Cambridge City Council Notes  

updated Saturday, February 6, 2016 9:56 PM

Feb 5 - The 2016-2017 City Council committee assignments have been announced.

There are also proposed amended 2016-2017 City Council Rules on the agenda for the Mon, Feb 8 City Council meeting.

Other interesting items on this coming Monday's City Council agenda:

Manager's Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Sharlene Yang as the new STEAM Coordinator.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Sage Cannabis, Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

Communications #8. A communication was received from Michael Dundas, Chief Executive Officer, Sage Cannabis, Inc., 13 Commercial Way, Milford, MA, regarding a status update on the zoning amendment petition APP 2015 #72 filed with the Cambridge City Clerk on Nov 9, 2015.

Order #3. That the zoning petition filed by Milford Medicinals, Inc. be placed on file.   Mayor Simmons

Order #5. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to amend the provisions of the PUD-KS District set forth in Section 13.10 of the Zoning Ordinances and which includes a majority of the Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, be refiled as of Feb 9, 2015.   Councillor Carlone

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant City departments to study the benefits of a wellbeing index and plan for how it might be incorporated into various City planning processes, including the city wide Master Plan.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

Groundhog Eve - A Few Items from the Feb 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting agenda

groundhogPerhaps there will be just six more weeks of winter, then it will get cold again. Until then, here are a few comment-worthy items on tap for this Monday:

Resolution #1. Happy Birthday wishes to former Mayor and City Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves.   Councillor Maher

Happy birthday, Ken!

Order #1. That the Cambridge City Council go on record in full support of H.3019/S.1810, H.3073/S.1807, and S.1809 as needed protections for area bicyclists.   Councillor Kelley

It's interesting that 55 years ago the same-numbered bill read: "1961 House Bill 3019. An Act Providing A Penalty For Operating A Motor Vehicle So Dangerously Under The Circumstances That The Operator Should Be Conscious That He Is Unreasonably Endangering The Lives Or Safety Of The Public."

The first of these measures would mandate better mirrors and side guards on some vehicles as a means of helping to prevent catastrophic injuries to cyclists. (A significant fraction of cyclist fatalities involve altercations with very large vehicles). The third of these measures would clarify the rights of a cyclist in a crosswalk (which could make a big difference in terms of legal liability in the event of injury or death). Bicycles are vehicles, but in a situation like the Minuteman Bikeway where there are crosswalks at intersections it's currently not clear what a cyclist is supposed to do - proceed with caution or dismount and walk.

The second of these measures is the most significant. It attempts to define "vulnerable user" and includes cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, people in wheelchairs, tractor operators, and people riding an animal. The proposed law would require that a safe distance of at least three feet be maintained for a motor vehicle traveling at thirty miles per hour or less, and one additional foot of clearance for every ten miles per hour above thirty miles per hour. The law would also require that if a passing vehicle cannot maintain this safe distance when overtaking a "vulnerable user", the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane, crossing the centerline if necessary, if it is safe to do so or wait for a safe opportunity to overtake. This should be standard practice anyway for any good driver, but it will be great if this is enshrined in law. The greatest danger for cyclists (and pedestrians) occurs when there are turning vehicles, but there is also some risk (and some fear) of getting "brushed back" by a careless motor vehicle operator who does give a wide berth when passing a cyclist, a pedestrian or, for that matter, even a slower motor vehicle.

If I could wave a magic wand and command the legislature to do right, I would also mandate lower speed limits on any road where the distance between moving vehicles and parked vehicles is below some minimum, e.g. many Cambridge one-way streets with cars parked on both sides. Nobody should be driving more than 25mph on streets like Lee St., Fayette St., or Antrim St. (just to name a couple of streets in my own neighborhood). I will also point out that according to the above proposed law regarding vulnerable users it may not even be physically possible to legally pass a cyclist on such road.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development with the intention of organizing a Volpe Task Force made up of representatives from abutting neighborhood groups and Kendall Square residents and businesses.   Councillor Toomey

I would have thought that such a group would already have been formed, but this does again bring up the dilemma of who really represents the people in the various neighborhoods of Cambridge. I am reminded of Al Vellucci's oft-stated phrase "the self-anointed, self-appointed."

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Information Technology Department and any other relevant City departments on ways the City of Cambridge can implement such a service with the goal of notifying residents of city-wide and neighborhood events and meetings via automated calls or text messages.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

This isn't a bad idea, but I have to wonder who will decide which meetings and events will be deemed call- or email-worthy and which residents will be contacted (abutters, immediate neighborhood, citywide).

Order #4. That the City Council go on record in support of the Bikeshare Transit Act.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

This would provide an additional source of funds for expanding services like Hubway. Let me just say that as a cyclist who likes to work on my own bike, there' nothing like getting to know your own wheels.

Order #9. City Council support of a grant application by the City of Cambridge to the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge, proposing the development of an automated, connected-vehicle transportation system that has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   Councillor Toomey

Beyond all the greenhouse gas stuff, this grant could help in the development of the future Grand Junction Multi-use path which will help link together residential, commercial, and educational centers in Somerville, Cambridge, and Allston. There are reasons for doing this that go beyond climate change, but I suppose that's where the money is to be found in this political environment.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting notification from the President of the Massachusetts State Senate, calling for a special election to be held on Tues, May 10, 2016, to fill an existing vacancy in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senatorial District [Petruccelli].

This means that there will also have to be a primary on Tues, April 12 and, since it's unlikely that we'll see a viable Republican or other party candidate, that's when the actual decision will be made with the Democrat running unopposed or minimally opposed on May 10. Special elections like this should not be conducted in this way. If there is to be a primary, it should be a single open primary where the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the final election. Better yet, require ranked-choice-voting (RCV) with transferable votes to elect a single winner and eliminate the primary altogether. It's idiotic that legislators should be determined in a low turnout primary. Isn't Massachusetts supposed to be a hotbed of intellect and innovation? Why can't we get elections right?

Don't forget - the Presidential Primary is also taking place on Tues, March 1.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., transmitting a series of articles regarding the affordable housing crisis. [San Francisco's Self-Defeating Housing Activists] [What's the Matter with San Francisco?]

The comparison of San Francisco and Cambridge may be imperfect, but the underlying issues explored in these articles do have some relevance here.

We'll also likely get the 2016-17 City Council Committee Assignments at this meeting (or at least we hope so). - Robert Winters

Comments?

MenuMore than anything else, I'm hoping that the membership and Chairs of the City Council subcommittees will be completed in time for this Monday's meeting. There's also the possibility that the committees themselves could undergo some changes. In 2014 the number of committees was reduced from 17 to 11 via consolidation. It's unlikely that this number will be further reduced, but some reconfiguration is not out of the question.

Other than the committee appointments, here are some morsels that aroused my interest:

Order #1. City Council support of H.3933 which will create a parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and poorest in Massachusetts.   Councillor Toomey

Regardless of the merits of the proposal, it's hard to tell what is meant here by "parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and poorest in Massachusetts". The proposed constitutional amendment would add an additional 4% tax on top of the current 5.1% state income tax on earnings in excess of $1 million in any tax year.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to communicate the Cambridge City Council’s full support of the Cambridge Housing Authority's proposed project funding to the Commonwealth and MassDevelopment and to convey the immediacy of the Cambridge Housing Authority’s need in requesting that the Commonwealth approve tax-exempt bond financing without delay.   Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

This would be one more step to ensure that the financing is available to carry out the necessary renovations to the Manning Apartments in the Central Square area.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate City departments to report back with a rough estimate of capital and operating expenditures for a pilot City of Cambridge tool library for the year 2017.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

This is an intriguing proposal, though it seems like the best model would be more like a public-private partnership. Compare with Parts and Crafts in Somerville.

Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to coordinate with the Clerk’s Office and the appropriate departments to implement within three months an electronic public comment display in the Sullivan Chamber, listing the speaker’s name and affiliation as well as a timer.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung

Just get a better timer - perhaps one with a green, yellow, and red light to alert the speaker when his or her time is drawing to a close. There is no need for "an electronic public comment display.... listing the speaker’s name and affiliation". Each speaker now provides that information verbally and that is sufficient.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works and the Community Development Department to work with Eversource and other power providers to plan and implement infrastructure improvements to fully support future development in Cambridge and further to confer with the appropriate departments to draft an amendment to the City’s Zoning Ordinance that would see projects needing a special permit undergo a power needs assessment as part of the permitting process.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Devereux

This is a modified version of an order from the Dec 21, 2015 meeting. More attention needs to be given to the evolving infrastructure needs in Cambridge as new housing and other structures are introduced - not as a means of blocking development but to ensure that such things as electrical power are adequate to support future needs.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 14, 2015 to discuss the climate change vulnerability assessment.

I make note of this report only because my testimony at this hearing relates to the above Order regarding electrical infrastructure needs.

Order #9. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs with a view in mind of scheduling two finance committee hearings to be chaired by a Councillor of the Mayor’s choosing, one as an update from the head of the Finance Department and the other to review budget priorities, to be held in the middle of February.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

It is likely that this Order will simply be redirected to the Finance Committee to schedule these meetings if the City Council committee assignments are completed in time for this meeting.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to amend Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich dated Jan 5, 2016.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Hasson Rashid dated Jan 8, 2016.

Shoo, fly. When well-meaning laws like the Open Meeting Law degenerate into vehicles for malcontents to act out their psychological issues, it's time for the State Legislature to consider amending the laws to better respect their intended purpose. City officials should not be required to waste their time on complaints such as the two listed above. - Robert Winters

Comments?

City HallIt's hard to characterize as "new" an elected body that's 8/9 the same as the previous one, but it's a clean slate nonetheless with a new Mayor. We'll have to wait and see where this train takes us. Also, the City Clerk's Office has changed the way they make meeting materials available starting with the new Council term. It's good in some ways, but it's a lot more difficult in other ways, especially in linking to specific documents without having to open up a 30MB PDF file just to find a single item buried among 300 pages. Here are a few agenda items that seem worthy of comment:

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, in response to the City Council's request for a legal opinion on whether the City can act either through ordinance, home rule petition or additional avenues to protect tenants from dramatic rent increases or unfair evictions, and whether the City has the ability to strengthen the tenant protections provided under the state Condominium Conversion Act.

As the City Solicitor's opinion makes clear, municipalities have very limited authority in such matters, especially in the regulation of rents, but some specific tenant protections could possibly be enacted via a successful Home Rule petition.

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Barrett, et al, Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 19, 2015 to discuss a petition filed by Patrick W. Barrett III, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by amending Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 4.000, Section 4.22 ("Accessory Apartment"). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held on Oct 27, 2015. Petition expires Feb 17, 2016.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Patrick W. Barrett III, Esq., regarding the Barrett Petition.

These three items refer to the Barrett Petition that would modify zoning relating to Accessory Apartments and Basement Space. With a Feb 17 expiration date, now would be a good time to get the City Council Committee assignments completed so that the Ordinance Committee could reconvene and iron out any desirable amendments to this petition.

[UPDATE: The Barrett Petition passed (as amended only to insert an effective date of May 1, 2016) by a 7-1-1 vote (Cheung, Kelley, Maher, Mazen, McGovern. Simmons, Toomey voted YES; Carlone voted NO; Devereux voted PRESENT).]

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item #15-32 (2015), regarding a report on the economic analysis for Central Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on City Manager Agenda Number Twenty-six of Dec 21, 2015.]

The timeliness, scope, and accuracy of this report hardly makes it a good starting point to reactivate discussions on the future of Central Square, but it's something. Even a refutation of some of its assumptions would refocus some attention back to this area.

Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to amend article 4.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to require that a power needs assessment be a requirement for appropriate projects that undergo special permit review. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Twelve of Dec 21, 2015.]

There was a residential project proposed for 10 Essex Street that went through its required hearings and approvals two years ago and was never built. At the time, one topic discussed was the need to accommodate an electrical vault accessible from the street. This otherwise technical detail was relevant in light of the fact that the abutting new H-Mart in Central Square (which would have an entrance through this proposed building) had its opening delayed for a long time due to inadequate electrical infrastructure to service that block. Only a temporary waiver permitted the opening of this now very popular store and one might speculate that this could be related to the failure to build this welcome transit-oriented development. Either that or it's the usual inaction of this particular property owner.

When the City's latest Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment findings were announced recently, I made the point that the adequacy of the city's electrical infrastructure should have been given more attention in that study. Councillor Cheung's Order of Dec 21 is relevant in that it seeks to ensure adequate electrical infrastructure for new large developments, but greater attention also needs to be paid to the entire electrical network of the city, especially in view of potential additional burdens - often on very aged and inadequate electrical lines - that may come with extended summer heat waves.

Charter Right #6. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to give recognized community groups the ability to present alongside or directly after city staff, on the record and as part of the presentation agenda during meetings of the Ordinance Committee. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Thirteen of Dec 21, 2015.]

I really hope this proposal is discarded outright or radically amended into something sensible. There simply is no standard for what constitutes a "recognized community group", and the proposal would in all likelihood simply confer a special status upon a political entity such as the "Cambridge Residents Alliance" to present their official review of all proposals to come before the Ordinance Committee. Nothing now prevents members of this or any other organization from presenting oral or written testimony just like any other citizen or interested party.

[UPDATE: After a curious discussion, this matter was referred to the Government Operations & Rules Committee (not yet appointed).]

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 18, 2015 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to amend Article 6.000 to create a new Section 6.24 Car-sharing Provision that will create a definition and general provisions for Car-sharing and will allow the limited use of parking spaces. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Oct 27, 2015. Amendment submitted by Councillor Cheung on Dec 21, 2015. Petition expires Feb 16, 2016.

This will likely be ordained at this meeting (or very soon) now that the public notice requirements have been met.

[UPDATE: The Car-sharing Zoning Amendment passed on a 7-2 vote with Councillors Kelley and Toomey voting NO. Councillor Toomey has since filed for Reconsideration of the vote.]

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Peter L. Cohen, with regard to a proposed amendment to the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to restrict garage development in dimensionally non-conforming lots.

I don't know much about this petition, but judging from the signatures on the petition it sounds like someone wants to build a garage on a dimensionally non-conforming lot on or around Donnell St. or R.C. Kelley St.

Resolution #5. Resolution on the retirement of Elaine Thorne.   Mayor Simmons

Elaine Thorne has, in addition to other duties, served as the staff person for the Central Square Advisory Committee for many years. She has been a great friend for over two decades and I wish her well in her retirement. Perhaps one day we may see her again as a citizen member of on the City's boards & commissions. Her expertise and her perspective as a life-long Cantabrigian would be a welcome addition.

Resolution #7. Congratulations Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis.   Mayor Simmons

It is very appropriate for this year's Fresh Pond Stewardship Award to be awarded to Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis. It was nearly two years ago that Chip Norton died unexpectedly, but he served many years working to protect the watershed areas of the Cambridge water supply. Henrietta Davis has also been an advocate for Fresh Pond and the watershed areas for many years (though I do wish she would return the MAPC Cambridge watershed study I loaned her many years ago!).

Order #3. That the City Council Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review the attached proposed amendment to §12.16.030 Trees—Climbing, Signposting, Fastening horses.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

You certainly have to read the text of the Order to appreciate its intent, namely to address the problem of bicycles being recklessly locked to living trees. I do enjoy occasionally looking at the sometimes obsolete language of some of Cambridge's more dated ordinances. For example: "9.04.070 - Throwing objects in streets or on bridges. No person shall play ball or throw a stone or other missile in any street, or upon or from any bridge." You didn't know that stickball was illegal in the streets of Cambridge, did you?

