Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 29, 2014

A Taxing Situation – September 29, 2014 Cambridge City Council Notes

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:36 am

A Taxing Situation – September 29, 2014 Cambridge City Council Notes

Property Tax AssessmentsShort agenda this week. Quite likely the most discussed items will be the Orders from last week that were delayed via Charter Right. There’s also the formality of tax classification that will be the subject of a 6:30pm hearing.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2015. [Manager's letter]

The essentials:

  • The FY15 property tax levy of $341,445,455 reflects a $12,900,510 or 3.93% increase from FY14. The increase in the levy of 3.93% is also well below the five-year average annual increase of 4.92%.
  • The FY15 adopted operating budget increased by 2.91%.
  • The FY15 residential tax rate will be $7.82 per thousand dollars of value, which is a decrease of $0.56, or –6.68% from FY14.
  • The commercial tax rate will be $19.29, which is a decrease of $1.15, or –5.63% from FY14.
  • This recommendation includes the use of $14.65 million in reserve accounts to lower the property tax levy: $2.0 million from overlay surplus and $12.65 million in Free Cash. The certified Free Cash amount of $160.5 million is the highest amount in the City’s history and represents an $18.3 million increase over last year.
  • Approximately 72% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY15 tax bill. In addition, another 13% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250. Therefore, a total of 85% of the residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $250.
  • As a result of market activity in calendar year 2013, which is the basis of the FY15 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 11.53%. Total commercial property values also increased by 11.15%.
  • For FY15, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $30,143,180,521, a 10.98% increase over FY14 values.
  • For FY15, the City was able to increase its levy limit by approximately $29.4 million, to $475.4 million. Approximately $18.2 million of this increase was due to new construction.

Charter Right #1. That as we undertake the Cambridge Conversations and the Master Planning Process, the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to study emerging business types in Cambridge and how they are affected by the use regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, and to recommend changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will help classify such businesses in a clear, rational way that supports the long-term interests of the community and instruct the Community Development Department to evaluate appropriate ways to facilitate home-based businesses above and beyond what is currently allowed. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Five of Sept 22, 2014.]

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to begin testing strategies to enhance such engagement at the earliest opportunity by methods such as requiring developers to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood and provide a report along with the permit application describing public input and changes to the project as a result of such input and to suggest changes to the Planning Board rules, which could be adopted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Ordinance, which could be enacted by the City Council to codify successful community engagement strategies. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Six of Sept 22, 2014.]

Both of these Orders from last week are helpful. There’s nothing especially complex about these proposals. As in the case of a current zoning petition that would make expiration dates for zoning petitions consistent with state law, the most useful proposals are usually pretty obvious and the only question is why it takes so long for city councillors to propose them. Much of this is just good housekeeping.

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing "no smoking marijuana" signs in city playgrounds and that signs further provide that persons found to be doing so could be fined in accordance to Massachusetts General Laws: CHAPTER 94C, Section 32L. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Fourteen of Sept 22, 2014.]

Please see comments from last week. If there is one new ordinance I’d love to see in Cambridge, it would be an ordinance mandating the reduction of visual clutter from regulatory signs. You can barely walk twenty feet along many Cambridge streets without encountering another such sign. Enough! – Robert Winters

September 23, 2014

CCTV Announces Launch of Cambridge News Survey

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:24 pm

CCTV Announces Launch of Cambridge News Survey

News SurveyHow do Cambridge residents get their local news? What is the correlation between an interest in local news and civic engagement? These are some of the questions Cambridge Community Television hopes to answer as it launches the Cambridge News Survey on September 16, 2014. The survey is an important element of CCTV’s program planning as it focuses on keeping its organization among the leading community media centers in the US.

“It is our organization’s belief that access to information is crucial to empower communities,” CCTV Executive Director Susan Fleischmann said. “Studies by the Knight Foundation have found that democracy thrives when communities are informed and involved, and that accurate and thoughtful journalism engages people and strengthens democracy.”

The Cambridge News Survey is available through September 30 online at http://svy.mk/1lF9MFE; hard copies may be filled out at any branch of the Cambridge Public Library, the North Cambridge and Central Square Senior Centers, City Hall, Saint Anthony’s Church and at CCTV in Central Square. Cambridge residents are encouraged to participate, and will be entered into a raffle for a Kindle. Survey results will be published in early November.

