Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 20, 2019

Passing the Buck – May 20, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Passing the Buck – May 20, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Buck and DoeMove along people – nothing to see here. Well, maybe that hidden state flag. The FY2020 Budget is expected to be approved at this meeting after some fiddling and diddling over some late budget-related communications touching on who gets to be artistic at CMAC (Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center).

The pickings are slim this week:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, in response to requests for additional information made by the City Council Finance Committee during hearings on the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) City Budget.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 1, 2019 and May 7, 2019 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2020 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $638,060,155.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearing held on May 7, 2019 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2020 and recommending adoption of the Water Fund Budget in the amount of $12,833,295.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearing held on May 7, 2019 relative to the Public Investment Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2020 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Fund Budget in the amount of $26,796,725.

First, expect all sorts of mutual congratulatory statements – it’s all part of the ritual and it happens every year. There may be some back and forth over the additional information, especially regarding CMAC, but after that expect all bucks to be passed.

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-93, regarding Parcel C (Constellation Center) in Kendall Square.

It’s hard to say whether there will be any push-back on this. Perhaps there will be some questions raised regarding the tax-exempt status of Parcel C for approximately 16 years during which the taxable value of all neighboring properties soared. It’s likely now all just water under the bridge, but it does raise some questions.

Applications & Petitions #1. A re-filing of a zoning petition has been received from Joseph T. Maguire of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. transmitting a proposed revised amendment to the zoning ordinance by creating the Grand Junction Pathway Overlay District.

It’s hard to say whether or not this proposal will fare better than the previous one given the increasingly hostile political context of the area when factoring in the controversies surrounding the nearby Eversource site and other proposals in East Cambridge. It should be possible for reasonable people to assess this proposal independent of these other matters.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Co-Chair and Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Co-Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Mar 28, 2019 to discuss Affordable Housing Overlay District.

The juggernaut continues. It’s remarkable just how comfortable some people have become with double standards.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes for the meeting of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force held on May 9, 2019.

Most of the ideas floated seem all well and good, but I am a bit skeptical about the idea of having a "City-owned arts facility, akin to the EMF building." There is often a fundamental conflict between governmental control and artistic freedom, and the result can often be mediocrity. There is also the problem of political patronage in deciding which artists should be granted money, jobs, and status. This report suggests that "the Task Force could continue on and become an adjudicator based on an equity rubric." This Task Force was appointed by the Mayor, by the way.

There is one suggestion contained in the meeting notes that reflects something I have been emphasizing for several years: "The Baptist church as an arts and culture space". The truth is that there are quite a few older church buildings in the neighborhoods abutting Central Square that would benefit from partnering with various charitable uses, including arts-related functions. Indeed, I have to wonder whether the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority has considered such possibilities as it discusses rescuing the building at 99 Bishop Allen Drive in order to preseve affordable space for the various nonprofit entities now housed there. Dwindling congregations, deferred maintenance, and charitable activities strongly suggest possible mutual solutions. – Robert Winters

June 10, 2016

Opening of the First Section of the Grand Junction Path – June 9, 2016

It’s only between Main Street and Broadway so far, but it’s a start!

Cambridge City Councillor and State Representative Tim Toomey

Cambridge City Councillor and State Representative Tim Toomey

Cambridge City Manager Richard Rossi

Cambridge City Manager Richard Rossi

Sarah Gallup, MIT Government and Community Relations

Sarah Gallup, MIT Government and Community Relations

John Sanzone, Friends of the Grand Junction Path

John Sanzone, Friends of the Grand Junction Path

City Councillors Marc McGovern, Jan Devereux, and Tim Toomey and City Manager Rich Rossi

City Councillors Marc McGovern, Jan Devereux, and Tim Toomey and City Manager Rich Rossi

Cutting the Ribbon: Margaret Drury (CRA), Conrad Crawford (CRA), Jan Devereux, Rich Rossi, Tim Toomey, Marc McGovern, Kathy Born (CRA), Tom Evans (CRA Exec. Dir.), Sarah Gallup, Barry Zevin (CRA), Jason Zogg (CRA Program Manager)

Cutting the Ribbon: Margaret Drury (CRA), Conrad Crawford (CRA), Jan Devereux, Rich Rossi, Tim Toomey, Marc McGovern, Kathy Born (CRA), Tom Evans (CRA Exec. Dir.), Sarah Gallup, Barry Zevin (CRA), Jason Zogg (CRA Program Manager)

You can't cut the ribbon without these

You can’t cut the ribbon without these

Michael Owu (MITIMCO) and Anya Bear (MIT Government and Community Relations)

Michael Owu (MITIMCO) and Anya Bear (MIT Government and Community Relations)

The Grand Junction Path after the Grand Opening

The Grand Junction Path after the Grand Opening

The Trains Keep Rollin'

The Trains Keep Rollin’

January 26, 2016

Catching Up on the Cambridge News (Jan 26, 2016)

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge Redevelopment Authority,elections — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:15 am

The Cambridge Redevelopment Authority announces the second year of the FORWARD FUND.