Order #4. That the matter of creating smoke free places of employment to protect all workers in unenclosed areas be referred to the Ordinance Committee for consideration.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

A motivation for this proposed amendment seems to be to address the potential dangers of smoking at construction sites where there are flammable materials present. The fire at the new Putnam Ave. school that delayed its opening for six months seems to be the most obvious example of this hazard.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and other relevant departments to draft a zoning ordinance that would see the installation of solar panels be as of right in all zoning districts in the City.   Councillor Cheung

This is a reintroduction of an Order from Oct 19, 2015. It remains an excellent idea after any potential conflicts have been resolved.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council with language that could create a Grand Junction Overlay District that would help to create incentives and ensure the completion of the Grand Junction Multiuse Path.   Councillor Toomey

This is basically a reintroduction of an Order passed on Feb 23, 2015. The only difference now is that there is some sense that funding may be more difficult to come by in light of the scaling back or indefinite delay of other MBTA projects, e.g. the Green Line Extension. Some "Occupy" types have suggested that "Cambridge should just build it", but that's problematic if you don't own or control the right-of-way or, most importantly, the RR bridge over the Charles River that carries an active rail line. That said, creating an overlay district with incentives for abutting property owners to facilitate the construction is a good start.

Order #8. That the City Council go on record accepting the attached provisions of Chapter 162 of the Acts of 2015, the same being ‘AN ACT RELATIVE TO THE TAX STATUS OF CERTAIN LAND OWNED BY A HOUSING AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE.”   Mayor Simmons

It's hard to say whether this was done for a specific property or in connection with some of the creative financing plans the Cambridge Housing Authority has been exploring and adopting. In any case, the Act was adopted and signed by the Governor, so all that's left is for the City Council to accept its provisions.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Transmitting An Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich, 955 Massachusetts Avenue #259, Cambridge, regarding the amended Minutes of the City Council meeting of Aug 10, 2015.

We can only hope that these two mosquitoes will soon fly away or find another host on which to feed. - Robert Winters

Comments?

This is the last meeting of the 2014-2015 Cambridge City Council. The new term begins with the Inaugural Meeting on Monday, January 4 at 10:00am in the Sullivan Chamber of City Hall. Here are a few notable items for this last meeting of the term grouped by topic:

2015 to 2016Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, regarding two commitment letters received from Boston Properties relative to the 88 Ames Street project.

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 3, 2015 to continue discussion on the petition filed by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) to amend the Zoning Ordinance in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan area (KSURP) and to amend the current zoning for the MXD District in Kendall Square to reflect the proposed changes to the plan. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 21, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Oct 13, 2015. Petition expires Dec 22, 2015.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting modifications to MXD Zoning Petition and Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan Amendment.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and Executive Director of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to provide a better economic analysis of the MXD District in Kendall as it would compare to a more typical land acquisition and development deal and to report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

Essentially every modification requested by the City Council in regard to this has been successfully negotiated, so it's difficult to see any rational basis for not ordaining this proposed zoning amendment on Dec 21. Letters from the Cambridge Residents Alliance and the current incarnation of the East Cambridge Planning Team seek delay solely for the sake of delay. We'll see if the tail wags the dog on Monday evening. The petition expires Dec 22.

[Update: The petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan area (KSURP) and to amend the current zoning for the MXD District in Kendall Square both passed on 7-2 votes with Councillors Kelley and Toomey voting in the negative. There was also an additional commitment from Boston Properties to have a minimum of 20% of the housing be made available for homeownership.]

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 1, 2015 to continue discussions on a petition by the Planning Board to amend Section 13.10 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance so as to change the development controls applicable in the Planned Unit Development at Kendall Square (PUD-KS) Overlay Zoning District. The majority of the PUD-KS District is occupied by the Volpe Transportation Systems Research Center operated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The zoning petition associated with the Volpe Center property seems not ready for prime time. The petition has a Feb 8 expiration date, so it could still be acted on during January or, more likely, be re-filed.


Manager's Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-120, regarding a report on the Alewife Bridge/Platform project.

Manager's Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an appropriation of $190,000 from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will be used to pay for completion of the feasibility study and preliminary design of a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the Fitchburg Line commuter rail tracks to link the Alewife Triangle and the Alewife Quadrangle.

This would be a far better proposal if it allowed full vehicular access over the proposed bridge - not just bikes and pedestrians. Without a 2nd means of egress, the Alewife Triangle is just a giant cul-de-sac with insufficient means to enter and exit the area. A full-service bridge would unite the Triangle and Quadrangle as was originally proposed in the Fishbook (Alewife Urban Design Study, 1979). This would improve both areas significantly.


Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 1, 2015 to discuss the proposed Community Benefits Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 21, 2015.
[Update: This was ordained on an 8-1 vote with Councillor Kelley voting in the negative.]

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearing held on Dec 10, 2015 to discuss the financial aspects of Community Benefits.

Manager's Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, the appropriation of $250,000 from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Department Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used for conceptual and schematic design for proposed improvements to Point Park, at the intersection of Broadway and Main Street in Kendall Square. The funds were given to the City as a part of a 2012 agreement between the City and Boston Properties, LP.

Manager's Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $2,000,000 from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Department Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used for the design and construction of a new public open space along Galileo Galilei Way and bounded by Binney Street, Broadway, and the Grand Junction railroad tracks, as part of a 2012 agreement with Boston Properties.

Manager's Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $8,336,980 from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Department Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used for the construction of two new public open spaces in the eastern Cambridge/Kendall Square area: Rogers Street Park on Rogers Street between Second Street and Third Street, and Triangle Park, between First Street, Binney Street, and Land Boulevard.

Manager's Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a transfer in the amount of $3,728,500 associated with the MIT PUD-5 Zoning, Ordinance #1355 ($3,500,000) and Education First's agreement for the North Point Building project, Ordinance #1337 ($228,500) from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund which will be used to provide financial support to non-profit charitable community benefits organizations serving Cambridge residents determined by a process established by the City.

Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $112,100 from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used to remove stormwater (inflow) from the sewer system to offset the new sewer flows associated with the development at 22 Water Street.

When it rains it pours. After being batted around for much of the last decade, the proposed Community Benefits Ordinance appears to be ready for ordination, and with it comes a flood of expenditures utilizing funds generated from a range of commercial developments. It's interesting that this culmination comes at the last meeting of this City Council term.


Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-138, regarding a report on the feasibility of having a comprehensive housing plan as part of an early action item of the citywide planning process.

The Housing Division of the Community Development and other parties have been involved in this issue for a long time and will continue to be very actively involved during the entirety of the upcoming citywide planning process. It was never clear what the expectations were as a "early action item" and it seems abundantly clear that this will be perhaps the single most dominant issue throughout the whole process.

Manager's Agenda #26. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-32, regarding a report on the economic analysis for Central Square.

I don't think there are any great revelations here. If anything, this report simply underscores many of the things said and learned during the Mass & Main petition process. Specifically, the Woodworth report emphasizes how difficult it is to get "family-size" affordable units into a project at an assumed height of about 12 floors. It also makes abundantly clear that building lab space or something comparably profitable is economically advantageous compared to residential projects, and that at 12 floors and a 4.0 FAR the only way to generate family-size affordable residential units is to have that profitable lab space subsidize it. Nobody ever claimed that the C2 recommendations got everything exactly correct. The whole purpose of analysis like this is to get a more accurate sense of the economic realities and necessary incentives to get the desirable outcomes outlined in the C2 report.

Put all this into the Mass & Main context. Mass & Main showed that you can get some of the desirable outcomes if you allow a little more height and density. Can anyone now reasonably question that the only way to get a workable residential project (no lab) with an acceptable number of affordable units was to allow a building greater than 12 stories? This also makes pretty clear that there really was an economic basis for wanting to build lab space and that there was great wisdom in taking the necessary votes to get a residential project instead.

I find most of the assumptions in this analysis to be reasonable. I might perhaps question the assumption that "family-size" (3 bedroom) requires an average of 1300 sq. ft. The floors of most Cambridge triple-deckers are less than 1300 sq. ft. and many families lived well within those apartments.

Personally, I have never bought into the argument that it is so vitally important to build many "family-size" apartments into new residential buildings in all locations. The most plentiful source of those family-size units has long been in existing multi-family housing much of which has been lost to overpriced condominium conversion over the last decade or so. One of the main arguments for building new housing - with or without a high fraction of "affordable units" or family-size units - is to absorb some of the demand that is otherwise removing existing housing units from affordability. That said, I understand that there actually is a demand for such family-size units in Kendall Square (Ames Street, for example) and there's plenty of lab/office revenue to support its provision.


