Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 21, 2018

Rearranging the Deck Chairs – What’s Up on the May 21, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,Inman Square — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:08 am

Rearranging the Deck Chairs – What’s Up on the May 21, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are my selections from this week’s menu:

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $44,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures which will be used to assist the Department of Conservation & Recreation in constructing an ADA accessible canoe and kayak boat launch.

I remember back in 1999 when the City first partnered with MDC (now DCR) to invest $1,500,000 to upgrade Magazine Beach in exchange for priority in field scheduling. This satisfied what would otherwise have been a need identified in the Green Ribbon Open Space Report (2000) for access to a community park for the Cambridgeport neighborhood. Most of that investment went toward the fields and landscaping in the eastern part of Magazine Beach. The City’s later investment (approx. $300,000 plus over $700,000 in matching funds and capital expenditures by DCR) has been focused on the western part, and a lot of credit for that goes to the Magazine Beach Partners (originally formed out of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association as the Friends of Magazine Beach) for spearheading the renovations of the old powder magazine and its vicinity. This is civic activism at its best.

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-17, regarding the status and proposed next steps to advance the urban agriculture initiative.

The City already established regulations for the keeping of honeybees (Dec 2017) and will soon address hen-keeping (as opposed to henpecking), but this report is specific to "urban farming" whcih will include zoning recommendations affecting "the cultivation of agricultural products for public consumption". It does not affect home gardening. The zoning recommendations are expected in Fall 2018 and will require City Council approval, and soil safety regulation will be determined by the Commissioner of Public Health.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for approval to submit the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge to include as part of the Inman Square Intersection Safety Improvements Project (“Project”) the planned reconfiguration of the intersection of Hampshire Street and Cambridge Street in the Inman Square area of the City (hereinafter, “Inman Square”) as well as a portion of the land that makes up Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci Community Plaza (“Vellucci Plaza”).

Proposed Revisions
VELLUCCI PLAZA – DESIGNATED OPEN SPACE – PROPOSED REVISIONS

This agenda item will likely be the centerpiece of the meeting. There are a few points that warrant comment. First, the substance of this matter is the Home Rule Petition to the state legislature to swap existing designated open space for new "open space" in order to facilitate a realignment of the roadways. That has its own controversies, including different viewpoints regarding preservation of trees in the short and long term. The reconfiguration of the road is being supposedly done for the sake of safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicle operators, but it is not at all clear that the proposed configuration (at considerable cost) will actually improve anything. The City routinely invokes the "Vision Zero" mantra to justify non-debatable changes in infrastructure with the assertion that all decisions are "data-driven", but at one recent meeting on this topic it was asserted by someone very close to the debate that there have been no accidents at all in Inman Square since the simple application of green paint to the roadway to better clarify the presence of cyclists as they pass through the intersection.

What seems quite clear in the proposed road reconfiguration is that it is centered on pushing all cyclists to use the sidewalk as they pass through the intersection (which many cyclists simply will not do – and for good reason). Will this result in fewer traffic incidents? Or will there be a spike in altercations between cyclists and pedestrians? Will cyclists who choose to use the roadway have their safety compromised? Personally, though I suppose there may be some room for improvement, my sense is that the "short term" fixes of painting the green lanes and restricting some turning movements have addressed most of the safety issues and that this next round of "improvements" may actually make things worse. The proposed changes seem more ideology-driven than data-driven. There is a lot to be said for intuitive and simple road design, and this is anything but that.

PS – It is stated in the report that "the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Commission approved the proposed Plaza design", but I heard from one member that this was only because their authority extends only to buildings and not to roadways, and since there are no buildings involved in either the land swap or the road design they didn’t have standing in this matter.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for approval to seek authorization from the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General (the “IG”) for the City to use the Construction Manager at Rick (“CMAR”) procurement and construction method (the “CMAR Method”) in connection with the redevelopment of the Foundry building.

How many years has it been now since we received this "gift" of the Foundry building?

Unfinished Business #1-4. Appropriation and Loan Authorization Orders for $5,000,000 (Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan); $650,000 (School building infrastructure projects, and a new boiler at CRLS); $61,500,000 (water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the The Port neighborhood, and the River Street neighborhood); and $21,000,000 (reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks).

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, 2018, May 8, 2018 and May 9, 2018 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $597,219,385.

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 a public hearing held on May 8, 2018 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,973,855.

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 a public hearing held on May 8, 2018 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $17,267,995.

Objectively speaking, this really is the most significant agenda item, but there’s really nothing left but the vote (and, of course, the usual round of gushy thank-you’s by councillors to City staff and vice-versa).