Forward Fund 2016This micro GRANT PROGRAM is intended to support civic improvement projects and creative physical interventions that better Cambridge’s built environment for the benefit of all the city’s residents, workers, and visitors by non-profit organizations, community groups, and small businesses throughout Cambridge, MA.

We’re awarding Planning & Design grants up to $5,000; Innovation & Experimentation Capital grants up to $10,000; and Infrastructure Capital grants up to $10,000 for a wide variety of projects that contribute to the civic and social capital of Cambridge. LEARN MORE


Cambridge Launches New Snow Center Website: www.CambridgeMA.gov/snow

Snow SidewalkJan 25, 2016 – The City of Cambridge has launched a new Snow Center website, www.cambridgema.gov/snow, to provide residents with timely updates on the city’s response to winter storms and to provide useful winter storm information that can be viewed quickly and easily in one location.

Through the online Snow Center, Cambridge residents can stay informed of when a Snow Emergency has been declared or lifted; register to receive emergency alerts; find out about Snow Emergency off street parking locations; or learn if city offices or programs have modified hours of operation.

“After last year’s record-breaking snow season, we made it a priority to learn lessons not only about how to improve our operations, but also about additional ways to communicate timely, useful information to residents,” said Owen O’Riordan, Commissioner of Public Works. “The Cambridge Snow Center website will be a great tool for helping the public access information about the city’s snow operations, parking regulations, and other frequently asked questions, all in one, easy-to-view location.”

The Cambridge Snow Center also includes a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section with helpful information on property owner responsibilities and the Snow Exemption Program, as well as a What’s Happening section displaying real time snow related social media updates and news stories; and finally a Useful Information section with additional resources and important phone numbers and websites.

Residents can also use the new City’s non-emergency reporting system, Commonwealth Connect, www.cambridgema.gov/CommonwealthConnect to report an icy or snowy street or unshoveled sidewalk. To receive voice, text, and email notification of declared Snow Emergency Parking Bans in the city, residents can sign up for receive CodeRed alerts directly from the City’s Snow Center.


Voter Registration, Absentee Ballots and Extended Office Hours for the March 1, 2016 Presidential Primary

Vote!The Presidential Primary will be held on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. For Cambridge residents not already registered, the last day to register to vote is Wednesday, February 10, 2016 until 8 p.m. The Office of the Secretary of State has developed an Online Voter Registration System at www.registertovotema.com. Individuals may use the online system to submit an online application, update their address, or change their party affiliation. You must have a valid driver’s license, learner’s permit, or non-driver ID issued by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). You must also have a signature on file with the RMV. If you do not have an RMV ID you can use the system to create an application. Print and sign the completed form and mail or bring it to the office of the City Cambridge Election Commission.

Absentee Ballots are now available at the Cambridge Election Commission office. Any voter who is unable to go to the polls on Election Day due to physical disability, religious belief, or absence from the City may request an Absentee Ballot from the Commission. The deadline to apply for an Absentee Ballot is Monday, February 29, 2016 at Noon. Absentee Ballots may be mailed to voters, or such voters may choose to vote at the Commission office during regular city office hours: Monday, 8:30am-8:00pm; Tuesday-Thursday, 8:30am-5:00pm; Friday, 8:30am-Noon. The office will also be open for Absentee Voting on Friday, February 26th from 8:30am until 5:00pm and on Saturday, February 27th from 9:00am until 5:00pm. The polls will be open on Election Day from 7:00am until 8:00pm.

For any additional information, please visit the Cambridge Election Commission office at 51 Inman Street, call (617-349-4361) or visit our website at www.cambridgema.gov/election.

November 8, 2015

After the Storm – Nov 9, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

After the Storm – Nov 9, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

In Counting there is StrengthThe election results from this past week are now known and the theories are flying about why some candidates fared well and why others will say farewell. Most of this pseudoanalysis is just for entertainment purposes, but there are some basic political truths that continue to be self-evident. Most of all, local elections continue to be won or lost not so much on big issues and big money but rather on old-fashioned hand-to-hand retail-level politics. In particular, in a PR election it’s important to secure your political base whether that’s based on the positions you take, the favors you perform, the neighborhood you come from, or what you look like. It also remains the case that voter turnout is what secures the margins that give victory to some candidates and defeat to others. While others exchange theories, I’m just sitting here waiting for information on how many people voted in each precinct and how that affected the #1 vote totals of particular candidates. Until then, I’ll just allow myself to be entertained by the punditry of others.

The City Council returns on Monday with an agenda long on congratulations and short on substance. The real business took place last week. Here are a few items that may be of interest:

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Milford Medicinals, Inc., to amend the Cambridge Zoning Map to include 1001 Massachusetts Avenue in the MMD-1 Zoning Overlay.

