues. It's a full plate.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 31, 2013 to examine the finances of various proposals for the future of the Foundry Building.
Deciding on the disposition of this building is the subject of four City Council committees. The Foundry building was transferred to the City as a result of the Alexandria rezoning process with the intention that it would be used for municipal or community uses. Ten thousand square feet (10,000) would be used for community purposes. There are, however, significant costs in preparing the building for public use. This is a hotly debated topic that we will certainly be hearing more about during the current municipal election season.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 21, 2013 to discuss new meeting protocols as they relate to resolutions and policy orders and record keeping of the City Council Minutes.
Some of the revised procedures are good and useful, but some of the unintended consequences of recent revisions to the Open Meeting Law have been problematic. Perhaps the Mass. State Legislature should revisit this law to address some of these more problematic consequences - especially those aspects that thwart collaboration in order prevent collusion.
Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 7, 2013 to receive a brief update on community benefits from the nonprofit summit.
Much of this discussion grows out of the recent trend during rezoning negotiations to encourage "community benefits" donations - a somewhat suspicious trend in that it has the appearance of essentially purchasing increased height and density in proposed development projects. As the saying goes, "money changes everything." Now that some funds have been accumulating, the elected officials and City administration are haggling over how these funds can be legally spent. My primary thoughts on this are that things worked much better when Cambridge businesses and institutions focused on charitable giving to support the people of Cambridge through a variety of programs independent of local government. The trend toward City-controlled "community benefit funds" is a road that we perhaps should have avoided entirely. - Robert Winters
Midsummer Meeting - Monday, July 29, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The City Councillors take a break from their reelection campaigns to take care of a few business items in this first meeting with City Manager Richard Rossi. As is usually the case after 5 weeks without a meeting, there's a boatload of City Manager Agenda items (27), Council Resolutions (87), Council Orders (25), and Committee Reports (9). There are also 6 Charter Right items left over from June 24, and an imperfect Zoning Petition (Teague) that needs to be voted or re-filed in some form. Here's a sampler of some of the more notable items (with a few minor comments):
Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $375,000 to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used to conduct a feasibility study for a bicycle and pedestrian bridge linking the Alewife Triangle and the Alewife Quadrangle.
This was originally envisioned in "The Fishbook" (a.k.a. the 1979 Alewife Revitalization Study by the CDD) as a bridge for all traffic that would connect the western end of Cambridgepark Drive to Smith Place connecting to Concord Ave. Priorities have changed radically since then and perhaps the most significant changes in the forseeable might be a bike/pedestrian bridge over the RR tracks (could happen) or a new commuter rail station (probably won't happen).
Manager's Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the Phillips et al, Zoning Petition, which proposes new requirements for Special District 2 (SD-2). SD-2 was created in 2000 to regulate predominantly commercial areas abutting Linear Park, which runs through the center of the district.
The recommendation says: "It is the Board’s view that the proposed changes do not serve the City’s planning goal of encouraging the transition of outdated commercial and industrial sites at neighborhood edges into housing. Moreover, the zoning for this district has recently been the subject of significant consideration by the City and the public, culminating in the City Council’s adoption of the Bishop, et al. Zoning Petition in 2012. Development that conforms to the recently adopted zoning was approved by the Planning Board this year. Making such a substantial change to the zoning at this time risks undermining the integrity of that prior public discussion and outcome."
Unfinished Business #16. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez,
Manager's Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the Teague et al, Zoning Petition, which proposes new zoning standards regarding lighting.
Honestly, the whole premise of this petition is questionable. If indeed the problem of light intrusion onto residential properties is such a nuisance (and a case can be made that it is), the right approach would be to yank this out of the Zoning Ordinance and put it on a similar footing as the City's Noise Ordinance. The Planning Board advises that the City Council direct the creation of a comprehensive lighting ordinance that would be incorporated into the Municipal Code separate from zoning.
Manager's Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Council Order #10 of Nov 19, 2012, regarding a draft Polystyrene Food Container Ordinance, and input from the Recycling Advisory Committee (RAC).
Polystyrene here refers to expanded polystyrene (EPS) which is commonly referred to as Styrofoam. Though you might think this a slam dunk in terms of environmental desirability, the Recycling Advisory Committee had a long discussion on the pros and cons of the proposed ban of EPS in food establishments. It is true that there are potential health effects of hot beverages in EPS containers, but alternative containers do not necessarily provide a net environmental benefit. On balance, however, an EPS ban is both workable and likely to be well-received by most consumers.
Manager's Agenda #25. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a response from City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa to Council Orders Number 10, 11 and 12 of June 3, 2013 regarding a legal opinion on the following issues: 1) the expiration date on the Phillips Petition and whether if the petition is re-filed would the extension take the special permit decision of the Planning Board out of jeopardy; 2) how many times a petition can be filed on the same zoning petition (serial filings); and 3) whether it is legal to close Cottage Park Avenue and open Brookford Street.
Manager's Agenda #26. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a response from City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa to Council to Order O-4 of 4/29/13, regarding a report on clarifying the expiration date for Zoning Petitions filed in the City.
I will comment only on the last of these. The ambiguity between zoning petition expiration dates can be simply resolved via a minor change in the Zoning Ordinance. It's baffling why no city councillor has yet proposed this solution.
Manager's Agenda #27. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a response from Sam Lipson, Director of Environmental Health, to City Council Order O-9 from 10/4/10, regarding a review of the status of smoking in public parks and the efforts of the Smoking in Parks working group.