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a detailed accounting of locations, if any, where Cured-In-Place Plastic Pipe (CIPP) and other plastic pipes currently exists in Cambridge, when it was installed, and why there was no public process for such a potentially hazardous change in water policy.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

There are several available methods for re-lining pipes as an alternative to replacement including Cured-In-Place Plastic Pipe (CIPP) which uses fitted mesh and epoxy. Some people, including members of the Water Board, have expressed concerns about this method based on possible leachate, but this seems to be more a function of quality control than of the material itself. The Order states that "all plastics leach chemicals" which may be true but is not helpful. People buy water and other beverages in plastic bottles all the time and those drinks are often in contact with their container far longer than municipal water is with those pipe sections that are lined with epoxy. In addition to the matter of real vs. perceived hazard, there’s also an interesting question here of who really has the authority to make decisions like these – the Water Department or the volunteer Water Board. A century ago the Water Board had very broad authority, but it’s not so clear today where that authority ends under the current form of City government.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to create a structured commercial tax rate system for FY20 that prioritizes lowering the tax rate for small businesses.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Simmons

Any such change would require either a general change in state law or a Home Rule Petition. The tax classification (residential, commercial, industrial, open space, and personal property) allows different rates (within prescribed limits) among these categories but there is no further refinement within any of the categories. This can translate into a hardship for a small "mom ‘n pop" retail business since (at least for Cambridge) the commercial tax rate is nearly 2½ times the residential tax rate, and there is nothing analogous to the residential exemption (which is a fixed exemption that can yield very inequitable benefit). Personally, I think the state legislature should create enabling legislation to give cities and towns a bit more flexibility, but there is an understandable risk that this would simply result in the maximum benefit being shifted onto those who vote in the local elections regardless of the net public good. Much of Cambridge retail is being driven into oblivion by rising rents (which factor in the taxes to some degree) and shifting consumer habits (like, you know, Amazon). Tax relief may help some, but the problem is bigger than that.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City Departments to launch a program during the summer months to activate the Front Lawn of City Hall in the afternoon with games (such as cornhole boards), food trucks, and other forms of entertainment to engage a diverse age range of residents in recreation.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Zondervan

Why not a ferris wheel and a zipline? I do like the fact that people are drawn to this space, but it is passive for a lot of them and they may not appreciate all the activity. Regarding food trucks, there would be a certain irony in having them within 100 or so feet of the License Commission offices (but that cryptic reference is something you’ll have to ask me about). In any case, a hot dog vendor on the sidewalk would be a nice addition, though I suppose it would have to be a vegan alternative "not dog" vendor to gain approval (in which case forget I ever mentioned it).

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to report back to the Housing Committee on how the City could establish a method of eviction data collection.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Cambridge Human Rights Commission to report back on housing-related activities including number of housing-related investigations, number of housing-related cases successfully mediated, relationships with regional housing-related organizations, and successes and challenges of the Cambridge Fair Housing Ordinance   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

My presumption is that these requests relate to the ongoing agenda of the City Council’s Housing Committee, but these issues have also been discussed within the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group and elsewhere. My presumption is that the concern here is the Bad Behavior of Very Big Mean Landlords, but this is, after all, the People’s Republic of Cambridge which, unfortunately, has at least some history of collateral damage against owners of rental property regardless of virtue.

Order #7. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Recycling Division of the Department of Public Works to study the feasibility of expanding the curbside composting program to small businesses and nonprofits in the City by the end of 2019.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon

It’s definitely worth looking into, but it’s not so simple to determine what constitutes a small business deserving of the City’s largess. For example, if a large office building houses 50 small businesses should the City pick up the tab (and the garbage) for the whole building? There is already a lot of ambiguity with mixed residential/commercial buildings all over the city. – Robert Winters

May 13, 2018

On the Agenda – May 14, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:32 pm

On the Agenda – May 14, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

First… what’s still Not On the Agenda (even though letters continue to pour in to the City Council commenting on this Non-Order): The HP Divest matter. Wherefore art thou? Perhaps it’s with all the other missing Orders highlighting Bad Behavior (real or perceived) by governments around the world.

On the domestic front, there are these:

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-13, regarding electric vehicles.

It’s an interesting report and it seems like the City is using good sense in knowing when and under what circumstances vehicles should be changed over to all-electric or hybrid-electric. Nobody wants to see a fire engine or police car crap out in an emergency situation because its battery ran down. This report also brings to mind two competing philosophies when it comes to making changes to meet environmental or other goals – the Carrot or the Stick. Some (like me) prefer the carrot to encourage people to make changes, i.e. to provide incentives or offer a convincing argument to make a switch, e.g. to participate in curbside organics collection or to buy efficient vehicles or appliances. Others are all about the stick, e.g. changing the Zoning Ordinance to TELL people what they have to do to be righteous – or else. I have long felt that mandates are what people make when they fail to make a convincing case on the merits.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a small business parking pilot that would allow temporary on-street employee parking during typical daytime operating hours. [Charter Right Exercised By Mayor McGovern.]   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons

I’m interested to see where this goes. People seem to have forgotten that there used to be a lot more unregulated spaces around the city, i.e. neither Resident Only nor sporting a parking meter. In fact, it has often been said by the folks at Traffic & Parking that parking meters are installed not for the revenue but rather to ensure sufficient turnover adjacent to businesses. I don’t know that I believe them anymore. What I do remember is that an enormous number of unregulated spaces were changed to regulated spaces during the days of the Interim Parking Freeze because that was one way to get spaces in the Commercial Parking Bank that could be used in the permitting of new commercial development. The deal was that for every two spaces you regulated you could put one in The Bank. Prior to that there were unregulated spaces that were available to people who worked at local businesses or who taught in Cambridge schools. I’m sure some of the anti-vehicle zealots in the Community Development Department would set themselves on fire rather than agree to ease up on any parking restrictions, but simple deregulation of some spaces in some areas (while keeping some time restriction for nonresidents) might actually be a good way to resolve this dilemma.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council by June 11 with an updated schedule for resubmitting a revised draft of the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance that incorporates suggestions from the Light Cambridge Committee.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

I was wondering when this would again be brought back into the spotlight. The original idea to tone down lights glaring through bedroom windows was worthwhile (even though it originally – and wrongly – appeared as a proposed zoning amendment rather as a municipal ordinance) before it got clogged up and bogged down by its own details. That and the desire of some people to clamp down on lighting in places where they have no business calling the shots. Indeed, there are some places, e.g. Central Square, that would benefit by the return of some pretty spectacular lighting.

