Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 18, 2019

Pre-Spring Fling – Select Items from the March 18, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Pre-Spring Fling – Select Items from the March 18, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallHere’s my first pass at what seems comment-worthy:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the bi-annual City of Cambridge Resident Telephone Survey for 2018. [Manager’s message] [aggregate responses] [longer report]

The wording of the questions and the meaning of the choices can have a tremendous effect on surveys such as this. For example, if the question "What do you think is the single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today—the one that affects you and your family the most?" simply lists one option as "Affordable housing/housing", then it’s not at all surprising that this will be the overwhelming first choice. However, does this mean access to subsidized housing or, more likely, does this mean that most renters feel that their rent is higher than they would like it to be and that most buyers feel that purchase costs are much higher than they would like it to be? This is an important distinction because this survey may be used to justify only the expansion of subsidized housing without addressing what most people actually meant by their response in the survey.

Order #2. Reappointment of James Monagle as City Auditor.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

Good choice. Do it.


Bikes, Buses, Scooters & other Transportation:

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-142, regarding a report on efforts to educate cyclists about riding safety and sharing the road especially at intersections.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant staff about updating the bike data count chart, along with other data tables and charts, in the Cambridge Bicycle Plan to reflect 2016 and 2018 data.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant staff to report to the City Council on how the data collected from the Broadway Eco-Display is used to inform the City’s transportation planning efforts and to address the possibility of installing additional Eco-Display counters at the highest trafficked bicycle locations to provide more comprehensive information about bike use and other vehicles such as scooters.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City Staff and report back to the City Council on the status of any micro-mobility pilot programs or partnerships in Cambridge.   Councillor Kelley

I’ll be interested in seeing the requested data (with appropriate documentation to support its validity). I have come to believe that when you start factoring in such things as weather, the need to run multiple errands, electric vehicles and micro-cars, TNCs, and various micro-mobility options, as well as age/condition, we may conclude that Cambridge is not actually located in The Netherlands and that the choice of bicycle transportation may have a natural upper limit no matter how many flex-posts you bolt to the road.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 26, 2019 to discuss the MBTA’s Better Bus Project report as it relates to proposed changes to bus lines and service throughout Cambridge.

If Better Bus means little more than Cutting Corners then there’s not a whole lot to like here. I do, however, think that folding the CT1 into the #1 Bus with more frequent service is a good idea, but only if they can finally solve the problem of Bus Bunching.

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 Feb 27, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title Twelve entitled “Streets, Sidewalks and Public Places” by adding a new Chapter 12.22 entitled “Cycling Safety Ordinance”.

The key question I would have asked is whether or not this proposal unnecessary restricts the ability of the City Manager and City Departments from using good judgment and appropriate discretion in deciding how future road projects should proceed. As near as I can tell, everything that was and is on the table came from just one lobbying group. Then again, that seems to be the way this City Council operates.


Order #5. Thanks to Mayor McGovern and all members of the Harm Reduction Commission and the Cambridge Opioid Working Group for their leadership and service and that a Human Services and Veterans Committee hold a future hearing to receive an update on the recommendations in these reports and on efforts in Cambridge to address substance use disorder and the opioid crisis.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon

Prelude to the Mayor enabling a "safe injection site" to be located inevitably in Central Square to supplement the existing Needle Exchange and other sites enabling IV drug users to flock to Central Square. Wouldn’t it be great if we instead concentrated on things that helped to attract families with children to Central Square?


Housing-Related:

Order #8. City Council endorsement of the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon

This Order seems to be setting up for the case to be made that current Cambridge zoning is too restrictive and must be changed to allow for significantly increased density. Note the sponsors. It is curious how the extremely strict zoning restrictions of the suburbs and exurbs are somehow being invoked to make the case that Cambridge, with one of the highest population densities and highest proportions of subsidized housing in Massachusetts, is somehow comparable to Weston. Mendacity seems to be the new official language of Cambridge.

Order #13. City Council support for fully funding the Section 8 Housing Choice Tenant-Based Voucher Program.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

Good idea and more to the point than what is otherwise being discussed these days.

Order #14. That the City Manager direct the appropriate City staff to examine the need and possibility of neighborhood preference in Cambridge in the short and long-terms.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Siddiqui, transmitting the submission of the Mayor’s Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement Feb 24, 2018 meeting minutes.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Zondervan, transmitting a memorandum regarding "Affordable Housing Overlay Initial Thoughts".

I’ll be adding more than just my "initial thoughts" on this soon. This juggernaut really needs to be stopped and reconsidered.


Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 13, 2019 to receive an update on the progress to date on the retail strategy plan and vacant storefront initiative.