If I'm reading the proposed ordinance changes correctly, it is recommended that smoking be banned in a variety of places that are currently listed as exceptions in Chapter 8.28 of the Municipal Code. The additional prohibition would apply to any public place, municipal facility, municipal vehicle, public park, hotel, and to any outdoor sidewalk seating areas associated with a restaurant.
Charter Right #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-63, regarding a report on the progress on the non-zoning recommendations submitted by the Central Square Advisory Committee.
Charter Right #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-71, regarding a report on how the structure of boards and commissions can be adjusted.
Charter Right #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Foundry Building "Reuse Study" prepared by HFMH Architects.
See the notes of the previous (June 24, 2013) City Council meeting for these items.
Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been re-filed by John Walker, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to the Special District 2 (SD-2) zoning district in North Cambridge.
This appears to be a resubmission of the Phillips et al, Zoning Petition. As such the legal response in Manager's Agenda #25 is relevant.
Resolution #57. Congratulating Patrick Barrett III and Norma Jean Bopp on the birth of their son, Jedidiah Shelby Barrett. Councillor Cheung
I will add my congratulations to my good friend Patrick and his wife Norma Jean on our new Cambridge resident, Jedidiah - a native Cantabrigian.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works to explore the potential for a community composting initiative. Councillor Cheung
I really don't know what Councillor Cheung has in mind here. As a local composting guru, my advice is that any resident who can accommodate backyard composting should do this as their own "community composting initiative." If you want more community, invite your neighbors to contribute and help maintain your compost (and make use of the finished product). A pilot City-operated curbside composting program is also now being developed. What perchance does our good councillor propose in addition? It's essential that there be people responsible for any composting operation including those in community gardens, and it is often the case that people do not take appropriate responsibility - even in active community gardens.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments as to the feasibility of installing side guards on all City-owned trucks to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety and to the feasibility of utilizing pylons as a means through which to separate cyclists from motor vehicles. Councillor Cheung
I get worried whenever I see proposals like this. As a daily cyclist who prefers sharing the roadway with other vehicles, my first reaction to this proposal is that obstructions would now be in the roadway that could limit my mobility and lead to greater traffic congestion by constricting the roadway. As I have said repeatedly here and elsewhere, bicycles are vehicles just like motor vehicles, and the roadway is to be shared by all vehicles. Cyclists need to make the same turning movements as motor vehicles and the segregation of bicycles into narrow spaces conflicts with this. It also leads motor vehicle operators to not respect the right of cyclists to share the road. The only exception where separated facilities makes sense is on higher-speed roadways where the differential between typical bicycle speeds and motor vehicle speeds is very significant.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Information Technology Department and any other relevant departments to evaluate the feasibility of ensuring all city-sponsored committee meeting minutes are available online. Councillor Cheung
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department as to the feasibility of making videos of City Council general and committee meetings downloadable by the general public. Councillor Cheung
I frankly don't believe there's a lot of demand for this public information (except to occasionally create YouTube videos to embarass public officials). That said, if it's simple and cheap enough to produce this form of public information, there's no good reason why it shouldn't be made available.
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic Parking and Transportation and the Police Commissioner and report back to the City Council on the City's efforts to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of current detours and traffic plans currently in place and our ability to adjust them if problems arise in relation to construction projects. Councillor Toomey
This must surely be in response to the astonishing amount of bridge and tunnel rehabilitation work that is now occurring primarily in the eastern half of the city - most notably the Western Ave. project, the Longfellow Bridge traffic restrictions, and other planned work on the Charles River bridges. My prediction is that many people will bitch and moan and then find ways to live with it. Many will permanently change the way they commute for the better. All of this work is long overdue and necessary, and we should all be celebrating the fact that this neglect is finally being addressed.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to set up a $20,000 one-year Build Neighborhoods Fund from Community Benefits funds. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I recall when you could request up to a $500 grant through the Community Oriented Policing (COP) program. If these funds were to support grafitti-removal, cleanup initiatives, or block parties, I don't think anybody would object to the proposed program. On the other hand, I could easily see a politically-motivated group asking for support claiming they needed the money for "community purposes". If such a Fund is established, the rules for receiving grants should be made abundantly clear and all money should go to clearly charitable purposes.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to develop cost benefit analyses for at least five scenarios related to the Foundry Building. Mayor Davis
If this interests you, there are upcoming City Council committee meetings on this matter on July 31 [Finance (Decker)], Aug 5 [Neighborhood and Long Term Planning (Cheung), and Economic Development, Training, and Employment (Toomey), and Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations (Reeves)], and on Sept 24 [Finance (Decker)].
Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to work together with the City of Cambridge Law Department to explore the establishment of an enforced open door while air condition prohibition for Cambridge, and when this prohibition is put in place, precede it's installation with an awareness campaign through the Cambridge Energy Alliance and the new Community Compact for a Sustainable Future. Councillor vanBeuzekom
Perhaps we should just have a single Anti-Stupidity Ordinance that includes a prohibition against spending absurd amounts of money on wasted heating and air conditioning. I can think of plenty of other clauses to add to the Anti-Stupidity Ordinance. Perhaps we can all pitch in with the drafting of the ordinance.