Unfinished Business #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendment to the Living Wage Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 16, 2015.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 14, 2015 to continue discussion on the proposed amendments to the Municipal Code Chapter 2.121 entitled "Living Wage Ordinance."

The proposed amendment to the Living Wage Ordinance still doesn't seem ripe for ordination, but that won't necessarily stop this City Council from once again ordaining something prematurely. The most telling statement in the committee report is this: "Mr. Rossi noted that it is his job to give his professional advice. He can do a better job for citizens and he disagrees with this proposal."
[Update: This was ordained unanimously.]


Unfinished Business #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 18, 2015 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to amend Article 6.000 to create a new Section 6.24 Car-sharing Provision that will create a definition and general provisions for Car-sharing and will allow the limited use of parking spaces. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Oct 27, 2015. Petition expires Feb 16, 2016.

Unfinished Business #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 19, 2015 to discuss a petition filed by Patrick W. Barrett III, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by amending Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 4.000, Section 4.22 ("Accessory Apartment"). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Oct 27, 2015. Petition expires Feb 17, 2016.

Either of these zoning petitions could be ordained with possible amendments at this meeting, but both petitions have expiration dates in mid-February and are not so time sensitive. [I believe that zoning petitions are governed by state law and do not expire at the end of a City Council term.] There is also still a report due from the Inspectional Services Dept. on some aspects of the Barrett Petition. [A brief preliminary report from Inspectional Services arrived as a late addition to the City Manager's Agenda.]


Order #1. That all items pending before the City Council and not acted upon by the end of the 2014-2015 Legislative Session be placed in the files of the City Clerk, without prejudice provided that those proposed ordinances which have been passed to a second reading, advertised and listed on the Calendar under "Unfinished Business" during the 2014-2015 City Council term, along with any other pending matters on the Calendar listed as "Unfinished Business," shall be forwarded to the next City Council and further provided that any items pending in committee may, at the discretion of the committee, be forwarded to the next City Council.   Mayor Maher

This is the traditional "clean slate" order at the end of every City Council term that makes clear that most items still in committee, on the Calendar, and listed under Awaiting Report expire with the end of the Council term unless forwarded by the respective committee Chairs to the new City Council.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct Inspectional Services to work with businesses in Central Square to clean unwanted graffiti on area buildings.   Councillor McGovern

In truth, this problem goes well beyond just the graffiti, though some of the spectacular examples of negligent Central Square property owners should get special and immediate attention. I would also prefer that people refer to this as vandalism rather than suggest some inherent artistic value.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to give recognized community groups the ability to present alongside or directly after city staff, on the record and as part of the presentation agenda during meetings of the Ordinance Committee.   Councillor Mazen

This is a spectacularly misguided order. Its intent appears to be to confer special standing upon specific self-proclaimed entities. There is absolutely nothing today that prevents any resident from testifying at an Ordinance Committee meeting and any group of residents can petition the Chair to present as a group if this makes the testimony more efficient. Who exactly is to decide what constitutes a "recognized community group?" Should this Order pass, I will personally start circulating petitions creating a half dozen "community groups" in order to reserve the right to have a place on the presentation agenda of every meeting of the Ordinance Committee. Perhaps the sponsor of this Order only means to reserve this privilege for organizations that have endorsed his candidacy.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, regarding the work the Housing Committee has conducted throughout the course of the term and recommendations what the Housing Committee and the City Council will continue to work on in the coming term.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, to briefly reflect upon the work the Civic Unity Committee has conducted throughout the course of the term and issue some recommendations what the Civic Unity Committee, the City Council, and the City Administration will continue to work on in the coming term.

This is something new - a city councillor writing up summary statements at the end of a City Council term of the work of her committees. I think this should be standard procedure in the future. Way to go, Councillor Simmons! - Robert Winters

Comments?

December 7Here are a few nuggets for this Day of Infamy. I'll leave the comments to others this time.

Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with suggested modifications the PUD-KS (Volpe Site) Rezoning Petition.

Manager's Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority/MXD Rezoning Petition in the revised version dated Nov 4, 2015, with suggested clarifications.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 19, 2015 to continue discussion on the petition filed by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) to amend the Zoning Ordinance in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan area (KSURP) and to amend the current zoning for the MXD District in Kendall Square to reflect the proposed changes to the plan.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 3, 2015 to continue discussion on the petition filed by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) to amend the Zoning Ordinance in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan area (KSURP) and to amend the current zoning for the MXD District in Kendall Square to reflect the proposed changes to the plan.

Manager's Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-94, regarding a report on a list of parking stickers issued to each development in the past ten years.

Manager's Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendments to the Community Benefits Ordinance.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 1, 2015 to discuss the proposed Community Benefits Ordinance.

Manager's Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Nicole Murati Ferrer, Esq. as Chair of the License Commission, effective Jan 11, 2016.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant City staffers to determine the feasibility of establishing City-financed "gap vouchers," similar to those being considered by the City of Waltham, and to consider whether additional measures such as establishing standalone City-issued housing vouchers could be established.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel and report back to the City Council on what specific steps will be implemented in the coming year to ensure that the City's Boards and Commissions adequately reflect the rich diversity of the City, and to ensure that a greater level of citizen outreach and engagement by these entities is pursued.   Councillor Simmons

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Finance Department to establish a parallel fund to the fund proposed in the Community Benefits Ordinance and to confer with the Finance Director to ensure that the parallel fund will be able to accept money from private entities and that it will spend the collected money in a similar manner to the Community Benefits Fund   Councillor Cheung

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 19, 2015 to discuss a petition filed by Patrick W. Barrett III, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by amending Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 4.000, Section 4.22 ("Accessory Apartment").

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Tanya L. Ford, Executive Director, Cambridge Election Commission, transmitting the Final Official Results from the Municipal Election held on Tues, Nov 3, 2015 for City Council.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Tanya L. Ford, Executive Director, Cambridge Election Commission, transmitting the Final Official Results from the Municipal Election held on Tues, Nov 3, 2015 for School Committee.

Comments?

Notable Floatables on the Nov 23, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

These items have floated to the top of my barrel this week:

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Coolidge Place Land Disposition Report, pursuant to Chapter 2.110 of the Cambridge Municipal Code.

Manager's Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation favoring the Coolidge Plan Land Disposition.

In a rational world, this would be a routine minor land disposition. This was a well-known component of the Mass&Main zoning package that was passed by the City Council last spring but, just like curb cut approvals, these can sometimes become opportunities for continued efforts to block projects or extract additional concessions. Honestly, this was all settled in May and the exchange of this passageway for a far better one (plus cash) should be a slam dunk. Perhaps we can get a player to be named later in the trade. The hearing starts at 7:00pm.

Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to further study the Barrett, et al Zoning Petition.

This petition has already had one pass at the Planning Board (Oct 27) and at the Ordinance Committee (Nov 19). Parts of the proposal will likely be kicked down the road as part of the citywide planning exercises, but some could be acted upon sooner. At the heart of the petition is the basic concept of allowing residential property owners to make better use of existing, underutilized space in their buildings for additional rental housing. People already do this under the radar all over Cambridge.

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with changes the Carsharing Zoning Petition (refiled).

The Planning Board remains convinced that this is generally a good thing but that there should be a registration mechanism to allow the City to monitor how expanded carsharing on residential properties evolves and if any problems arise.

Manager's Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the purchase of the premises numbered 0 Winter Street, Assessor's parcel #165-21-1, in the Town of Lincoln ("the Property") consisting of 54.35 acres of undeveloped land for the purposes of protecting the City's drinking water supply and for land conservation.

Watershed protection is one of those unseen and underappreciated things the City does. This is money well spent.

Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-85, regarding a report on the feasibility of having the City purchase the buildings on Harvard Street and Harding Street.

The short version is:  No Deal.

Unfinished Business #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendment to the Living Wage Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 16, 2015.

I'm not so sure this is ready to rock and roll, but that hasn't stopped this City Council in other votes during the last two years. Why let legal enforcibility or economic viability get in the way of a popular vote?