The last 4 signatures on the petition were obviously done by the same person. Also, this proposal calls for a change to the existing zoning for a single address to permit a use that is inconsistent with the abutting district (at least in the sense that districts have already been established elsewhere for this proposed use). It may therefore be illegal spot zoning. More significantly, what exactly then was the purpose of the zoning change enacted on Dec 16, 2013 establishing zones where medical marijuana dispensaries may be located?

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to update condo conversion numbers from 2010.   Councillor Cheung

Is my triple-decker the last one left in Cambridge that hasn’t been converted into overpriced condominiums? I’m thinking of digging a perimeter moat filled with alligators that feed on real estate agents.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting modifications to the proposed MXD Zoning Petition and Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan Amendment.

This is really the only agenda item that seems remotely interesting. It’s a huge document (98 page PDF) that seems to promote all the right things, but you be the judge.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to the Subpoena Duces Tecum issued by the City Council on Oct 30, 2015 pursuant to Policy Order #27 adopted on Oct 19, 2015.

I pride myself on being well informed on most matters that come before the Cambridge City Council. This item may be the most cryptic agenda item I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I haven’t got a clue what it means.

That’s all for now, folks. I’m still just waiting patiently for those ward/precinct turnout and vote distribution numbers. I’m also eager to analyze the ballot data after the Final Election Results are determined this coming Friday the Thirteenth. – Robert Winters

May 4, 2015

Quatro de Mayo at the Cambridge City Council – May 4, 2015 Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge Redevelopment Authority,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:47 am

Quatro de Mayo at the Cambridge City Council – May 4, 2015 Agenda Highlights

News!Here’s a quick look at what’s on deck for Monday. The most significant items are Manager’s Agenda #1-6, the appropriation and loan authorization orders for capital budget items totaling $67,200,000. There’s also an appropriation order of $6,000,000 in Manager’s Agenda #10 "to facilitate necessary initial capital improvements to the Foundry building." After the Public Comment period (and hopefully starting at the scheduled time) there will be a 7:00pm public hearing on a proposal by the City of Cambridge to dispose of a long-term leasehold interest in the Foundry Property at 101 Rogers Street to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) and on a request for diminution of the full disposition process.

Here are the big ticket items:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $37,750,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Agassiz Neighborhood, Alewife Watershed, Area IV Neighborhood, and Harvard Square areas as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $4,600,000 to provide funds for surface improvements to the Harvard Square area including Eliot Street, Eliot Plaza, Brattle Street, and Brattle Plaza.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $150,000 to provide funds for the purchase and installation of mechanical components to ensure the operational integrity of the elevator at the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $15,700,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including the design and construction for the King Open/Cambridge Street School and Community Complex, roof replacement at the Kennedy Longfellow School, and a new boiler at the Fletcher Maynard Academy.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $6,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to facilitate necessary initial capital improvements to the Foundry building consistent with City Council Policy Order O-16 adopted on Mar 17, 2014, and to support the reuse of the building according to the vision and objectives identified through a robust community process.

Presumably the following item of Unfinished Business will also be discussed during the 7:00pm hearing on disposition of the Foundry building.

Unfinished Business #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Foundry Building process, including the City’s plans to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (the "CRA") to redevelop the Foundry building in a way that meets the vision and objectives expressed by the City Council and the community.


Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a proposed framework for your consideration concerning the goal of setting Cambridge on the trajectory to becoming a "net zero community", with focus on carbon emissions from building operations.

There’s a lot that can be said about this topic, but your homework assignment is to read the report first. It’s available as a Word document, but if you prefer PDFs, try these:

Net Zero Framework (the main report) Appendix E (Greenhouse Gas Reduction)
Appendix A (Best Practices) Appendix F (Solar Potential)
Appendix B (Building Energy) Appendix G (Summary)
Appendix C (Energy Supply) Appendix H (Netzero Task Force members)
Appendix D (Actions) Appendix I (Net Zero Action Plan)

Resolution #6. Congratulations to Patrick W. Barrett III on passing the Massachusetts Bar Exam.   Councillor Toomey

There’s a crowd of us out here in the bleacher seats cheering.


Committee Report #2. 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 hearing held on Apr 22, 2015 to continue discussion on the incentive zoning study from the Community Development Department.

The recent Nexus Study recommends an increase in the contribution rate "from the current $4.58 to $10-$12 per square foot of new commercial development, expansion of the uses that would be subject to the ordinance, removal of the special permit trigger which currently limits the applicability of the incentive requirements to projects needing certain special permits, elimination of the 2,500 square foot exemption, continuation of the 30,000 square feet building size threshold, maintenance of a uniform housing rate for all uses and continuation of adjustments to the contribution rate by the Consumer Price Index." [You should read the committee report for more detail on what this all means.] Some activists/candidates would like to raise it to $24 per square foot (or even higher), but it’s likely that cooler heads will prevail.