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the rationale and thought process of the License Commission on the proposed increase of liquor license fees prior to the change taking effect. Councillor Cheung
This is a good request. I expect there are some significant costs associated with all the new pouring licenses, and it would be good to hear an accounting of the additional staff requirements for the License Commission, Police Dept., and Fire Dept.
Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to set up a committee to work with the MBTA to ensure that the MBTA will continue to use all of the stops along the #1 Route and not eliminate any stops. Councillor Reeves
The evaluation by the MBTA of the #1 Bus stops has been going on for the last couple of years and includes a number of sensible changes including the removal of some unnecessary bus stops. It's a bit bewildering to see a City Council order arriving at this late date calling for all proposed efficiencies to be abandoned.
Order #22. That the City Manager is requested to set up a committee including the president of the tenant's union, the chairperson of the Housing Committee, the chairperson of the University Relations Committee, and a representative of the City Manager to open up truthful communication with Harvard on their intentions of selling this building (2 Mt. Auburn St.). Councillor Reeves
There has to be a back story behind this. The Order states that "Harvard University has blocked all meaningful communication between the University and the tenants union and blocked all meaningful communication with elected city officials and administrators of the city of Cambridge." That's quite an accusation and we're all eager to hear what it's about and if there's any truth to it.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on June 18, 2013 to discuss the Monteiro case only as it pertains to any lessons learned.
Committee Report #9. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on July 17, 2013 to continue discussions of lessons learned as it pertains to the Monteiro case.
I attended the latter of these two meetings and, after reading a summary of "lessons learned" stated in the former meeting, I offered a comment on one important "lesson learned" that had not previously been stated - namely that the City has to do whatever it can to protect itself against similar complaints and lawsuits in the future. More robust performance evaluations would be a good start. Though this seemed like a pretty obvious suggestion and one that I don't believe had been mentioned previously, I was heckled by a well-known Brookford St. resident for speaking at all. So much for civic unity as preached by the "Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods."
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis transmitting a letter from Jeffrey M. Young, Superintendent of Schools regarding responses to City Council Budget Questions.
Considering the fact that the questions posed to Superintendent Young were far longer than the answers provided, it's a good bet that the disagreements between the City Council and School Committee during the recent Budget Hearings will continue into the planned Roundtable meetings in September and October and during next year's budget cycle and beyond. - Robert Winters
Happy Trails - Agenda Highlights for Monday, June 24 Cambridge City Council meeting
This will be the last Cambridge City Council meeting with Robert Healy as City Manager.
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-63, regarding a report on the progress on the non-zoning recommendations submitted by the Central Square Advisory Committee.
There is much to be said about these generally excellent recommendations. More later. Your homework assignment is to read them. There will be a quiz.
Manager's Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-71, regarding a report on how the structure of boards and commissions can be adjusted.
The key statement: "I will state, as the City Council is aware, that it is my long held belief that there is significant overlap and duplication of effort and expense in the current structure." The real question is whether this group of 9 city councillors or their successors have either the vision or the capacity to correct the status quo. Now is the best opportunity to initiate some changes.
Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Foundry Building "Reuse Study" prepared by HFMH Architects.
The key recommendation: "The cost estimate of bringing this building 'up to code,' including an elevator for ADA accessibility, and meeting Silver LEEDS status is over $11,250,000. Funds for such a project are nowhere included in the Five Year Capital Investment Plan. It is my strong recommendation that the City Council authorize the sale of this building in accordance with all applicable laws and subject to all the existing zoning conditions. The requirement for 10,000 square feet of community use would be protected in the proposal."
Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the current Awaiting Report list.
The Right Thing To Do: "I am hereby recommending that, as one means of allowing the City Manager, effective July 1, 2013, to commence his successful efforts, that all items on the current Awaiting Report list be 'placed on file.'" A clean slate for incoming City Manager Richard Rossi is exactly the best course of action.
Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been received from Mike Connolly, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to ensure that all new construction or changes in use requiring Project Review Special Permits are built to avoid emission of greenhouse gases in daily operation and thereby mitigate the risks of extremely dangerous climate changes. A clear and enforceable definition of "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions is proposed. [HTML version of petition]
This will be surely be controversial, and that may well be the intention of this petition timed to coincide with the calendar of the municipal election. Most will agree that "net zero" is a great goal, but I do not believe it is permissible under state law for a local zoning ordinance to prescribe what vendors a property owner, developer, or tenant must use to purchase goods or services. This includes the purchase of electricity or other forms of energy. The proposed zoning amendment includes not only provisions for extensive reporting of energy use, but also requires that the property owners and all of their tenants must purchase electricity from a restricted list of suppliers OR pay an additional fee indefinitely into the future for "energy credits". This goes well beyond what zoning is legally allowed to do. It would be like requiring that all tenants in a building must buy only environmentally friendly products. We may all wish that they do so, but we cannot use the zoning ordinance to mandate such things.
It should also be noted that this proposed zoning amendment is being filed before MIT has submitted designs for future buildings that will eventually be built under a recently passed zoning amendment relating to the Kendall Square area. An 11th hour attempt to insert a "net zero" requirement in that zoning (or perhaps in the accompanying memorandum of understanding) almost derailed the overall vote. The people who are proposing the current zoning amendment are precisely the same people who were adamantly opposed to the MIT/Kendall zoning. There is good reason to believe that the underlying motivation is to again try to derail the MIT/Kendall proposal.
Resolution #1. Congratulations to Teddy Darling on his retirement from the Middlesex Superior Court. Councillor Toomey
Best wishes in your retirement, Teddy.
