Cambridge InsideOut - February 27, 2018

Robert and Judy

Possible Topics:

1) Feb 26 City Council meeting (Alewife bridges; Voting Machines; AAA ratings; the Return of Right of First Refusal; and, of course, more back and forth about bikeways.

2) March Programs (and Beyond) at Fresh Pond Reservation

3) Feb 12 City Council meeting (Safe Streets; Landmark Status, Inman Square, etc.)

4) Feb 5 City Council meeting (Jerry's Pond; Central Square; Right of First Refusal)

5) Bill H.3017 and Right of First Refusal (references)

6) Transportation planning -Mass Pike realignment; Porter Square simplification;
Inman Square alternate proposal; proposal to jack up resident parking fee?

7) Looking Back at 2017 and the 2016-2017 City Council term

8) Civic Calendar

Longtime tenant activist Bill Nobel, 79

There is an obituary in the Feb 26, 2018 Boston Globe for Bill Noble - longtime tenant activist and one of the central figures at Cambridge City Council meetings during the rent control years in Cambridge. Present at most City Council meetings during many of those years were Michael Turk, Connie Thibaut, and Bill Noble from the Cambridge Tenants Union. There was a time when public comment at meetings happened whenever in the meeting a particular agenda item came up, so it was often necessary to stay through the end of the meeting if you wished to give public comment. Bill Noble was also actively involved with the Riverside-Cambridgeport Community Corporation (RCCC - though everyone called it "R Triple C").

Building Bridges

Feb 27 - At last night's City Council meeting, City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement in the everlasting quest to build a new bridge over the railroad tracks west of the Alewife Brook Parkway that would connect the Alewife Triangle and the Alewife Quadrangle, but he gave no specifics. Everybody is intrigued about what he was driving at. [By the way, the only people who call it "The Quad" are people who attended prep school.]

I heard of one possible mechanism through which funding might be derived to build this bridge. The Governor recently created the "Housing Choice Initiative" which allows communities to apply to the state to be recognized and designated as a "Housing Choice Community." To qualify, you have to either show that you've produced a certain rate of new units or adopted certain best practices. Cambridge would be in that top tier for housing produced and would qualify. Communities that qualify would get an advantage in applying for discretionary state funding and exclusive access to a new capital fund called the "Local Capital Projects Fund", which will be funded by casino revenue. More information is available at:

Wouldn't it be great if a by-product of encouraging new housing (rather than trying to block it) was a community benefit like this bridge, hopefully built in conjection with a new commuter rail stop to support the new housing and jobs? - RW

Bridging the Divide - Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are some of the more interesting items on this week's agenda:

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council vote to approve the use of the new voting equipment and to discontinue the use of the existing voting equipment effective immediately.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Deputy City Clerk, Paula Crane, transmitting a report for a City Council public hearing held on Tues, Feb 20, 2018 for the purpose of the City Council and the public to view the new voting equipment purchased by the Election Commission.

We first used the current AccuVote machines for the Sept 1996 State Primary, and they were a huge improvement over the punchcard system we used prior to that. It was necessary then to have some custom programming done so that the same scanners could also be used for the municipal PR elections, and that will again have to take place with the new ImageCast machines. That's just for creating the ballot data text files. The election tabulation will continue to be done the same we've been doing it. In addition to firming up our system for our own sake, it's worth noting that with Ranked Choice Voting being advocated in Massachusetts and elsewhere (though not necessarily PR), what we do in Cambridge may be helpful down the road in other places.

Charter Right #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages as follows: 2A. Property located at 40 Cottage Street; and 2B. Property located at 44 Cottage Street.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, whether a building is landmark-worthy should depend only on the building and not on its owners or occupants.

Update: The City Council landmarked only one of the two properties (44 Cottage Street) and sent the other (40 Cottage Street) to Unfinished Business even though the landmarking only makes sense as the pair of buildings. Apparently, these councillors believe that landmarking is a function of whether they like the property owner or not (and whether they supported you politically).

Resolution #24. Congratulations and thanks to William B. "Bill" King on the occasion of his retirement.   Mayor McGovern

Suffice to say that I have great respect for all who voluntarily serve on City boards and commissions out of a sense of civic duty rather than single-issue advocacy. Bill King is one of those people who has consistently defined over many years what it means to be a great citizen.

Communications #7. Sundry e-mails received on support of the protected bike lanes, relative to Policy Order #4 of Feb 12, 2018 Council Meeting. Copies are on file for review in the City Clerk’s office.

I generally ignore all emails that are the product of a coordinated campaign with a list of "talking points", but I did happen to read one of these sundry emails that stated "You will see no slander in comments from the people who support the new infrastructure." I am reminded of the statement "Fortunately time takes care of old people for us" stated by one particular idiot who didn't appreciate the criticism by older people of the Cambridge Street configuration.

PS - Former Mayor Alice Wolf submitted a late communication at the previous meeting with specific objections to the current configuration of Cambridge Street and the suggestion that a better configuration should be found. The Cambridge Bicycle Committee was created from her initiative, so let's put to rest the claim that criticism of this configuration is a fringe phenomenon of "the anti-bike people".

Order #2. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to direct the new bicycle lane working group, once it has been convened, to hold a series of “listening sessions” at the senior buildings throughout Cambridge in order to ensure that our senior residents, who might otherwise be unable to attend the various hearings to weigh in on this issue, will have adequate opportunities to have their voices heard on an issue that could have an outsized impact upon them.   Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern

Wouldn't it be great if "Vision Zero" didn't always mean "Listen Zero" when it comes to public feedback and other points of view? I will try to be optimistic. Then again there's this:

Manager's Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-16, regarding a report on Inman Square construction.