That’s all for now folks. – Robert Winters

April 13, 2015

Taking a Look at the April 13, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Taking a Look at the April 13, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Founding FathersHere are a few items that might prove interesting:

Reconsideration #1. Councillor Toomey notified the City Clerk of his intention to file reconsideration of the vote taken on Mar 30, 2015 to refer to the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee City Manager Agenda #18 and Calendar #8 as amended regarding the Pearl Street Reconstruction Project.

It’s anyone’s guess where this will end up, but it did seem odd that this Order would be referred at the last meeting to a committee whose Chair will likely be hostile to it. There really is a need to review some of the boneheaded projects that have been trotted out under the "Complete Streets" banner, but it’s doubtful that committee action will lead to anything other than politicizing this. A better term would be "Dysfunctional Streets" to describe road designs that provide no actual additional bicycle safety while rendering streets dysfunctional, e.g. Vassar Street where trucks have no other option than to park on sidewalks, a stopped vehicle brings all traffic to a standstill, and where the safety of any cyclist choosing to ride in the road is greatly compromised. While driving on the newly-choked Western Avenue the other day I got to witness first hand how even the simple act of parking a car can turn Western Ave. into a one-lane, highly congested road.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommend on the reappointment of Christopher Bator to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority for a 3-year term, effective Apr 13, 2015.

This is not controversial – just an opportunity to once again marvel at how the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority has pivoted over the last few years from being nearly irrelevant to becoming the vehicle of choice for some really important initiatives.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine what types of traffic, parking, and other citations the city has legal jurisdiction over and to confer with the appropriate city departments to institute a day-fine policy in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

This is a ridiculous proposal. A day-fine is "a fine tied to an individual’s daily income". This proposal suggests that people whose reported income is low should pay less for parking violations or speeding tickets. The Order notes that "License suspensions and legal fees resulting from unpaid citations have been shown to have a disproportionately negative effect on low income individuals and households." There’s an even simpler solution – don’t park illegally or drive at excessive speeds that endanger others.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council at the next regular meeting with an update on the Citywide planning process (Master Plan) including next steps and a timeline.   Councillor McGovern

My sense is that when this Magical Master Plan is eventually decided (and I really am interested in the requested timeline), there’s a good chance that it won’t fulfill the hopes and dreams of those who have come to believe that all clocks must be stopped until it’s in place.

Order #9. That Article Six of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance entitled "Off Street Parking and Loading Requirements and Nighttime Curfew on Large Commercial Through Trucks" be amended in Section 6.20 entitled "Off Street Parking Regulations" to include information in "Carsharing Provisions." [attachment]   Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Simmons

Order #12. That the City Council refer to the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board, for hearing and report, an amendment to the Zoning Ordinances in Section 20.300 "Central Square Overlay District" regarding the granting of Special Permits in the Central Square Overlay District.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

Order #14. That Article 13 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinances entitled "Planned Unit Development Districts" be amended in section 13.53.2 of 13.50 entitled "PUD-4, PUD-4A, PUD-4B and PUD-4C Districts: Development Controls" by striking out the first sentence and substituting in place thereof the following new sentence: The minimum size of the Development Parcel within PUD-4B shall be two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) square feet.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung and Councillor McGovern

This is a rare thing indeed – three City Council zoning petitions introduced in a single meeting. Almost all zoning petitions tend to originate with either property owners/developers who want to build something or with activists trying to block something from being built. It has become rare for the City Council to initiate the process, and here we hit the trifecta! I’ll wait to hear more explanation of the motivation behind Order #9 and Order #14. As for Order #12, I was at first intrigued at what seemed to be an acknowledgement that providing incentives for new housing in Central Square might be a good direction consistent with some of the C2 recommendations from a couple of years ago. Then I read what Councillor Carlone wrote on his blog. Apparently the primary purpose of the zoning proposal in Order #12 is to remove the argument occasionally heard in regard to the ongoing Normandy/Twining petition that if housing cannot economically be built at Mass & Main (Lafayette Square) then an office or lab building would be the default option.

This chess move by Councillors Carlone and Mazen and their sponsors would affect the entire Central Square Overlay District in regard to any Special Permit application for Additional Height. There may be some merit in this proposal but it’s also quite possible that it will have some unintended consequences. Either way, it’s being introduced at this time apparently as an attempt to derail the Normandy/Twining proposal. Having a broader conversation about delivering new housing in the Central Square area is consistent with the C2 recommendations, but one really has to raise an eyebrow when those now suggesting this are the same people who have squelched that conversation in the past. Besides, as we have heard the naysayers chant time and time again, how can we do anything without first having The Master Plan? [sarcasm intended] – Robert Winters


Update: Order #12 Failed on a 1-7-1 vote (Mazen YES via speakerphone; Carlone ABSENT). I don’t recall it having ever happened that a proposed zoning amendment was defeated when introduced without even being formally referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board. This was a stunning rebuke of Councillors Carlone and Mazen (and their supporters). – RW

March 29, 2015

Out Like a Lamb – What’s Happenin’ at the March 30, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Out Like a Lamb – What’s Happenin’ at the March 30, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Out Like a LambAs this brutal winter stumbles to a welcome end, the City Council meets on Monday to do its thing. Here are a few noteworthy items (at least to this Council watcher).:

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a rescission of the remaining amount of the loan order ($1,600,000) authorized by the City Council on Feb 13, 2012 for the renovations to the original police station at Five Western Avenue.