Resolution #17. Congratulations to Owen O'Riordan on being named Acting Commissioner of the Department of Public Works. Mayor Davis
Another excellent choice of leadership in one of the City's most essential departments.
Resolution #18. Thanks to City Manager Robert W. Healy, Jr. for over three decades of dedicated service to the City of Cambridge and best wishes on his transition to the Kennedy School of Government. Mayor Davis
I'm happy that Bob Healy achieved many of the long-term goals he wanted to achieve, including several major replacements in our water infrastructure, the new Library, new Police Station, renovated City Hall Annex, and more. He's also shepherded the many changes on the environmental front beginning with the establishment of the recycling program through the broad arrange of programs now in place.
I personally have tremendous respect for Bob Healy, and I like him personally even though he sometimes seems gruff and hard to approach. I don't think there's another person alive who has cared as much about this city. I also look forward to the next phase of history in Cambridge. With a new city manager there will likely come new initiatives. It's the perfect time to modify the things that have not worked so well and to build on those things that have worked well, and Richard Rossi is the kind of person who likes to get things done. This bodes well for Cambridge.
Professor Healy - I'd like to make an appointment for office hours when you arrive at the Kennedy School.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to commission a portrait of Robert W. Healy, Jr. to be hung in the newly named Robert W. Healy, Jr. Executive Suite. Councillor Cheung
That's a great gesture and appropriate for someone who has given so much of his life to the City of Cambridge. - Robert Winters
Almost Summer - June 17, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
Just a few brief, late comments this time around. I've been busy doing some (free) consulting work for the good folks in Minneapolis analyzing the effect of the number of permitted rankings in Instant Runoff elections. You may find this uninteresting, but it really floats my boat. Perhaps I'll share some of this information with all my Cambridge friends later. Meanwhile, the Sullivan Chamber will rock tonight (he says tongue in cheek) with the following thrill-a-minute items:
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $40,000 from the Cambridge Community Foundation to the Department of Human Service Programs Salary and Wages account and will support the ongoing programming for families who have participated in the Baby University program.
It's good to see this program coming along. It grew out of an initiative of Councillor Reeves a few years ago.
Manager's Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an appropriation of $250,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Finance Department (Information Technology) Extraordinary Expenditures Account which will provide funds to address recommendations of the Gartner Strategic Planning Report over the next 6-12 months.
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk's Office, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Cable TV Telecommunications and Public Utilities Committee for a public meeting held on May 23, 2013 to assess the findings and recommendations of the Gartner Report on the City of Cambridge's Information Technology Strategic Plan.
I'll leave it to Saul Tannenbaum to discuss the details, but the two items "Implement Citywide Governance Model" and "Public Input to Governance Model" are intriguing.
Manager's Agenda #29. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a motion to amend a previously adopted order to strike out the sum of $92,715,930 in the Public Investment appropriation and request the adoption of the substituted appropriation order for the Public Investment Fund in the amount of $34,407,930.
This appears to be as much a recording/bookkeeping error as anything else. We'll still be spending the same amount of money on Public Investments.
Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the State Auditor's Office to determine if the state of Massachusetts will fund the costs incurred by the city when it assesses and establishes full and fair cash value for tax-exempt properties within the City of Cambridge even though the city cannot collect taxes from said properties. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on Order Number Five of June 3, 2013.]
Order #19. That the Cambridge City Council go on record to urge the members of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Revenue to report favorably MA Senate Bill 1308 and MA House Bill 2642 regarding payments in lieu of taxation of organizations exempt from property tax. Councillor vanBeuzekom, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley
Last weeks Order that was delayed and this week's new Order seem interrelated. An accurate assessing of tax-exempt property would only be useful if it was used for determining an actual tax. Seems contradictory, doesn't it? If a law is passed mandating in-lieu-of-tax payments, then it's no longer "in lieu of tax". It's just a different tax classification - like commercial vs. residential vs. industrial vs. agricultural. The key phrase is "These two bills, identical in content, will allow a municipality, upon acceptance at the local level, to implement a program through which nonprofits will make an annual PILOT payment to the municipality equivalent to 25 percent of the amount that the organization would have been assessed on real and personal property if it were not exempt from taxation." In other words, it would be taxable at a different rate. Who knows what the Legislature will do, but this idea seems Dead On Arrival.
Communication #4. A communication was received from Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street regarding City Manager Agenda Item #10 of June 3, 2013 on RSS Feeds for the City website.
Saul - have you figured out how to master the feeds on your own news aggregator? Until you do, careful with the stones in that glass house.
Resolution #20. Happy 71st Birthday wishes to Bob Marshall. Vice Mayor Simmons
Resolution #34. Happy 70th Birthday wishes to Bill Cavallini. Vice Mayor Simmons
I don't usually highlight birthday announcements, but I lift my glass to Harvard Square long-timer and photographer Bob Marshall and to long-time activist Bill Cavallini who now resides in, I believe, Somerville. He's still a Cantabrigian at heart.