Communications #3. A communication was received from Kim Courtney, regarding Xavier Dietrich's Open Meeting Law Complaint against the Board of Zoning Appeal and Chair Constantine Alexander.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to the Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich, 955 Massachusetts Avenue #259, Cambridge, regarding the Minutes of the City Council meeting of Aug 10, 2015.

Mosquitoes are annoying pests, but you have to at least respect their need for nutrition. I have yet to see any basis for respect for this not-so-dynamic duo of Courtney/Dietrich whose sole reason for being is to be an annoyance. Perhaps they should open a whine bar.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the feasibility of making a comprehensive housing plan an early action item of the pending citywide planning process.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

Sound great just as long as "comprehensive" doesn't translate into "build nothing that doesn't sit well with our political supporters."

Order #3. City Council support of the efforts of the Harvard Graduate Student Union and urging the Harvard administration to commit to refrain from legal or other action that would delay graduate employees' right to choose collective bargaining, to refrain from efforts to influence research assistants and teaching assistants in their decision to vote on HGSU-UAW, and to commit to commence good-faith negotiations for a contract immediately upon confirmation of a majority vote by research assistants and teaching assistance in favor of HGSU-UAW as their union.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Cheung

Volpe Tower?Like many others, I was once upon a time a graduate student upon whom many responsibilities were heaped for a fixed stipend - so much so that it interfered with my own studies. [Well, at least they gave me an award for all my good work!] That said, I can't completely get behind the idea that this should be the subject of collective bargaining in the same way that a long-term job might be. The bottom line is that graduate students should not be put in the position where their graduate studies are unreasonably extended due to underpaid commitments within their respective academic departments. This is a larger issue that has to be addressed at universities everywhere along with the often abysmal pay scales and heavy workloads for adjunct faculty (the dirty little secret of colleges across the USA, including some very prestigious ones). What we should really work toward is appropriate workloads for graduate students that enhance their ability to work in the future at full-time jobs - tenured or otherwise - at reasonable pay scales. Graduate school work is ultimately just temporary employment.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development with the vision of including within the Master Plan and Alewife Study a plan for the relocation of the DPW facilities.   Councillor Toomey

Let me guess - the semi-suburbans of West Cambridge will want to host a relocated DPW Yard at their end of town about as much as they would welcome the CASPAR wet shelter, a methadone clinic, or any of the many social service agencies now in the Central Square area. Where would you move the DPW Yard?

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the Election Commission in order to operate at least 5 early polling locations, for the entire day, for the entirety of the 11 day early voting period and that the City Manager and Election Commission confer further as to the feasibility of operating a greater number of early polling locations, and issue a report detailing their findings.   Councillor Mazen

This is a solution in search of a problem. Is it really a hardship when there is scheduled to be a 11 day early voting period in addition to normal Election Day voting? Councillor Mazen has concluded that the voters of Cambridge are so completely incapable of finding their way to Inman Street that there is the need to have "5 separate early polling locations, for the entire day, for the entirety of the 11 day early voting period". But that's not all – he also proposes that the Election Commission "confer further as to the feasibility of operating a greater number of early polling locations, and issue a report detailing their findings". This translates into staffing for a minimum of 440 hours (plus security considerations) for something that is almost certainly unnecessary. I could see perhaps having a 2nd location open for a portion of a few days as an added convenience, but the scale of this Order makes no sense whatsoever.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 12, 2015 to discuss a petition by the Planning Board to amend Section 13.10 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance so as to change the development controls applicable in the planned Unit Development at Kendall Square (PUD-KS) Overlay Zoning District. The majority of the PUD-KS District is occupied by the Volpe Transportation Systems Research Center operated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

There's another Ordinance Committee hearing on this topic scheduled for Tues, Dec 1. The trend of late is to load up the proposed zoning with so many constraints (affordable housing, open space, etc.) that the only way for anything to be financially feasible would be to permit building heights on the order of twice the scale of anything currently in Cambridge. Then everyone will complain about the heights. - Robert Winters

Comments?

In Counting there is StrengthThe election results from this past week are now known and the theories are flying about why some candidates fared well and why others will say farewell. Most of this pseudoanalysis is just for entertainment purposes, but there are some basic political truths that continue to be self-evident. Most of all, local elections continue to be won or lost not so much on big issues and big money but rather on old-fashioned hand-to-hand retail-level politics. In particular, in a PR election it's important to secure your political base whether that's based on the positions you take, the favors you perform, the neighborhood you come from, or what you look like. It also remains the case that voter turnout is what secures the margins that give victory to some candidates and defeat to others. While others exchange theories, I'm just sitting here waiting for information on how many people voted in each precinct and how that affected the #1 vote totals of particular candidates. Until then, I'll just allow myself to be entertained by the punditry of others.

The City Council returns on Monday with an agenda long on congratulations and short on substance. The real business took place last week. Here are a few items that may be of interest:

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Milford Medicinals, Inc., to amend the Cambridge Zoning Map to include 1001 Massachusetts Avenue in the MMD-1 Zoning Overlay.

The last 4 signatures on the petition were obviously done by the same person. Also, this proposal calls for a change to the existing zoning for a single address to permit a use that is inconsistent with the abutting district (at least in the sense that districts have already been established elsewhere for this proposed use). It may therefore be illegal spot zoning. More significantly, what exactly then was the purpose of the zoning change enacted on Dec 16, 2013 establishing zones where medical marijuana dispensaries may be located?

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to update condo conversion numbers from 2010.   Councillor Cheung

Is my triple-decker the last one left in Cambridge that hasn't been converted into overpriced condominiums? I'm thinking of digging a perimeter moat filled with alligators that feed on real estate agents.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting modifications to the proposed MXD Zoning Petition and Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan Amendment.

This is really the only agenda item that seems remotely interesting. It's a huge document (98 page PDF) that seems to promote all the right things, but you be the judge.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to the Subpoena Duces Tecum issued by the City Council on Oct 30, 2015 pursuant to Policy Order #27 adopted on Oct 19, 2015.

I pride myself on being well informed on most matters that come before the Cambridge City Council. This item may be the most cryptic agenda item I've ever seen. Honestly, I haven't got a clue what it means.

That's all for now, folks. I'm still just waiting patiently for those ward/precinct turnout and vote distribution numbers. I'm also eager to analyze the ballot data after the Final Election Results are determined this coming Friday the Thirteenth. - Robert Winters

Comments?

The City Council meets this week on the eve of the November 3 municipal election. [Tune in to CCTV any time after 8:00pm Tuesday for the live Election Night broadcast hosted by Susana Segat and Robert Winters.] Here are a few items of interest that our nerve-wracked city councillors will be considering as their thoughts drift toward the following day:

Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-18, regarding a report on renaming the Area IV Youth Center as the “Dr. Robert and Janet Moses Youth Center.” [attachment]

It would be an even greater honor if "The Algebra Project" so closely associated with Dr. Robert Moses could be promoted and continue forevermore at the Youth Center soon to be renamed in honor of Dr. Robert and Janet Moses.

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from the Friends of MAPOCO, to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by a new sub-district of the Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District along Massachusetts Avenue between Porter Square and Cambridge Common.

The delicious irony of this zoning petition filed on the eve of the municipal election is that one of the signers is Councillor Dennis “Not 'til there's a Master Plan” Carlone.

Applications & Petitions #4. An application was received from the Boston Ballet, 19 Clarendon Street, Boston, requesting permission to hang twenty-three temporary banners on electrical poles on in Harvard Square. These banners will promote the Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker. The temporary banners will be hung from Nov 23 to Jan 4, 2016. Approval has been received from the Electrical Department.

One has to marvel at the plans of the Boston Ballet to hang "Nutcracker" banners directly in front of the Jose Mateo Ballet Theater in Cambridge which also stages its own annual performances of "The Nutcracker".