Faux Retail is apparently The Future. – RW

Update: Councillor Toomey exercised his Charter Right to delay all of the City Manager’s Agenda until the next Council meeting (March 25). The only other consequential thing in the meeting was the back-and-forth posturing of Councillors Zondervan, Siddiqui, Mallon, Carlone, Devereux, and McGovern over Councillor Zondervan’s "initial thoughts" memo on the Public Housing Expansion Initiative, a.k.a. the "Affordable Housing Overlay". Vice Mayor Devereux handled herself rather well. Councillor Mallon argued in favor having her own Maple Ave. be a preferred site for new Public Housing. Councillors Kelley, Simmons, and Toomey wisely remained silent.

December 12, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 361-362: Dec 11, 2018

Episode 361 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 11, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 11, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: New Central Square Police Substation; Central Square BID update; Surveillance Ordinance; Revised Street Performer Ordinance; 1899 Ordinances. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 362 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 11, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: City Hall landscaping; Late Order on “Act to Promote Housing Choices”, oddity of asymmetric rules for passing zoning ordinances, political consequences; Airplane Noise. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

November 29, 2018

Fifth Friday – Nov 30, 2018 – Central Square

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 4:50 pm

You’re Invited!

Fifth Friday - Nov 30, 2018

Kick off your weekend (and the holiday season!) with a Fifth Friday celebration
in #CentralSQ! Events will take place tomorrow (11/30) from 5-8pm on
City Hall Lawn and throughout Central Square, including:

• Tour of Workbar Cambridge
• Petting Zoo on City Hall Lawn
• Holiday Card Making at Eastern Bank
• Photo Booth with Santa at the Fire Station
• Record Swap at Cheapo Records
• Ornament Making Workshop at NuVu Studio
• Winter Cocktails & Live Music at La Fábrica
• Live Pop-up Art Gallery at 541 Mass Ave from the #CSQinColor Mural Project artists & friends
• Performance and Refreshments at Dance Complex
• Sock and Coat Drive throughout Central Square
• Board Game Night at 730 Tavern, Kitchen & Patio, provided by Pandemonium Books and Games
• Lighting Ceremony and unveiling of new Holiday Lights
• Hot Cocoa with a Cop at Amazon, provided by 1369 Coffee

Fifth Friday is brought to you by the Central Square BID, Starry, Cambridge Community Foundation
and the CSBA, with help from the Cambridge Savings Bank Street Team!

Friday, November 30 • 5 to 8pm • City Hall Lawn

Details & RSVP

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]

June 12, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 317-318: June 12, 2018

Episode 317 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 12, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on June 12, 2018 at 5:30pm. Our guest was Michael Monestime, Exec. Director of the Central Square Business Association. Topics: Business Improvement District proposal, Central Flea, River St./CB Plaza improvements, Arts Overlay. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 318 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 12, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on June 12, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Vellucci Plaza and Inman Square; Envision Cambridge – and then some. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 20, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 297-298: March 20, 2018

Episode 297 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 20, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on March 20, 2018 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest. Main Topics: Tenant Right of First Refusal, Envision Cambridge. Host: Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 298 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 20, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on March 20, 2018 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest. Main Topics: Envision Cambridge, Central Square. Host: Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

May 9, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 225-226: May 9, 2017

Episode 225 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 9, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 9, 2017 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was our guest co-host this week. Topics included the death of former City Councillor Bob Moncrieff, vacancies on the Central Square and Harvard Square Advisory Committees, Participatory Budgeting, and the Outstanding City Employee Awards. Host: Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 226 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 9, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 9, 2017 at 6:00pm. Patrick Barrett was our guest co-host this week. Topics included the misbehavior of a city councillor at last week’s Budget Hearing; this week’s Budget Hearings; the AirBnB Question; and the issue of long-term vacant properties and how best to deal with them. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

February 26, 2017

Before the March – Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:56 pm

Before the March – Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Time TravelIn between Resistance Rallies and Sanctuary Sessions, the Cambridge City Council occasionally meets to talk about Municipal Matters. Here are a few items that may be of interest to those not marching or carrying signs on Monday.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 35 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

It has become an annual tradition. Keep it up. People will complain anyway.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $48,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account. This appropriation will be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new Police Commissioner.

The public is invited to assist the City with the development of the leadership profile for the Police Commissioner search. Members of the public may participate in the process by attending one of the Citywide Public Forums or by providing written feedback. Two Citywide Public Forums, facilitated by PERF, are being held on:
  • Thursday, March 2, 2017, from 6-8pm, School Committee Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway
  • Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 10am–12pm, Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Avenue.


Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 27, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Nov 29, 2016. Petition expires Mar 1, 2017.]