Resolution #25. Retirement of Elizabeth Ahsanullah from the Election Commission. Mayor Davis
I'll join the chorus in saluting Ellie on her retirement. She's been one of my Election Commission buddies for ages.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the necessary departments as to appropriate ways for residents to be involved throughout the development of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway and publicize such a means to members of the community. Councillor Cheung
Yup - Shout it from the rooftops. This bicycle/pedestrian connection will be a Good Thing.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments as to the possibility of installing a sign on Peabody Terrace that indicates that bicyclists' use of the roadway is always permitted. Councillor Cheung
This is how you tell that Councillor Cheung and his helpers haven't been around so long. Peabody Terrace is Harvard-owned housing in the Riverside neighborhood. He's probably thinking of Peabody Street - the actual name for a section of road next to Harvard Yard by the Harvard Tunnel. Maybe his IPhone told him the name. [I just learned that the mixup occurred in the City Clerk's Office, so Councillor Cheung's Cantabrigianism remains intact!]
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to direct Police Commissioner to ensure that no license plate readers become operational for any reason whatsoever, including testing and training, until after the Cambridge Police Department has formulated and publicly posted a policy on their use and management of relevant data Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley
Nab the lawbreakers and leave the decisions to the police. There are better things to worry about than getting your license plate photographed.
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate parties and report back to the City Council with an update on the Constellation Center. Councillor Toomey
Good question, and the property owner will likely continue to have no response.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on Apr 17, 2013 to conduct a joint public meeting with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) to review the powers and potential of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority as it pertains to future development plans throughout the City of Cambridge.
The future of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is an open question. It seems like they will become a major force in promoting housing development in the greater Kendall Square area over the next decade, but they could also play a significant role in facilitating change in the Central Square area.
Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public meeting held on June 5, 2013 to continue to discuss the proposed City of Cambridge Security Camera Policy, Draft 2.
Just do something, boys and girls. Switching on the cameras makes a lot of sense and the proposed policy seems to balance all interests.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis transmitting a letter from Hanne Rush, Assistant Attorney General to Nancy Glowa, City Solicitor regarding the Open Meeting Law Complaint.
The Stohlman complaint got a favorable response from the AG's Office, though the matter that spurred the complaint stands (appointment of the City Manager). I doubt whether we'll see many cosponsored Orders and Resolutions in the future as the accusations will likely fly that discussing any proposal violates the Open Meeting Law. Perhaps elected officials should just run away from each other from now on if they see each other any time other than on a Monday night.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons transmitting a copy of a letter sent to Councillor David Maher, Chair Government Operations and Rules Committee seeking an update on Community Mitigation.
The Vice-Mayor is correct. The promised discussion regarding a more consistent way of handling mitigation funds, including money already raised, is long overdue. - Robert Winters
Coming up at Cambridge City Council on Monday, June 3
During a municipal election year, it is common that the content of City Council Orders is at least in part motivated by the need to identify or, in some cases, create issues that will distinguish the author of the Order. The same can be said of matters taken up by the City Council committees and more. Controversy and alarm are sure to draw more attention than more mundane matters. There's now just four weeks to go before nomination papers become available for City Council candidates, and it's a good time to look at the actions of our local elected officials through a campaign-tinted lens. With this in mind, here's a list of some of the more interesting agenda items on this week's agenda:
Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-38, regarding a report on measures the City can take to prevent the transport of ethanol. [Meeting Notice with response from Congressman Michael Capuano]
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a working group of up to eleven people charged with drafting a community response to the Mar 29, 2013 report issued by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as it relates to ethanol transport and the impact on the City of Cambridge. Councillor Maher and Councillor Decker
There's no doubt that this is a significant issue that deserves a thoughtful response, but it's true that an atmosphere of fear is something that can be nurtured and exploited for political gain. The state legislature has taken some steps to stop trains bearing this particular hazardous cargo, but the letter from Congressman Capuano makes clear that federal jurisdiction in interstate commerce may trump any such efforts, including actions targeting things other than the transportation of such cargo. It's not surprising that residents may be fearful, especially with news stories from elsewhere about train derailments and their consequences.
Should this plan go through, the most likely route would follow the Fitchburg Line through North Cambridge and Porter Square and then through Somerville en route to the Chelsea destination. The Grand Junction branch passing through Cambridgeport and East Cambridge is a possible alternate route. Perhaps the most potentially dangerous locations for any route would be at-grade crossings. On the preferred route, this includes Sherman Street in North Cambridge and Park Street in Somerville.
Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-33, regarding a report on adding a RSS feed to all City web pages.
This item will be carefully scrutinized by Councillor Cheung, John Hawkinson and Saul Tannenbaum, but probably not by legions of other residents.
Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-78, regarding a report on expanding the number of parks/playing fields with public toilets; Awaiting Report Item Number 12-132, regarding a report on incorporating permanent bathroom facilities at the Cambridge Common, conducting a study for permanent bathroom facilities in all squares and providing a list of all locations were portable bathroom facilities are currently located; Awaiting Report Item Number 12-150, regarding convening a task force to look into the creation of providing permanent public restrooms at high volume locations; and Awaiting Report Item Number 13-55, regarding a report on efforts to develop a working group to review public bathroom issues.
As the text of the Manager's report indicates, this responds to four separate Council orders. Though the idea of bathroom facilities may seem like a not-so-hot topic, it has actually brought out a lot of people during the Public Comment period of meetings over a span of quite a few years, and good answers are not so easy to come by. This is also not just about the Cambridge Common. In past years there was a lot of discussion about creating public toilets in the major squares, but nothing really happened for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, people still "have to go" and you can't change that via legislation. It does seem clear that the City administration is taking the matter seriously and that some accommodation will follow.