Tree HouseApplications & Petitions #1. A petition was received from Sue Butler, et al, regarding concerns of excessive speed on Clinton Street in mid-Cambridge, requesting the City install three speed bumps or speed platforms along the length of Clinton Street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to explore the possibility of improving road safety conditions on Clinton Street.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

As near as I can tell, it took just one car getting clipped when backing out of a Clinton Street driveway to get this response. There must be some Very Special People living on Clinton Street. To borrow from the statement in this petition, I just want to point out that "there are small children and pets and elderly people" living on probably every street in Cambridge. Perhaps we all deserve to have "three speed bumps or speed platforms" installed along the lengths of all our streets.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to complete a tree canopy study based on the April 2018 LiDAR data before the end of 2018, and to complete future LiDAR based studies as frequently as possible, but no more often than once a year.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley

I do like seeing the data generated by these studies, but I also find it curious how trees have become the defining Cambridge political topic for 2018. From one bandwagon to another, I suppose. I am once again reminded that there are Carrot Councillors and Stick Councillors. Some will prefer to give you encouragement and incentives to preserve trees on your property, while the others will make you hire a lawyer and file a string of permit applications before taking action against your resident Ents. – Robert Winters

May 7, 2018

On the Agenda – May 7, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:04 am

On the Agenda – May 7, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Another week, another nonappearance of the much-heralded "Divest HP" matter. Perhaps it will never appear – good riddance. As for actual agenda items, here are some:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a supplemental appropriation of $125,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures account to support the revitalization of the Martin Luther King Plaza, the art components and enhance the primary entrance into the Central Square Branch Library.

While the improvements are appreciated, what would be even better is if an additional deck or two were added to the Green Street garage to compensate for future losses if and when housing (and more) is built on some of the area’s surface parking lots. The whole facade of the library branch should also be reimagined. Today it appears to be little more than a public urinal and shelter for substance abusers. This would never be tolerated in Harvard Square, so why do we tolerate it in Central Square?

Charter Right #1. That the Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review and consider the proposed amendment to §10.17.070– “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers” for a hearing and report. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor McGovern on Apr 30, 2018]

When the lead sponsor of an Order calling for increases in Resident Permit fees responds to a Facebook comment that said "Ban cars" with a "Like", then I have to believe this isn’t really about the revenue.

Communication #15. A communication was received from Steve Sands, 4 Buckingham Street, regarding Hewlett Packard Boycott.

I normally don’t pay much attention to these sorts of things (except for the fun or it), but this gentleman captures the absurdity of the HP thing perfectly.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a small business parking pilot that would allow temporary on-street employee parking during typical daytime operating hours.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

Oh my God! A reasonable viewpoint about compromise and reality.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City staff to work with all Harvard Square stakeholders, including the Harvard Square Business Association, the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, abutting businesses, and Harvard University to actively engage the community in a design charrette process with a view in mind towards making Palmer Street a more active and inviting pedestrian walkway and public space.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

Great idea, and I would love to participate even though I don’t fit into any of the named categories. Shared streets (woonerfs) are a great idea that seems to fail in the execution, e.g. Palmer Street, Blanche Street. I want to see both of those streets looking like a crowded street fair after all the trucks have made their deliveries. Palmer Street, in particular, is perhaps the street with the least motor vehicle traffic and it’s in the middle of busy Harvard Square. It’s interesting that nobody seemed to give a damn about Palmer Street until the Harvard Square Business Association tried to do something positive about it and caught grief for it.

Palmer Street - May 6, 2018
Even at MayFair, Palmer Street lacks activity
(except as a place to park the kid trolley)

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to develop a plan to achieve the above policy goals as it relates to the digital divide.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons

This week’s "I want municipal broadband" Order. I would like to see an Order that asks for a Cable TV package that can get Red Sox games for less than $100/month.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting a memorandum regarding Bike Lanes, Street Use, and Micro-Mobility Challenges Facing Cambridge.

I really like reports like this from Councillor Kelley. Sometimes he seems like the only councillor who thinks broadly about transportation and the future. [Hint: It’s not just about PVC plastic posts, segregation, and aggressive political lobbies claiming "turf".] – Robert Winters

April 30, 2018

Leaving April, Come What May – Spring Treats on the April 30, 2018 City Council Menu

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:32 am

Leaving April, Come What May – Spring Treats on the April 30, 2018 City Council Menu

First Sign of SpringOnce again, the much-heralded "Divest HP" matter is NOT on this week’s agenda, so if you want to get excited about this irrelevant initiative, come back in another week or so. Meanwhile, we close out April and look forward to the Lusty Month of May with the following featured treats:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $200,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the abatement and demolition of Vail Court.

Mister DePasquale, Tear Down These Walls!

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Blake & Knowles Foundry at 101 Rogers Street.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Cheney Read House at 135 Western Avenue.