This is the last chance to ordain this before its expiration date. It appears to have unanimous support, but there could still be a tweak or two before it’s official. The real question is whether these very modest zoning changes will provide sufficient incentive for us to see actual positive changes in Central Square. In any case, this is a good start.


Applications & Petitions #3. A Zoning Petition has been received from the owner of the property at Third Street and Cambridge Street to amend the existing zoning at that location to authorize the construction of a 45 unit residential building with small scale retail on the ground floor and parking below grade.

Another day, another zoning petition. Actually, there are two additional City Council zoning petitions being introduced at this meeting – Order #17 and Order #20.

Resolution #2. Thanks to Luis Vasquez for his service to fathers in Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Luis Vasquez is one of the most decent people I have met in my nearly 40 years in Cambridge.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to make the Sullivan Chamber and the prior goal setting facilitator, or any professional facilitator, available on a weekly basis for half day or full day City Council goal setting sessions   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

This Order seems to suggest that City Council goal-setting is an extended exercise that goes on for days and days. In truth, it’s just a snapshot of general priorities at a given time – and it has never taken all that much time to develop nor should it. Like a party platform, it just lays out some general goals and principles. It’s a bit bewildering that they haven’t completed this by now, but it’s not like building Rome.

Order #7. City Council support of the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen

Though this petition appears to be a response to the current specific redevelopment plans for the Abbot Building in Harvard Square, the idea contained in this petition is interesting and potentially worth pursuing. I suspect it would simply make official what likely already happens, i.e. the Cambridge Historical Commission evaluating buildings as possessing varying degrees of historical significance.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City’s commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City’s diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward.   Mayor Simmons

This is a laudable goal but the Order as written is a clear violation of state law. The City Manager is the appointing authority and this Order calls for making appointments to all boards and commissions contingent on approval of a City Council subcommittee. Another problem with this order is that the word "diversity" means a lot of things – and not just what people look like. Should there be mandatory diversity of viewpoint on all advisory committees? We could use a lot more diversity of viewpoint, but some of these boards do, in fact, act as advocates for a particular point of view. Perhaps this Order should be amended by replacing the word "requirement" with the word "goal" and by removing the proposal to give the Civic Unity Committee veto power over City Manager appointments.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on what progress has been made in meeting the goal of creating 1,000 new affordable units by the end of this decade.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

As a rule, goals like this are far too constraining in the absence of other considerations. If this was to be accomplished via Inclusionary Zoning, this implies that the City should have a goal of producing over 8,600 new housing units per decade under current standards or 5,000 new housing units under the proposed new 20% standard. I don’t wish to refer all such considerations to the Envision Cambridge process, but it is a valid long-term planning concern. In addition, housing growth (both "affordable" and in general) has to be accomplished in the whole region and not just in a few cities and towns within the region.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City Departments and industry leaders to generate a report on the potential growth of next-generation wireless technology in the City, to include: the expected footprint of citywide coverage from just one company and what market competition might produce; the integration of public and private infrastructure to support the network; what local standards the City might hope to maintain relative to aesthetics and safety; and how this new technology fits into our Broadband access plans.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Though these are all valid concerns, including the proliferation of seemingly random (and sometimes noisy and ugly) structures perched atop utility poles and buildings, my guess is that when all is said and done the selection of broadcast channels will continue to suck and the cost of access to "premium" services like Red Sox games will continue to soar without limit.

Order #17. Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance by creating a new Section 11.900 – Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings; Maintenance and Security Requirements.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

I’m eternally curious about the motivation of actions such as this one. Could this be related to the long-term vacancy of a place like the Harvard Square Cinema building? Or is this just a way to address long-term horror shows like the Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive without having to file a half dozen City Council orders and inviting lawsuits after an eminent domain taking? I do find it curious that this proposed zoning amendment would assess a monthly fee at a rate of 4.17 percent of the assessed value of the property on any property that is vacant more than 6 months. That’s 50% of the assessed value per year. With rates like that this really starts to look like a regulatory taking of the property and it’s doubtful that courts will look kindly on such a fee structure.

Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to ask the Volpe Working Group to consider how the GSA building will be integrated in with the rest of the site and to ask the independent design consultant to be more involved in the urban design process going forward.   Councillor Cheung

At the MIT meeting on this matter it was revealed that the Volpe replacement building would have to be located at the northwest corner of the Volpe site and that much of the open space associated with the future federal property could be integrated with the rest of the open space planned on the site. Details at http://www.volpemit.com and, in particular in this PDF slide presentation of the Feb 16, 2017 meeting.

Order #20. Proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinances regarding rooftop spaces in Central Square.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

This seems like a sensible outgrowth of the discussion that grew out of the Central Square Restoration Petition which will hopefully be ordained by the time this Order comes up in the agenda. See you at the March. – Robert Winters

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