Manager's Agenda #28. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-60, regarding a report on the feasibility of donating old computers to non-profit agencies in lieu of recycling them.
This is clearly a good thing, but one has to wonder why sensible efficiencies like this should require City Council orders. The City of Cambridge is often seen as a leader in "sustainability" efforts, and one major part of this involves waste disposal and reuse options. It seems to this writer and long-time recycling advocate that all City departments should be ensuring that surplus equipment is disposed in the best possible way, and reuse certainly seems a better choice than other alternatives.
Unfinished Business #14. Report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 3, 2013 to discuss an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create a new Section 6.100 Bicycle Parking, and to create a new definition for Bicycle Parking in Article 2.000, modify the yard standards in Article 5.000 as they relate to bicycle parking and modifying various sections of Article 6.000 to remove references to bicycle parking. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 6, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Mar 19, 2013. Petition expires June 17, 2013. May 6, 2013 substituted language referred to Unfinished Business and remained on Unfinished Business.
I suspect this will be ordained at this meeting. The proposed ordinance could be made better by including a requirement for secure bicycle parking for all redevelopments. At the very least, there should be a requirement that there be no net loss of potential bike parking below an established minimum for both residential and commercial buildings.
Resolution #17. Thanks and best wishes to Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray for his service to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Councillor Decker
Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Tim. I'll never forget the evasive answers you gave me at a City Council committee meeting back when you were still the Mayor of Worcester. You haven't changed a bit.
Resolution #30. Congratulations to City Manager Robert W. Healy on his fellowship at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Mayor Davis [Press Release]
How do I schedule an appointment with Professor Healy during office hours later this year?
Order #1. That the Executive Assistant to the City Council confer with the Dedication Committee to consider the request from Wayne Ishikawa for a street corner dedication in honor of Michael Shinagel. Councillor Toomey
I tip my hat to my former boss, Harvard Extension School Dean Michael Shinagel. The Extension School has been providing affordable educational opportunities for residents for a century and Michael Shinagel served as Dean of the Division of Continuing Education for 38 years from 1975 through 2013. [Harvard Magazine article, Sept 2012]
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff, City of Boston, state transportation officials and Longfellow Bridge construction project managers to determine if it would be possible for pedicabs to transfer passengers from the general MGH/Charles Street area of Boston to the general Kendall Square area of Cambridge and back again. Councillor Kelley
This is an excellent idea. Still unresolved, however, is the question of where pedicabs should ride on streets where the City wants install so-called "cycle tracks." The pedicabs often consume the entire width of these bike lanes, and in order to accommodate the sidewalk "cycle tracks" roadway widths are often narrowed to the point where motor vehicles and cyclists can no longer safely share a travel lane in the road. It's even worse for pedicab drivers who will have no option other than to "take the lane" or ride the sidewalk. This conflict will likely not be an issue on the Longfellow Bridge.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the State Auditor's Office to determine if the state of Massachusetts will fund the costs incurred by the city when it assesses and establishes full and fair cash value for tax-exempt properties within the City of Cambridge even though the city cannot collect taxes from said properties. Councillor vanBeuzekom
As the Order states, the City cannot collect taxes from said properties, so how the assessment takes place is unimportant to the City. The simplest solution is to simply ask that the owners of tax-exempt properties submit estimates of their "full and fair cash value." There will be no tax collected anyway, so there's no practical need for more than a good estimate. This also applies to the valuation of City, State, and Federal properties within the city.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on May 22, 2013 to review the status of positions reporting directly to the City Council.
The purpose of this meeting was to take up the issue of the appointment of the City Clerk and the City Auditor. It's about time that the word "Interim" should be removed from "Interim City Clerk Donna P. Lopez." Jim Monagle is also expected to be reappointed as City Auditor.
Unfinished Business #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-90, regarding a report on Executive Session to discuss lawsuits. [City Manager Agenda Number Seven of Feb 25, 2013 Placed on Table on motion of Councillor Kelley on Feb 25, 2013.]
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig Kelley notifying the City Manager and City Council of his intention to move to take Calendar Item #10 from the table to enable discussion of various lawsuits against the City.
Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom alerting her colleagues of her intention to pull Awaiting Report Item Number 12-90 (Unfinished Business #10) to discuss pending lawsuits.
My speculation is that these fundamentally identical communications originated on Brookford Street and that Public Comment will once again feature bitter commentary from one of its residents. City Manager Robert Healy will retire four weeks from today. The City will move on without skipping a beat, but some multiple-decade critics may never move on. - Robert Winters
Addendum: At this meeting the City Council accepted a late committee report from the Government Operations & Rules Committee and passed the following Order:
FYI - Current Rules and Goals: Cambridge City Council & Cambridge School Committee
City Council Rules 2010-2011 (adopted January 4, 2010)
City Council Goals - FY2010-2011 (approved February 2, 2009)
City Council Committees (for the 2010-2010 term)
School Committee Rules (adopted January 7, 2008)
School Committee Goals (adopted October 7, 2008)
Research Assistants? I don't think so...
