Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 11, 2018

Rhetorical Conflict – Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:46 pm

Rhetorical Conflict – Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

BicycleThe battle for turf in the Rhetorical War continues this week with troops massing at the borders over the meaning of Vision Zero and Safe Streets. Continents could be sinking and frogs raining from the sky, but we’ll once again get to witness the turf war over allocation of space on Cambridge roads (and sidewalks). Word has it that the Boston Cyclists Union has already rung the alarm and asked all troops to report for duty in the Sullivan Chamber on Monday to argue against "safe streets for all" if that might translate into giving up an inch of sand on the beachhead of segregated bike lanes. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the City hosting a Big Press Conference this past week announcing its Vision Zero Plan – basically reducing the speed limit to 20mph in the major Squares (a good thing) and creating a rhetorical framework to hush up anyone who questions future road reconfigurations. After all, you know, Vision Zero. If you don’t like flexi-posts or traffic congestion or if you raise issues about road conditions in winter and safety considerations at intersections, surely you must be against traffic calming and in support of danger. Public Comment on Monday promises to be great (that is to say – bad) theater with about a 30 year age difference in opposing sides in the battle over the definition of safety.

Frankly, I’d rather talk about public transportation, but that would have far less drama. I was also unable to witness the presentation last week on the Battle of Inman Square that pitted tree huggers vs. bicycle segregationists (which actually pitted some people against themselves) in the elusive redesign of this crossroads.

Here’s the menu of my personal favorite dishes being served up at this gathering:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Lechmere National Bank building at 225/227 Cambridge Street.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages located at 40 and 44 Cottage Street.

Communications #3-10,12-17. Fourteen letters opposing historical landmark designation of 40 Cottage Street.

We are blessed with our most excellent Historical Commission who generate landmark designation reports (and other publications) that are incredibly good. These two reports are no exception. In a city with so many significant historic buildings it’s not surprising that the Historical Commission is recommending landmark status in both of these reports. What makes this noteworthy are the communications – many of which were generated from the same template. Some of them even make reference to the "weaponization of the Historical Commission landmark study and designation process". Personally, I hope the homeowners of 40 Cottage Street will be allowed to renovate their home to the highest energy efficiency standards while maintaining as much historical integrity as possible. That said, either your building is landmark-worthy or it’s not, and I’d say the report strongly suggests that this one is. It’s true that various legal processes are routinely used in Cambridge to stall or block projects, but I guess it apparently does matter whose ox is gored. If you know the right people then it’s called "weaponization", and otherwise it’s called "neighborhood preservation". In any case, it will be good to hear more about how the Historical Commission balances preservation vs. modernization in a time when energy conservation and sustainability are prioritized.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Sustainable Materials Recovery grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the amount of $38,800 to the Grant Fund Department of Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance Account which will be used toward the purchase of food waste collection bins for the citywide curbside organics program.

The starting date is now less than two months away. Speaking as the man formerly known as "Compost Man", I’m eager to see how this plays out and what problems arise as this service is rolled out citywide. I’m also mindful of the fact that this is just as much a rediscovery of former best practices as it is of innovative new practices.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-111, regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways.

In short, the report doesn’t endorse using art to calm traffic. We had a good way of handling this when I was a kid growing up in Queens, New York. We painted bases and baselines on the street and played stickball. The message to drivers was abundantly clear and there was never an altercation. We would also chant "Car Car C-A-R" when a car was coming. Other streets had hockey goals in the street that had to be moved to allow cars to pass, but nobody ever complained. We never called these "neighborways." We just called them streets.

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-01, regarding a report on possibility of a supermarket opening at 20 Sidney Street.

Perhaps nothing will come of this, but at least there’s this: "Community Development Department (CDD) staff have reached out to real estate representatives at several grocery chains, including Market Basket, Aldi, Trader Joes, and bFresh to inform them about the opportunity and connect them to Forest City. Several grocery store representatives mentioned that they do not have plans to expand at this time, or that the space is too small for their traditional size requirements. Regardless, CDD staff has relayed the grocery store chains contact information to Forest City staff. Staff will continue to explore options and communicate with Forest City about possible tenants.” In my view Aldi is the one that might work best at this site, but only if the rental agreement makes it economically feasible.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Public Health Department regarding the current status of zoning language and public health regulations for the keeping of hens and food cultivation and proposed next steps to advance the Urban Agriculture initiative.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

Perhaps we can just dispense with the supermarkets and just buy our milk and eggs from Farmer Jones down the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works to report back to the Council on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance, including implementation, enforcement, and remaining concerns among the business community.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

When I was on the Recycling Advisory Committee (22 years, I believe) I often learned how some initiatives that were very appealing were actually counterproductive or, at best, a break-even proposition. For example, a "paper" drink cup is still lined with plastic, and when you take away the paper there is still a significant amount of plastic – perhaps more than in a "Styrofoam" cup. This Order asserts that expanded polystyrene (EPS), a.k.a. "Styrofoam", has been shown to leach harmful chemicals into food and beverages, but most reliable sources dispute that or note that any potential hazard is negligible. The real problem is that it’s difficult to recycle economically and it doesn’t really biodegrade.