These are highlighted because I really enjoy these histories and appreciate the work put in by the Historical Commission in producing them.

Charter Right #1. An application was received from the Harvard Square Business Association requesting permission for a temporary lighted banner across the Public Way located at 12 Palmer Street. [plus Communications #6,7,8,9,13]

Much Ado About Nothing. Objections from those who probably also disapprove of multi-colored Christmas lights as being too garish.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to the recipients of the Outstanding City Employee Awards.   Mayor McGovern

This awards event is one of my favorite City events. The attendees are almost entirely City employees and their families, but it’s an open event and really special.

Order #3. That the Ordinance Committee is requested to schedule a public hearing to consider the proposal put forward by the City Manager to amend Chapter 12.16, Section 12.16.170 of the Municipal Code, (the “Street Performers Ordinance”).   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

The proposed changes primarily involve easing up the fee structure for some street performers.

Order #4. Campaign Finance Reform.   Councillor Toomey

I haven’t yet seen a proposal for municipal election campaign reform that I can support and which is legal. I’m also not yet convinced that there’s a need for this at the local level.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide a report on the history of Constellation Charitable Foundation’s Parcel C in Kendall Square including tax status and other relevant information on the site.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon

This is a timely Order. The City Council may want to consider some changes to the zoning for this site as well as ways to leverage the original intentions formulated nearly 20 years ago when what was then the ComEnergy site was developed by David Clem and Lyme Properties as Cambridge Research Park. A performing arts center may still be a good use to be integrated into the site by the next owner if the finances and zoning can be made to work.

Order #6. That the City Council go on record supporting the Mass Senior Action Agenda.   Councillor Simmons

It’s good common-sense legislation.

Order #8. That the Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review and consider the proposed amendment to §10.17.070– “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers” for a hearing and report.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

As near as I can tell, Councillor Zondervan’s rationale behind his proposal to jack up the resident parking fee to $35 and then $40 is that Somerville charges $40. Some have argued that the fee should be nominal rather than either punitive (because motor vehicle operators are considered evil in Cambridge) or just another revenue generator. A $40 fee isn’t going to convince many people to give up their vehicle, but many of us don’t appreciate councillors raising fees simply because they can or because they get a rush out of the revenue paid by drivers being used to create obstructions to driving in the city.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to prioritize the installation of protected bike lanes and bicycle traffic signals in Porter Square.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

The proposed changes that were presented a couple of months ago were pretty good for all users, including cyclists.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Chair Councillor E. Denise Simmons, of the Civic Unity Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 27, 2018 to discuss whether the City’s Boards and Commissions adequately reflect the demographic makeup of the community.

Goals vs. Requirements – That is the question. I’ll stick with goals.

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 Wed, Apr 11, 2018 to discuss topics related to the MBTA bus service.

Committee Report #3. 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 Mar 28, 2018 to discuss Retail Strategic Plan.

I could say more about any of these committee reports, but for now they are provided here only for your reading pleasure. – Robert Winters

April 22, 2018

Budget Season Returns – Featured Attractions on the Apr 23, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:14 pm

Budget Season Returns – Featured Attractions on the Apr 23, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Budget Season!On this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the FY19 submitted budget and appropriation orders.

The Bottom Line is that the total proposed FY2019 Budget is $622,477,255. That’s up 5.3% over last year’s FY2018 budget of $591,057,460. You may want to take a longer view at the multi-year comparisons. The largest budget increases are actually in the Executive Department (City Manager’s Office) with a 21.1% one-year increase. The budget for the Mayor’s Office jumped by 11%.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $650,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects, and a new boiler at an Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $61,500,000 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 The Port neighborhood, and the River Street neighborhood.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $21,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

In addition to the Operating Budget, the City also each year seeks authorization to borrow significant amounts for various capital projects (presumably at very favorable interest rates thanks to our multiple AAA bond ratings). This year’s loan authorizations total $88,150,000.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Public Investment Fund account to fund snowstorm related road repairs and capital equipment.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $2,475,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to fund snowstorm related expenses associated with snow plowing and snow removal contracts, salt, other materials, repair costs.

Winter doesn’t come cheap. In addition to the amount already budgeted for FY2018, there are these $3,475,000 supplemental appropriations. You can See It and Click It, but it costs money to Fix it.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-23, relative to repairs to the Harvard Square Portland Loo and methods to prevent service interruptions in the future.

Whoever thought a bathroom would turn into a winter research project. I still think we should have found a way to integrate these bathrooms into existing buildings with actual heating systems.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Election Commission effective May 2, 2018 for a term of four years: Victoria Harris

Congratulations to Victoria Harris. Unlike some years, the City Manager had several qualified candidates from which to choose. Congratulations also go to outgoing Commissioner Polyxane Cobb who did an outstanding job during her time as an Election Commissioner.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of three years, effective May 1, 2018: Olivia D’Ambrosio and Michael Monestime.

Two more outstanding appointments. I do, however, have to make one correction. Contrary to the narrative provided, Michael Monestime and his family now live in North Cambridge, a.k.a. the suburbs, though he’s still our Man in Central Square.

