Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 6, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 351-352: Nov 6, 2018 w/Patrick Barrett

Episode 351 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 6, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 6, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Central Square, Business Improvement District (BID), Formula Business Ordinance and the Central Square Restoration Petition, Envision Cambridge. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 352 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 6, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 6, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Nov 5 City Council meeting highlights, Envision Cambridge, First Street Garage & Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

November 5, 2018

On Deck for the Nov 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:03 am

On Deck for the Nov 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here’s my first pass at the interesting stuff:City Hall

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $92,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Police Extraordinary Expenditures account for the fit out of a new Police Reporting Station at 628 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square.

The new substation will be a welcome addition to this part of Central Square.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $200,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expense Account to fund a Bicycle Plan Update with Feasibility Analysis and Implementation Plan.

As the Manager’s communication says, "The 2015 Cambridge Bicycle Plan created a bicycle network vision, an aspirational plan for creating a high-quality bicycle infrastructure network on streets and paths in the city. The Plan did not include technical studies to evaluate space and operational constraints for each street segment to determine the feasibility of creating separated facilities in the short term." It’s important to highlight the fact that the Plan was never carved in stone and immutable. It was an aspiration, i.e. a Big Wish intended to address the general issue of bicycle safety and "comfort". Where much of this went wrong was in the decision to rush through a number of half-baked "quick build" projects. This latest expenditure could yield balanced, sensible (and probably more expensive) plans or just more of the same – depending, at least in part, on whether City staff proceed with open minds or pre-baked conclusions.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $150,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Finance Extraordinary Expenditures account to support a 12-month digital equity research initiative.

While the expressed purpose of this initiative is "to study and analyze gaps affecting the City’s low-income or otherwise disadvantaged population in use of the broadband internet", it also formally ends the Broadband Task Force. What the communication does not emphasize is that some proposals for a full municipal broadband system that could have had a very significant price tag and financial exposure for the City grew out of that Task Force – something that was not well-received by the City Manager. On the flip side, there may be ways in which such a system could pay for itself. That conversation will likely continue outside the confines of City boards.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,000,000 from the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund to the Grant Fund Human Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used: (1) for grant agreements with nonprofit organizations to address the City’s most pressing service needs, and (2) to enter into a contract with a Project Evaluator to work with the grant recipients as well as the Community Benefits Advisory Committee (CBAC), which is overseeing this effort.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, requesting the City Council authorize the City Manager to enter into a contract with a consultant service agency to provide evaluation services for 5 years from the date of the execution of the contract pursuant to G.L. c. 30B, §12b for the purpose of obtaining independent evaluation services to assess the use of community benefits funding by City-based nonprofit organizations in accordance with the Community Benefits Ordinance and the Guiding Principles of Community Benefits Funding.

While I claim no great understanding of this ordinance and its funding mechanisms, there are a few points worth making here. First, this was spawned by concerns about prior community benefits agreements associated with zoning proposals – generally upzoning – in which a property owner offered some benefit (such as the donation of the Foundry building or contributions to scholarship funds, community centers, etc.) to secure the necessary votes for the proposed zoning change. I believe the intention was to regularize this process so that it was not conducted as part of some relatively private understanding that yielded benefits to organizations favored by individual councillors. There is also the notion that agreements like this are a bit like purchasing zoning relief by sweetening the pot with cash. Zoning should be primarily driven by good planning rather than the extraction of financial benefits. Another concern that I have is that the universe of recipients of these "community benefits" now seems to be limited to subsidized housing and various social service agencies. One of the more significant things that grew out of the K2C2 deliberations several years ago was the understanding that "community beneifit" should also include things like placemaking and an improved retail environment. It would be a shame if those priorities were forgotten.

Order #2. That the City Manager work with the Fire Department to evaluate the existing capacity of fire stations in the Kendall Square area and whether a new fire station is needed, and if so, determining the feasibility of locating a plot of land for this use.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

It’s worth noting that there used to be a fire station in Kendall Square at the intersection of Dock Street and Main Street. That station was sold by the City around 1999-2000 to be repurposed as a Bed & Breakfast/restaurant (now "The Kendall").