Synopsis: The City is very interested in your ideas about the color of the sidewalk and what varieties of flowers should be planted in the vicinity of the planned reconfiguration of Inman Square that is not subject to any compromise, discussion, or alternative perspectives.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

I agree with this Order, but not just in the situation of "proximity to land-uses serving vulnerable populations". Some streets warrant lower speed limits simply because there is fast-moving traffic directly adjacent to a narrow sidewalk, e.g. westbound on Putnam Ave. When Prospect St. used to have an additional lane with neither a buffer nor parking it was very dangerous, especially close to Central Square. On-street parking can, in fact, be very effective in traffic calming - even moreso when speed limits are reduced.

Blue Heron BridgeOrder #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City staff on the feasibility of initiating a formal transit study and action plan of the Alewife area in response to unanimous concerns of the Envision Alewife Working Group regarding the need for a pedestrian/bicycle/shuttle bridge from the Quadrangle area along Concord Avenue across the railroad tracks to the Triangle area on Cambridgepark Drive and a commuter rail stop which would be critical to create neighborhoods that are safe and healthy for residents and businesses.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone

It would be great if the City and our various government representatives could find a way to make this happen, but not in the absence of either a new commuter rail stop or shuttle service or both. It will be very difficult to sell this proposal simply as a pedestrian and bicycle amenity (as has often been done), so I'm glad to see this phrased as it is. Contained in this letter is also one point of view that there should be a grade crossing of the railroad tracks (or underpass or bridge) at the western end of Cambridgepark Drive. You'll never see a new grade crossing approved there, and an underpass is unrealistic. As for a bridge option, it's only realistic to imagine one new bridge over the tracks and (even though I may like it there) all the proposals I've seen in the last few decades don't have it that far west. The letter also suggests a pedestrian bridge over the Little River. Except for the usual difficulties associated with building anything near a waterway, that bridge would be relatively easy to build and inexpensive. See picture (Blue Heron Bridge over the Charles River between Newton and Watertown - Wikipedia).

Update: City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement but gave no specifics. Everybody is intrigued about what he was driving at.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

It's curious that the authors of this Order chose not to specify what form of "Right of First Refusal bill" they want. There are good reasons why House Bill 3017 never made it out of committee. Do the authors simply want the City Solicitor to provide language that's the same as H.3017 or do they want a Home Rule Petition that is fundamentally different? It would be nice if the focus was primarily on providing options for long-term tenants rather than on creating a framework for ensuring that private property in select neighborhoods is transferred to public/quasi-public ownership.

Update: Councillor Simmons exercised her Charter Right on this vacuous Order. This Order brought out more people during Public Comment than everything else on the agenda.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to develop a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons

The current version of the Incentive Zoning provisions was ordained on Sept 28, 2015. That ordinance has the following provision: "The City shall initiate a reevaluation of the Housing Contribution Rate and any other aspect of these Incentive Zoning Provisions at an interval of no less than three (3) years from the time the rate was last amended by the City Council." That's what a nexus study is, so I suppose this Order is right on schedule. - Robert Winters


Alewife Plan from the Fishbook, April 1979

Envision Alewife

March Programs (and Beyond) at Fresh Pond Reservation

These events are FREE and open to the public. Children are welcome in the company of an adult.