Applications & Petitions #5. A Zoning Petition was received from Douglas Brown Et Al, regarding Zoning petition that aims to balance the future health and safety impacts of climate change.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this petition. There was supposed to be a petition filed several weeks ago that went by the name "The Pause Petition" that sought to put all new construction in the Alewife area on hold. That proposed Moratorium was endorsed by the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee (NCSC), the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance (FPRA), the Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR), Green Cambridge, and the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CResA). It was met by a harsh response from the folks from A Better Cambridge (ABC) and others who saw it primarily as a mechanism to stop the building of new housing and, in particular, "affordable housing". Soon thereafter, the moratorium morphed into this new petition wrapped in green, i.e. "Zoning Amendments for a Flood and Heat Resilient Cambridge". Some parts are cribbed from the preliminary recommendations being developed for Alewife as part of the Envision Cambridge process, but there’s little doubt that a significant goal of this petition is to make it a lot more difficult to build in some areas – particularly the Alewife area.

In addition, there is a very prescriptive 2nd half of this petition that seeks to introduce a "Green Factor" to rule over any new construction requiring a Project Review Special Permit under Section 19.23 of the Zoning Ordinance [50,000 gross sq. ft. or more in all applicable zoning districts – except Business A, Business A-1, or Business A-2 districts where the threshold is 20,000 gross sq. ft.]. This Green Factor "uses a value based system to prioritize landscape elements and site design that contributes to the reduction of stormwater runoff, the improvement of urban air quality, mitigation of the urban heat island effect, and improved well-being of residents and visitors." Without surveying all built properties in the city, I think it’s a fair guess to say that very few of them would have a "Green Factor" that would satisfy the wishes of the petitioners. However, it’s already the case that most new significant building proposals in Cambridge that go before the Planning Board go to great lengths to factor environmental benefits into their plans with the possible exception of those built in dense urban settings (such as the major Squares).

My sense is that this will play out politically in such a way that instead of the "Pause Petition" being spun as blocking housing, this new Petition will be spun as something only a climate-change-denier could oppose. But that’s just politics. Personally, I think the petition should be divided into two separate petitions – one dealing with potentially flood-prone areas (and specifically parts of the Alewife area) and another that focuses specifically on the sustainability stuff citywide. I do think the "Green Factor" approach is overly prescriptive, but it would not be a bad outcome if a handbook of recommended standards grew out of this exercise – even if it was separate from the Zoning Ordinance.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and any other City departments to work with the MBTA to address the above listed necessary improvements to the Harvard Square Station Tunnels while they are being renovated.   Vice Mayor Devereux

The "above listed improvements" involve temporary relocation of stops, minor schedule adjustments, increased foot traffic in Harvard Square, repaving of bus tunnel roadways, hopefully better lighting and seating in the bus tunnels, general repair and restoration, and maybe even restoration of some of the artwork. To this you can add the current T elevator work that’s going on there (as well as in Central Square).

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City staff to ensure that an additional commitment of $20 million from the City’s budget is devoted over the next five years toward the City’s efforts to preserve and create affordable housing units.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

As I often point out, the term "affordable housing" is a euphemism for regulated housing obtained by applying either to the Cambridge Housing Authority or similar agency. It is not the same as addressing the goal of affordability of housing in Cambridge and in the greater Boston area.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to contact the Constellation Charitable Foundation to receive an update on plans for the Parcel C in Kendall Square and when development can be expected to begin.   Councillor Toomey

Based on the press release last week, that’s a question best addressed by whatever party buys the property. When that sale happens the Constellation Charitable Foundation will be out of the picture.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City Staff, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Friends of Poorman’s Landing, and the East Cambridge Planning Team to ensure the timely repair of Poorman’s Landing.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

In addition to the letter and the pages specific to Poorman’s Landing, the recently published (Jan 2018) Cambridge Riverfront Plan is worth the read.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to produce a report for use by the Housing Committee that contains information pertaining to the appropriate language for the creation of an Affordable Housing Overlay District.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

I repeat – The term "affordable housing" is a euphemism for regulated housing obtained by applying either to the Cambridge Housing Authority or similar agency. It is not the same as addressing the goal of affordability of housing in Cambridge and in the greater Boston area.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 22, 2018 to gain a better understanding of the extent of the City’s digital divide and to explore possible ways to increase digital access.

I’m sure this will get a lot of play during the upcoming Budget Hearings, but the bottom line is still The Bottom Line – the related proposal that the City should build its own municipal broadband system is a very expensive proposition. Furthermore, the jury is still out on whether exposing the City to this financial risk is even a wise approach. Everybody wants alternatives to the Comcast monopoly, but there may be better ways to achieve this.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 21, 2018 to discuss the implementation of the Short-Term Rental Ordinance.

It doesn’t help that AirBnB seems to be sending the message out to all of its "hosts" to join them in their lack of cooperation.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 18, 2018, to discuss confirming the City’s Manager’s selection of Margaret Drury as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA).

Slam dunk easy call on the reappointment of our most esteemed former City Clerk Margaret Drury to the revitalized Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Dosha E. Beard, Executive Secretary to the School Committee, transmitting a copy of an order from the School Committee recommending the FY19 General Fund Budget of the Cambridge Public Schools be adopted in the sum of $191,069,500.

This represents a pretty steady 31% of the City’s Operating Budget (just in case you were wondering). – Robert Winters

April 1, 2018

Preview of April 2, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 9:06 pm

Preview of April 2, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City Hall postcardHere’s my pass at this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-33, regarding a report on whether or not Chapter 4.25 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance applies to the Inman Square redesign project and therefore whether or not a report should be made to the Planning Board.