How can you not like it when a project comes in $1.6 million under budget?

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-07, regarding a report on variance requests and application results since January, 2010. [really big attachment]

I’m reminded of the time several summers ago when a City Council request for information from the Police Department yielded a stack of paper several feet high resting on Councillor Kelley’s desk. This is just a PDF file and not nearly as voluminous, but it always reminds me that you shouldn’t ask for information that requires some effort to generate unless you have some notion of what you’d like to do with that information once you get it. This request came from an Order by Councillor Kelley that was adopted on Feb 20, 2015. If the goal is to identify shortcomings in the Zoning Ordinance that routinely lead to many requests for variances, that would be a useful exercise that might warrant some tweaks to the Zoning Ordinance. It’s just as likely that the intention might be to crack down on variances without examining why people seek them in the first place.


Manager’s Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of members of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Committees for two year terms, effective Apr 1, 2015.

Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the status of the Pearl Street reconstruction project.

I occasionally wonder what would happen if someone like me who questions some of the bicycling infrastructure decisions made internally by the City were to apply to be on the Bicycle Committee. My sense is that diversity of opinion is not welcome on that particular committee and that applicants are screened accordingly. Regarding the Pearl Street project, I fear that the plan is to wait out the opposition and proceed with the elimination of curbside parking when the best opportunity arises – regardless of need or the preferences of abutters.


Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the recommendation from the Planning Board to approve 1) the disposition of the leasehold interest in the Foundry Building; and 2) a diminution of the disposition process as it relates to the provision of a traffic study and provision of real estate appraisals of the Foundry Building.

Unfinished Business #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Foundry Building process, including the City’s plans to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (the "CRA") to redevelop the Foundry building in a way that meets the vision and objectives expressed by the City Council and the community…

It’s good to see some progress on the Foundry matter. I really don’t know what balance will ultimately be struck among the competing interests and financial constraints associated with this building, but at least things are moving forward. It’s great to see how the revitalized Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is playing an active role in this and other initiatives.


Unfinished Business #11. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.67 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 24, 2014.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 12, 2015 to discuss amendments and other related documents associated with the plastic bags ordinance.

It’s likely that this proposed ordinance will be voted at this meeting. The essential elements are that (1) plastic checkout bags would be banned in Cambridge (which won’t affect those of us who shop almost exclusively in Somerville and Everett), (2) a mandatory fee of at least 10¢ will be charged for every paper bag used at checkout (not sure what this means regarding single- vs. double-bagging), and (3) a minimum thickness (3 mils) will be established for what constitutes an approved reusable bag. There are only limited provisions for exemptions.

Personally I use only reusable bags and have done so for years. I imagine most municipal election candidates this year will be distributing reusable bags emblazoned with their names and the usual #1 Vote request. Perhaps I’ll vote for candidates based on who provides the most durable shopping bags. Councillor Toomey was way ahead of everyone last time in this regard.


Unfinished Business #13. That any committee report that has not been signed by the Chair of the committee within seven days after submission of the committee report by the City Clerk be placed on the City Council Agenda unsigned. Order Number Eight of Mar 2, 2015 Referred to Unfinished Business.

It’s interesting how many committee reports have been submitted since this proposal was submitted by Councillor Toomey. Anything that moves things along is welcome. Now if only we can come up with a Rules Change that would prevent significant matters from being endlessly kicked down the road – and I’m definitely thinking of Central Square here which is only now getting some renewed attention years after a broad range of recommendations were presented as part of the K2C2 process. There will be an Ordinance Committee hearing on those recommendations on Wed, April 15 (at 5:30pm in the Sullivan Chamber), but only for the purpose of discussion with no actionable items before the committee.

The Normandy/Twining zoning proposal for the Mass. & Main area of Central Square is also now before the Ordinance Committee. The petitioners recently increased the percentages of permanently and privately subsidized units in their project to 20 percent should the proposed zoning be approved. Their original petition called for 17 percent affordable and middle-income units. They have now doubled the percentage of affordable units (50 to 80% of area median income) from 8.5 percent in the original petition to 17 percent and will maintain 3 percent middle income units (80 to 120% of area median income). The proposal would deliver 40 affordable and 7 middle income housing units for a total of 47 permanently and privately subsidized units out of a total of about 230 units. Enhanced ground floor retail opportunities and neighborhood connectivity are also included in their proposal.