CCTV is the community media center serving Cambridge. CCTV operates three community cable channels and robust youth media and citizen journalism programs, offers classes in media production and access to equipment and facilities, operates an art gallery, and more. For information, call 617-661-6900 or visit us at cctvcambridge.org.

September 22, 2014

Interesting Items on the Sept 22, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:16 am

Interesting Items on the September 22, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here’s a sample of what’s on this week’s relatively brief agenda.

Order #3. That the Government Operations, Rules & Claims committee is requested to hold a meeting to discuss changing the terms used in Council "Orders" to more accurately reflect their message.   Councillor Kelley

Perhaps Councillor Kelley is interpreting "Order" as might be expected as a former member of the United States Marine Corps. Perhaps the more appropriate interpretation is like when you order from a menu. If this were done verbally, the conversation might go something like this:

Councillor: Excuse me, sir, but may I have fries with that cheeseburger?
City Manager: Thank you for your Order, councillor, but we’re all out of fries. Would like like some cole slaw instead?

OR, as it often goes:

Councillor: What do you recommend?
City Manager: The Alewife with lemon pepper is good.
Councillor: I’ll Order that!

Order #5. That as we undertake the Cambridge Conversations and the Master Planning Process, the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to study emerging business types in Cambridge and how they are affected by the use regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, and to recommend changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will help classify such businesses in a clear, rational way that supports the long-term interests of the community and instruct the Community Development Department to evaluate appropriate ways to facilitate home-based businesses above and beyond what is currently allowed.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to begin testing strategies to enhance such engagement at the earliest opportunity by methods such as requiring developers to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood and provide a report along with the permit application describing public input and changes to the project as a result of such input and to suggest changes to the Planning Board rules, which could be adopted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Ordinance, which could be enacted by the City Council to codify successful community engagement strategies.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of conducting a series of walks through Alewife for the purpose of better knowing the area in preparation for the Dec 1, 2014 roundtable discussion about city-wide planning   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

These are the kinds of Orders many of us have been waiting to see now that time-wasting distractions like the Carlone Petition have been put to bed. Order #6, in particular, proposes a specific procedural change that could help prevent some of the misunderstandings that have been associated with various development proposals.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Finance Department to determine the possible structure, size, and plans for a discretionary budget.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

This smells like trouble. My prediction is that if such a "discretionary budget" is established with which city councillors can vote to fund projects outside of the usual budget process, there will be pressure to grow the budget steadily every year so that councillors can fund extracurricular projects outside of city management. I’m particularly intrigued by the squishiness of the Whereas statement that "With detailed criteria and procedures – and with an agreed upon culture that emphasizes city efficiency and emergent needs, and not personal projects – a Discretionary Budgeting process can make the city even more responsive and innovative." Does anyone seriously believe that such an agreed upon culture will rule the day and that personal projects would be de-emphasized? Anyone ever hear of The Foundry?

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant state-level authorities regarding the potential for enhanced pedestrian safety measures along Memorial Drive in the vicinity of the MIT Sailing Pavilion.   Councillor Carlone

This is a pretty good Order. If one were to make a list of roads and locations in Cambridge that are especially treacherous, that list should include quite a few places along Memorial Drive that are dangerous not only for pedestrians crossing the road but also for motor vehicle operators who park alongside vehicles moving at speeds well in excess of the posted speed limits. I would also put most of Fresh Pond Parkway and Alewife Brook Parkway on my list of dangerous roads for pedestrians.

Don't bogart that joint, my friend.Order #14. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing "no smoking marijuana" signs in city playgrounds and that signs further provide that persons found to be doing so could be fined in accordance to Massachusetts General Laws: CHAPTER 94C, Section 32L.   Vice Mayor Benzan

I believe this Order may need a few more clauses, such as:
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Cambridge Arts Council to prepare a permanent archive for all of the hysterically funny graffiti that will continue to appear on or around these signs; and be it further
ORDERED: That a sufficient budget be allocated for the frequent replacement of said signs so that they may be freshly defaced with new jokes and funny pictures.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting information on the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition recommending referring to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for further hearings and reports.

So like, hey man, how did we miss the expiration date for the zoning petition to expand the area where the medical marijuana dispensary can be built? Bummer, man! – Robert Winters


Postscript: On Applications & Petitions #1, an application from Starbucks requesting permission for three benches in front of 1662 Mass. Ave., Councillor Carlone objected to the placement of the benches directly in front of the premises due to it not being ADA compliant. Though he perhaps didn’t explain his objection so clearly, his point was correct. The proposed placement of the benches abutting the building is right where a blind person would least expect them. Good call, councillor.