Resolution #7. Happy 100th Birthday wishes to Floyd Freeman.   Councillor Simmons

Floyd Freeman was my favorite neighbor for a quarter century on our block of Broadway - until the night his house burned down and he was forced to move closer to his son and daughter. Many a day I headed down the street on the way to somewhere and never made it because it was just so much more interesting to talk with Floyd. On November 7 he will turn 100 years old and is still playing music and is as sharp as ever. I won't be able to make it to Detroit for his birthday celebration next weekend, but I plan to honor him in other ways. Happy birthday, Floyd. You really are the best.

Floyd & Robert
Happy birthday, Floyd!
This photo was taken at Floyd Freeman's 90th birthday party ten years ago.


Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department and other appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of establishing an online database of “problematic landlords” modeled upon the databases of Chicago and New York, to determine what the criteria for establishing this designation would be, and to report back to the City Council on when such a database could be up and running in a timely manner.   Councillor Simmons

Why stop there? Perhaps we should also draft a list of "problematic tenants" who nobody would ever want to live in their building. Shop owners could team up to draft a "problematic customer" list. It's not unreasonable to want to have such lists and I'm sure there are people who would be more than happy to gather the data and pass judgment. However, it may not be the wisest choice for a municipality to do this except in the most egregious cases.

Communications #15. A communication was received from Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich, regarding a package store with an invalid liquor license.

Order #8. That the City Clerk, in consultation with the City Solicitor, draft a response regarding the attached Open Meeting Law complaint for the City Council’s consideration, so that the draft response may be considered and voted on by the City Council at its next regular business meeting of Nov 9, 2015.   Mayor Maher

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich, 955 Massachusetts Avenue #259, Cambridge, regarding the Minutes of the City Council meeting of Aug 10, 2015.

Perhaps it's time to present Cambridge's First Annual Dirty Diaper Award to this dynamic duo of litigious, misinformed, and thoroughly annoying wannabe City Council candidates. They can hang it on the wall of the wine bar they may one day open after their retirement from political life. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Chugging Along - Items of Interest on the Oct 19, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

The City Council returns for one of the last meetings prior to the Nov 3 municipal election (where I'll again be doing the live coverage with Susana Segat). There will be a Roundtable meeting on Oct 26 on citywide planning, and one more regular meeting on the eve of the election. Here are a few items that caught my attention.

The Port?Manager's Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-17, regarding a report on the feasibility of renaming Area IV.

It would have been interesting if the survey asked people in Area 4/The Port if they know if and where there was ever an actual port in this neighborhood.

Manager's Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-96, relative to the future relationship between the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and Boston Properties.

As the report makes clear, ownership of virtually all of the properties in question was transferred to Boston Properties long ago and the role of the Redevelopment Authority now consists primarily of review and the granting of development rights on the land now owned by Boston Properties.

Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Policy Order No. 12 of 9/15/14, regarding the request for a legal opinion on the proposed amendment to the Municipal Code entitled "Prohibiting the Use of Wild and Exotic Animals in Traveling Shows and Circuses; and Awaiting Report Item Number 14-98, regarding the request for information related to the proposed ordinance entitled "Prohibiting the Use of Wild and Exotic Animals in Traveling Shows and Circuses" ("Proposed Ordinance"). [attachment]

Ringling Brothers TrainIt was nice seeing the Ringling Brothers trains on the Grand Junction the last week or so. Sadly, it appears that Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will no longer use elephants in their shows starting in 2018, so we have only two more years to watch the elephants parade along Memorial Drive.

Manager's Agenda #24. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the proposed Community Benefits Ordinance.

Manager's Agenda #25. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the establishment of the following two stabilization funds: Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund and the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund.

Manager's Agenda #26. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $16,630,990 to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund from Free Cash.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I believe the discussion leading up to this proposed ordinance began five or more years ago.

Manager's Agenda #27. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,300,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Department Extraordinary Expenditure Account for the Citywide Planning process. [attachment]

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads to review the planning work done thus far on the Alewife bridge/platform project and to review the next steps the City can take to see the bridge constructed.   Councillor Cheung

Though I never bought into the need for another citywide process, I do hope some positive benefits are derived it. For starters, I hope that in the early stages they at least consider the possibility of a bridge over the RR tracks connecting the Alewife Triangle and the Quadrangle - a bridge for all vehicles, possibly with some restrictions, rather than just an overpass for bikes and pedestrians. Without such an overpass, Cambridepark Drive is just one long dead-end street.

Applications & Petitions #7. A zoning petition has been received from Kiril Stefan and Catherine Alexandrov, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to extend the Business BA-3 zone on Western Avenue currently in existence from Howard to Jay Streets onto the even number side of Western Avenue from #s 158-168 which is three houses from the corner of Kinnaird Street to Jay Street.

Queue up one more zoning petition.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City departments to draft a Home Rule petition that would allow Cambridge to establish a Job Creation and Training linkage fee to be managed by a Cambridge Jobs Trust.   Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Benzan

This seems like a good idea, but don't you just wish that companies doing business in Cambridge would just hire and train local workers without government intervention?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consider expanding the hose distribution program indefinitely for all new trees planted in sidewalk wells or behind sidewalks and explore establishing a credit to be applied to the water bills of participants, not to exceed $50 per year.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Cheung and Councillor McGovern

Some of us already do this. Should I ask the City to send me a $50 check?

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City Departments about the feasibility of a redesign contest of Carl Barron Plaza.   Vice Mayor Benzan

This may be a good idea, but the problem with CB Plaza isn't the design. It's the lack of involvement from the abutting property and business owners plus the fact that this is the favorite space for some of the most problematic people in the greater Central Square area. Will a change in landscaping change that?

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to expedite their efforts on crafting an amendment that would not treat reasonably sized shipping container and rooftop farms as agricultural uses when they are being used as an accessory to the principal use of a business.   Councillor Cheung

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and other relevant departments to draft a zoning ordinance that would see the installation of solar panels be as of right in all zoning districts in the City.   Councillor Cheung

These are two examples of desirable uses that should be permitted as-of-right with only minor restrictions to avoid potential conflict.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to review pedestrian and bicycle path plans for the Cambridge Common in consultation with the Community Development Department, with the intent of clarifying rules for use and minimizing potential hazards to and conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians.   Councillor Kelley

The primary rule should simply be that cyclists cannot ride at significant speed in a shared-use facility wherever and whenever pedestrians are present. This isn't rocket science.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and the Department of Public Works regarding the feasibility of installing a speed bump in a suitable location on River Street in order to slow down cars racing over the bridge as they enter Cambridge.   Councillor McGovern

Traffic calming is certainly warranted on River Street in order to effect the necessary psychological shift from highway to local roads, especially for vehicles coming from the Mass Pike. A speed bump is probably not the best solution here, especially for the truck traffic. Think about what that will sound like for any nearly residential neighbors.

Order #21. That the City Manager coordinate with the appropriate departments to record, broadcast, and live-stream the scheduled Oct 26th roundtable meeting to discuss city-wide planning.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

I wish these two rookie councillors were around 16 years ago when the idea of Roundtable meetings was first introduced. The whole point was to create a more relaxed atmosphere during these relatively infrequent meetings where there was no incentive for councillors to play to the camera.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 23, 2015 to discuss the petition filed by the CRA to amend the Zoning Ordinance in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan area (KSURP) and to amend the current zoning for the MXD District in Kendall Square to reflect the proposed changes to the Plan.

The subject of this meeting is but one of several moving parts in the continually evolving greater Kendall Square area.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Ilan Levy on Sept 28, 2015 and the response on said complaint.

This complaint from Ilan Levy borders on silliness. I wonder if there will be an open meeting law complaint coming regarding an Oct 18 candidate forum attended by at least six councillors that excluded people based on race or public housing status?

Comments?

Post-Eclipse - Items from the Sept 28, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Super Lunar EclipseIt was a Super Moon in Total Eclipse on Sunday, but Monday brings us back to Earth. Here are some things of interest at this week's City Council meeting:

Manager's Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following members of the Foundry Advisory Committee: Deborah Rue (3-year term), Folakemi Alalade (2-year term), Jamie Sabino (1-year term), Jason Slavick (3-year term), Mark Tang (2-year term), Mariam Bucheli (1-year term), Richard Thal (3-year term).

I recognize only one name in this group of appointees - and that's probably a good thing.