May 2, 2006 – The Cambridge City Council voted 8-1 on May 1 in favor of giving themselves personal “research assistants.” Only Councillor Craig Kelley had the fortitude to raise any questions about the proposal. So it appears the proposal will sail through the Budget Hearings with barely a raised eyebrow. While I have raised the issue of the genesis of this proposal, the question of its merits and its implementation have not been addressed here. So, here are some observations, questions, and suggestions for our elected officials, City administration, and residents to consider:
1. There was a time when our elected officials enlisted citizens to assist them in research matters relating to public policy. Cambridge is perhaps the best city in the United States in which to find experts in almost any matter that the City Council (or School Committee) may need to better understand. There is a wealth of evidence over the last 65 years showing how citizens have worked with elected officials in the development of public policy. If the City Council feels burdened by the research needs of its committees, there is an enormous pool of talent available at no cost. Currently, the City Council makes very little use of this very available resource.
2. There was a time when councillors collaborated much more than they currently do in committee work and in the development of policies. A well-functioning City Council committee should delegate responsibilities so that each member masters certain facets of the tasks at hand and shares this knowledge with the rest of the committee. In effect, councillors serve as staff to each other. I would argue that it is better that elected officials educate themselves.
3. Are these jobs going to be publicly posted with a job description? Who will be doing the actual hiring? If Councillor Smith wants to hire Mr. Jones as personal staff, will the mayor have veto power over the hire? Does the Personnel Department have a role to play here or are these to be political hires? None of these details have been discussed publicly and they are important.
4. If these “research assistants” are to be hired, there should be policies and safeguards to ensure that they are not working on behalf of any councillor's political campaign. Otherwise, this proposal will have the effect of using taxpayer dollars to support the political campaigns of incumbent councillors. In fact, maybe it's time to consider a similar disqualification for staff in the Mayor's Office. A founding principle of Plan E government is the elimination of political patronage in favor of responsible, professional government. Some of us still believe in this ideal. At the very least, strong guidelines should be established for what is and is not permissible.
5. The existence of this proposal within the budget of the Mayor's Office is very strange indeed since it involves personnel for councillors, not the mayor. Should we not infer from this that the consensus of the councillors is that the City Council staff is not up to the task? If the job of councillor has changed so much, should there not be some discussion of revamping the Office of the City Council to better match the needs of the councillors? Why are these tasks being outsourced?
6. Some councillors have recently stated that the filing of City Council orders requesting information through the City Manager is not enough and that councillors would be better served by having their own staff to get this information. This strikes me as contrary to the intent of the Plan E Charter which dictates that all matters involving City personnel be directed through the Manager. One can easily imagine a scenario where each councillor has his or her personal staff contact City department heads for information rather than filing an Order as a body to get a common response. If the consensus is that the City Manager is being obstructive or extraordinarily slow in responding, shouldn't the City Council take more forceful action in holding the Manager accountable?
7. If the term “research assistant” is meant to be factual, then perhaps these RAs should be topic-specific so that we can have people who have some background or aptitude for the tasks at hand. If, for example, research in energy-related matters is what is needed, then someone with that knowledge would be ideal. Is any such protocol being discussed to ensure that the councillors and the taxpayers will get the best quality research for their tax dollars? I would hope that matters like scheduling and event planning will be handled by the City Council Office rather than by “research assistants.”
8. Several councillors have complained that e-mail has had a dramatic effect on the responsibilities of a city councillor due to the time consumption associated with responding to these messages. I don't doubt this. However, there are efficiencies that can make such tasks much easier. For example, if each councillor receives 100 e-mail messages on a particular topic, then rather than making 100 shallow replies, I would advise responding to ALL of the issues of substance raised by residents in a single, comprehensive message sent (using blind-carbon-copy) to all of the people who sent messages. Those of us in academics have been doing this for years. It's much more effective to craft comprehensive messages sent to the whole class rather than many nearly identical messages sent to individual students. There are MANY ways to be more effective in e-mail communication. Then again, if individual responses are seen as more valuable in securing potential votes in the next election, that's a choice each councillor must make on his or her own - independent of taxpayer-supported staff.
In summary, I am not questioning whether or not some changes in staffing are warranted. I am, however, asking that any such changes be done in the best interest of taxpayers and that City funds are never used to either directly or indirectly support the reelection efforts of elected officials. - RW, May 3, 2006
Jan 1998 - The vote for who was to be mayor went on for several weeks as Ken Reeves held out until there were 4 other votes for Katherine Triantafillou, an outcome sincerely supported by at most two councillors (Reeves and Triantafillou). The would-be mayor rounded up her supporters for the coronation. A congratulatory cake was ordered. As the vote occurred and there were momentarily 5 votes on the table for Triantafillou (Born, Davis, Duehay, Reeves, Triantafillou), Councillors Galluccio and Russell changed their votes to Duehay. Councillors Born, Davis, and Duehay then changed their votes to Duehay and Mayor Duehay was elected. Councillor Galluccio was then elected vice-mayor. Meanwhile, in the room next to the Council chamber, Alice Wolf aide and Triantafillou supporter Marjorie Decker exploded in anger and punched out the cake, police were called, and a grudge began that remains to this day.
Feb 1998 - Mayor Duehay made good on the deal by hiring Galluccio campaign worker Terry Smith to work in the Mayor's Office "to assist the mayor and vice mayor". This marked the first time (to my knowledge) that any councillor other than the mayor received personal staff (except for a brief experiment with interns some years earlier). Resentment grew among other councillors about the special treatment one councillor received in exchange for delivering the mayor's job.
1999 - Frank Duehay and Sheila Russell announced they would not seek reelection. Jim Braude, David Maher, and Marjorie Decker were subsequently elected to the City Council as incumbent Katherine Triantafillou was defeated, principally as a result of Marjorie Decker winning her seat.