Order #3. Further Study Needed on First Street Garage.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

This is sure to be a Big Deal in the months ahead with a lot of activism brewing in East Cambridge. It is worth again emphasizing that even if you have a 50-year brooding resentment about the Sullivan Courthouse being built in the first place, the First Street Garage was built, at least in part, to support the traffic associated with that building. The legal machinations over the development rights at the Courthouse site appear to all be over, but the preliminary plans were based on the ability to lease space in the First Street Garage or, if that was blocked politically, in the Galleria garage. What complicates this now is the possibility that the Cambridgeside Galleria complex may undergo significant re-envisioning which might involve a reduction in parking capacity. There are lots of moving parts in all of this.

Order #4. Rethink Approach to Envision Cambridge.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

This is sure to be a point of contention at the meeting. The Order seems to focus primarily on the public relations error of leading with just three recommendations which have not all been received with love and kisses. One could also argue that there were some underlying flaws in the Envision process itself – primarily its focus on a long list of ideas growing out of working committees rather than a unified vision for the future.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 16, 2018 to discuss CMA 2018 #196 and any other matter related to Jerry’s Pond.

One pet peeve that I harbor is the notion that hazardous sites should just be fenced off or otherwise sealed off for eternity rather than cured. This applies to the asbestos-laden Sullivan Courthouse building as well as Jerry’s Pond. I expressed much the same point of view years ago in suggesting that water from the Stony Brook system should be directed to the Muddy River in order to increase the flow. The response was that this might disturb toxins in the river bottom. A little disturbance may not be such a bad thing if one day those materials are removed. Sealing off a problem is not the ideal way to address a problem. – Robert Winters

October 31, 2018

Cambridge Growth Policy – Toward a Sustainable Future

Filed under: Cambridge,planning — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:34 pm

Today’s Homework Assignment:
Please identify which policies, if any, from Cambridge’s Growth Policy Document should be changed.
[To the best of my knowledge, these important policies have never been part of the discussion among the current Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee or its various Working Groups. Indeed, some of the current recommendations growing from the Envision Cambridge process clearly contradict some of these current policies. – RW]

Cambridge Growth Policy – Toward a Sustainable Future
1993, updated 2007
[Full Document – with graphics and narratives]

Policy 1
Existing residential neighborhoods, or any portions of a neighborhood having an identifiable and consistent built character, should be maintained at their prevailing pattern of development and building density and scale.

Policy 2
Except in evolving industrial areas, the city’s existing land use structure and the area of residential and commercial neighborhoods should remain essentially as they have developed historically.

Policy 3
The wide diversity of development patterns, uses, scales, and densities present within the city’s many residential and commercial districts should be retained and strengthened. That diversity should be between and among the various districts, not necessarily within each individual one.

Policy 4
Adequate transitions and buffers between differing scales of development and differing uses should be provided; general provisions for screening, landscaping and setbacks should be imposed while in especially complex circumstances special transition provisions should be developed.

Policy 5
The major institutions, principally Lesley College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the hospitals, should be limited to those areas that historically have been occupied by such uses and to abutting areas that are reasonably suited to institutional expansion, as indicated by any institutional overlay district formally adopted by the City.

Policy 6
For such institutions reasonable densities should be permitted in their core campuses to forestall unnecessary expansion into both commercial districts and low density residential neighborhoods.

Policy 7
Notwithstanding the limitations implied in the above policy statements, (1) the establishment of a new center of tax exempt, institutional activity may be appropriate in one or more of the city’s evolving industrial areas and/or (2) the development of a modest and discreet institutional presence may be appropriate in any non-residential district when a combination of two or more of the following benefits accrue to the city:

1. Such action will permanently forestall excessive development at the core campus of an existing institution, in particularly sensitive locations; or

2. Existing institutional activity in a core campus area will be reduced or eliminated, particularly at locations where conflict with existing residential communities has been evident or is possible in the future; and

3. The potential for future commercial, tax-paying development is not significantly reduced; or

4. The presence of a stable, well managed institutional activity could encourage, stimulate, and attract increased investment in non-institutional commercial tax producing development.

Policy 8
The availability of transit services should be a major determinant of the scale of development and the mix of uses encouraged and permitted in the predominantly non-residential districts of the city: the highest density commercial uses are best located where transit service is most extensive (rapid transit and trolley); much reduced commercial densities and an increased proportion of housing use are appropriate where dependence on the automobile is greatest; mixed uses, including retail activities in industrial and office districts, should be considered to reduce the need to use the automobile during working hours. Similarly, the scale, frequency, mode and character of goods delivery should play an important role in determining the appropriate density of non-residential uses anywhere in the city.