Manager's Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2016.

Excerpts from the Manager's letter: The actual FY16 property tax levy is $354,430,753, an increase of $12,985,298 or 3.8% from FY15. The 3.8% property tax levy increase is below the five-year average annual increase of 4.54%. With approval of these recommendations, the ten-year average annual increase will be 4.75%. Based on a property tax levy of $354.4 million, the FY16 residential tax rate will be $6.99 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.83, or -10.61% from FY15. The commercial tax rate will be $17.71, which is a decrease of $1.58, or - 8.19% from FY15. This will be the eleventh year in a row that a majority of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no change or an increase of less than $100 in their tax bill. In fact, in FY16, approximately 87% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100. As a result of market activity in calendar year 2014, which is the basis of the FY16 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 16.28%, which is the highest increase in the past decade. Total commercial property values increased by 13.18%. For FY16, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $34,680,060,680 a 15.1% increase over FY15 values. The actual FY16 total assessed values are significantly greater than the projections presented to the rating agencies in February 2015 due to continued strength in the Cambridge real estate market.

Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 14, 2015 to discuss proposed amendments to Section 11.200 entitled Incentive Zoning Provisions and Inclusionary Housing Provisions. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 24, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held July 21, 2015. Petition expires Oct 12, 2015.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 22, 2015 to further discuss the petition to amend the incentive zoning requirements that is currently under consideration by the City Council.

There's a good chance the amendments to the incentive zoning requirements will be ordained at this meeting.

Order #2. That the City Clerk, in consultation with the City Solicitor, draft a response regarding the Open Meeting Law complaint filed by Ilan Levy for the City Council's consideration.   Mayor Maher

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher transmitting an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Ilan Levy, 148 Spring Street.

Perhaps someone can explain to me how the reelection of councillors can somehow be interpreted as "business before the City Council" that might be subject to the Open Meeting Law. Will the councillors be voting on the question of their own reelection at an upcoming meeting? Without such a basis, this complaint could just as well have been raised about seeing more than 5 city councillors in a restaurant or at a baseball game. While the Open Meeting Law is a good idea in principle, it continues to amaze me how some individuals (and candidates) use it just to be a pain in the ass (PITA) without any constructive purpose. Perhaps there should be a PITA Slate in the November election.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to draft an ordinance extending Cambridge's big bank retail storefront limitations to the rest of Porter, Harvard, Central, and Kendall Square.   Councillor Cheung

My only suggestion is that there should also be an ordinance prohibiting retail stores from covering up their windows with advertisements and other clutter to the point that you can no loonger even see inside the building. For example, drop by the CVS and Walgreens stores in Central Square.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the ability to increase funding for affordable housing in a manner which would not adversely impact real estate taxes on existing housing units or cause a shift in taxes from commercial, industrial and personal property taxes to the residential class and given the limitation upon the tax classification, any recommendation must not jeopardize the current tax distribution by shifting a greater burden on the residential taxpayers which would result in making existing housing less affordable for current residents.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Kelley

This seems like a shell game. How do you increase expenditures without increasing revenue from any available taxable properties? At some point this City Council will have to address a far more general notion of what constitutes "affordable housing" that goes beyond simply subsidizing housing for people who can satisfy certain income criteria on paper. Perhaps this may be an impossible dream but in a properly functioning economy there should be a sufficient supply and a broad range of housing options of varying size, quality, and location so that most people can at least find something acceptable within their means without a government subsidy.

Order #15. That a Home Rule Petition "AN ACT TO ADOPT PROTECTIONS FOR CAMBRIDGE'S GOVERNMENTALLY-INVOLVED HOUSING STOCK" be submitted to the General Court for a special law relating to the City of Cambridge to be filed with an attested copy of this order which is hereby approved under Clause 1 of Section 8 of Article II, as amended, of the Articles of Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to the end that legislation be adopted precisely as follows, except for clerical or editorial changes of form only.   Councillor Mazen

Perhaps this is well-intentioned, but the language in this Order has all the markings of a back door re-introduction of rent control. Perhaps that's the intention of whoever drafted this petition. As such, I suspect the state legislature will have some reservations.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Marc C. McGovern transmitting a report on the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Income Insecurity in Cambridge.

This report is a good read about a topic that many people in Cambridge don't really think about. I do have some questions about some of the assertions in the report, e.g. the claim that "a family of 4 needs to earn $108,800 annually to meet their minimum needs." Perhaps if you focus only on averages and medians you might draw such a conclusion, but a better analysis would look at the entire distribution of housing options and services and not just at the averages and medians. - Robert Winters

Comments?

Summer's End - Select items from the Sept 21, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Summer's EndThe City Council returns this week from their summer vacation. Here's a sampler of potentially interesting items on the meeting agenda.

Reconsideration #1-3 relating to the regulation of taxi services and ride-sharing companies.

It's anyone's guess why these items are being reconsidered. All three of these orders were relatively benign actions about which there was little disagreement.

Reconsideration #4. Councillor Cheung has notified the City Clerk of his intention to file reconsideration on Policy Order #25 of Aug 10, 2015 adopted by the City Council to petition the Massachusetts General Court to enact the attached Home Rule Petition entitled "AN ACT TO ENABLE CERTAIN NON-CITIZEN RESIDENTS OF CAMBRIDGE TO VOTE IN SCHOOL COMMITTEE AND CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS".

Frankly, I was surprised that this order passed without any discussion. Though I seriously doubt that the proposed Home Rule petition has any chance of passage at the State House (and it shouldn't), this is a matter that should at least have been debated.
Update: Reconsideration Prevailed (7-2) - Matter referred to Committee on Long-Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebrations (This makes no sense whatsoever. This CLEARLY should have been referred to the Government Operations Committee.)

Manager's Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to recommendations from the Community Preservation Act Committee Chair that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.

This is the annual vote on appropriation of CPA funds and there's no doubt whatsoever that it will be for an 80-10-10% split with affordable housing getting 80% of the funds and the minimum 10% each for open space acquisition and historic preservation.

Manager's Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Iram Farooq as Assistant City Manager for Community Development.

Iram Farooq is a great choice to head CDD, especially as we head into a multi-year evaluation of long-term citywide planning.

Manager's Agenda #28. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request from Normandy Real Estate Partners and Twining Properties ("Normandy/Twining") to make available for disposition approximately 1,042 square feet of City owned land known as Coolidge Place, which is an eight (8) foot wide public way that connects Massachusetts Avenue to the City-owned Municipal Parking Lot Number 6 on Bishop Allen Drive.

This is just a formality, but opponents might try to monkey-wrench the proposed development any way they can.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Patrick W. Barrett III, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by amending Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 4.000, Section 4.22 ("Accessory Apartments").

This is a very interesting zoning petition for many reasons - not the least of which is the fact that those who signed the petition span the whole spectrum civic/political activists. If ordained, this petition could create a significant amount of housing opportunities across the city.

Order #4. That the City Council go on record committing Cambridge to produce locally what it needs to consume by 2054.   Councillor Mazen

I seriously doubt that we'll be seeing cows grazing on the Cambridge Common or at Danehy Park to satisfy the culinary choices of those of us who enjoy a cheeseburger now and then. Perhaps they can just print them on a 3D-printer. Then again, this is a City Council that REALLY likes to enact bans, so I suppose they could just ban anything that can't be produced locally.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City departments regarding the possibility of a satellite police station in Central Square, data for incidents in Central Square for the last six months, increase of the City's drug treatment capacity and beds, additional trash barrels and updates for sidewalk and street improvements.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Though Central Square is getting better every day in many ways, and will continue to improve when more housing is created, there are some things that continue to plague the area, including vandalism, drug problems and incidents of violent crime.