On Order #3, Councillor Kelley would like to change the term "Ordered" to "Requested" in the wording of City Council Orders. City Clerk Donna Lopez explained that the current wording is consistent with state law and City Council rules. Councillor Mazen opined that the word "Ordered" should be interpreted literally by the City Manager so that he would do exactly what the City Council dictated regardless of other considerations.

On Order #8, Councillor Mazen pushed the envelope even further in his argument for giving the City Council their own "discretionary budget" outside the management of the City administration. The central theme in his argument was that city councillors possess expertise in some areas beyond what City staff can comprehend. You have to love the hubris. This, by the way, is the same Councillor Mazen who several months ago stated, in response to issues raised about personal staff for councillors, that each city councillor should have "full staff". Apparently a single aide is not adequate to support the grand plans and brilliant vision of some individual councillors. Councillor Kelley was refreshing in noting that the proposed "discretionary budget" seemed more like a "City Council slush fund". The matter was referred to the Finance Committee for further discussion after most of the city councillors were dismissive of the proposal.

September 19, 2014

Current City of Cambridge Board and Commission Vacancies (Sept 19)

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 9:18 am

Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women Vacancy

City SealCity Manager Richard C. Rossi is seeking persons interested in serving on the Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women.

Commissioners support staff in their mission to create and promote programs that increase public awareness and understanding of multiple issues affecting women and girls, particularly marginalized women and girls, within the city; advocate to improve the quality of women’s and girls’ lives; and their work building coalitions and partnering with community organizations on these issues.

The Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women meets the first Wednesday of every month, from 6:30-8:00pm, at 51 Inman St., Cambridge, in the Women’s Commission Conference Room, 2nd floor.

For more information, contact Kimberly Sansoucy, Cambridge Commission on the Status of Women, at 617-349-4695 or ksansoucy@cambridgema.gov. Letters of interest, including resume and/or applicable experience, can be sent via mail, fax or e-mail by Friday, Oct 17, 2014 to:

Richard C. Rossi, City Manager
City of Cambridge
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
Fax 617-349-4307
E-mail: citymanager@cambridgema.gov


Cambridge Conservation Commission Vacancy

City SealCity Manager Richard C. Rossi is seeking a Cambridge resident to fill a vacancy on the Cambridge Conservation Commission.

The Conservation Commission is responsible for administration of the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act (WPA), a state law governing activities in and immediately adjacent to local wetlands, waterways and floodplains. The Commission holds two regularly scheduled public meetings each month to review permit applications under the WPA, issue permits and conduct other business related to the management of Cambridge’s natural resource areas.

The Conservation Commission consists of seven members appointed by the City Manager to serve three-year terms. Cambridge residents with expertise in landscape architecture, civil/environmental engineering, hydrology, ecology or law are encouraged to apply.

Please send a letter of interest and/or resume via e-mail, mail or fax by Friday, Oct 3, 2014 to:

Richard C. Rossi, City Manager
City of Cambridge
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
Fax 617-349-4307
E-mail: citymanager@cambridgema.gov

September 14, 2014

The Ides of September – Sept 15, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 7:57 pm

The Ides of September – Sept 15, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

This week’s central agenda item is the vote to approve the appropriation of CPA funds.

80% for Affordable HousingManager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:

1A. 80% of the FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($6,240,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;

1B. 10% of FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($780,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

1C. 10% of FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($780,000) allocated to Open Space;

2A. 80% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($1,360,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;

2B. 10% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($170,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

2C. 10% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($170,000) allocated to Open Space;

3A. 80% of the Fund Balance ($2,400,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Affordable Housing Trust;

3B. 10% of the Fund Balance ($300,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

3C. 10% of the Fund Balance ($300,000) allocated to Open Space;

4A. Appropriate ($10,000) from the Fund Balance for the cost of the Community Preservation Coalition Membership Dues.

Manager’s Letter     Full Report

The information is provided here only to highlight the City’s continuing commitment to dedicating the maximum 80% of Community Preservation Act funds toward Affordable Housing initiatives and the minimum 10% each to Open Space Acquisition and to Historic Preservation. These are the only three permissible uses for CPA funds.

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Charles D. Teague, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to clarify existing ordinance so that said ordinance can be enforced: align the zoning amendment expiration date in the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to be the same as state law, align the Special Permit criteria with adjudicated state law and require that the master plan be followed whereas following the master plan is optional under state law.