Policy 9
The evolution of the city’s industrial areas should be encouraged, under the guidance of specific urban design plans, and through other public policy and regulations such that:

1. Those areas can adapt to new commercial and industrial patterns of development;

2. The residential neighborhood edges abutting such areas are strengthened through selective residential reuse within the development areas or through careful transition in density, scale and lot development pattern;

3. New uses and varied scales and densities can be introduced into such areas;

4. Uses incompatible with the city’s existing and future desired development pattern are phased out.

Policy 10
In some evolving industrial areas multiple uses should be encouraged, including an important component of residential use in suitable locations not subject to conflict with desired industrial uses, to advance other development policy objectives of the city:

1. To provide opportunities for those who work in the city to live here;

2. To limit the use of the automobile to get to Cambridge and to travel within Cambridge;

3. To encourage more active use of all parts of the city for longer periods throughout the day; and

4. To limit the secondary impacts of new development on the existing, established neighborhoods. These impacts may be both economic, as in the increased demand placed on the limited stock of existing housing, and environmental, as in the increase in traffic on neighborhood streets.

Policy 11
A wide range of development patterns should be encouraged in these evolving industrial areas at scales and densities and in forms which would be difficult to accommodate in the city’s fully developed districts and neighborhoods.

Policy 12
Those necessary or desirable uses and activities which require specially tailored environments should be provided for and those uses, activities and development patterns which create distinctive environments that serve as amenities for the whole community should be protected or maintained.

For example: low rent industrial space for start up enterprises; locations for industrial use and development which could be compromised by proximity to other, incompatible, uses, including residential uses; small commercial enclaves which directly serve their immediate surrounding residential neighborhood; locations appropriate for gas stations, car repair facilities, tow yards, etc.; structures or clusters of structures eligible for local historic district designation; or for designation as a local conservation district; environments as frequently found in the Residence “A” districts, where a unique combination of distinctive architecture and landscaped open space prevails; areas designated or eligible as national register historic districts.

Policy 13
A pace of development or redevelopment should be encouraged that permits the maintenance of a healthy tax base, allows for adjustment and adaptation to changing economic conditions, and is consistent with the City’s urban design and other physical development objectives yet does not unreasonably disrupt the daily activities of the city’s neighborhoods and residents or overburden the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.

Policy 14
Increase the City’s investment in Transportation Demand Management to promote non-single occupancy vehicle forms of transportation and assist Cambridge employers, both individually and collectively, in developing such programs for their employees and operations.

Policy 15
Enact land use regulations that encourage transit and other forms of non-automobile mobility by mixing land uses, creating a pleasant and safe pedestrian and bicycle environment, and restricting high density development to areas near transit stations.

Policy 16
Encourage regional employment patterns that take advantage of areas well served by transit to and from Cambridge.

Policy 17
Seek implementation of MBTA transit improvements that will provide more direct and, where demand is justified, express service to Cambridge from those portions of the region now inadequately served by transit to Cambridge.

Policy 18
Improve MBTA public transportation service within the city including updating routes, schedules, signs, and bus stop placement.

Policy 19
Investigate the feasibility of developing and implementing, within the financial resources of the City, a paratransit system, utilizing taxi cabs where appropriate, in order to supplement the current MBTA system in Cambridge.

Policy 20
Encourage the state transportation and environmental agencies to develop a regional goods movement plan; in the meantime, use the City’s limited authority as much as possible to route truck traffic around rather than through residential neighborhoods.

Policy 21
Discourage vehicle travel through residential areas both by providing roadway improvements around the neighborhoods’ perimeters and by operational changes to roadways which will impede travel on local streets.

Policy 22
Undertake reasonable measures to improve the functioning of the city’s street network, without increasing through capacity, to reduce congestion and noise and facilitate bus and other non-automobile circulation. However, minor arterials with a residential character should be protected whenever possible.

Policy 23
Encourage all reasonable forms of non-automobile travel including, for example, making improvements to the city’s infrastructure which would promote bicycling and walking.

Policy 24
Support regional transportation and land use policies that will improve air quality by reducing dependence on single occupancy vehicles, both through reduction in employment-based travel and in other trips taken for non-work purposes.