Regarding the ban of plastic bags, except for the fact that the plastic gets caught in the machinery at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the environmental benefits of paper bags over plastic bags is not a slam dunk. Reusable bags, on the other hand, win the argument easily. That’s why the Cambridge ordinance is best referred to as the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Ordinance rather than as a plastic bag ban (which it isn’t).

The jury is still out regarding the polystyrene ban. Some places now provide "compostable" plasticware, but recyclers aren’t keen on it because it doesn’t really biodegrade along with other organics except under very specialized conditions. Also, biodegradable plastic is often hard to distinguish from other plastic and this compromises the recyclability of all plastics. I suppose none of these details matter to city councillors as long as it makes them appear "environmental". I am, of course, interested to hear what DPW has to say about how the polystyrene ban has fared.

Order #4. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to establish a new working group consisting of a diverse set of stakeholders, including cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, small business owners, EMS/first responders, and City Officials to discuss the results of the protected bike lane pilot using clear evaluation criteria, and how best to construct a cohesive network in the future.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Kelley, Mayor McGovern

This is simply the fulfillment of the Jan 25, 2017 memo from Iram Farooq (CDD), Owen O’Riordan (DPW), and Joseph E. Barr (Traffic). That memo states in regard to the Cambridge St. reconfiguration:

Evaluation Process
A critical part of the process will be evaluation of this corridor, both to make adjustments for future installations and to help stakeholders understand how this demonstration project is working. To provide adequate time for users to adjust to the changes, we expect the demonstration to last at least six months, after which we will make decisions about whether to retain the demonstration as a permanent improvement and whether any changes or tweaks are required based on the performance during the demonstration period.

While the exact details of the evaluation are still being determined and will be discussed as part of the community process, we expect to look at the following data both before and after implementation:

  • Parking use: occupancy and availability along both the main corridor and the adjacent side streets
  • Traffic volumes: motor vehicles and bicycles
  • Transit performance: stop dwell time, travel time, and ridership
  • Traffic compliance with parking and lane use: motor vehicles and bicycles
  • Speed
  • Crashes (acknowledging that it can be difficult to draw conclusions based on a limited period of time)
  • Ability to maintain bike path, in winter and for street cleaning.
  • Retail access: customer mode share survey
  • Retail success: sales tax receipts (if available) or other data

In other words, there was always supposed to be a evaluation of this Separated Bicycle Lane Demonstration. It’s interesting that at least one city councillor seems unable to grasp this in saying, "The protected lanes are here to stay and this order may suggest to some they are not." There is little question that enhanced bicycle (and pedestrian and motor vehicle) safety is the rule of the day (because, you know, Vision Zero), but the question remains how best to achieve this. Furthermore, saying that an evaluation will be "data driven" is insufficient. For example, banning all motor vehicles would surely produce data showing a reduction in motor vehicle crashes, but that would not imply that the ban was good policy or that a better solution was not possible.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to create additional opportunities for the community to evaluate and understand the plan to redesign Inman Square and to provide input, including: walk-in clinics between now and the next community meeting and making more details available online including alternative designs considered but deemed unworkable, traffic simulations, and other relevant data or information.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Perhaps nobody wants to hear this but there really are currently two feasible options available for Inman Square. One is the "current plan" to wipe out the trees in Vellucci Park, relocate some of that space to the north side, and move all bicyclists onto the sidewalks. The other is to keep Inman Square more or less as it is with its newly painted green stripes for bicycles and maybe with some tweaking of the signals, lane markings, and pedestrian phases. Do we have any safety data on how the intersection is working since the "temporary" changes were made last year?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report on progress and efforts made to date to provide greater access to internet services citywide for low income residents.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons

Translation: Some advocates want municipal broadband whether or not there is the demonstrated need or demand, and the fact that Cambridge has a significant "free cash" position will be perpetually used to justify any required expenditures. I also wonder sometimes what fraction of people nowadays use only their phone to access anything online (and to, of course, post silly pictures).

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone and Councillor Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Jan 24, 2018 to discuss the Zoning Petition filed by Peter Kroon, et al, to amend Section 20.50 of the Zoning Ordinance in the " Harvard Square Overlay District" dated Sept 28, 2017.

This might win the all-time award for longest committee meeting leading nowhere. At least we now know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

2017 City Council Campaign Receipts, Expenditures, and $/Vote – FINAL REPORT

Filed under: 2017 election,Cambridge,campaign finance,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 3:27 pm

The following table shows the total campaign receipts and expenditures for 2017 Cambridge City Council candidates. You can sort by any of the fields shown by clicking on the field name – one click ascending and second click descending. Figures reflect the period from Dec 1, 2016 through Jan 31, 2018.