As to the first proposal regarding expiration dates of zoning petitions, this is a simple correction that the City Council should have addressed when they were first alerted to the discrepancy by the City Solicitor. I wrote here on July 29, 2013: "The ambiguity between zoning petition expiration dates can be simply resolved via a minor change in the Zoning Ordinance. It’s baffling why no city councillor has yet proposed this solution."

The second proposal calls for changing the language in the Zoning Ordinance so that Special Permits "may be granted" rather than "will normally be granted" by the Planning Board if all the Special Permit criteria are met. This would be a major change from a relatively clear process with established criteria to an environment in which there may as well be no criteria at all.

The third proposal is actually pretty funny (as well as absurd). Mr. Teague was perhaps the single most outspoken person making the claim during last year’s municipal election season that Cambridge had no master plan. Now he’s saying that the very thing he said did not exist must now be followed to the letter. Even if Mr. Teague had a change of heart regarding his beliefs, it would perhaps be a good idea if he tried to understand the difference between planning principles and legally enforceable ordinances. It’s an important difference.

Resolution #18. Declare Sept 21, 2014 as Gratitude Day in the City of Cambridge.   Mayor Maher

I am most grateful to Mayor Maher for this Resolution.

Order #4. Scheduling of Roundtable/Working Meetings on Oct 6, 2014 with the Affordable Housing Trust, Dec 1, 2014 to discuss city-wide planning including discussions with the Planning Board and Jan 12, 2015 to discuss city-wide planning including discussions with the Planning Board.   Mayor Maher

Order #5. That the Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee schedule a meeting to review the City Council’s most recent goals and make recommendations for FY16 Goals to include the addition of a goal relating to City-Wide Planning.   Mayor Maher

It’s worth noting that these steps addressing City-Wide Planning are taking place the week after the distraction of the Carlone Petition was finally eliminated. This is not to say that there won’t be other zoning petitions forthcoming. In particular, it seems likely that those who wish to block the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment and those opposed to building housing in the Alewife area may yet have a few cards to play.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public meeting held on July 9, 2014 to discuss the Community Development Department’s efforts to preserve expiring use buildings, and a discussion about inclusionary zoning and the Nexus study.

In the spirit of moving on to more important business, it’s about time that these housing-related matters are fully addressed. In particular, an increase in the inclusionary zoning requirement will likely have to permit additional density to cover the cost of the additional "affordable" units. That will likely require some uncomfortable political choices. The preservation of expiring use buildings is now a top priority of the Affordable Housing Trust and the Housing Division of the Community Development Department. Suffice to say that the cost of preserving existing affordable housing units is generally far less than building new affordable housing units. – Robert Winters

September 8, 2014

Back in Session – Notable Items on the Sept 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:25 pm

Back in Session – Notable Items on the Sept 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

SeptemberSummer’s over. Here are a few agenda items that caught my eye.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-72, regarding a report on evaluating parking around the Sullivan Courthouse.

There is little doubt that issues of traffic and parking will continue to be part of the discussion of the future use of the Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. A proper comparison should be between the previous active use as a courthouse/prison vs. the proposed uses for office/housing/retail. The availability of on-street resident parking and an analysis of the existing structured parking in the area are part of this discussion. This report addresses the former.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-80, regarding a report on fluoride in the City’s water supply.

Read Saul Tannenbaum’s take on this: https://www.cctvcambridge.org/WaterFluoridation

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-75, regarding a report on possible options for preserving the Silver Maple Forest. [Letters from DPW Commissioner Owen O'Riordan and DCR Commissioner John Murray]

Most people, including the City Manager, feel that this area would be preferably preserved as open space but, as the report and the attached letters indicate, "it’s complicated" and there are plenty of competing priorities when it comes to land acquisition.

Applications & Petitions #8. A zoning petition has been received from CJUF III Northpoint LLC to amend certain provision of the City of Cambridge Zoning Ordinance that govern the Planned Unit Development in the North Point Residence District to allow limited amounts of off-street retail parking.

This appears to address the need for sufficient parking to support retail uses planned for the North Point area. This is completely in line with the nearly universal desire for mixed use development in this area and elsewhere in the city.

Communications #7. A communication was received from Gerald Bergman, 82 Elm Street, regarding the ongoing debate about the Carlone Petition.