Policy 25
Promote the use of truly clean alternative vehicle technologies for necessary vehicle travel particularly in regards to fleets.

Policy 26
Maintain and preserve existing residential neighborhoods at their current density, scale, and character. Consider exceptions to this policy when residents have strong reservations about existing character, are supportive of change, and have evaluated potential changes in neighborhood character through a planning process.

Policy 27
Where possible, construct new affordable housing that fits neighborhood character. In existing residential neighborhoods housing should be built at a scale, density, and character consistent with existing development patterns. Permit reconstruction of affordable housing (defined as more than 50% of units rented or owned by households at 80% or less than median income) that serves a wide range of incomes and groups at previous nonconforming density where reconstruction is less expensive than rehabilitation. Emphasize construction of affordable housing designed for families with children.

Policy 28
Affordable housing in rehabilitated or newly constructed buildings should serve a wide range of households, particularly low and moderate income families, racial minorities, and single persons with special needs.

Policy 29
Encourage rehabilitation of the existing housing stock. Concentrate City funds and staff efforts on rehabilitation that will provide units for low and moderate income residents.

Policy 30
Concentrate rehabilitation efforts in the city’s predominantly low and moderate income neighborhoods.

Policy 31
Promote affordable homeownership opportunities where financially feasible.

Policy 32
Encourage non-profit and tenant ownership of the existing housing stock.

Policy 33
Encourage where appropriate, recognizing housing’s possible impact on desirable industrial uses, the construction of new affordable housing through requirements, incentives, and zoning regulations, including inclusionary zoning provisions, in portions of the city traditionally developed for non-residential, principally industrial, uses. Create effective, well designed transitional zones between residential and industrial uses.

Policy 34
Cambridge’s evolving industrial areas are a valuable resource whose mix of uses must be carefully planned over the next twenty years.

Policy 35
Appropriate development in the city’s evolving industrial areas should be encouraged to maintain the city’s overall economic health, to expand the tax base, and expand job opportunities for Cambridge residents.

Policy 36
The observable trend towards the development of clusters of related uses in the city’s evolving industrial areas should be strengthened through the city’s land use policies.

Policy 37
In evolving industrial areas for which economic development, urban design, or other plans have been developed, private phased development consistent with those plans should be permitted to develop to completion, even if completion may take more than a decade.

Policy 38
Within clearly established limits, land use regulations in the evolving industrial areas should recognize the need for flexibility of use as, for instance, between office, research, and light manufacturing activities and provide for a wide range of density options throughout the city including those which foster research and development and start up operations.

Policy 39
Development patterns in all non-residential areas must be planned to minimize negative impact on abutting residential neighborhoods.

Policy 40
The City should actively assist its residents in developing the skills necessary for them to take full advantage of the city’s changing economic makeup and to provide the personnel resources which would make Cambridge a desirable place to locate and expand.

Policy 41
The benefits of a strong employment base should be extended to portions of the resident population that have not benefitted in the past; the City should support appropriate training programs that advance this objective.

Policy 42
While recognizing some of the disadvantages of any urban location for many kinds of manufacturing activities, the City should make every effort to retain and recruit a wide range of enterprises suitable for a Cambridge location, presently, or in the future as manufacturing processes evolve and change. Where possible the disadvantages should be minimized and the real advantages strengthened for manufacturing activities that can widen the city’s job base and solidify its economic vitality.

Policy 43
The City should establish the regulatory environment and provide the support necessary to encourage the establishment of manufacturing activities for which the city may be a suitable location in the future.

Policy 44
The City should actively cultivate a regulatory and policy environment that assists in the retention of existing industries, supports the creation of new businesses and the innovative thinking that precedes it, retains an inventory of low-cost space necessary for fledgling enterprises, and fosters an innovative environment where entrepreneurship thrives.

Policy 45
Specialized economic activities for which Cambridge is a congenial host, such as the tourism and hospitality industries, should be supported.

Policy 46
The diversity, quality, and vigor of the city’s physical, ethnic, cultural, and educational environment should be nurtured and strengthened as a fundamental source of the city’s economic viability. More specifically, minority businesses and economic entrepreneurship should be encouraged.

Policy 47
Existing retail districts should be strengthened; new retail activity should be directed toward the city’s existing retail squares and corridors.

