Cambridge InsideOut - December 1, 2015
This week's preferred topics:
1) Updates from the Sullivan Chamber and beyond
2) Civic Infrastructure
3) What this year's slates were and what they were not
Sat, Dec 5, Noon to 4:00pm Participatory Budgeting Vote Kickoff, at CambridgeSide Galleria, near Food Court.
Sun, Dec 6, 2:00-4:30pm at Main Library
Wed, Dec 9, 3:00-6:00pm at O'Neill Branch Library, 70 Rindge Avenue
Thurs, Dec 10, 4:00-6:00pm at Collins Branch Library, 64 Aberdeen Avenue
All 23 proposals are viewable at http://pb.cambridgema.gov/ and you can vote online there as well.
Watertown-Cambridge Greenway Project (Mon, Nov 30 public meeting)
Progress Report on the Cambridge Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (Thurs, Dec 3 public meeting, 6:15-8:30pm at Main Library)
The City will discuss the recently completed modeling of storm surge risks associated with sea level rise. The results will be used to complete the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment which will serve as the technical foundation for the Climate Change Preparedness & Resilience Plan. At the meeting, the overall vulnerability assessment will be recapped and next steps will be discussed.
Heat vulnerability and inland flooding are more imminent concerns for Cambridge than sea level rise.
The report does not emphasize the limited electrical capacity in some parts of Cambridge during heavy load periods (which would be more frequent during extended heat waves).
Getting Voter History and Final Registered Voter Databases to additional analysis of voter turnout by precinct, by age, etc.
From the most recent City Council meeting:
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.
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 #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. The larger issue is speculation of residential real estate, evictions, unsstainable rent increases.
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
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.
Proposed Zoning Amendments (CDD)
Latest Volpe Site Revisions to proposed PUD-KS (Nov 9)
PUD-KS Urban Design Framework (Nov 9)
CDD Memo (Nov 9)
Current Zoning Petitions before the City Council & Planning Board
Stern, et al. Rezoning Petition (Massachusetts Ave and Richard Ave) - REFILED - December 17 Ordinance Committee
Kroon, et al. Friends of MAPOCO Zoning Petition - December 9 Ordinance Committee
Alexandrov, et al. Zoning Petition (Business A-3) - December 8 Ordinance Committee
PUD-KS (Volpe) Rezoning Petition (Refiled) - December 1 Ordinance Committee
Barrett, et al. Petition (Accessory Apartments and Basement Space) - already heard, may be more hearings
Carsharing Zoning Petition (City Council Petition, Refiled) - December 7 City Council
Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Petition (MXD District) - December 22, 2015 at Planning Board
Milford Medicinals, Inc. - December 10 Ordinance Committee
Civic landscape today dominated by single-issue advocacy and neighborhood groups that often do not represent their neighborhoods. Common pattern is that some dominant characters eventually drive out other participants rendering the group a narrow agenda-driven entity. Some groups (PSNA, Agassiz-Baldwin) generally have a better focus such as (a) children (Agassiz), or (b) cooperation with the local business community (PSNA).
Groups like the Cambridge Residents Alliance are dominated by zoning and, arguably, efforts to slow or stop new development - residential or commercial/office/lab. The Fresh Pond Residents Alliance is of this type (in addition to serving as a launching point for a City Council candidacy).
For the Cambridge Schools there are also advocacy groups (Special Ed and others), but not necessarily a general forum for broader discussion.
June 7, 2009 - Once upon a time there was a civic organization in Cambridge known as the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA). It was formed in 1945 out of several organizations that had been existed through the 1930s and that had lobbied the state legislature to create the Plan E Charter option (1938) which featured a city manager form of government and proportional representation elections for city council and school committee. These reforms were central to model charter reform movements active in the United States from the early 1900s. The central theme of the CCA in its early days was "good government" in the sense of being anti-patronage and for professionally managed local government. This changed with the introduction of rent control at the end of the 1960s after which the CCA shifted leftward and became permanently lashed to the mast of the rent control vessel. Though the CCA still exists on paper (I believe), it rapidly declined after the statewide abolition of rent control (late 1994) and essentially disappeared a decade later (early 2005).
I bring up the ghost of the CCA today only to point out that when it was created it had some very admirable goals. Here's the original Mission Statement of the CCA:
Purposes: This association is formed for the following purposes:
- 1. To promote businesslike, honest, and efficient conduct of local government, open to public scrutiny.
- 2. To induce residents to take an active interest in the affairs of the City of Cambridge.
- 3. To encourage and support the candidacy of men and women seeking election to public office and to support intelligent, wholesome leadership in public affairs.