Most communications sent to the City Council in recent years have been boring repetitions of talking points pushed by various advocacy groups. Gerry Bergman’s letter, in contrast, is a substantial appeal that greater attention be paid to the affordability of housing. Whether you agree or disagree with the points he makes, Gerry’s letter offers detailed suggestions and is worth reading. Even if the affordability of housing is an issue that can only be meaningfully addressed regionally, it’s important that Cambridge continue to hold up its part of that conversation.

Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Peter A. Vellucci.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Mayor Emeritus Walter J. Sullivan.   Mayor Maher, Councillor Toomey and Councillor Simmons

I note these resolutions simply to once again note the loss of these two major Cambridge political figures on the same day in early August.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that details how many City jobs have been outsourced to outside vendors since 2010, how the decision is made to consider outsourcing a job that was originally an internal hire, how the outside vendors are chosen, what the benefits to the City are of outsourcing these jobs to outside vendors, and whether individuals working in these positions have the same job benefits and protections as those who work directly for the City have.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that outlines what the City’s hiring process is, whether Cambridge residents are given preference when applying for jobs, whether internal candidates are given preference over external candidates, and what the City’s procedure is for encouraging employee advancement and professional development for current employees.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

Both of these Orders seem like reasonable requests for clarification of policies regarding the hiring and advancement of City employees. They provide an interesting contrast with the discussions and resulting ordinance of 20 years ago that mandated residency for many City jobs. Whether or not you agreed with that short-lived ordinance (it was repealed a few months after ordination when a new City Council took office), the simple fact is that the high cost of housing in Cambridge creates a significant dilemma if the ideal is to have people who work in (and for) Cambridge also live in Cambridge.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Community Development Department and report back to the City Council with a summary of previous recommendations for the Volpe Center site included in planning studies such as but not limited to, ECAPS, Neighborhood Planning Studies, K2, and efforts by the East Cambridge Planning Team and that the report summarize zoning and zoning overlays, and outline the development potential and limitation of this area.   Councillor Toomey

The future of the Volpe Transportation Center site in Kendall Square may well prove to be one of the major planning opportunities for the next few years if it does become available for redevelopment. Much of the housing recommendations in the K2 study were focused on the Volpe site and there have been indications that the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and the Community Development Department are eager to realize those recommendations in some form or another.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and any other appropriate City or State Departments to create a pedestrian stairway leading from the sidewalk on Alewife Brook Parkway to the Fresh Pond Mall parking lot.   Councillor McGovern

Though this seems like a perfectly reasonable idea that builds upon what people are already doing today, I expect that ADA requirements will drive up the cost and complexity of such an accommodation to the point where nothing happens.

Order #10. The City Manager report back to the City Council with an update on work underway to recommend changes to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, next steps to be taken by staff and the City Council toward the goal of amending the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to increase the ratio of required affordable units, and implications of such an increase so that the City Council can be prepared to take up changes to this important Ordinance.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is a timely Order that acknowledges the fact that there will be trade-offs associated with any change in the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, e.g. the need to permit additional height and density in order to deliver the desired affordable housing units.

Order #12. The City Manager is requested to work with the City Clerk and the IT Department to create a searchable, sortable public online resource which clearly displays all policy orders that have come before the City Council, including also: each City Council member’s voting record, information on the City Manager’s progress on each order, any departmental notes related to any given order, and an estimated timeline related to any given order.   Councillor Mazen

For any consequential City Council Order, this is usually achieved by the inclusion of language in the Order requiring a report back from the City Manager. The inclusion of each councillor’s voting record seems more politically motivated than anything else and, besides, most Orders pass unanimously. It is perhaps better to let the City Manager and the various City departments do their job of prioritizing and acting on City Council orders without unnecessary bookkeeping of every action taken and when. Then again, if micromanagement is your thing, then this Order is for you. For the most part, the City administration has been very responsive to City Council requests over the last few years even when juggling many such requests.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 14, 2014 to review expenditures/allotments in reference to the City Council Travel and City Council Resolutions with possible amendments, the position of Deputy City Clerk and any other items that may properly come before the Committee.

The central recommendations of this report are that (a) individual councillors should get an increase in their annual allotments for job-related travel; (b) councillors should restrain themselves from submitting excessive numbers of resolutions; and (c) Paula Crane should be appointed as Deputy City Clerk. These are all good proposals. There was some discussion of placing a strict quota on how many resolutions each councillor could file, but it does seem that voluntary compliance is the better way to go with public shaming of any councillor who goes overboard.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 30, 2014 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 27, 2014 to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

These are the reports of the two Ordinance Committee hearings concerning the Carlone Petition which will hopefully be euthanized in short order. Even Councillor Carlone acknowledged that this was really about putting the brakes on at most three projects currently in the pipeline (Courthouse redevelopment, New Street housing, and Alewife Triangle housing). It will be in everyone’s best interest if this petition is put to sleep and attention redirected toward the proposed citywide planning process. That said, the intense focus by some advocates on the Courthouse and other projects could lead to other zoning petitions in the coming weeks that are more site-specific.