Policy 48
Retail districts should be recognized for their unique assets, opportunities, and functions, and those aspects should be encouraged, in part to assure that they can compete with regional shopping centers and maintain their economic viability.

Policy 49
The City and its major institutions should engage in a formally established ongoing dialogue to share concerns; identify problems, conflicts, and opportunities; and to fashion solutions and areas of cooperation to their mutual satisfaction. As part of this dialogue, each institution should create a plan describing its existing status as well as outlining its future needs and goals, and the means for achieving those goals.

Policy 50
The City should recognize the need for the major institutions to adapt and respond to changing circumstances to maintain their leadership positions in education, health care, and research while recognizing, responding to and coordinating with City policy goals.

Policy 51
Where tax-exempt academic uses are expanded into retail corridors and squares, mixed-use development including taxable retail or other commercial development should be incorporated wherever possible, especially at street level, recognizing each retail area for its unique assets, opportunities and functions, and strengthening these aspects when expanding into such areas.

Policy 52
The city’s major educational institutions should be encouraged to provide housing for their respective faculties, students, and staff through additions to the city’s inventory of housing units. Effective use of existing land holdings should be a tool in meeting this objective, where it does not result in excessive density in the core campus. In addition, where new housing is to be located within or abutting an existing neighborhood, it should match the scale, density, and character of the neighborhood. The institutions should be encouraged to retain this housing for client populations over an extended period of time. They should consider housing other city residents within these housing developments as a means of integrating the institutional community with city residents.

Policy 53
Except in circumstances where further institutional growth is appropriate or beneficial to the city as a whole (see Policy 7) the city’s institutions should be discouraged from creating new fiscal burdens on the City treasury through the conversion of property from tax-producing uses to non-taxable uses, and should mitigate any harmful effects of such conversions through financial compensation.

Policy 54
The institutions’ capacity for commercial investment should be directed in part to assist in the transformation of evolving industrial areas and commercial districts, as defined by City policy and elaborated upon through formally established, ongoing planning discussions.

Policy 55
Where major institutions invest in commercial properties, their willingness to manage those properties partly in response to broader community objectives of diversity and community need, as articulated through the continuing formal dialogue with the City and its residents, should be encouraged, consistent with the institutions’ fiduciary responsibilities.

Policy 56
Recognizing the localized nature of their physical presence, the city’s smaller institutions should be regulated on an individual basis as provided in the zoning ordinance’s institutional regulations and as they are impacted by zoning, urban design, and other City policies.

Policy 57
Design review for new development should be established throughout the city for all areas where future development will be of a scale or quantity that will potentially change or establish the character of the district.

Policy 58
Even in areas where the character of a district is firmly established and new development is likely to be very modest, design review should be required where small scale changes are likely to disrupt the desired district character.

Policy 59
The regulations for all zoning districts in Cambridge should reflect the city’s fundamental urban design and environmental objectives: height, setback, use, site development, and density standards imposed should be consistent with or advance those urban design objectives.

Policy 60
Urban design and environmental standards should be developed for all areas of the city which are or may be in the future subject to redevelopment or significant new development.

Policy 61
Urban design standards should reflect the historic context within which change will occur while permitting design that is responsive to contemporary circumstances.

Policy 62
As transitions between differing uses are extremely important in a densely developed city, urban design standards should be developed to ensure that these transitions are made properly, respecting to the maximum extent possible the needs of each contrasting use.

Policy 63
Open space and recreational facilities serving a wide range of functions and clientele, including the elderly and special needs populations, should be encouraged, either through expansion of the existing inventory, through multiple use of existing facilities, or through creative programming of those facilities.

Policy 64
Conservation lands and other environmentally sensitive areas are a vital part of the city’s open space system and should be maintained and protected appropriately. Public access to and use of these areas must be carefully planned and balanced with preservation of these resources.

Policy 65
Expansion of Cambridge residents’ opportunities to use regional recreational facilities (those owned by the Metropolitan District Commission and the Commonwealth) located in the city should be encouraged, particularly where the adjacent residential community is underserved by local recreational facilities, and when the legitimate regional use of that facility would not be unduly restricted. In addition, there should be increased coordination of recreation programming and planning between the local and regional levels.