Monday Night Movie Series: Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks
Date: Monday, February 26th, 6:00pm to 7:30pm
Place: Meets at the Ranger Station, 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
    What’s better than a free movie? Free popcorn! This documentary examines the life of America’s most famous urban park designer. Best-known for Central Park, NY, the Olmsted firm was also commissioned by the Cambridge Water Board in 1894 for work on Fresh Pond. [Runtime: 57 min. Rated G] for more information.
Nature Storytime with Cambridge Public Library
Date: Friday, March 2nd, 10:00am to 11:00am
Place: Meets at Country Kitchen, lower level of Neville Place (back building), 650 Concord Ave.
    Join us on the first Friday of each month this winter as we welcome Cambridge Public Library's children's librarian Margaret Macri for nature story time at Fresh Pond! We will read about winter and what humans and wildlife do during this time. Bring warm clothes and go for a winter walk after story time is over. The Fayerweather Street School (265 Concord Ave.) has kindly offered us the use of their parking, allow an extra 10 minutes to walk from this location. Please feel free to contact Catherine Pedemonti at to RSVP or for parking information.
Seasonal Walkabout at Lusitania Wet meadow
Date: Friday, March 9th, 11:00am to 12:00pm
Place: Meets at the “Meeting Rocks” (where the meadow meets the perimeter road trail)
    Come out for a seasonal walkabout with Ranger Jean at the Lusitania Wet Meadow. We will monitor wildlife by sign, track or presence, and make note of weather, state of plants, condition of water and other abiotic resources. You can help chart the seasonal changes of some of our most active wildlife spots, or simply come to enjoy the walk. Come dressed to be outdoors for the hour. All knowledge levels welcome. We will be walking off-path. To RSVP, please contact Ranger Jean at (508) 562-7605 or email Heavy rain postpones to the following Friday.
Tree ID: Bark, Buds & Shape
Date: Saturday, March 10th, 1:00 to 3:00pm
Place: Meets at the “Meeting Rocks” (where the Lusitania meadow meets the perimeter road trail)
    The leaves are on their way! But how to know which tree is which without leaves to guide us? Fine-tune your skills with this fun program and workshop. Come dressed to be outdoors for the hour, feel free to bring your own hand-lens. All knowledge levels welcome. We will be walking off-path. To RSVP, please contact Ranger Jean at (508) 562-7605 or email
Animal Detectives: Raccoons
Date: Sunday, March 11th, 11:00am to 12:00pm
Place: Meets at the Ranger Station, 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
    March’s spotlight is on the raccoon. Come see what it takes to be a raccoon as we explore what they do and how they act. This family program is best suited for kids between 4 and 12. Accompanying adult must be present, service dogs only please, and dress appropriately as this is an outdoor program. Groups please check-in with Ranger Tim at prior to Thursday, March 8th.
Welcome Spring Bird Walk
Date: Saturday, March 17th, 9:00 to 11:00am
Place: Meeting place given upon registration
    Spring is almost here, and the earliest migrating birds are arriving at Fresh Pond. Some will stay for the breeding season, others will rest and eat before continuing their northward journey. The new arrivals and our year-round residents soon will be busy building nests and defending territories. We may see a variety of migrating waterfowl on the ponds as well as songbirds in trees. Beginners are welcome! We have binoculars to lend and will show you how to use them. To register and for our meeting place, email Catherine Pedemonti at
World Water Day: World Water Treatment
Date: Sunday, March 18th, 1:00 to 3:00pm
Place: Meets at the Ranger Station, 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
    Did you know that Cambridge has sister cities around the globe? World Water Day is Thursday, March 22nd and in honor of this we will look at how water is stored, treated and used in 5 of our sister cities across the planet. In this indoor program, we’ll perform a water test kit activity provided by the World Water Day organizers, learn about our sister cities, and finish with a brief tour of our water purification facility. Contact for more info, parking directions, or to secure a spot.
Weekly Walk for Health
Dates: Mondays, starting March 19th, 10:00 to 11:00am
Place: Meets at the Ranger Station, 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
    Start your week off right with a weekly fitness walk! Join us as we walk the perimeter of the pond (2.25 miles). Meet other park goers, get some exercise, and together notice what's happening on the Reservation. All ages and abilities are welcome! Feel free to contact Catherine Pedemonti at with any questions.
Fresh Air Walk: The Signs of Spring
Date: Wednesday, March 21st, 12:00 to 1:00pm
Place: Meets at the Ranger Station, 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
    This casual walk, led by Ranger Tim, will encompass Fresh Pond and take an informal look at each month in nature. In honor of the vernal equinox, we’ll talk about how we can observe the signs of spring with all 5 senses on our way around the pond. Come alone or bring your co-workers! Rain or shine. Questions? Contact:
The Disciplines of Animal Tracking
Date: Sunday, March 25th, 10:30am to 12:00noon
Place: Meets at the Ranger Station, 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
    Ever wonder about the tracks you see? Animal tracking contains a lot more than just footprints. This guided walk will add depth to the aspects of arguably one of the oldest human traditions. Join Ranger Tim as we observe the hidden streets of Cambridge and read the stories written in the earth. Open to all audiences. Proper footwear encouraged, we will be walking off-path. Questions? Contact:
Monday Night Movie Series: When the Water Tap Runs Dry
Date: Monday, March 26th, 6:00 to 7:30pm
Place: Meets at the Ranger Station, 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
    What’s better than a free movie? Free popcorn! Water shortages are projected to be one of the greatest impacts of climate change. This documentary will go over how aspects of America’s water infrastructure are unprepared for extreme change in fresh water patterns. Stay afterward for an optional discussion. [Runtime: 40min. Rated: G] for more information.

Unless otherwise specified, please contact Martine at 617-349-6489 or for any RSVPs or questions!

Would you like to join Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation? Membership in Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation costs only $10 per year ($5 for seniors and students, $15 for families). To join, fill out a membership form available in the Ranger Station information racks, e-mail, call 617-349-6489, or visit our website at to download a form.

Keep up to date on events at the Pond. Visit the Friends group website at to learn more about Friends group activities and the reservation and its inhabitants.

Upcoming Programs

A Remembrance of Chip Norton, Watershed Manager for the Cambridge Water Department:



Rhetorical Conflict - Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

BicycleThe battle for turf in the Rhetorical War continues this week with troops massing at the borders over the meaning of Vision Zero and Safe Streets. Continents could be sinking and frogs raining from the sky, but we'll once again get to witness the turf war over allocation of space on Cambridge roads (and sidewalks). Word has it that the Boston Cyclists Union has already rung the alarm and asked all troops to report for duty in the Sullivan Chamber on Monday to argue against "safe streets for all" if that might translate into giving up an inch of sand on the beachhead of segregated bike lanes. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the City hosting a Big Press Conference this past week announcing its Vision Zero Plan – basically reducing the speed limit to 20mph in the major Squares (a good thing) and creating a rhetorical framework to hush up anyone who questions future road reconfigurations. After all, you know, Vision Zero. If you don't like flexi-posts or traffic congestion or if you raise issues about road conditions in winter and safety considerations at intersections, surely you must be against traffic calming and in support of danger. Public Comment on Monday promises to be great (that is to say - bad) theater with about a 30 year age difference in opposing sides in the battle over the definition of safety.

Frankly, I'd rather talk about public transportation, but that would have far less drama. I was also unable to witness the presentation last week on the Battle of Inman Square that pitted tree huggers vs. bicycle segregationists (which actually pitted some people against themselves) in the elusive redesign of this crossroads.