One thing I’ll say specifically about the second Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic was how effectively some of the more specious claims by some advocates (regarding the Alewife area and New Street) were refuted. Specifically, requirements for any new development in the Alewife area would produce greater flood storage capacity than now exists, and any "brownfield" aspects of proposed housing sites on New Street are subject to full review and required remediation. In short, redevelopment would yield cleaner sites and greater flood protection than doing nothing – in addition to any new housing that is provided. Then again, perhaps this is really all about traffic in the final analysis, and the fact that residential housing has minimal traffic impact is something people just don’t want to hear.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor David P. Maher announcing the formation of a Special Mayor’s Commission to explore the issues surrounding poverty and its effects on our community and Councillor McGovern will chair this Commission.

Good idea, Mr. Mayor, and you chose the right Chair.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting copies of two Acts of 2014 signed by the Governor, An Act Authorizing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to Lease Certain Parkland in the City of Cambridge; and An Act Authorizing the Commissioner of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to Convey a certain parcel of land in the City of Cambridge.

I look forward to hearing a little more detail about the second of the two documents having to do with land conveyed in the North Point area (possibly for the proposed skate park). The first of these concerns the lease of the Powder House at Magazine Beach to the City of Cambridge. This opens up the possibility of an active use of this structure in conjunction with the great restoration work now underway. – Robert Winters

September 3, 2014

Cambridge Discovery Day Historical Tours – Saturday, Sept 20, 2014

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:15 pm

Cambridge Discovery Day Historical Tours – Saturday, Sept 20

Enjoy a variety of free historical tours and events on Cambridge Discovery Day Saturday, Sept 20, from 9:30am–7pm. For tour descriptions, view the list below or visit http://www2.cambridgema.gov/Historic/walks.html, choose some tours and meet guides at the starting locations. All tours and events will take place rain or shine! For more information, contact Cambridge Historical Commission at 617-349-4683 (weekdays) or Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site at 617-876-4491 (weekends).

Pearl StreetA Pearl of a Street (9:30-11am)
Meet at Pearl Street entrance of Central Square Branch Library, 45 Pearl St., Cambridge
Explore the neighborhood of upper Pearl Street and discover Mr. Valentine’s workers’ cottages, the rowhouses built by Mr. Squires and the site of an old soap factory. Led by Kit Rawlins, Cambridge Historical Commission.  Questions? 617-349-4683 or krawlins@cambridgema.gov

Free Tours of The Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters
Longfellow House(10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm & 4pm)
Meet in the Visitor’s Center, Longfellow House, 105 Brattle St., Cambridge
In the winter of 1775-1776, this was the headquarters of General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Continental Army. From here, Washington directed the Siege of Boston and began to train and discipline the militias gathered in Cambridge. He entertained notable visitors, including Benjamin Franklin and Benedict Arnold. From 1837-1882, the house was a warm and welcoming place, the home of the poet, scholar and professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his family. It was a favorite gathering place for philosophers and artists, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, James Russell Lowell and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Readings from poems, letters and diaries enliven the tours. Led by National Park Service Rangers. Questions? 617-876-4491

Stories of The Port: Between Kendall and Central (10-11:30am)
Kendall-CentralMeet at Jill Brown-Rhone Park, 900 Main St., junction of Columbia and Main streets and Mass. Ave.
Explore this neighborhood rich in ethnic and cultural diversity, public art and political history through the stories told by lifelong residents, immigrants and activists. See the mural on Portland Street celebrating Area 4; discover Clement Morgan and the park that bears his name; and delve into controversial projects, including urban renewal and the Inner Belt. The tour will end at Toscanini’s for coffee, ice cream and conversation. Led by Sarah Boyer, Oral Historian, Cambridge Historical Commission. Questions? 617-349-6171 or sboyer@cambridgema.gov