Policy 66
New open space facilities, including larger ones for organized activities, should be considered for those private developments where the size of the development, the amount of land area and/or the ownership patterns provide the flexibility to accommodate such a facility without loss of economic value for other uses.

Policy 67
Acquisition of publicly owned or administered open space should be made in those dense residential areas clearly deficient in all forms of open space, but only where significant fiscal resources are provided through federal or state acquisition programs or a substantial portion of the cost is borne privately; facilities of modest size and flexible in use characteristics, located close to the homes of the persons for whom they are intended should be encouraged.

Policy 68
Only under extraordinary circumstances should existing open space facilities be eliminated from the city’s inventory for other uses; small, passively or merely visually used facilities, should not be undervalued in this regard merely for lack of intensive or active recreational use.

Policy 69
The city should encourage the permanent retention and protection of useful, effective, attractive private open space whether publicly accessible or not. Community use of private recreational and open space facilities in the city should be encouraged at reasonable levels where the private function of those facilities would not be impaired and where the recreational activity provided by the private facility is not well served in available public facilities.

Policy 70
Repair, maintenance and timely upgrading of existing facilities should be the City’s highest fiscal priority with regard to open space and recreational facilities. The City should explore, and adopt as appropriate, mechanisms whereby the private sector can reasonably provide, assist in and/or contribute to the maintenance of publicly useable open space and recreational facilities.

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 349-350: Oct 30, 2018

Episode 349 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 30, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 30, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: World Champion Red Sox, Oct 29 City Council highlights, trees!, proposal for early voting for municipal elections. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 350 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 30, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 30, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Growth Policy Document, Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group, middle-income housing, property assessments and FY19 tax bills, parking $ in Cambridge property, vacancy rates. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 29, 2018

A First Look at the Oct 29, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

A First Look at the Oct 29, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallHere’s my first pass at the interesting stuff up for discussion at this week’s meeting:

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $67,179.02 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to support additional tree plantings in the Gore Street Neighborhood.

What is notable is that the street tree that was lost has been appraised at $67,179.02. I’d love to learn more about how that figure was derived. Especially the two cents.

Charter Right #1. That the Chairs of the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing on Tree Protections and the Chairs of the Health & Environment Committee schedule public hearings on Tree Protections and the preliminary results from the Ordinance Committee hearing.

There are good ways and bad ways to do this. As a side note, I heard that the tulip tree on Cambridge Street that was at the center of a controversy almost two decades ago (with at least one person chaining herself to the tree) was removed recently due to internal rot. Some have suggested that this may have been helped along, but in any case the tulip tree is no more.

Charter Right #2. The City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Community Development Department to provide a written timeline of what specific steps must take place in order to take a final vote on the Affordable Housing Overlay legislation.

Communications #6. Sundry communications received relating to opposition of City Envision proposal.

My sense is that very few people know much about the proposed Subsidized Housing Overlay proposal and its provisions to permit neighboring properties to be redeveloped as subsidized housing as of right a) at densities up to four times what is allowed under current zoning, b) with minimal setback requirements, c) and with no objections permitted. The proposal is a severe departure from the Growth Policy Document that has been successfully applied for nearly 25 years. The Overlay proposal was panned at the Planning Board for many reasons. It does nothing to address the housing affordability problem as most people understand it, i.e. the difficulty most people have in finding an affordable place to own or rent without being forced to apply to a government agency for housing.

Communications #3. A communication was received from Charles Hinds, President East Cambridge Planning Team, regarding the disposition process of the First St. Garage.

The First Street parking garage is there largely because it served the needs of the Courthouse. The primary reason it has been underutilized (hence the available surplus of parking) is because the Courthouse has been closed for some time. Sure, some things have changed in the interim and perhaps in an ideal world the Courthouse building would be scaled down more than is proposed, but courts have ruled that the re-purposing of the Courthouse building may proceed as planned.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on offering early voting in City Council and School Committee elections.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

As much as I want everyone to vote (I’m one of the only 116 Cambridge voters who has voted in every citywide Cambridge election since 1997), I really don’t see how the substantial increased cost of this proposal is justifiable. Unlike state and federal elections, the Commonwealth won’t be picking up the tab. It really is very simple to vote in municipal elections on Election Day and absentee voting could simply be expanded to achieve the same goal.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update on any current discussions or plans for extending the Alewife Greenway Bike Path from Alewife to Sherman Street.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