Order #7. That the City Council meetings scheduled for Nov 30, 2015 and Dec 28, 2015 be and hereby are cancelled.   Councillor Toomey

Order #14. That the following regular City Council meetings be scheduled as Roundtable/Working meetings: Oct 5, 2015 - Roundtable to discuss Opioid Abuse; Oct 26, 2015 - Roundtable to discuss City-Wide Planning; Nov 16, 2015 - Roundtable between the School Committee and the City Council; Dec 14, 2015 - Roundtable to discuss Transportation Issues.   Mayor Maher

I read somewhere that cancelling a couple of meetings and scheduling several Roundtable meetings is somehow dereliction of duty on the part of the City Council. In fact, meetings around Thanksgiving and the December holidays are cancelled almost every year and this has been the case for decades. Council rules call for 6-8 Roundtable meetings per year and this will make 9 if they all happen. There were 6 last year, so this seems about right for this two-year City Council term. Besides, are there really any dire issues now that require an intense meeting schedule? I don't think so. Besides, all of the proposed Roundtable meetings are on very essential matters.

Order #20. That the City Council go on record formally urging MIT to reconsider the decision to not renew the lease for Metropolitan Moving & Storage, and to determine whether any other viable alternatives to this plan exist.   Councillor Simmons

Considering the fact that this building is in a location close to the heart of the MIT campus, it sure seems like it could enjoy a better use than just a warehouse. In any case, it's hard to imagine how this building can be re-purposed as housing while maintaining its fortress-like exterior. Then again, a lot of MIT people prefer to travel in tunnels, so maybe this will be ideal for them.

Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation to create an electronic list containing the number of parking stickers issued to each development in the past ten (10) years should be made publicly available, to include, if possible, any demographic information that would help inform car ownership discussions such as age of the car owners.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Mazen and Councillor McGovern

While it's certainly true that a lot more Cambridge people are now choosing not to own a motor vehicle, it would be helpful to quantify this better. I'm especially interested in knowing how the excessive cost of on-premises parking translates into residents who do own cars choosing to instead park on the street for the cost of a resident sticker.

Order #26. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to amend the provisions of the PUD-KS District set forth in Section 13.10 of the Zoning Ordinances and which includes a majority of the Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, be refiled as of Sept 28, 2015.   Vice Mayor Benzan

It has been expected for some time that this zoning petition would be refiled to allow for at least a bit more analysis and discussion.

Order #27. That the City Manager confer with the CRA and report back with clarification regarding the past and future relationship between the CRA and Boston Properties and if Boston Properties will be the party to develop and lease any new square footage as a result of the zoning petitions passage and if the City Council can require a process for new developers to bid on CRA projects.   Councillor Toomey

It's an interesting question whether the fact that Boston Properties was selected decades ago as the primary developer for Kendall Square means that this must always be the case.

Order #31. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority with the view in mind of purchasing the property on Vail Court in order to convert to affordable housing.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

Whether it's redeveloped as "affordable housing" or in some other way, it's just ridiculous that this property so near the heart of Central Square has been derelict for decades. Perhaps the threat of eminent domain and redevelopment by the CRA may finally force some action. Then again, this is an issue that's been debated at the City Council repeatedly and all that's happened is that the parked vehicles have disappeared and big red X's now festoon the exterior of the building.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 11, 2015 to discuss how to assist tenants in danger of losing their homes due to the recent sale of their buildings on Harding Street.

The committee report gives all indication that the new owners of the Harding Street properties have absolutely no clue how to manage rental properties. I really have to wonder who is financing their real estate acquisitions.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 6, 2015 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code by adding a new Chapter 8.70 entitled "Prohibition on the Use of Polystyrene Based Disposable Food Containers."

The motto for this City Council might well be "When in doubt, ban it." Why bother trying to convince people to do the right thing when you can just make it impossible for them to do otherwise. - Robert Winters

Comments?

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

City Council Rules 2014-2015 (adopted January 7, 2014, amended Feb 10, 2014 to reflect current Council committees)

City Council Goals - FY2012-2013 (adopted Dec 13, 2011)

City Council Committees (for the current term)


School Committee Rules (adopted January 7, 2008)

School Committee Goals (adopted October 7, 2008)


Research Assistants? I don't think so...

May 2, 2006 – The Cambridge City Council voted 8-1 on May 1 in favor of giving themselves personal “research assistants.” Only Councillor Craig Kelley had the fortitude to raise any questions about the proposal. So it appears the proposal will sail through the Budget Hearings with barely a raised eyebrow. While I have raised the issue of the genesis of this proposal, the question of its merits and its implementation have not been addressed here. So, here are some observations, questions, and suggestions for our elected officials, City administration, and residents to consider:

1. There was a time when our elected officials enlisted citizens to assist them in research matters relating to public policy. Cambridge is perhaps the best city in the United States in which to find experts in almost any matter that the City Council (or School Committee) may need to better understand. There is a wealth of evidence over the last 65 years showing how citizens have worked with elected officials in the development of public policy. If the City Council feels burdened by the research needs of its committees, there is an enormous pool of talent available at no cost. Currently, the City Council makes very little use of this very available resource.

2. There was a time when councillors collaborated much more than they currently do in committee work and in the development of policies. A well-functioning City Council committee should delegate responsibilities so that each member masters certain facets of the tasks at hand and shares this knowledge with the rest of the committee. In effect, councillors serve as staff to each other. I would argue that it is better that elected officials educate themselves.

3. Are these jobs going to be publicly posted with a job description? Who will be doing the actual hiring? If Councillor Smith wants to hire Mr. Jones as personal staff, will the mayor have veto power over the hire? Does the Personnel Department have a role to play here or are these to be political hires? None of these details have been discussed publicly and they are important.

4. If these “research assistants” are to be hired, there should be policies and safeguards to ensure that they are not working on behalf of any councillor's political campaign. Otherwise, this proposal will have the effect of using taxpayer dollars to support the political campaigns of incumbent councillors. In fact, maybe it's time to consider a similar disqualification for staff in the Mayor's Office. A founding principle of Plan E government is the elimination of political patronage in favor of responsible, professional government. Some of us still believe in this ideal. At the very least, strong guidelines should be established for what is and is not permissible.

5. The existence of this proposal within the budget of the Mayor's Office is very strange indeed since it involves personnel for councillors, not the mayor. Should we not infer from this that the consensus of the councillors is that the City Council staff is not up to the task? If the job of councillor has changed so much, should there not be some discussion of revamping the Office of the City Council to better match the needs of the councillors? Why are these tasks being outsourced?

6. Some councillors have recently stated that the filing of City Council orders requesting information through the City Manager is not enough and that councillors would be better served by having their own staff to get this information. This strikes me as contrary to the intent of the Plan E Charter which dictates that all matters involving City personnel be directed through the Manager. One can easily imagine a scenario where each councillor has his or her personal staff contact City department heads for information rather than filing an Order as a body to get a common response. If the consensus is that the City Manager is being obstructive or extraordinarily slow in responding, shouldn't the City Council take more forceful action in holding the Manager accountable?

7. If the term “research assistant” is meant to be factual, then perhaps these RAs should be topic-specific so that we can have people who have some background or aptitude for the tasks at hand. If, for example, research in energy-related matters is what is needed, then someone with that knowledge would be ideal. Is any such protocol being discussed to ensure that the councillors and the taxpayers will get the best quality research for their tax dollars? I would hope that matters like scheduling and event planning will be handled by the City Council Office rather than by “research assistants.”

8. Several councillors have complained that e-mail has had a dramatic effect on the responsibilities of a city councillor due to the time consumption associated with responding to these messages. I don't doubt this. However, there are efficiencies that can make such tasks much easier. For example, if each councillor receives 100 e-mail messages on a particular topic, then rather than making 100 shallow replies, I would advise responding to ALL of the issues of substance raised by residents in a single, comprehensive message sent (using blind-carbon-copy) to all of the people who sent messages. Those of us in academics have been doing this for years. It's much more effective to craft comprehensive messages sent to the whole class rather than many nearly identical messages sent to individual students. There are MANY ways to be more effective in e-mail communication. Then again, if individual responses are seen as more valuable in securing potential votes in the next election, that's a choice each councillor must make on his or her own - independent of taxpayer-supported staff.

In summary, I am not questioning whether or not some changes in staffing are warranted. I am, however, asking that any such changes be done in the best interest of taxpayers and that City funds are never used to either directly or indirectly support the reelection efforts of elected officials. - RW, May 3, 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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