“Have You Milked The Cows Today?” (11:30am–12:30pm)
Milk CowsMeet on brick apron to right of the Mass. Ave. door of First Parish Unitarian Church, Zero Church St. Look for the bright red rug! For Children Ages 4-12. (Must be accompanied by a responsible adult).
Mistress Elizabeth, an 18th century living history character from Charlestown-Beyond-the-Neck, is the widow of Captain Elias de la Rue and a sometime schoolteacher and lives in the summer of 1773. Mistress Elizabeth will teach attendees how to write their name with a quill pen, card and spin wool, and read the abecedarium from a hornbook. Join us in singing songs and dancing country dances, too! Materials will be provided. Questions? 781-646-3013 or ihsdlrue@gmail.com

The Longfellow House Presents the Dead Writers Showcase (12-3pm)
Dead WritersMeet in the garden at Longfellow House-Washington’s HQ National Historic Site, 105 Brattle St.
Join this modern literary salon featuring living history performers portraying 19th Century American writers. Drop in at any time to chat informally with the authors, who will offer brief readings from their works throughout the afternoon. You may meet Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Daniel Berger-Jones), Margaret Fuller (Jessa Piaia), Nathaniel Hawthorn (Rob Velella), Julia Ward Howe (Libby Franck), Washington Irving (John Dennis Anderson), Harriet Beecher Stowe (Susan Lenoe) and Henry David Thoreau (Richard Smith). [Writers attending may change.] Questions? Call 617-876-4491

Streets & Squares of Cambridge: A Walk In Mount Auburn Cemetery (1-2:30pm)
Mt. Auburn CemeteryMeet at front gate of Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mount Auburn St.
Have you ever wondered for whom the streets and squares of Cambridge are named? This tour will introduce you to the honored namesakes, including Zachariah Porter, Joseph Buckingham, Jared Sparks, Morrill Wyman, John Appleton, the Rindge family and many others. Their ideas and contributions — from the Porterhouse steak to the founding of Mount Auburn Hospital — helped create our culture and our city. Led by Carol Harper, volunteer docent. Questions? 617-607-1980 or friendsofmountauburn.org or www.mountauburn.org

Agents of Change: Polity & Politics in Cambridge Churches (1-2:30pm)
Agents of ChangeMeet at the information kiosk, Harvard Square.
Diversity of religious and political affiliations have been issues in Cambridge since Harvard’s first president became a Baptist and was asked to resign. Visit historic church sites; learn about the impact on New England of England’s Civil War of 1640 (the other civil war: Roundheads vs Royalists); and discuss how issues between Cambridge and Boston clergy foreshadowed and influenced events leading up to the Revolution. Sing a tune from the Bay Psalm Book at the site where it was published, join in a rousing political song or two at the Blue Anchor Tavern site, and listen to poetry by colonial writers. Handout included. Your guide, Mistress Elizabeth, is an 18th Century living history character from Charlestown-Beyond-the-Neck. The widow of Captain Elias de la Rue and a sometime schoolteacher, Mistress Elizabeth lives in the summer of 1773, just six months before the Boston Tea Party and a little less than two years before events at Lexington and Concord. Questions? 781-646-3013 or ihsdlrue@gmail.com

Fresh Pond Places: A History Walkabout (1-3pm)
Fresh PondMeet at Ranger Station (door under the clock tower facing pond), 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
A walk from the Water Treatment Plant to Black’s Nook passes through thousands of years of history, from Fresh Pond’s glacial past, through the days of private land ownership, to the booming international ice trade of the 19th century. Learn about the role of the railroad, view areas where ice houses stood, and discover the origins of place names. Program will be inside it it’s raining. Registration REQUIRED by Sept. 13. Wear comfy shoes! Led by Chief Ranger Jean Rogers Black’s Nook. Questions? jrogers@cambridgema.gov

The Old Burying Ground: Epitaphs, Elegies & Encomiums (3-4:15pm)
Old Burying GroundMeet at the Old Burying Ground gate next to Christ Church, Zero Garden St.
Examine the work of early colonial carvers; discuss the stones and the information they convey about important figures in the Cambridge community; and study how institutionalized colonial slavery affected burial sites, stones and commemorative texts in the years just prior to the American Revolution. Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by a responsible adult. No touching or rubbing of stones is permitted in the grounds; photography and drawing are fine! Handout included. Led by Mistress Elizabeth. Questions? 781-646-3013 or ihsdlrue@gmail.com.