This is a great idea. In fact, if the path switched over to the north side of the tracks at Sherman Street, you could extend it all the way to Porter Square with the added treat that you could pass under Walden Street through the old cattle pass.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff and report back to the City Council on the status of the Cambridge Street Bicycle Safety Demonstration Project and on any efforts to assess how successful the project has been and what lessons the City may learn from the project that may help inform street allocation and design decisions elsewhere.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff and report back to the City Council on opportunities and plans to increase signage or other communication efforts to help ensure that all users of Brattle Street between Eliot and Mason Streets understand the cyclists may be using Brattle Street in the opposite direction of prevailing motor vehicle traffic.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to include protected bicycle infrastructure along the entire length of River Street as part of the FY20 River Street Redesign project.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

All of these are covered under the City’s "Listen Zero" policy regarding bicycle accommodation. There were and still are better ways to re-envision traffic flow on Cambridge Street, and Brattle Street should have been made into a two-way "slow street" from Mason St. to Eliot St. connecting to Mt. Auburn St. As for River Street, there is no way on earth that safer bicycle accommodation won’t be a central part of the plan, and this is one location where traffic calming and some separation of cyclists from traffic (including drivers just off the Pike who have not yet mentally slowed down) is completely justified.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair and Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 27, 2018 to discuss stormwater management best practices and get an update on how Cambridge will be impacted by the EPA’s new Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, which took effect on July 1, 2018.

I’m highlighting this report simply because I think that every Cambridge citizen should learn more about the "hidden city" under their feet, i.e. the infrastructure that we depend on every day. We should have regular citizen seminars on this.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair and Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Oct 9, 2018 to was to receive an update on progress towards Zero Waste goals and to discuss successes and challenges of the citywide composting and recycling programs to date.

Two words – Recycle Right. If you want to ensure the economic viability of recycling you have to be mindful of the eventual end markets. Recycling is a lot more than throwing things into a blue (or green) container.

Committee Report #4. 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 Oct 2, 2018 to discuss a petition filed by the City Council to amend the zoning ordinances in Articles 2.000, 4.000, 6.000 and 11.000 and to establish provisions for Cannabis Uses.

I really hope the City Council reconsiders the proposal to allow pot shops to open as of right in all of the City’s BA-1 zones [base zoning map]. These include many of our small "mom ‘n pop" mixed residential/commercial zones. [Full disclosure – I live in a BA-1 zone, but I’m directly across the street from a school and have a day care and two Montessori schools as neighbors, so I’m within the buffer zone.] This is fundamentally different than allowing pot shops along a BA corridor like North Mass. Ave. [BA-2] or Cambridge Street east of Inman Square [BA], though I’ll leave it to residents along those corridors to chime in for themselves. The Western Ave. corridor is primarily BA-3. A proposed Order in this committee report calls for allowing adult use (recreational) pot shops as a use as of right in all BA-1, BA-2 and BA-3 districts. Another proposed Order would reduce the buffer zone around schools and other youth facilities from 500 ft. to 300 ft.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes for the first meeting of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force.

This meeting was mainly just introductions, but it’s worth keeping an eye on where this Task Force is headed. – Robert Winters

October 24, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 347-348: Oct 23, 2018

Episode 347 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 23, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 23, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Baseball, Envision Cambridge, some history (Cambridge ECO, CCLN, Parking Freeze, Growth Policy Document, Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance, housing policy changes, Concord-Alewife Plan, Master Plan), Chapter 40B, Subsidized Housing Overlay proposal. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 348 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 23, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 23, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Envision Cambridge, middle-income housing, Central Square murals, formula business regulation. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 17, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 345-346: Oct 16, 2018

Episode 345 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 16, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 16, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Baseball, Oct 15 Council meeting, Inman Square, Subsidized Housing Overlay controversy, Envision Cambridge. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 346 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 16, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 16, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Zero Waste Report, urban design & retail (creating active storefronts), Central Square, upcoming events. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 15, 2018

Notable items on the Oct 15, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:07 am

Notable items on the Oct 15, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallHere’s my first pass at the interesting stuff up for discussion at this week’s meeting:

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $160,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will fund an expansion of free food programming for Cambridge youth.