Here's the menu of my personal favorite dishes being served up at this gathering:

Manager's Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Lechmere National Bank building at 225/227 Cambridge Street.

Manager's Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages located at 40 and 44 Cottage Street.

Communications #3-10,12-17. Fourteen letters opposing historical landmark designation of 40 Cottage Street.

We are blessed with our most excellent Historical Commission who generate landmark designation reports (and other publications) that are incredibly good. These two reports are no exception. In a city with so many significant historic buildings it's not surprising that the Historical Commission is recommending landmark status in both of these reports. What makes this noteworthy are the communications - many of which were generated from the same template. Some of them even make reference to the "weaponization of the Historical Commission landmark study and designation process". Personally, I hope the homeowners of 40 Cottage Street will be allowed to renovate their home to the highest energy efficiency standards while maintaining as much historical integrity as possible. That said, either your building is landmark-worthy or it's not, and I'd say the report strongly suggests that this one is. It's true that various legal processes are routinely used in Cambridge to stall or block projects, but I guess it apparently does matter whose ox is gored. If you know the right people then it's called "weaponization", and otherwise it's called "neighborhood preservation". In any case, it will be good to hear more about how the Historical Commission balances preservation vs. modernization in a time when energy conservation and sustainability are prioritized.

Manager's Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Sustainable Materials Recovery grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the amount of $38,800 to the Grant Fund Department of Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance Account which will be used toward the purchase of food waste collection bins for the citywide curbside organics program.

The starting date is now less than two months away. Speaking as the man formerly known as "Compost Man", I'm eager to see how this plays out and what problems arise as this service is rolled out citywide. I'm also mindful of the fact that this is just as much a rediscovery of former best practices as it is of innovative new practices.

Manager's Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-111, regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways.

In short, the report doesn't endorse using art to calm traffic. We had a good way of handling this when I was a kid growing up in Queens, New York. We painted bases and baselines on the street and played stickball. The message to drivers was abundantly clear and there was never an altercation. We would also chant "Car Car C-A-R" when a car was coming. Other streets had hockey goals in the street that had to be moved to allow cars to pass, but nobody ever complained. We never called these "neighborways." We just called them streets.

Manager's Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-01, regarding a report on possibility of a supermarket opening at 20 Sidney Street.

Perhaps nothing will come of this, but at least there's this: "Community Development Department (CDD) staff have reached out to real estate representatives at several grocery chains, including Market Basket, Aldi, Trader Joes, and bFresh to inform them about the opportunity and connect them to Forest City. Several grocery store representatives mentioned that they do not have plans to expand at this time, or that the space is too small for their traditional size requirements. Regardless, CDD staff has relayed the grocery store chains contact information to Forest City staff. Staff will continue to explore options and communicate with Forest City about possible tenants." In my view Aldi is the one that might work best at this site, but only if the rental agreement makes it economically feasible.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Public Health Department regarding the current status of zoning language and public health regulations for the keeping of hens and food cultivation and proposed next steps to advance the Urban Agriculture initiative.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

Perhaps we can just dispense with the supermarkets and just buy our milk and eggs from Farmer Jones down the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works to report back to the Council on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance, including implementation, enforcement, and remaining concerns among the business community.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

When I was on the Recycling Advisory Committee (22 years, I believe) I often learned how some initiatives that were very appealing were actually counterproductive or, at best, a break-even proposition. For example, a "paper" drink cup is still lined with plastic, and when you take away the paper there is still a significant amount of plastic - perhaps more than in a "Styrofoam" cup. This Order asserts that expanded polystyrene (EPS), a.k.a. "Styrofoam", has been shown to leach harmful chemicals into food and beverages, but most reliable sources dispute that or note that any potential hazard is negligible. The real problem is that it's difficult to recycle economically and it doesn't really biodegrade.

Regarding the ban of plastic bags, except for the fact that the plastic gets caught in the machinery at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the environmental benefits of paper bags over plastic bags is not a slam dunk. Reusable bags, on the other hand, win the argument easily. That's why the Cambridge ordinance is best referred to as the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Ordinance rather than as a plastic bag ban (which it isn't).

The jury is still out regarding the polystyrene ban. Some places now provide "compostable" plasticware, but recyclers aren't keen on it because it doesn't really biodegrade along with other organics except under very specialized conditions. Also, biodegradable plastic is often hard to distinguish from other plastic and this compromises the recyclability of all plastics. I suppose none of these details matter to city councillors as long as it makes them appear "environmental". I am, of course, interested to hear what DPW has to say about how the polystyrene ban has fared.

Order #4. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to establish a new working group consisting of a diverse set of stakeholders, including cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, small business owners, EMS/first responders, and City Officials to discuss the results of the protected bike lane pilot using clear evaluation criteria, and how best to construct a cohesive network in the future.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Kelley, Mayor McGovern

This is simply the fulfillment of the Jan 25, 2017 memo from Iram Farooq (CDD), Owen O’Riordan (DPW), and Joseph E. Barr (Traffic). That memo states in regard to the Cambridge St. reconfiguration:

Evaluation Process
A critical part of the process will be evaluation of this corridor, both to make adjustments for future installations and to help stakeholders understand how this demonstration project is working. To provide adequate time for users to adjust to the changes, we expect the demonstration to last at least six months, after which we will make decisions about whether to retain the demonstration as a permanent improvement and whether any changes or tweaks are required based on the performance during the demonstration period.