The upshot: "Vellucci Plaza was taken by the City for a purpose (public open space) protected by Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution ("Article 97"), and as such is subject to the protections of Article 97. Therefore, it is likely that if a road is constructed through a portion of Vellucci Plaza at its current site, legislative approval will be required [the State legislature, that is, and not just the City Council]. Although the construction of a roadway on land protected by Article 97 requires legislative approval, it does not require relief from the provisions of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance."

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to compile a list of single family homes which could be purchased by the Affordable Housing Trust and converted to Single Room Occupancies or Housing Cooperatives.

And the train keeps a rollin’. Every week it’s another proposal to transfer private property to public or quasi-public ownership. Is this really the ideal "vision" for the future? Will such acquisitions be uniform across the city or concentrated in just some neighborhoods?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to place a commemorative plaque at eye-level at the plaza in Harvard Square dedicated to former judge, Mayor, and City Manager Joseph DeGuglielmo so that it is more prominent to pedestrians.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

For you newcomers, Joseph A. DeGuglielmo, better known as "Joe DeGug", began his public career in 1938 as Assistant City Solicitor of Cambridge. He first ran and was elected to the Cambridge City Council in 1945 and served 8 consecutive terms (1946-1963). He was elected every time he was a candidate and was chosen by his colleagues as Mayor for the 1952-53 term. Two years after leaving the City Council he was hired as City Manager in February 1966 and served through January 1968. In 1971, he was appointed an associate justice of the Boston Municipal Court by Governor Francis Sargent. He retired from the bench in 1978. He died in May 1983. His nephew is Jimmy Tingle – comic and now candidate for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts.

Order #4. That the City Council encourage residents to be more conscious of their water consumption during the month of April, to take steps to reduce storm water runoff on their own property, to prevent polluted runoff from entering our water system, and to find time to engage with our natural areas.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Being conscious of water consumption, reducing stormwater runoff, and engaging with our natural areas are clearly good things, but perhaps the message regarding the prevention of polluted runoff entering our water system is best directed to the inhabitants of Waltham, Weston, Lexington, and Lincoln where our primary water source is located.

Order #5. City Council support of House Bill 3857, “An Act providing tax relief for rent-burdened individuals and families."   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui

This bill would increase the rental deduction for the Mass. state income tax and index it for inflation. It would also restrict eligibility for the deduction to taxpayers who earn no more than 100% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Law Department, Community Development Department and any other appropriate City departments regarding the feasibility of requiring property owners to give the City written notice when a storefront becomes vacant, including plans for finding a new tenant and keeping the premises tidy and in compliance with all applicable codes to mitigate any negative effects or safety concerns on the neighborhood.   Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon

This is a good intention that needs amendment. Property owners should not be required to inform the City the moment a storefront becomes vacant or be made to instantly submit future plans for tenancy. Perhaps the City Council could establish a time frame after which these steps might be required – somewhere between a few months and Gerald Chan time.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to notify the owners of the former Harvard Square Theater that the City Council has requested that they provide a firm schedule for when they will submit their application to the Cambridge Historical Commission and begin the public engagement process along with a projected timeline for the rest of the process through completion of the project, once the necessary permits are granted.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

Speaking of Gerald Chan, whatever became of those good-looking plans for the transformation of the old Harvard Square Theater on Church Street? Tick tock tick tock……

Order #9. That the City Council go on record in opposition to the oppressive policies of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and Saudi Arabia.   Councillor Zondervan

But they are letting women drive! Isn’t that generous? Seriously, if we’re going to single out repressive regimes that use religion and/or ideology to justify brutal repression, then let’s start a list. It won’t be a short list.

Order #10. City Council support of Massachusetts Resolve H. 4159: "Resolve creating a task force on sexual misconduct climate surveys for colleges and universities in Massachusetts."   Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons

Good idea all around. You have to first measure the extent of a problem if you want to adequately address it.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to work with Trinity Property Management to give the nearly 200 tenants of the EMF building additional time beyond Apr 30, 2018 to find new space, considering the unique circumstances and outsized impact of this eviction.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

This a completely reasonable Order, but ultimately the only way to preserve space for uses such as these is through ownership of the building. Begging for handouts from the City is not a solution. Haven’t we produced a few nationally known artists who wouldn’t mind being seen as heroes by swooping in, buying and outfitting a building or buildings for this purpose? Where are you Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and Casey Affleck? Wasn’t this your neighborhood? Maybe you guys can assemble a team. Give Mindy Kaling and John Malkovich and Sam Waterston and Jane Curtin a call. Maybe Lenny Clarke can pitch in a few bucks.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to allow autonomous vehicle (AV) testing in Cambridge provided certain conditions are met.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

Please, just don’t. – Robert Winters

March 26, 2018

Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:33 pm

Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City Hall postcardHere’s my take on what looks interesting this week.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as new members of the Planning Board for a term of three years, effective Apr 2, 2018: Nikolas Bowie and Corinne Espinoza

Though it doesn’t say it in the communication, both of these appointments are as Associate Members of the Planning Board replacing Ahmed Nur and Thacher Tiffany.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-18, regarding a report on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance.

