Cambridge InsideOut - Feb 5, 2019
1) Save the Groundhogs - Feb 4, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting
2) Jan 28 City Council meeting
Trees and stuff
3) How Big is Too Big - Observations from the Jan 12 meeting
4) Wrapping Up 2018
5) Which potential 2019 City Council election campaign accounts have been active?
6) The Paper of Record - Selection from the Cambridge Chronicle
7) Civic Calendar
Save the Groundhogs - Feb 4, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Research indicates that the groundhog population in Cambridge has reached an historic low. The consequences in terms of city planning will likely be devastating. While contemplating this impending disaster, consider the following items up for discussion as we enter the last six weeks of winter.
Manager's Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, requesting that the City Council vote to accept Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 64N, Section 3 (“G.L.c.64N, §3”), which is the state law that allows municipalities to impose a local excise tax of up to 3% on retail sales of cannabis within the City.
Into the General Fund, please. No earmarks.
Manager's Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-104, regarding a report on a list of streets where it is recommended that the speed be reduced to 20 MPH.
If you look at the map, this is pretty close to a citywide 20mph speed limit.
Addendum: Sign, sign, everywhere a sign; Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind; Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign? Apparently there are over 400 streets that will have to get a 20mph sign because, you know, state law. You can't paint it on the roadway, and you can't just post the whole city as 20mph with the roads (including numbered highways) with slightly high speed limits being the exception. Logic vs. legislation.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City departments to conduct a formal and professional financial assessment of the additional value created for the owner/petitioner by up-zonings for developments of more than 50,000 square feet.
The information will be interesting and useful, but I'm still concerned about the quid-pro-quo aspect of zoning for sale whether it be for cash or subsidized housing units.
Addendum: The Mayor amended the Order to also assess the added benefit to the City associated with upzoning. I pointed out to the Mayor after the meeting that similar analysis should accompany downzoning petitions as well. About 20 years ago downzoning was all the rage and this definitely reduced the value of many properties. Some of the upzonings in recent years simply added back the height/density that had been taken away.
Resolution #5. Retirement of Paul Burke from the Cambridge Police Department. Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mallon
I have met many members of the Cambridge Police over the years, and Paul Burke ranks among my most favorite. Happy trails, Paul, and I hope to see you around town.
Order #1. Dedication sign in honor of Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Mayor McGovern
Ray worked on my VW Bus once, but he'll never admit it. Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe.
Order #3. That the City Manager confer with Eversource and the appropriate City departments to undertake a series of studies and analyses related to finance, health and safety, building design, and long-term electricity needs before the construction of a substation in East Cambridge. Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Siddiqui
Anyone who has ever dealt with Eversource knows that they rarely do long-term planning - just reaction to developments being built, so let's just look at this as a way of assisting them. I'm sure they do need the new substation. The only question is where it should be located.
Addendum: There were concerns expressed during Public Comment and by some city councillors regarding potential adverse health effects associated with the electromagnetic fields adjacent to major electrical infrastructure such as the one proposed on Fulkerson Street. I wonder if they are aware that there are several high voltage underground transmission lines criss-crossing the city. Should we all run for the exits?
Order #5. That the Central Square Massachusetts Avenue sidewalk maintenance/repairs and replacement tree planting become part of the River Street/Barron Plaza project to bring Central Square back to the original circa 1990 intent. Councillor Carlone, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon
Sure, fix up the sidewalks of Central Square and then some. I'm not sure that the "1990 intent" is necessarily the appropriate standard. There have been many reconfigurations of the sidewalks and streets of Central Square over the years and not all have been for the best.
Order #6. City Council support of traffic safety bills SD.847/HD.1653, SD.1461 and SD.1383/HD.1534. Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern
The most significant of these (to me) is the setting of a safe passing distance of vulnerable road users, including cyclists. Nobody should get buzzed by a ton or more of flying steel, and that includes people standing on the sides of roadways. I also like the use of red light cameras, but you know all too well this will lead to hours of pointless debate about the evils of surveillance and the inalienable rights of scofflaws.
Order #7. Proclaim Feb 12, 2019 as Darwin Day in Cambridge. Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
You can use the opportunity to announce the Darwin Awards.
Late Order #12. City Council support of “An Act promoting housing opportunity and mobility through eviction sealing (SD 526 and HD 3815 HOMES).” Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey
The concern expressed in the Order is that if a tenant files a complaint against a landlord it will go on the tenant's "permanent record" and may make renting more difficult in the future. That's a perfectly reasonable concern, though I don't have much sympathy for repeat offenders.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 12, 2018 to discuss formation of a city commission dedicated to providing a forum for exploring and addressing the concerns of undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate and other post-high school students in Cambridge.
I wish I could have attended this hearing, but I was busy teaching some of the very same people this proposal is about. I do wonder if the students the City Council hears from are really a representative sample. I somehow doubt it.