While the exact details of the evaluation are still being determined and will be discussed as part of the community process, we expect to look at the following data both before and after implementation:

  • Parking use: occupancy and availability along both the main corridor and the adjacent side streets
  • Traffic volumes: motor vehicles and bicycles
  • Transit performance: stop dwell time, travel time, and ridership
  • Traffic compliance with parking and lane use: motor vehicles and bicycles
  • Speed
  • Crashes (acknowledging that it can be difficult to draw conclusions based on a limited period of time)
  • Ability to maintain bike path, in winter and for street cleaning.
  • Retail access: customer mode share survey
  • Retail success: sales tax receipts (if available) or other data

In other words, there was always supposed to be a evaluation of this Separated Bicycle Lane Demonstration. It's interesting that at least one city councillor seems unable to grasp this in saying, "The protected lanes are here to stay and this order may suggest to some they are not." There is little question that enhanced bicycle (and pedestrian and motor vehicle) safety is the rule of the day (because, you know, Vision Zero), but the question remains how best to achieve this. Furthermore, saying that an evaluation will be "data driven" is insufficient. For example, banning all motor vehicles would surely produce data showing a reduction in motor vehicle crashes, but that would not imply that the ban was good policy or that a better solution was not possible.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to create additional opportunities for the community to evaluate and understand the plan to redesign Inman Square and to provide input, including: walk-in clinics between now and the next community meeting and making more details available online including alternative designs considered but deemed unworkable, traffic simulations, and other relevant data or information.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Perhaps nobody wants to hear this but there really are currently two feasible options available for Inman Square. One is the "current plan" to wipe out the trees in Vellucci Park, relocate some of that space to the north side, and move all bicyclists onto the sidewalks. The other is to keep Inman Square more or less as it is with its newly painted green stripes for bicycles and maybe with some tweaking of the signals, lane markings, and pedestrian phases. Do we have any safety data on how the intersection is working since the "temporary" changes were made last year?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report on progress and efforts made to date to provide greater access to internet services citywide for low income residents.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons

Translation: Some advocates want municipal broadband whether or not there is the demonstrated need or demand, and the fact that Cambridge has a significant "free cash" position will be perpetually used to justify any required expenditures. I also wonder sometimes what fraction of people nowadays use only their phone to access anything online (and to, of course, post silly pictures).

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone and Councillor Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Jan 24, 2018 to discuss the Zoning Petition filed by Peter Kroon, et al, to amend Section 20.50 of the Zoning Ordinance in the " Harvard Square Overlay District" dated Sept 28, 2017.

This might win the all-time award for longest committee meeting leading nowhere. At least we now know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Coming up at the Feb 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere's my first pass (and Gronkowski didn't pull this one down either) at the interesting agenda items with the usual brilliant/annoying observations.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to inquire whether the Community Development Department will apply for the Targeted Brownfields Assessment Grant regarding Jerry's Pond.   Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley

Many people may have forgotten this by now but there were once plans to enhance that whole area - not only by making Jerry's Pond an available resource but also doing, dare I say, some development in the vicinity of the MBTA headhouse east of the parkway and within the fenced-in area associated with the W.R. Grace site on the north side of the path. First it was the threat of naphthalene in the soil, and then asbestos. I will never believe that permanently fencing in a contaminated site near a T station is preferable to cleaning it up and turning it into a resource rather than a liability.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City Department to gain a sense of who is purchasing buildings in Cambridge.   Councillor Simmons

I think this will be very interesting information, and not only because I'd like to see just how much property Gerald Chan now owns in Cambridge. At least he lives nearby. The greater problem is that in an uncertain world there's a lot more financial security in Cambridge real estate than in either pork bellies or Chinese financial markets. This reality is not always compatible with the quaint old notion of buying property either because you want a place to live or you need a place to operate your business. Cambridge property has in many ways become primarily a place to store wealth. Barring some new form of gold rush elsewhere I don't see this changing any time soon.

Order #6. That the City Manager explore the possibility of an "ALL WALK" pedestrian signal at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Prospect Street, and River Street.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

As appealing as this may seem, the traffic volumes on these streets may dictate otherwise. The greatest problem is the conflict between pedestrians crossing Mass. Ave. and right-turning vehicles from River Street onto Mass. Ave. There used to be a "slip lane" there, but that was even more hazardous for pedestrians. The real problem, in my opinion, is that many drivers and pedestrians don't have a clue about how to balance assertiveness and courtesy. I'm reminded of a small book from about 35 years ago called "The Boston Driver's Handbook: Wild in the Streets" that really said it all, especially the Cambridge tradition of acting aloof when crossing in Harvard Square.

I often think about writing a story on "How to Be a Pedestrian in Cambridge" complete with a guide to hand gestures and best ways to stop vehicles with just a look. These lessons will, of course, be lost on habitual cell phone users.

Order #7. City Council support of Representative Provost and the Cambridge Legislative Delegation’s efforts to pass a Right of First Refusal Bill, with an amendment for cities to provide final implementation modifications as needed.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Please explain how this will apply to a multi-family homeowner who wishes to do a formal sale to family members or close friends for a price well below what is dictated by the market. - Robert Winters


Bill H.3017
Chapter 184 of the General Laws is hereby amended by the addition of a new section 21A, as follows:

1. In any city or town which votes to adopt the provisions of this section, tenants of residential buildings with three (3) or more units, or their designees, as set forth herein, shall have the right of first refusal to purchase such buildings at fair market value, for the purpose of maintaining affordable housing and preventing tenant displacement.