Unfinished Business #14. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 3, 2015 to continue discussions on the zoning petition filed by Whitehead Institute to amend the Zoning Ordinance, Sections 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 to provide for an increment of 60,000 square feet of GFA to be allowed by special permit in a portion of the MXD District, in Section 14.70 by retitling "Special Provisions Applicable Within the Ames Street District: and by adding a new Section 14.72 "Special Provisions Applicable Outside the Ames Street District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Mar 30, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Dec 16, 2014. Petition expires Apr 8, 2015.

This zoning petition will likely be ordained at this meeting.

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Chestnut Hill Realty, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance in the Basement Housing Overlay District Section 20.600.

I won’t pretend to understand what the intent of these technical amendments are. As was the case when the original zoning was introduced and passed, I’ll just say that it would be a shame if any basement space in buildings that is actually necessary for bicycle storage and other needs of residents is lost just to pack in a few more income-producing units. On either side of my house on Broadway there are buildings that maximized the rentable space by eliminating options for on-premises bike parking and seriously compromising the options for storing and managing waste and recycling.

Resolution #24. Reminder to Cambridge residents that street cleaning will begin the first week of April.   Councillor Toomey

Run for your lives! The sweepers are coming! Don’t get towed!

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with all relative City departments to increase the number of electric charging stations available in the City, to determine the feasibility of making these stations free and to recommend other incentives that may include, but not be limited to, free resident parking stickers and allowing electric cars to park at parking meters free of charge as ways to encourage the purchase and use of electric cars.   Councillor McGovern

Let me see if I got this straight. This proposes to provide free parking and free electric charging to anyone with an electric vehicle. Why stop there? The City should also pay the rent and mortgage costs for these superior beings. But seriously, I would think that driving an energy-efficient vehicle that costs less to operate should be more than enough incentive. I also expect that any lost revenue or added energy costs borne by the City will ultimately lead to increased parking fees for those of us less enlightened beings who still have more conventional engines in our vehicles.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate city departments to update the City Council as to whether there are any proposed increases to Common Victualer (CV) and Liquor License renewal fees, to determine if there is a liquor license cap in the Central Square area and to the suitability of raising the liquor license cap in and around the Central Square area.   Vice Mayor Benzan

I’m not sure what’s behind this, but my understanding is that there is a cap on the number of liquor licenses that may be sold, but the License Commission has been issuing nontransferable "no value" pouring licenses to restaurants In Central Square and elsewhere in order to help those businesses.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the local business associations, neighborhood groups and city departments to conduct a series of cleanups of our neighborhoods and City Squares, primarily Kendall, Harvard, Central, Alewife, Inman, Huron Village and Porter.   Vice Mayor Benzan

These kinds of events are always best organized by the local business and neighborhood associations and by individuals with whatever assistance the City is able to affordably provide. The City should simply let the organizers know what help they might be able to provide, but let the residents and business owners take the lead.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an update on the analysis that has been done to understand the finances of new development in Central Square, including the report by economic consultant Sarah Woodworth.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Mazen

I am curious about the underlying purpose of this Order. While it’s certainly a good idea to have a firm grasp on the economic realities surrounding development proposals like the one contemplated for Mass. & Main (Normandy/Twining), my suspicion is that this could be an effort to cook up grounds to justify blocking the proposal. We’ll all benefit from an honest discussion of the economics, but hopefully not just as a smokescreen for a separate agenda.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status and next steps for the Beekeeping ordinance.   Councillor Carlone

I wasn’t aware that there was an actual proposed ordinance to allow and perhaps promote beekeeping, but it’s a good idea worth pursuing. On the other hand, it seems a bit ridiculous that this should be over-regulated or banned in the first place.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City personnel to determine and provide an update to the City Council on parking needs and availability in the Central Square area and to confer with the appropriate City personnel to determine, as part of the broader question above, the cost and feasibility of adding additional parking levels to the Green Street Garage, to determine how many additional feet the garage could be expanded to as of right and how many extra parking spaces that would yield, and what changes, if any, would be needed to existing zoning laws in order to build the garage to its maximum capacity.   Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Carlone

Though I think it would be a good idea to ensure a sufficient supply of parking in and around Central Square, I can’t help but note that if a proposal to add commercial parking was made a decade or two ago it would have been aggressively opposed by some activists. Those were the days when the Parking Freeze was giving way to the current Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance. Times have changed, vehicles run much cleaner, and there are now other competing priorities. Perhaps additional parking capacity at the Green Street Garage would replace what might be lost by building on surface parking lots elsewhere in Central Square. Perhaps the idea is to calm the fears of those who see the building of new housing as an existential threat to the well-being of their on-street parking. In any case, it’s a discussion worth having. – Robert Winters