Two notes:
(1) As Commissioner O’Riordan states: "We have heard from businesses concerning the cost of alternative products. For example; at a Harvard Square establishment, one service item increased in cost from $0.03/unit to $0.50/unit. In North Cambridge another retailer indicated that their new containers cost three times more after the ordinance went into effect."
(2) Plasticware that is marketed as "compostable" is, for all intents and purposes, not actually compostable (except under very specialized conditions).

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-19, regarding Central Square pedestrian signals.

The proposed modification seems like a good plan that will not unnecessarily add to traffic congestion while providing a degree of additional safety and clarity.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2018 and ending Mar 31, 2019.

The water rates are again held constant as the sewer rates continue to soar. The projections indicate that in the coming years the water rates will start to rise slightly and the sewer rates will moderate somewhat. It’s worth reminding everyone that most of these costs are fixed costs, so as people do a better job at conservation the rates inevitably have to rise to cover the fixed costs.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to explore the possibility of accepting the City of Boston’s invitation to join their intergenerational housing pilot program.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

People have been doing this since the dawn of time – renting rooms to younger people who can lend a hand as they benefit from decent rents, but it’s definitely an idea that deserves promotion.

Order #2. That the City Manager conduct, compile, and publish an inventory of all City-owned vacant buildings and lots with the City’s plans for them, if any.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Devereux

Two words – Land Bank. This same concept was floated by then City Councillor Ed Cyr (and possibly others) about 25 years or so ago using the term "Land Bank". It inevitably led to a conflict among different priorities, esp. open space vs. "affordable housing", though there was at least one case in which a proposed site provided parking (and a turnaround) for a very congested dead end street. I’m sure there are some sites that should be made available for housing (whether "affordable" or just plain housing), but I’d hate to see the perception of "crisis" lead to the stifling of all other alternatives.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to appoint an appropriate City representative to work with the Historical Commission, the Veterans Services Department, representatives of the Cambridge African American Heritage Trail, Cambridge Historian Jon Hill, and any other appropriate parties in an effort to place markers on the graves of Mr. Cato Freeman and Mr. Neptune Frost at the Old Harvard Square Burial Ground, a marker for Mr. Agrippa Hull on the Cambridge Common, and markers for any other early unsung patriots of color that we may yet determine have been hidden in the shadows of history for far too long.   Councillor Simmons

This is a great idea. It’s probably also a good time to review and refurbish some of the historical markers all around Cambridge. We could also use an updated guide book for walking tours in both the Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Cambridge Cemetery highlighting the many significant people buried in these cemeteries.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development, the Executive Director of the Cambridge Arts Council, and the City Solicitor with a view in mind of drafting of an Arts Overlay District ordinance that would achieve the goals of creating and preserving spaces for the arts in the Central Square Cultural District.   Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

While I think this is a good idea, I hasten to add that there are a lot of people who need or would want "live/work space" who you might not necessarily label as "artists".

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to compile a list of single family homes which could be purchased by the Affordable Housing Trust and converted to Single Room Occupancies or Housing Cooperatives.   Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

I think that the concept of Rooming Houses or Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residences is something that fell out of favor over the years but which might again make some sense in this age of micro-units, short-term rentals, and people choosing to live with relatively few possessions. That said, I’d hate to see this used as a pretext for the City to relentlessly buy up the city’s housing stock. The fact that this Order specifically asks to "compile a list of single-family homes available on the market in Residential A1, A2, and B zones" seems rather politically motivated. Wouldn’t it be better to simply provide some financial and other incentives to property owners to configure their properties so as to address current needs?

Order #9. City Council opposition to any legislation that would remove or limit the options of municipalities to pass local ordinances regulating short-term rentals to include accessing tax revenue similar to what is done with hotels and motels.   Councillor Kelley

This was at the center of the discussion at last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting on the subject of the City’s regulation of short-term rentals. Briefly, the industry people (AirBnB) wanted to influence legislation now on Beacon Hill to permit taxation on short-term rentals by amending it to remove local regulatory controls as a precondition for accepting the potential revenue. This crooked attempt was apparently thwarted in the House, though the bill is now before the Senate and will likely have to go through a conference committee prior to its final passage and, presumably, the Governor’s signature. – Robert Winters

Extra: Summary of what the House did last week on the AirBnB bill.
AirBnB is in favor of being taxed, but came out in opposition to the state registry where their hosts would have to share their personal information. The amendment referenced above in regard to Order #9 and referred to as amendment #11 in the House bill) was directed at the proposed (and now on hold) City of Boston regulations on short term rentals which would regulate them according to how many days a host rented out units. This amendment was apparently never seriously considered and will likely not have much support in the Senate either. It came from an industry lobbyist (possibly representing a short term rental group called StayAlfred).

Much of the work up to this point on other short term rental bills has been to tax them like hotels. This bill introduces a whole new tax structure for short term rentals and the Senate may return to that structure.