Addendum: Several councillors chimed in on this. I have to say that forming a commission of young people that deliberates only about things of concern to young people seems awfully self-serving. A much better perspective (and one expressed by some councillors) was the importance of aggressive outreach to younger people who might serve on the whole range of City Boards & Commissions - maybe even some new ones. My suggestion is that we create the Board of Fun and charge it with coming up with ways to make Cambridge more fun for people of all ages. I can't imagine the Planning Board ever generating plans for miniature golf and/or batting cages. It took the Charles River Conservancy to bring the skate park to North Point.
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Kelley regarding Tree Removal Comments.
Councillor Kelley makes some good points in his memo. The real problem, however, is the complete inflexibility of the moratorium proposal some councillors are backing. The inability last week of four city councillors to understand the meaning of due process continues to stun me. Will blind zeal rule the day or will an adult legislator emerge with a thoughtful compromise that provides some flexibility for homeowners faced with difficult decisions? The hearing on Feb 14 should be very telling. - Robert Winters
Picking through the pieces of the Jan 28, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda
Here's my initial selection of the agenda items that either I find interesting or which are sure to bring out a crowd:
Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $175,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund a Climate Change Resilience Analysis which will focus on zoning recommendations.
Another $175,000 for a Climate Change Resilience Analysis? Didn't we do this not so long ago?
Applications & Petitions #4. A Zoning Petition Has been received from Melissa Grippo and Christian Grippo, et al, requesting the City Council to vote to amend Section 5.30.11 of the Zoning Ordinance by adding the following sentence at the end of that section: “Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the Industry B District, a hotel use (Section 4.31.2), shall be governed by the second number (4.0) for purposes of determining the Maximum Ratio of Floor Area to Lot Area.”
I don't know nuthin' about it, but there's now another zoning petition in the queue.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to review the City’s communications and emergency response policies and protocols related to flooding resulting from infrastructure failures. Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley
Order #2. City Council support for I-90 Hybrid Plan with request for further review. Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
BIG projects can be fun because when the scale of spending is large it creates opportunities to do some creative things around the edges of the necessary stuff. Envision that.
Order #5. City Council support of HD2395: An act to further provide a rental arrearage program. Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui
This is the kind of idea I can get behind - assisting people to get through a bad patch with some transitional assistance. It makes a lot more sense than some of the other proposals that have been floating around over the past year.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City departments to conduct a formal and professional financial assessment of the additional value created for the owner/petitioner by up-zonings for developments of more than 50,000 square feet. Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan
I suspect the motivation behind this is not just information-gathering. It sure seems like a prelude to extracting more "community benefit" money out of proposed developments - or maybe just creating a political basis for not granting zoning relief at all. Naively, I would still like to believe that zoning should be based on good planning rather than on who's going to share the spoils.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 9, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection” to amend section 8.66.40 entitled “Applicability” and by adding a new section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for other projects.”
Order #7. That the tree protection ordinance amendment discussed at the Ordinance Committee hearing held on Wed, Jan 9, 2019 and referenced in Committee Report #3 of Jan 28, 2019 be further amended per additional language. Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Kelley
Basically, the sponsors want to enact a one-year moratorium on tree "removal permits" (where have we heard that phrase before) except for dead, diseased, or dangerous trees. This doesn't seem to allow any discretion at all to property owners, and it treats ordinary small-scale homeowners just as harshly as those big evil developers. If you violate this prohibition they'll make you pay into a tree replacement fund. I'm sure this committee report and order will bring out the troops to public comment, but there are some serious problems with this proposal.
Beyond the simple fact that there has not been proper legal notice (a moratorium is a lot stricter than a requirement to seek approval by the City Arborist), it also completely disrespects the rights of property owners to manage their own property. Furthermore, it would appear that the required payment for violating the moratorium will likely be well in excess of the cost of the tree removal. Most property owners would probably be OK with a reasonable ordinance that would dissuade them from wholesale deforestation of their property, but I seriously doubt whether there would be support for an ordinance that removed all discretion. Most property owners actually remove trees reluctantly and they certainly don't want to have to appear before the Tree Tribunal whenever they are faced with such a decision.
This is a municipal election year and it's pretty clear that some people are trying to make tree protection a defining issue for the upcoming election. So let me dabble in a little political calculus for you. There are two, maybe three city councillors who stand to gain politically by being the tree champions. The councillors who will be collecting those #1 Votes are the ones who already have them from those voters who are rallying around this moratorium proposal. Any other councillors will be getting a #3 at best, and those preferences will count for nothing. On the other hand, there are a lot of homeowners - and that includes a lot of environmentally-conscious homeowners - who will not be particularly keen about having their hands tied even though they probably won't be reaching for the axe anytime during the next 12 months.
Every week it seems like the current City Council shows just how little faith they have in the people who elect them.