March 16, 2014

Broadband, Bikes, and Buildings – March 17, 2014 City Council Agenda highlights

Broadband, Bikes, and Buildings – March 17, 2014 City Council Agenda highlights

One highlight of this meeting is the annual presentation of the water/sewer rates for the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY15). The rest of the meeting could well be dominated by the ongoing saga of the future of two East Cambridge buildings – the Foundry building and the former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse. But first, the water and sewer:

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2014 and ending Mar 31, 2015. [City Manager’s Letter]

This will be the 4th straight year of no increases in the water rate. Sewer rates continue to see moderate increases. Here’s the 10-year history of water/sewer rate increases (rates are per CcF, i.e. 100 cu. ft., approx. 750 gallons):

Ten Year History of Water/Sewer Rate Increases

Percent Increases (Water) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 0.0% 4.0% 0.0% 2.1% 2.8% 1.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.02
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 0.0% 3.7% 0.0% 2.0% 2.6% 1.6% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.2% $3.24
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.2% 2.7% 1.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.44
Block 4 2,001 – 10,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.0% 2.6% 1.4% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.3% $3.65
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.2% 2.6% 1.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.96
Percent Increases (Sewer) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 7.6% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.9% 8.0% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.3% 55.6% $8.62
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.8% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.4% $9.12
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 8.0% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.3% 5.2% 55.4% $9.79
Block 4 2,001 – 10,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.9% 7.8% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.2% $10.54
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.8% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.3% $11.21
Percent Increases (Combined) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 5.1% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.7% $11.64
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 5.0% 6.7% 0.0% 4.0% 6.2% 6.1% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.3% $12.36
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.4% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.1% 3.8% 40.6% $13.23
Block 4 2,001 – 10,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.5% $14.19
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.1% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.5% $15.17

Cambridge does a good job at delivering great water inexpensively. Sewerage costs considerably more.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $150,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used to hire a team of technical consultants to work with the Getting to Net Zero Task Force and City staff and provide subject matter advice and analysis.

It will be interesting to see where this task force eventually goes. One route could be to regulate and tax everyone into submission. Hopefully something better will come of these efforts, e.g. programs to enable homes and workplaces to be made greatly more energy efficient with associated long-term cost savings.

Resolution #16. Resolution on the death of Rosemary "Rosy" White.   Mayor Maher

Resolution #27. Resolution on the death of Steven Brion-Meisels.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

I didn’t know Steven Brion-Meisels, but I knew of him. Marc McGovern’s comment sums him up pretty well: "He was one of the most gentle, considerate, peaceful people I have ever met and he did a great deal for the children of Cambridge."

I have personally known Rosy White for over 20 years. I originally met her when she served as the campaign manager for City Council candidate (and former State Rep.) Elaine Noble who ran in 1991 and 1993. I will always value Rosy’s great sense of humor which is the most important quality anyone can possess.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to develop proposed ordinance language that will limit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products in the City of Cambridge to individuals 21 years of age or older.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Councillor Carlone

As with the campaign a decade ago to prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, and other indoor spaces, I find myself straddling the line between personal freedom and regulation for the well-being of those directly affected by the noxious behavior of others. This proposed ordinance would forbid the sale to anyone under 21 years of age "any product containing, made, or derived from tobacco or nicotine that is intended for human consumption, whether smoked, chewed, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted, sniffed, or ingested by any other means including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, snuff, or electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars, electronic pipes, or other similar products that rely on vaporization or aerosolization."

If the residents of Cambridge and Massachusetts find acceptable restricting anyone younger than 21 from buying or consuming alcoholic beverages, they’ll probably be agreeable to applying the same standard to tobacco products. If this is to be the law, I’m glad the proposal applies to so-called "e-cigarettes". I actually find these to be more disturbing than actual smoking. They seem more like an acknowledgement of addiction than the burning and inhalation of tobacco, and it’s only a matter of time before their apparatus is modified to inhale other substances. Perhaps the next generation of products will involve direct intraveneous injection without the need to soil the lungs.

Bike PostOrder #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes.   Councillor Kelley

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to consult with appropriate City staff, cyclists and others in an attempt to figure out a more effective way for cyclists to use public bike parking for short, medium and long-term bike storage to alleviate the problem of abandoned bikes clogging bike parking facilities and to ensure that cyclists have appropriate public space in which to lock their bikes.   Councillor Kelley

I’m with Councillor Kelley 100% regarding the clearing of derelict bikes that are now cluttering up all the City’s bike posts. I spoke with DPW Commissioner Owen O’Riordan about this a few days ago and my understanding is that DPW will be ramping up the tagging and removal very soon. I can agree with people using them short term where they live, but they really should bring their bikes into their buildings or elsewhere on the property rather than using up City-funded facilities for private use. This can be a real conflict in mixed residential/commercial areas.