Expanded Free Breakfast & Lunch in Cambridge schools and pre-schools courtesy of Mother Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to support the completion of the Inman Square Intersection Improvements Project.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting memorandum regarding Inman Square Redesign Project.

There are some who still feel that the plan needs revision (including Councillor Kelley), but the judge isn’t going to look at the twenty-seven 8 x 10 colored glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-76, regarding a report on Linkage fee as part of the Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.

Another study coming. At least this time there will also be effort expended to measure the impact of new nonresidential development on employment opportunities for Cambridge residents (could there be a positive impact?). Currently any linkage fees exacted from new development go toward subsidized housing. Some might argue that the greatest deficiency in how these nexus studies and associated linkage fees work is that they do little to address the lack of access for existing residents to jobs in all these new bright shiny buildings, and building additional subsidized housing without such access to employment isn’t necessarily the best strategy.

Charter Right #1. That the Envision Cambridge draft recommendations should be reviewed by the entire City Council in respective committees.

As I have said previously, handing a laundry list of suggestions from Envision Cambridge working committees to each of the City Council committees hardly seems like the best path toward comprehensive planning (you know – the Master Plan). Maybe they just want the Faster Plan.

Order #1. That the City Manager confer with the City Solicitor’s Office on the legal question and the feasibility of placing a condition in public bidding documents prohibiting municipal contractors from displaying any signage—other than company markers and contact information—on vehicles.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

Though I don’t know for sure (really, I do), I believe this Order came about because somebody snapped a picture of a cement truck that had "Make America Great Again" on it.

Order #4. That the Chairs of the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing on Tree Protections and the Chairs of the Health & Environment Committee schedule public hearings on Tree Protections and the preliminary results from the Ordinance Committee hearing.   Councillor Zondervan

I may just have to take down sooner than later that problematic ash tree in my yard that’s leaning on my roof. Otherwise, if a new ordinance is passed I may need a lawyer and an additional check.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to investigate the queries posed by the Economic and University Relations Committee for a City-Based Cannabis Social Equity Program.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

Cast me out from the community, if you will, but I simply cannot wrap my head around a policy that gives preferential treatment to relatives of people convicted of drug-related crimes. Ensuring that the new dope industry provides economic opportunity broadly, i.e. "social equity", is one thing, but getting nailed for dealing dope under previous laws should not provide an advantage over those who lived within the law.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 27, 2018 to discuss Affordable Housing Overlay District.

The juggernaut continues. I spoke my mind on this subject at the most recent meeting of the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group (which really should be renamed the "Subsidized Housing Working Group" based on the fact that they never addressed housing generally). As I have stated repeatedly, it’s certainly true that people want housing to be affordable in the sense that a typical person or family can find a place to buy or rent within their budget, but this is not the same as advocating for a dramatic increase in subsidized housing (of which Cambridge already has a significant amount when you add up all the Housing Authority properties, Inclusionary housing units, etc.). Indeed, I think an argument can be made that the singular focus on subsidized housing may be contributing to the non-affordability of housing generally. The best affordable housing program ever conceived was the proliferation of multi-family housing, and that involved no government subsidy at all.

Better ideas would be to permit multi-family housing in all zones, adjust allowable densities to better reflect the existing built environment, and work regionally to increase the overall housing stock. As I stated at the very first meeting of the Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee, constructing many housing units in Somerville’s Union Square, in Everett, in Allston, and elsewhere will do more toward making housing more affordable in Cambridge than anything. Only when people have options can they make rational economic choices. It is the shortage of available better options that allows housing costs in Cambridge to rise unchecked.

Committee Report #2. 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 Sept 12, 2018 to discuss Storefront Vacancies Best Practices.

Though I suppose I like the idea of "pop up" art in vacant storefronts, it’s a poor substitute for actual retail. On a related matter, current state law requires all new marijuana stores to obscure the views into these establishments (kinda like a speakeasy in the prohibition era). The crappy response has been to propose putting artsy stuff in the front windows. There are better approaches. My proposal is to create arcade-like shallow retail operations on these frontages. How about a hot dog vendor? A newsstand (if anyone still buys newspapers/magazines)? Maybe just a simple water bottle filling station. How about just creating a recessed area with an awning where a local vendor can sell hats, scarves, or trinkets? There are plenty of other good ideas. I would make the same proposal for other "formula businesses" to create active, low-cost, retail opportunities. – Robert Winters

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