2000 - After 1½ months without electing a mayor, Anthony Galluccio was able to secure 6 votes to become mayor (Braude, Davis, Galluccio, Maher, Sullivan, Toomey). David Maher was elected vice-mayor. Terry Smith became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. David Maher did not request any personal staff. Kathy Born suggested during the Budget hearings that the idea of personal staff for councillors be referred to the Government Operations Committee. Ken Reeves said at this time, "I don't believe the vice-mayor needs the extra staffing and not us." Note that this was a reference to the previous administration (Duehay-Galluccio).
Around this time, the Government Operations Committee met to discuss the proposal for personal staff. The estimates given for City Council staff were: (1) $390,250 for a low-level, bare bones proposal; (2) $157,450 for 8 part-time staff with no benefits; (3) $72,300 for one legislative research assistant. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi said personal staff was tried briefly about 10 years earlier with interns. Michael Sullivan voiced concern about keeping in touch personally with his constituents and wondered how he would find enough things for this person to do. Most of the councillors spoke in support of giving themselves personal staff. Kathy Born said that if she found her job to be too much, she could hire her own staff person, only she would have to pay for it out of after-tax money, unlike an employee of a business. She suggested higher Council pay with the option of paying for a staff person out of this additional pay. The option would remain for a councillor to act as a “full-time councillor” without staff. Jim Braude said that a councillor could lend his or her campaign the money for the staff person.
One week later, the City Manager proposed a 23% pay raise for city councillors and a change in the ordinance to allow for automatic increases so that they would never again have to vote to raise their own pay. The pay raise was approved and the question of personal staff disappeared for the rest of the Council term.
2001 - Kathy Born and Jim Braude chose not to seek reelection. Brian Murphy and Denise Simmons were elected to the City Council.
2002 - Michael Sullivan was elected mayor on Inauguration Day. Henrietta Davis was elected vice-mayor. Unlike the previous term, Henrietta Davis did request and receive personal staff as vice-mayor when Garrett Simonsen, Davis' election campaign manager, was hired to the Mayor's Office staff as her assistant. Indications are that he served more than just the vice-mayor.
2004 - Michael Sullivan was again elected mayor, only this time Marjorie Decker was elected vice-mayor. Garrett Simonsen became chief of staff of the Mayor's Office. Sullivan hired Kristin Franks (who had been Decker's campaign manager) as “assistant to the mayor and vice-mayor” but the indications were that she was working almost exclusively for Decker. By summer, Franks was gone and Nicole Bukowski, another Decker campaign worker, was hired as exclusive staff to Decker. For the remainder of the Council term, Bukowski waited hand and foot on Decker - and resentment among other councillors grew for the remainder of the Council term.
Late 2005 - Craig Kelley was elected to the City Council and incumbent David Maher was defeated. Speculation immediately began about who would be the next mayor. Some councillors reported that a plan was being discussed to give certain councillors personal staff as part of the vote-trading for electing the mayor.
Early 2006 - Ken Reeves was elected mayor and Tim Toomey vice-mayor. In a surprising turn of events, Bukowski continued to serve out of the Mayor's Office as personal staff to Councillor Decker - clearly a part of the deal to make Reeves mayor. Rumors circulated that there was a plan to assign some councillors additional committee chairs as justification for getting personal staff. When the committee chairs were announced, Councillor Decker (who, along with Councillor Galluccio, has maintained the worst record of committee attendance during her time on the Council) was surprisingly given four committees to chair. In contrast, Henrietta Davis (who has always been at or near the top in committee attendance) was given only one. This was seen by some as a way to justify Decker keeping her personal aide in exchange for her vote for mayor.
April 2006 - Ken Reeves submitted a budget for the Mayor's Office that is 54.3% higher than the previous year. The cause for the increase is a proposal for personal staff for all the remaining councillors at a recurring annual cost of about a quarter-million dollars. There was no public indication of any kind that such an extravagant plan was in the works. An order is on the May 1 City Council agenda (after the budget was already submitted on April 24 including the increase) formally calling for the major staff increase. The order is co-sponsored by Reeves, Toomey, Decker, Galluccio, Sullivan, and Davis. It is expected that, like every person hired to date as staff for the vice-mayor (and most of those on the mayor's staff), all of the new “research assistants” will be affiliated with the election campaigns of the officials they will serve. Curiously, these patronage hires will be occurring at a time when there are fewer major issues before the Council and when an unprecedented number of councillors are either serving in other elected positions or seeking election to other positions now or in the near future. - RW, April 28, 2006
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
One Ring to rule them all,
The nine Nazgūl arose as Sauron's most powerful servants in the Second Age of Middle-earth. It is said that three of the Nine were originally "Great Lords" of Nśmenor. They were all powerful mortal Men to whom Sauron each gave nine Rings of Power. These proved to be their undoing:
"Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thralldom of the ring that they bore and of the domination of the One which was Sauron's. And they became forever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgūl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death" (The Silmarillion: "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", 289).
The corrupting effect of the rings caused their bodily forms to fade over time until they had become wraiths entirely. Given visible form only through their attire, their original form was completely invisible to mortal eyes. The red reflection in their eyes could be plainly distinguished even in daylight, and in a rage they appeared in a hellish fire. They had many weapons, which included long swords of steel and flame, daggers with magical venomous properties and black maces of great strength.