The Women of Tory Row (3-4:30pm)
Women of Tory RowMeet at the Tory Row marker, corner of Brattle and Mason streets
In the 1760s, the estates along the King’s Highway to Watertown formed Cambridge’s richest and most elegant neighborhood. The American Revolution turned that world upside-down. This tour explores the lives of the women who managed households along modern Brattle Street, from the tumult in 1774 that drove away the neighborhood’s leading families, through the early republic. The women to be discussed include widows both wealthy and impoverished, wives who went into exile both happily and reluctantly, a formerly enslaved housekeeper and a German noblewoman captured with her husband at Saratoga. Led by J. L. Bell, historian. Questions? www.boston1775.net

The Writers of Cambridge Cemetery (5:30-7pm)
WritersMeet at Cambridge Cemetery, 76 Coolidge Ave., outside the cemetery office.
Not all of our famous writers are interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Join this twilight stroll through Cambridge Cemetery and visit the final resting places of some of the 19th Century’s most important literary figures, including William Dean Howells and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Led by Rob Velella, literary historian. The cemetery is a short walk from the 71/73 bus stop at Mount Auburn St. and Coolidge Ave. Parking is available at the cemetery. Questions? http://americanliteraryblog.blogspot.com

Cambridge Discovery Day is sponsored by the Historic Cambridge Collaborative:
Cambridge Historical Commission – 617-349-4683 or www2.cambridgema.gov/historic
Cambridge Historical Society – 617-547-4252  or www.cambridgehistory.org
Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery – 617-547-7105 or www.mountauburn.org
Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site – 617-876-4491 or www.nps.gov/long
Cambridge Public Library/Archives & Special Collections – http://thecambridgeroom.wordpress.com

This program was funded in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

August 29, 2014

A Vehicular Revamping

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling,MIT,schools,transportation — Sharanya Srinivasan @ 5:22 pm

Anyone who has traversed up the bulbous convexity of a steep hill has made the sweaty decision that bicycles should come equipped with an alternative power source that does not involve leg muscles. Luckily the recent development of the e-bike, an electric bicycle that comes with a rechargeable battery-powered motor, has addressed this serious transportation concern. According to a 2014 report in The New York Times, e-bike sales are “surging” in Europe, with “250,000 e-bikes on the road in Switzerland and bike sales rising by over 9 percent in Netherlands”. Numerous start-ups in the Cambridge and Boston areas are looking to emulate the success of e-bike sales abroad, by engineering products that significantly reduce the physical exertion of riders while enabling an easy crossover from standard bikes to electric.

Superpedestrian, a Cambridge-based enterprise, creates a novel design for the e-bike called the Copenhagen Wheel. This technology involves no necessary hardware to install other than the wheel itself, and therefore fits on most standard bicycles. The wheel’s motor is operated by a lithium battery which manipulates the torque on the bike’s back wheel to propel the vehicle 20 mph via power assist. And the best part? The speed settings for the Copenhagen Wheel can be controlled by a smartphone app. Superpedestrian, born from a collaboration between MIT’s SENSEable City Lab and the City of Copenhagen, plans to release its first consumer models by the end of the year.

Evelo, another Cambridge-based company, was established a few years ago and advertises the “electrifying power” of its bicycles. Evelo bikes are equipped with Intelligent Pedal Assistance, which provides 3 options of riding with a mid-drive motor system. Further e-bike expansion is around the corner – Craigslist posts shared by the Boston Cyclists Union have hinted that another electric bike venue will be coming soon to Boston.

Undoubtedly, these e-bike businesses are looking to capitalize on the relatively strong biker culture that already exists in Cambridge, a demographic that spans college students maniacally racing to class, leisurely weekend cyclists, and daily commuters pedaling to offices. Thus far, e-bikes have garnered attention in the US as a transportation option for the elderly and people with limited mobility. However, The New York Times states that e-bikes still represent a “niche” in the US. For e-bikes to experience commercial success in Cambridge and elsewhere in the US, these start-ups need to reach a broad target market and encourage standard bike users to transition to the electric version.

The state of Massachusetts also has specific restrictions on motorized bicycles, that limit the speed of e-bikes to 25 mph and prohibit their usage on major highways or roadways where standard bicycles are not allowed. Another “speedbump” to e-bike sales might be price; the Copenhagen Wheel is priced at 799 dollars, and various Evelo models land at 2000 dollars. Certainly, there is fairness behind the upmarket price tag on e-bikes (remember the smartphone app?), but it is up to electric bike companies to market this rationale appealingly to consumers.

Regardless, for those cyclists who find pedaling to be tiresome and an exercise in redundancy…you now have your solution!

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