2. At the time of execution of an agreement for the purchase and sale of a residential building with three (3) or more units, except for an owner-occupied building with three (3) units, the owner/seller of the building must give written notice of the agreed-upon sale to all tenants aged 18 or over, and to the municipality, in such form as shall be specified by ordinance or bylaw. The price specified in a good faith, arm’s length purchase and sale agreement shall be prima facie evidence of the fair market value of the property. 

3. The tenants, or any such non-profit housing entity as the tenants may form or formally designate, shall have forty-five (45) days in which to make a deposit to the owner, equal to five per cent (5%) of the agreed-on sales price, as set forth in the purchase and sale agreement, which shall be held in escrow by the seller’s agent or attorney. The tenants, or their designee, shall also execute a purchase and sale agreement with the seller, which shall have priority over the original purchase and sale agreement, contingent on financing.

4. The tenants or their designee shall have an additional one hundred and twenty (120) days from execution of the purchase and sale agreement to secure financing for and close the purchase of the building.

5. Tenants may assign or transfer their right of first refusal to an owners’ cooperative, a community development corporation, a land trust, or such other non-profit housing organization as will hold the property in perpetuity as limited-equity affordable housing. Such assignment transfer shall be in writing, on a form specified by the municipality.

6. Any municipality which votes to adopt the provisions of this section and which is not otherwise authorized to establish a housing trust fund, which shall be a revolving fund, is hereby so authorized. Funds from including, but not limited to, linkage fees, gifts or bequests, and duly authorized community preservation act funds, may be deposited in the housing trust fund. Any municipality which has a housing trust fund may authorize a grant or loan from the fund for purposes of purchases of real property under this section.

7. Any owner of any a residential building with three (3) or more units, including an owner-occupied building with three (3) units, may offer in writing to sell such building to the tenants or their designee at any time. In such a case, fair market value shall be negotiated between buyer and seller based on one or more professional appraisals. Once a price is agreed to, the parties shall proceed with the transaction as set forth in subsections 3 through 5 of this section.

A Law Used To Stifle Landlords Is Reducing Affordable Housing In Washington, DC
While TOPA has served to protect tenants’ rights, it has had unintended consequences.
05/30/2017 04:53 am ET Updated May 30, 2017

In Washington, D.C., an old law to protect renters is getting new attention. The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, commonly known as TOPA, has become so controversial critics are asking that the law be re-examined. This is because some tenants are using TOPA to extract money from landlords, should a landlord decide to sell a building. At present, TOPA is holding up or blocking real estate transactions, causing grief for developers and homeowners and victimizing low-income residents stuck living in buildings owners are unable to sell but forced to maintain at a financial loss.

Ostensibly, TOPA was created to protect tenants’ rights, which is important in Washington where about 30 percent of the District’s 672,000 residents rent instead of own a home. On its most basic level, the 1980 law is simple. “Under TOPA,” one publication wrote by way of explanation, “prior to the sale of a housing accommodation, the owner must send, by first class mail, a written offer of sale to each tenant and the Mayor of the District of Columbia.” The letter must state the property’s asking price and the terms of the sale. “In the case of a single-family home, a condominium, or cooperative unit… the tenant has 30 days to provide a written statement of interest to purchase the property.” If no offer is made, the sale goes through. If an offer is made, “the tenant has a minimum of 60 days… to negotiate a contract of sale with the property owner.”

Originally, the law was envisioned, according to one source, as a way “to protect tenants from potentially advantageous landlords and buyers.” That is to say, the law was trying to stop a developer from buying a property rented by low-income tenants and converting it to high-end housing. While TOPA has served to slow down this type of conversion, it has had unintended consequences.

One problem arises from the fact that a tenant can state he is willing to buy a property, but he is not required to demonstrate the financial means necessary to buy it. Even more troublesome, a tenant can assign — in other words sell — his TOPA rights to a third party such as a lawyer or a developer. This creates a situation where an outside party can complicate the sale of a property either by holding up the sale or inflating the value of the TOPA rights or both. It also violates the spirit of the law if the point of the original legislation was to protect the ability of a tenant to keep his home, not produce a bidding opportunity where TOPA rights can be auctioned off to the highest bidder, which is what has started to happen in Washington.

The bottom line is a tenant has the ability to cash in on the sale of a property without putting up any money of his own...

Consider the drama surrounding the recent sale of a home on Capitol Hill. The homeowner put her house on the market and received an offer. But when she gave notice to her tenant who leased the basement apartment for $800 a month, the tenant executed her TOPA rights, holding up the sale of the house. When the homeowner offered the tenant $10,000 to buy the TOPA rights, the tenant rejected the offer because she had multiple offers from third parties. “[My agent and I] are accepting offers which consider the ratio of time I am able to stay in the home and the buyout amount,” the tenant wrote to the homeowner. The conflict ended up in court.

Because of such examples — and there are many — critics of TOPA call it “tenant blackmail”; defenders call it “tenant capitalism.” The bottom line is a tenant has the ability to cash in on the sale of a property without putting up any money of his own, since he can hold a potential sale hostage until he signs over his TOPA rights. This is in stark contrast to real estate laws in, say, New York City, where a tenant can buy his apartment when his building converts to a cooperative but he is required to actually purchase the unit. He has a financial stake in the deal in a way tenants selling TOPA rights do not.

