Cambridge InsideOut - January 9, 2018

Robert and Judy

Possible Topics:

1) Cold Start - Jan 8, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

2) Election of the Mayor (Jan 1)

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

4) Civic Calendar

Cold Start - Jan 8, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Cold StartThis first regular meeting of the 2018-2019 Cambridge City Council will be chaired by our newly minted Mayor Marc McGovern. As one might expect, it's a short agenda as the new and returning councillors settle in. City Council committee appointments may not be settled for a few weeks, so the only business will be what takes place in the regular Council meetings for now. There is one active zoning petition and 15 items from Awaiting Report that were requested to carry over to the new Council.

Here are some agenda items this week that seem interesting:

On the Table #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, regarding assessing and approving Neighborhood-Based Resiliency.

I remember when the term "Sustainability" was first popularized. It took people years to decide what the word really meant with various interested people and groups trying to fashion it in a way that suited their ideals and/or agendas. I'm not really sure what was ultimately decided. Though I have some idea what the term "Resiliency" might mean, e.g. hardening of infrastructure, my sense is that we're in a place similar to where we were with "Sustainability" 25 years ago. For example, does Alewife Resiliency translate into transit-oriented development with better connections for all transportation modes or does it mean "Don't build anything there because there may be flooding at times." The current narrow political dichotomy will likely answer in two radically different ways. Soft definitions are always risky propositions.

Order #1. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to reach out to representatives of supermarkets other than Star Market, such as Market Basket, to determine the possibility of their opening a location at 20 Sidney Street, and to report back to the City Council on this matter.   Councillor Simmons

There has been an active discussion about the store closure on the Cambridgeport listserv over the last few days. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote there:

The Memorial Drive Stop & Shop closed in May 1994 which left the Cambridgeport area very much in need of a local supermarket. I believe it was in 1997 when University Park (really Forest City) offered to host a Star Market in their hotel/garage building. This was definitely done in order to sweeten the deal in order to obtain the necessary curb cuts (and let's not forget the discontinuation of Blanche Street). There had been a City analysis of access to supermarkets in the wake of the Stop & Shop closure that informed the University Park decision.

At the time a lot of us felt that the whole concept of a 2nd floor supermarket with paid parking (though a discount was offered) was not a sustainable plan, but there really was a serious need for food access at that time - especially for Area 4 (now The Port) and MIT people who would get there on foot. Some of that logic has changed in recent years as more people live without motor vehicles, but most people who do any significant grocery shopping will choose to drive to a place like Market Basket in Somerville not only for the prices but also because there's (usually) available parking. It's virtually impossible that Market Basket would want to operate in the University Park space. It's completely contrary to their very successful business model in which they own most of the locations of their stores and pay no rent. There are other operators that have a very different business model that might be able to make it work at this location, but only if University Park is willing to negotiate a rent that can make it sustainable.

Though I don't believe there is any legal obligation that University Park must continue to host a supermarket, I think there's at least some moral obligation to do so. The original University Park plans called for a "marketplace" that was never built (as well as a movie theater), and some might argue that the inclusion of the Star Market was a sort of making good on that original concept. Perhaps more significantly, the offer to host the Star Market came at a point when the matter was before the Planning Board and the City Council (for the curb cuts), and it was part of the negotiation even if there was no formal commitment to maintain the supermarket in perpetuity. - RW

Back in 1998 I wrote this: "We also learned at this meeting that an agreement has been worked out with the new Star Market at University Park that would make parking for the supermarket free for the first 1½ hours. This was one of the stickier issues a few years ago when the City voted to grant various curb cuts and to discontinue Blanche Street in order to make way for the hotel and supermarket." - Sept 14, 1998 in CCJ Issue #12

Here's what I wrote on June 16, 2000: "There have also been persistent rumors about just how permanent the Star Market is at that location. For now, at least, it appears to be staying put." Well, it lasted longer than I thought and is now scheduled to close on Feb 3, 2018. Hopefully another supermarket operator can be found and that Forest City/University Park will be willing to offer a long-term lease with terms that can can allow a supermarket to economically operate there. Not everyone wants to shop by bike at Whole Paycheck.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on progress made in regards to the Stated Goals of the City Council, as outlined during the 2016-2017 City Council term.   Councillor Simmons

Goals are important, but the primary goal should be to not spend an endless time talking about them. - Robert Winters

The Upshot: There was a very healthy discussion regarding the future of the supermarket site in University Park. Look for some community meetings to take place in the coming weeks and months.