Summary of the current bill

  • The bill would require the Department of Revenue to maintain a short-term rental registry, record the name of each host and the address of each unit they offer, and give the department the authority to charge a "reasonable fee" for registration. An "easily searchable and regularly updated" list of unit addresses — without the host’s name — would be published online.
  • Rentals would be taxed at levels ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how many units a host offers. Residential hosts renting two or fewer units would be taxed at 4 percent, investor hosts with three to five units would have a 5.7 percent tax, and professionally managed hosts renting six or more units would face an 8 percent tax per rental, under the bill.
  • Cities and towns would have the option to impose local excise taxes of up to 5 percent for residential hosts, 6 percent for investors, and 10 percent for professionally managed hosts. Communities that opt for the local tax would need to adopt ordinances or bylaws requiring any residential units offered as short-term rentals first undergo a safety inspection, the costs of which would be charged to the host.
  • Half of the local tax collected from professionally managed hosts would need to be dedicated to "programs addressing either local infrastructure needs or low- and moderate-income housing programs," according to the bill. A Rep. Kevin Honan amendment adopted Thurs, Mar 22 would require that at least 25 percent of that tax money be distributed to low- and moderate-income housing programs.
  • The taxes in the bill would kick in a year after the bill’s effective date and would not apply to units that rent for less than $15 a day.

Also, an amendment was adopted that provides:
“Any city or town that has a safety inspection program in place as of the effective date of this act may deem any previously completed inspections of residential units to be in compliance with this requirement.”

This should avoid the need for duplicative inspections for hosts who register with Cambridge and then must also register to comply with state law.

March 19, 2018

Pre-Spring Fling – March 19, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:34 am

Pre-Spring Fling – March 19, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallWhile we wait for the next Nor’Easter, here are a few things up for discussion this Monday. Sorry for the minimal comments, but I have to go to work.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the recommendation to reappointment Margaret Drury as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Board for a term of five years.

Former City Manager Bob Healy’s inspired appointments that revitalized the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority in April 2012 continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-28, regarding Housing Choice Designation.

Cambridge continues to provide its share of new housing and then some. It will be great if this leads to some infrastructure funding under this new program. Now if we can only get all the other cities and towns in the area to do the same we might actually make a dent in the problem of actual affordable housing (as opposed to subsidized housing).

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-25, regarding a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Study.

The City will authorize a thoughtful Nexus Study which will be followed promptly by several city councillors stumbling over each other to be the one who demands the greatest increase in the linkage fee regardless of the recommendations in the study.

Order #1. City Council support of S. 2306, “An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement.”   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon

Good idea worth supporting. The idea here is that “American history and civics education shall be taught as required subjects for the purpose of promoting civic service and a greater knowledge thereof, and of preparing students, morally and intellectually, for the duties of citizenship…” Take note that this refers to education so that students can develop well-informed points of view and make informed decisions. This should not be about training students to hold any predetermined point of view.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Election Commission regarding the possibility of instituting early voting in the 2019 municipal election.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

While we all hope to have good voter turnout and an informed electorate in all elections, I’m not at all convinced that the key to either of these goals is expanding the number of days during which people can vote. With 34 precincts spread around the city and a 13 hour window during which people can vote, there really is no problem here that needs a solution and there is a significant cost associated with this proposal.

Order #5. City Council support of implementing protected bicycle infrastructure on the Longfellow Bridge.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I can only see this making sense if the width of the planned bicycle lanes are insufficient and result in slow-moving cyclists being too close to faster moving motor vehicles. The last diagram I saw had a 5.5 foot bicycle lane (plus an 8.5 foot wide sidewalk) toward Boston and a 6 foot bicycle lane (plus a 10 foot wide sidewalk) toward Cambridge. Those are good widths and installing barriers in the roadway could be problematic for emergency vehicles.

Order #6. City Council support of S.2302 "An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future."   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

Few would argue with the goals, but it would be helpful to hear about what costs are associated with this very long list of proposed requirements.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Departments to help facilitate the associated activities with the "Affordable Housing Week of Action."   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to apply for a federal Opportunity Zone designation on behalf of the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

Order #9. City Council support of S.548 "Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017."   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

All three of these Orders refer to "Affordable Housing". Though I certainly don’t want to overstate this, the term "affordable housing" as a euphemism for "subsidized housing" has always irritated me. During Envision Cambridge meetings and elsewhere it has now become common for people to say things like "Capital A Affordable Housing" in order to clarify that they mean housing that receives some form of subsidy. Wouldn’t it be better to just use plain English? If it’s subsidized – either by government funds or by skewing rents in privately owned inclusionary housing – then it should be called Subsidized Housing. I was able to afford my triple-decker and have provided housing at affordable rents for over 30 years to my tenants, yet this is never acknowledged as "affordable housing". At best, City bureaucrats will refer to it as "small a affordable housing".

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to sign off on any Host Community Agreement for the purposes of filing an application with the State for an adult use cannabis retail establishment within the City of Cambridge, provided that said Host Community Agreement includes the maximum allowable taxation and relevant provisions that are substantially similar to or the same as those under which current medical cannabis establishments operate in the City.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Simmons

I’m just glad I live on a street with an elementary school, two Montessori pre-schools, and a day-care center. That should keep the stoners at a tolerable level.

Order #11. That the Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee be and hereby is requested to schedule a meeting to discuss parking options for City and School employees who do not get jobs that come with parking.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Considering the list of sponsors of this Order, I would have expected a mandate that these School employees ride their bikes to work or be required to buy Teslas.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to have a funding plan in place to develop and implement protective barriers for Fresh Pond for the FY2018-19 budget.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor Devereux

I would like to see a more detailed rationale for this. Of course we all want to ensure the quality of our water supply (except Gary Mello), but the examples given in the Order are coastal locations that are vulnerable to storm surges. Any vulnerability of Fresh Pond would more likely come from sustained rain events and limitations to evacuating that stormwater primarily via the Alewife Brook and Mystic River.

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