Sometimes the tenants band together and form a tenants’ association, which will represent all tenants concerning TOPA rights. But often a tenants’ association serves to drag out the purchase process with little or no intention of facilitating a sale. Such was the case with Museum Square. “So far,” The Guardian reported in an article about the sale, “the… tenants’ association of Museum Square is half way through the TOPA process. Seizing on their right to buy first… tenants have managed to stay put by claiming the number ($250 million) issued by their landlord as a sales price did not constitute a bona fide offer — meaning it did not represent the buildings’ current market value (the number instead reflected the estimated value of the luxury building that would have been built in its stead).”

In another case, tenants living in the low-income apartment complex surrounding the Congress Heights Metro station have exerted their TOPA rights, blocking the complex’s sale. The owner of the buildings, Sanford Capital, has been heavily criticized in the media for failing to maintain the property when in fact the company merely wants to divest itself of the property by selling it. It’s being prevented from doing so by the tenants, who have filed a TOPA lawsuit, guaranteeing the current situation, unacceptable to both the owner and the tenants, will continue on.

According to media reports, summer interns renting a room and even squatters can claim and sell TOPA rights. Critics of TOPA believe D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser should work with the City Council to reform TOPA to ensure that residents can exert their rights but not hold a sale hostage to a process that is being used to delay real estate transactions through extortion of landlords. Unless the law is changed, things will only get worse, slowing down the construction of new housing. Oddly enough, this won’t create more affordable housing in D.C. — as TOPA was designed to ensure — but make what housing is available even more costly.

Looking Back at 2017 and the 2016-2017 City Council term

Two years ago I put together an outline of some of the issues and tasks that lay before the City Council and the City administration that perhaps needed attention at that time. I called this outline Unfinished Business (Jan 5, 2016). Let's do a status check on how we fared over the last two years.

I – Housing

  1. Barrett Petition – Accessory apartments, etc.
  2. Affordable Housing Overlay – Citywide? Or not?
  3. Future housing on Central Square parking lots?
  4. Adjustments to Inclusionary Zoning required percentages
  5. Vail Court?

II – Citywide Master Plan/Envision Cambridge

  1. Will it be the ultimate way to kick every can down the road “until the master plan is completed”?
  2. Will it be cooperative or combative with people taking sides from the start and competing to pack the public meetings and serve on committees?
  3. Will it be a competition between those who support transit-oriented development and density vs. those who support limiting growth, limiting heights, limiting density in the name of “livability”?
  4. Representativeness of participants – will all points of view be represented?
  5. Alewife early action item – will the current Concord-Alewife Plan be significantly altered to respond to those concerned about pace of housing growth in the area (and NIMBYism)?
  6. Transportation in the Citywide Plan (likely to be renamed “Envision Cambridge”: Will the discussion continue to be dominated by “bicycle as panacea” or will there be a more comprehensive view? Will any new connections be proposed over RR tracks, rivers, or one-way patterns? Will new modes like personal mobility devices be accommodated?
  7. Will the end product have any fundamental recommended changes or will it be essentially an endorsement, more or less, of the way we are now doing things?
  8. Will there be any movement on Central Square, the C2 Recommendations, or some alternative?


  1. Will there be any follow-up of discussions of the last year or so?
  2. Will there be any actual jobs created or connections to jobs for Cambridge residents who actually need them?
  3. Will we have simply created or grown another bureaucracy that drafts plans but delivers little benefit?

IV – Bans, Ordinances, and changes in City services

  1. Curbside Organics Collection
  2. Plastic Bag Ban - Checkout Bag Ordinance – when does it go into effect? Any glitches?
  3. Polystyrene ban – when does it go into effect? Possible glitches, exemptions, recommended changes?
  4. Anything else to be banned or restricted? Soda? Candy? Fatty foods? Meat?
  5. Regulation of outdoor lighting?

V – Mass & Main

  1. When will actual construction commence? Will there be disruptions?
  2. Large stormwater storage tank to be built in parking lot behind Mass & Main site.
  3. Will there be lawsuits to try to block project? More petitions?

VI – Foundry Building

  1. When will building actually become available for use?
  2. Programming in building – what fraction for non-profits, etc. and what fraction for revenue generation to support the whole building? Will there be controversies over decisions made by Advisory Committee and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority?

VII – Volpe Site – Zoning and Possible Uses

  1. Likely that current petition will be re-filed
  2. How will competition between economics and possible housing/open space play out?
  3. Will Volpe Center just stay there in same building for another 20-50 years?

VII – The “Sharing Economy”

  1. Uber, Lyft, taxis – how will that dilemma be resolved? New regulation by City? By State?
  2. AirBnB – will this be further regulated or will everybody run their overpriced condos as unofficial hotels?

IX – Miscellaneous other Cambridge-style initiatives that may happen or go nowhere

  1. Publicly funded municipal elections
  2. Voting rights for non-citizens in local elections
  3. Shifting of political power to individual councillors via political aides, discretionary money, and differing interpretations of the City Charter
  4. Changes to Residential Exemption, e.g. only for low-income people with requirement that residents prove their income to be eligible (very unlikely – authority of state)
  5. $15 minimum wage (also unlikely except for City contracts and City workers – City lacks authority to set wages/prices except perhaps in declared emergency)
  6. Proposed special status for “recognized groups” at Ordinance Committee meetings – opens up a wider discussion of legitimacy and representativeness of neighborhood associations, political advocacy groups, etc.
  7. Proposal to have 11 full days of early voting for November election at precincts all across the city with staffing and security. A far better Order would have asked for a report from the Election Commission on how to best plan for Early Voting in accordance with changes in state law (as opposed to dictating to staff how this should be done).
  8. Effect of new development in Union Square, Somerville on Cambridge traffic, housing availability and affordability, access to Green Line Extension (if it happens any time soon).
  9. Will the current housing speculation bubble burst?