- 4. To assure that the best qualified persons are appointed to positions in the City government after consideration of all qualified candidates.
- 5. To promote among the citizens of Cambridge equitable distribution and benefit of public services and equal opportunity for economic security, education, and social advancement.
- Possible additions:
6. To foster an environment of mutual cooperation between local business districts and the neighborhoods they serve.
These are pretty good founding principles for a civic organization.
One founding principle of the CCA that fell into disuse over the years is listed above as #3: To encourage and support the candidacy of men and women seeking election to public office and to support intelligent, wholesome leadership in public affairs. Indeed, I can personally testify to the fact that in its dying years the only reason the CCA made endorsements at all was because the CCA-endorsed incumbents wanted the benefit of having an advertised CCA slate of candidates that would help secure their reelection. There was precious little effort to recruit new candidates or to support them. Today, the benefits of incumbency are greater than ever. The cost of political campaigns have become absurdly high and most of the incumbents now have (City paid) staff who are inevitably political appointees who directly or indirectly assist in the reelection efforts of their bosses. The deck is increasingly stacked against challengers. Furthermore, the salary and benefits for elected councillors are now so sweet that it is unlikely that any of them would ever want to move on to another job.
The Advent of PR in Cambridge - by David Goode
What Slates are Not
Tom Stohlman recently wrote up his version of an explanation of how PR voting works. His illustrations involved cups being filled with water. The representation was a good one, but he completely mischaracterized the role of slates among actual voters. Tom's belief seems to be that most voters identify themselves with one of the various slates in the same way that they might identify as either Democrat, Republican, or other party. Though there are certainly some voters that have such a Black & White view of things, there really isn't much evidence to support that point of view. What seems far more apparent is that voters still are focusing on individual candidates and then appreciate the "advice" that one or more slates seem to provide - even if imperfectly.
The far more dominant factor in this election was that some voters who might previously voted for Leland Cheung chose this time to vote for somebody else - in part due to lack of a campaign, in part due to a concerted effort by Mazen and others to draw those votes away, and in part because of some unpopular stands taken by Cheung, e.g. the 1,000 foot Volpe tower.
A Kelley voter may have been influenced by the advice to vote for other Unity Slate candidates, but there is no natural grouping of some of the Unity Slate candidates other than the political convenience of their having worked cooperatively over the current City Council term. Similarly, a typical Toomey #1 voter might see David Maher as a likely #2 choice, but beyond that the Slate is more like casual advice. A Mazen voter most likely doesn't identify all that much with other candidates beyond perhaps Mariko Davidson. Carlone/Devereux voters might be more inclined to identify with (a portion of) the CRA Slate, but the same certainly cannot be said of most Cambridge voters.
Perhaps Slates may take on more of a distinct identity in future municipal elections, but they were primarily utilitarian this year.
That said, the electorate is changing and the way political association is carried out in future years will have to take this into account.
In terms of candidates, we could really use something analogous to the Farm System of Minor League Baseball.
|Final Official Election Results (Nov 13, 2015) - including all ballots|
City Council (in order of election)
Incumbent Dennis Benzan is defeated
School Committee (in order of election)
Incumbent Fran Cronin is defeated
Note 1: On Tuesday night, Nov 3, the Election Commission announced the preliminary winners in the order of election.
Note 2: On Wednesday, Nov 4, hundreds of additional "auxiliary ballots" were scrutinized for voter intent and then included with the Tuesday ballots to determine the "Unofficial Results". This produced the same winners, though in the City Council race the order in which candidates were elected changed.
Note 3: On Friday, Nov 13, the Final Results were determined when a small number of overseas absentee ballots and provisional ballots were examined. This resulted in an additional 8 ballots for each of the City Council and School Committee races. The margins in both the City Council and School Committee elections were such that there was no realistic possibility that the candidates elected would change, though the order in which Craig Kelley (6th) and Leland Cheung (7th) were elected was reversed.
|Full Unofficial Election Results (Nov 4, 2015) - City Council & School Committee|
|Full Preliminary Election Results (Nov 3, 2015) - City Council & School Committee|
Sample of ballot data (City Council):
Council 2013 Election - transfer reports
Election 2013 popularity (rankings from ballot data)
Cambridge Municipal Elections Election Archive
All City Council elections (PDF) All School Committee elections (PDF)
Campaign Finance - 2015 Cambridge City Council candidates
Cambridge Candidate Pages
City Council Specimen Ballot School Committee Specimen Ballot
Election Commission PR Election Brochure
2015 Cambridge Pre-Election Fun Facts