Mayor McGovern has appointed Councillors Carlone and Kelley as Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee.

Mayor McGovern also appointed a Special Ad-Hoc Rules Committee to review the City Council rules and the recommend any changes, including possible restructuring of the City Council subcommittees. This Ad-Hoc Committee will consist of Vice Mayor Devereux (Chair) and Councillors Mallon and Kelley; as well as Donna Lopez, City Clerk; Nancy Glowa, City Solicitor; Maryellen Carvello, Office manager to the City Manager, and Wil Durbin, Chief of Staff to the Mayor. This committee is requested to come back with recommendations in time for the next City Council meeting on January 22.


Jan 1, 2018 - The 2018-2019 Cambridge City Council was inaugurated this morning in the Sullivan Chamber of City Hall. After each elected councillor took the oath of office, the new City Council took care of its first order of business - the election of the Mayor. Though the eventual outcome was already known to many in the room for the last few weeks, there is always at least some drama due to the possibility that an alternate deal could be struck in the interim. However the vote went more or less as predicted with Marc McGovern being elected as Mayor for the 2018-2019 term. The initial vote was 7-2 for McGovern with Councillors Simmons and Toomey casting their votes for Tim Toomey, but Councillor Simmons changed her vote to McGovern to make the final vote 8-1.

After a speech by the newly elected Mayor McGovern that stressed themes of unity the Council then elected Jan Devereux to serve as Vice Chair of the City Council for the 2018-2019 term. That vote was initially 5 votes for Jan Devereux and 4 for Denise Simmons, but Alanna Mallon and then Craig Kelley changed their votes to Devereux to make the final vote 7-2 with Councillors Simmons and Toomey voting for Simmons.

After these proceedings their were several statements by councillors thanking Sandra Albano for her 47 years of service to the City and especially her role managing the City Council office since 1982. Sandy's last day on the job is tomorrow - Jan 2, 2018 - and it's hard to imagine City Hall without her.

Perhaps the high point of the entire Inaugural Meeting was Cambridge Police Deputy Superintendent Pauline Carter Wells singing John Lennon's song "Imagine" - just as she did two years ago and just as inspiring.

Later in the day, starting at 6:00pm, the newly elected 2018-2019 Cambridge School Committee took their oaths of office and elected Kathleen Kelly as the Vice Chair (who will be responsible for making all subcommittee appointments). That vote was initially split with Manikka Bowman and Laurance Kimbrough voting for Manikka Bowman; Emily Dexter and voting for Patty Nolan; and Fred Fantini, Kathleen Kelly, Patty Nolan, and Marc McGovern voting for Kathleen Kelly. Emily Dexter and Laurance Kimbrough then changed their votes to Kathleen Kelly leading to the final 6-1 vote to elect Kathleen Kelly.

Mayor McGovern has tapped Wil Durbin to serve as Chief of Staff of the Mayor's Office. He also tapped Luis Vasquez to be in charge of constituent services and outreach. Both are inspired choices.

The Plan E Charter only designates the Mayor as Chair of the City Council and the School Committee. All other roles and initiatives of the Mayor and the Mayor's Office are at the discretion of the Mayor, and every Mayor defines their role differently. Mayor Simmons was a wonderful Mayor for the last two years and our newly elected Mayor McGovern promises to be just as inspiring in how he defines his role for the next two years.

One last note: A new portrait of former Mayor Barbara Ackermann now graces the back wall of the Sullivan Chamber. This was an extra special treat. - RW

Mayor McGovern oath
Marc McGovern is sworn in as Mayor
Mayor McGovern
Mayor McGovern's inaugural address
Pauline Carter Wells sings "Imagine"
Pauline Carter Wells sings "Imagine"
Barbara Ackermann portrait in Sullivan Chamber
Barbara Ackermann portrait in Sullivan Chamber

The Mayors of Cambridge

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, Jan 8

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, Jan 16

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

Thurs, Jan 18

6:00pm   Meeting to discuss Porter Square intersection safety improvements  (Lesley University, University Hall Amphitheatre, 1815 Mass. Ave.)

Mon, Jan 22

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

Mon, Jan 29

5:30pm   City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)