X – Civic Unity – Race, class, and the never-ending conflicts between different groups, neighborhoods, etc.

XI – Other Notable Things that emerged in the intervening two years

  1. Road reconfigurations (for better or worse) for bicycle accommodation
  2. Changes in License Commission policies and procedures
  3. Invasion of local politics by national political organizations
  4. Harvard Square controversies and changes
  5. Changing of the Guard
  6. CRLS Boys Basketball repeats as State Champions
  7. Pedro Martinez plays in the Oldtime Baseball Game at St. Peter's Field
  8. City Announces First Minibond Issuance, Invites Residents to Directly Invest in Cambridge
  9. The 2017 municipal election
  10. Some very notable passings


Mon, Feb 26

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Wed, Feb 28

5:30pm   Cambridge Election Commission meeting  (1st Floor Meeting Room, 51 Inman St.)



1. Executive Director's Report

2. Assistant Director's Report

3. Commissioners' Reports



Old Business

2018 State Primary, September 4th

New Business

Thurs, Mar 1

6:00pm   Cambridge Historical Commission meeting  (Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave.)

Mon, Mar 5

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, Mar 6

6:00pm   Regular School Committee meeting  (Henrietta Attles Meeting Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway)

6:30pm   Planning Board meeting  (2nd Floor Meeting Room, City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway)

Thurs, Mar 8

5:30-7:00pm   Commission for Persons with Disabilities meeting  (51 Inman St., 2nd Floor Conference Room)

7:00pm   Board of Zoning Appeals meeting  (Senior Center, 806 Mass. Ave)

Mon, Mar 12

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

5:30pm   Half Crown-Marsh Neighborhood Conservation District Commission Meeting  (Lombardi Building, 831 Mass. Ave, Basement Conference Room)

Wed, Mar 14

8:00-9:30am   Recycling Advisory Committee (RAC) Meeting  (Sullivan Chamber, City Hall)

5:30-7:30pm   Bicycle Committee meeting  (4th Floor Conference Room, 344 Broadway)

Mon, Mar 19

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, Mar 20

5:00pm   The City Council's Housing Committee will meet for an as yet undisclosed purpose.  (Sullivan Chamber)

6:00pm   Regular School Committee meeting  (Henrietta Attles Meeting Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway)

6:30pm   Planning Board meeting  (2nd Floor Meeting Room, City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway)

Wed, Mar 21

9:15am   Harvard Square Study Committee meeting  (Bank of America, 1414 Mass. Ave.)

4:30pm   Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Design Review Meeting  (Police Station, 125 Sixth St., First Floor Community Room)

5:30pm   Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Board Meeting  (Police Station, 125 Sixth St., First Floor Community Room)

Thurs, Mar 22

4:00pm   The City Council's Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee will meet for an as yet undisclosed purpose.  (Sullivan Chamber)

5:30pm   FY2019 One-year Action Plan - Public Hearing for Utilization of Federal Funding  (City Hall Annex, 2nd Floor Conference Room, 344 Broadway)

6:00-8:00pm   Pedestrian Committee Meeting  (4th Floor Conference Room, 344 Broadway)

Mon, Mar 26

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

5:30pm   Avon Hill Neighborhood Conservation District Commission Meeting  (Lombardi Building, 831 Mass. Ave., 2nd floor conference room)

Tues, Mar 27

2:00pm   The City Council's Civic Unity Committee will meet for an as yet undisclosed purpose.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Wed, Mar 28

12:00pm   The City Council's Economic Development and University Relations Committee will meet for an as yet undisclosed purpose.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Mon, Apr 2

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, Apr 3

6:00pm   Regular School Committee meeting  (Henrietta Attles Meeting Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway)

Mon, Apr 9

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, Apr 10

5:00pm   The City Council's Housing Committee will meet for an as yet undisclosed purpose.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Wed, Apr 11

8:00-9:30am   Recycling Advisory Committee (RAC) Meeting  (Sullivan Chamber, City Hall)

Mon, Apr 23

5:30pm   City Council meeting and Budget Overview  (Sullivan Chamber)

Mon, Apr 30

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, May 1

9:00am   The City Council's Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the FY2019 City Budget  (Sullivan Chamber)

6:00pm   Regular School Committee meeting  (Henrietta Attles Meeting Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway)

Mon, May 7

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, May 8

9:00am   The City Council's Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the FY2019 City Budget  (Sullivan Chamber)

Wed, May 9

8:00-9:30am   Recycling Advisory Committee (RAC) Meeting  (Sullivan Chamber, City Hall)

6:00pm   The City Council's Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the FY2019 School Department Budget  (Sullivan Chamber)

Thurs, May 10

9:00am   The City Council's Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the FY2019 City Budget - if necessary  (Sullivan Chamber)

Mon, May 14

4:00pm   2018 City of Cambridge Scholarship Awards Ceremony. This meeting to be televised.  (Sullivan Chamber)

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, May 15

6:00pm   Regular School Committee meeting  (Henrietta Attles Meeting Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway)

Mon, May 21

5:30pm   City Council meeting and expected Budget Adoption  (Sullivan Chamber)