UPDATE: The City Council passed to a 2nd Reading the proposed revision to the Tree Ordinance included in the Committee Report (as amended in the report). Though there was spirited public comment favoring Order #7 - the proposed moratorium and punitive fines ($300/day) for removing a significant tree, the City Council voted 5-4 to send that proposal to the Ordinance Committee for an actual hearing and possible revision. This was really the only reasonable course of action, but Councillors Zondervan and Devereux apparently feel that discretionary tree removal, even by a homeowner, is the moral equivalent of murder. Councillors Kelley, Mallon, Simmons, Toomey, and Mayor McGovern voted in favor of due process; while Councillors Carlone, Devereux, Siddiqui, and Zondervan would have preferred immediate action without any public notice. There has never been any hearing where this punitive moratorium was on the agenda and where property owners could address their concerns. Councillors Zondervan and Devereux made it quite clear that they believe that informing people after a law is passed constitutes adequate notice. Democracy, representation, and due process apparently mean little to these councillors. - RW
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor, in consultation with the Election Commission, to report back on the legality and constitutionality of the proposed “Cambridge Publicly Financed Municipal Election Program” and the “Cambridge Municipal Election People’s Pledge.” Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley
Though I would like to see the legal opinion on these ideas, I still think they are ill-conceived for Cambridge municipal elections.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone Co-Chair and Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 29, 2018 to discuss Urban Form Recommendations from the Community Development Department.
Speaking of municipal elections....
Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Co-Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui Co-Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Nov 28, 2018 to discuss the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay District and on the first annual Inclusionary Zoning report.
Here's an idea - Let the City's policy be simply to maintain the subsidized housing stock that already exists and add to it via Inclusionary Zoning. We're already way ahead of the game compared to almost every other city or town in Massachusetts.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes from the meeting of the Mayor's Arts Task Force from Jan 10, 2019.
These Arts Task Force minutes sometimes read like the psychiatrist's notes at a wacky therapy session. How does that make you feel? - RW
OFFICE OF THE MAYOR
Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk:
Please include the attached document in the minutes for this meeting on Monday, January 28, 2019 in Communications and Reports from City Officers.
Mayor's Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement
January 28, 2019
The following community members have been appointed to serve on the Mayor's Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement:
How Big is Too Big? - Observations from the Jan 12 meeting
Which potential 2019 City Council election campaign accounts have been active?
[Let's be clear that not all of those listed will actually be candidates in 2019 and there may be others not listed here. You decide.]
You can sort the table or leave comments here.
2017 Cambridge City Council Bank Reports (Feb 6, 2018)
FCC rule could gut funding for Cambridge community TV (Nov 30, 2018)
Cambridge residents asked to vote on budgeting (Nov 21, 2018)
Yard waste collection to continue through Dec 14 (Nov 16, 2018)
Baker open to fee hike to boost state CPA match (Nov 16, 2018)
Cambridge Police Department welcomes 10 new officers (Nov 13, 2018)
Cambridge cyclist killed by dump truck (Nov 9, 2018)
Resident parking permits for 2019 available (Oct 26, 2018)
Global market complicates local recycling, frustrates residents (Sept 17, 2018)
Tues, Feb 5
1:00pm The City Council's Ordinance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss a petition filed by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge in Article 5.000 to convert flat concave roofs to greenhouse/glass porch. This hearing will be televised. (Sullivan Chamber)
3:00pm The City Council's Ordinance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss a petition filed by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances in section 4.22 to allow for a Special Permit for the alteration of a single, two-family or accessory structure in existence as of January 2019 to provide one accessory apartment if the appropriate conditions are met. This hearing will be televised. (Sullivan Chamber)
Mon, Feb 11
5:30pm City Council meeting (Sullivan Chamber)
5:30pm Roundtable/Working Meeting between the City Council and School Committee to conduct a preliminary discussion on the Cambridge Public School Departmental budget for FY20. This meeting will be televised. (Sullivan Chamber)
Wed, Feb 13
8:00-9:30am Recycling Advisory Committee (RAC) Meeting (Sullivan Chamber, City Hall)
12:00pm The City Council's Economic Development & University Relations Committee will conduct a public hearing to receive an update on the progress to date on the retail strategy plan and vacant storefront initiative. (Sullivan Chamber)
Mon, Feb 25
5:30pm City Council meeting (Sullivan Chamber)
10:00am The City Council's Human Services and Veterans Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the lessons learned from the death of Laura Levis, and to discuss what measures are being enacted to instill a greater level of confidence in local Cambridge Health Alliance centers to prevent another occurrence of this nature. (Sullivan Chamber)
5:30pm Roundtable/Working Meeting between the City Council and School Committee to discuss plans for the Tobin/VLUS school design and construction process. This meeting will be televised. (Sullivan Chamber)
5:30pm The City Council's Ordinance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 12 entitled “Streets, Sidewalks and Public Places” by adding a new chapter 12.22 entitled “Cycling Safety Ordinance”. (Sullivan Chamber)
Mon, Mar 4
5:30pm City Council meeting (Sullivan Chamber)
6:00pm The City Council's Housing Committee will meet. (Sullivan Chamber)
1:00pm The City Council's Transportation and Public Utilities Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss how Transit Benefits Ordinance are used in other cities to further sustainable transportation goals, and whether Cambridge could benefit from implementing a Transit Benefit Ordinance. (Sullivan Chamber)