I’m also in agreement regarding unnecessary parking in bike lanes, but I’m willing to acknowledge that sometimes this is unavoidable, especially with some delivery vehicles. They also park at taxi stands and bus stops for short periods when options are limited. One thing I do not agree with is giving a hard time to delivery vehicles that park in so-called "cycle tracks" at street grade level where the City has mandated that motor vehicles may not park next to the curb because they want bikes to ride between the parked vehicles and the curb. This is an abysmally bad idea in places where deliveries must be made. I know that some members of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee have been irritated by such occurrences on Ames Street, but my sympathies lie with the delivery vehicle drivers there. The natural place for motor vehicles to park will always be right next to the curb.

Order #10. That the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee hold an appropriate number of public hearings to investigate internet access issues in Cambridge, to include possible expansion of the City’s fiber optic network and use by private entities and business of that network.   Councillor Kelley

Communications #6. A communication was received from Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street regarding the case for Municipal Broadband in Cambridge.

I’ve been hearing about this now for over a decade and at one point even volunteered the roof of my building to install equipment to further the goal. As near as I can tell, all of the City’s efforts have gone nowhere. Perhaps the best course of action would be for a group of movers and shakers to form their own task force, develop some resources, and make this happen with minimal City involvement. Rumor has it that there are a few entrepreneurs living in Cambridge who know a thing or two about such things.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of the First Street Garage RFP process and that the City Council urge the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and the developer of the Sullivan Courthouse to work together to reduce the height, traffic, and environmental impacts of the developer’s proposal so as to gain community support and resolve the uncertainty that surrounds the project.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Toomey

It’s anybody’s guess how this matter will ultimately be resolved, but it seems certain that unless the Commonwealth intervenes in an active way (which may mean accepting a lot more of the financial burden in the disposition of this property), the eventual outcome could be something that’s loved by nobody. I do wish people would use better comparatives when assessing the impact of the various proposals. For example, any measure of traffic impact should compare with the property when it was actively used as a courthouse/jail and not during recent years when sagebrush could have been blowing through the near-vacant property. Perhaps the worst-case outcome would be for the Commonwealth’s selected developer, Legatt-McCall, to just build whatever they can as-of-right in this nonconforming property. The trickiest part of this Council Order may be the potential impossibility of gaining "community support" in an environment where some people continue to insist that the only acceptable outcome is to have any future building on this site conform to current zoning.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to determine the legal and regulatory process necessary to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), companies in the private sector, and/or local universities, and/or donors that are willing to partner with the City to achieve the desired development objectives at the Foundry Building and report back to the City Council on the best manner in which to implement and fund the future community use of the building.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Toomey

On the Table #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Arts Council to determine the types of spaces that are most needed within the local arts community with the view of using the Foundry to fill those needs and to allocate appropriate funds to make appropriate upgrades for the purpose of creating a community arts center. (Order Amended by Substitution.) [Order Number Ten of Jan 27, 2014 Placed on Table on motion of Mayor Maher on Jan 27, 2014.]

The Foundry issue seems a lot easier to resolve than the future of the Sullivan Courthouse. It’s been trending toward a Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) role for the last month or so, and Order #16 seems consistent with this trend. I suspect that the programming of the space will continue to be debated for some time to come with good arguments being made for early childhood education, an arts center, and for some kind of Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics (STEAM) center. These proposed uses are only partially compatible, and it’s still necessary to have the building work financially. One of the more interesting aspects of this process has been the growing acceptance of CRA involvement in this and potentially other projects around the city (as opposed to just Kendall Square). The CRA now even has a webpage for its strategic plan and potential initiatives. Not so long ago there was concern expressed about having the CRA involved in development projects because of their "lack of accountability." Now they are coming to be seen as a vehicle for delivering desirable outcomes.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with a representative from MIT with the view in mind of arranging attendance by an MIT representative to present the findings of the Graduate Student Housing Working Group to the City Council in either a roundtable or special meeting format.   Councillor Cheung

The report from MIT’s Graduate Student Housing Working Group was pretty simple to read and digest. No decisions have been made yet where new housing will eventually be built, but the MIT administration has now quantified what the housing needs are. Other than the politics, it’s hard to see exactly what a roundtable or special meeting would add to the discussion, but I guess there’s no harm in asking. The main thing is that MIT representatives promised an honest evaluation of their (graduate student) housing needs when they sought approval of the MIT/Kendall zoning petition and they delivered on that promise. Some of the new housing will appear in and around Kendall Square, but it’s likely that most of it will be constructed elsewhere on the MIT campus and on other nearby MIT-owned property.

Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor regarding the possibility of contacting the Attorney General’s Office and requesting that a representative be made available to attend an upcoming Open Meeting Law training for the City Council.   Councillor Mazen

While it is certainly a good idea to have such a training (especially now that some councillors are using their "aides" as a means of getting around the restrictions of the law), it would be much better if the state legislature would intervene by evaluating and amending some of the more counterproductive aspects of their law. – Robert Winters

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