CandidateIDReceiptsCambridge% CambridgeExpenditures
(to Jan 31)
#1 Votes$/Vote
Moree, Gregg14683$905.22$905.22100.0%$905.2246$19.68
Devereux, Jan16062$59,949.50$54,043.5090.1%$50,613.591699$29.79
Levy, Ilan16173$13,706.86$12,350.0090.1%$12,008.79246$48.82
Kelley, Craig14104$26,327.86$20,500.6077.9%$24,886.391092$22.79
Musgrave, Adriane16657$34,162.97$26,223.9976.8%$33,749.31
580$58.19
D'Ambrosio, Olivia16520$7,900.00$5,600.0070.9%$7,945.19216$36.78
Carlone, Dennis15680$40,675.89$28,275.0069.5%$35,908.611176$30.53
Harding, Richard16737$34,500.49$22,641.0065.6%$34,318.46836$41.05
Mallon, Alanna16530$55,932.88$36,539.7065.3%$51,094.851329$38.45
Burgin, Josh16709$24,189.02$14,124.5258.4%$24,104.02392$61.49
Sutton, Bryan16713$1,314.44$719.9554.8%$1,293.0845$28.74
McGovern, Marc15589$88,717.14$48,362.4954.5%$85,337.311880$45.39
Benjamin, Ronald16493$1,262.55$677.0053.6%$1,434.52242$5.93
Siddiqui, Sumbul16556$47,574.60$21,795.0047.9%$36,190.552532$14.29
Zondervan, Quinton16516$62,916.69$29,649.4247.1%$64,073.971565$40.94
Toner, Paul16576$85,390.87$39,693.2646.5%$111,739.75980$114.02
Tierney, Sean16559$31,620.29$14,400.0045.5%$30,779.71779$39.51
Simmons, Denise13783$70,646.47$29,385.0041.6%$93,897.962616$35.89
Toomey, Tim12222$75,092.81$27,067.8636.0%$41,063.881619$25.36
Volmar, Gwen16691$13,374.56$4,713.9435.2%$12,839.56248$51.77
Santos, Jeffrey16686$14,708.95$4,964.3033.8%$12,667.82147$86.18
Sivongxay, Vatsady16528$38,639.88$11,829.0030.6%$37,933.19740$51.26
Gebru, Samuel16531$66,642.14$19,805.0329.7%$65,323.20787$83.00
Okamoto, Nadya16596$10,189.49$1,235.0012.1%$10,603.52550$19.28
Lenke, Dan16771$0.00$0.00-$920.0054$17.04
Pillai, Hari16770$0.00$0.00-$0.00107$0.00
2017 City Council Campaign Receipts and Expenditures (last updated Feb 11, 2018 at 10:33pm)

Note 1: Figures reflect the period from Dec 1, 2016 through Jan 31, 2018.

Note 2: Adjustments to the totals have been made to reflect returned donations, candidate loans repaid, etc.

Note 3: There will be no additional updates except for corrections. This table is meant to give an idea what the actual total receipts and expenditures are for a full municipal election cycle. The choice to use a 14 month period is somewhat arbitrary but reflects what seems to be when campaign activity starts up and winds down.

Vote!

February 6, 2018

2017 Cambridge City Council Campaign Bank Reports

Filed under: 2017 election,Cambridge,campaign finance,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:14 pm

The following table shows the summary bank reports for 2017 Cambridge City Council candidates. You can sort by any of the fields shown by clicking on the field name – one click ascending and second click descending.

CandidateFromToStartReceiptsExpendBalanceAs OfNotes
Benjamin, Ronald01/01/1701/31/18$9.00$1,426.56$1,432.52$3.0402/01/18
Burgin, Josh06/16/1701/31/18$0.00$23,649.50$23,649.50$0.0002/01/18
Carlone, Dennis01/01/1701/31/18$17,827.87$36,169.32$43,908.61$10,088.5802/05/18Expenditures includes $8000 loan repayment
D'Ambrosio, Olivia01/01/1701/31/18$122.75$7,775.31$7,917.94-$19.8802/01/18
Devereux, Jan01/01/1701/31/18$8,715.10$55,616.36$50,574.17$13,757.2902/01/18$13672.25 transfers subtracted
Gebru, Sam01/01/1701/31/18$0.00$65,289.04$64,965.46$323.5802/01/18loans and refunds subtracted
Harding, Richard07/01/1701/31/18$1,961.06$34,985.39$34,318.46$2,627.9902/01/18$50 returned check deducted
Kelley, Craig01/01/1701/31/18$2,231.84$24,844.39$22,124.58$4,951.6502/01/18$100 returned check subtracted
Lenke, Dan08/16/1701/31/18$0.00$1,248.57$920.00$328.5702/01/18
Levy, Ilan07/16/1701/31/18$0.00$11,964.47$12,008.79-$44.3202/01/18$750 loan reimbursement subtracted
Mallon, Alanna01/01/1701/31/18$100.00$54,736.18$49,455.73$5,380.4502/01/18$900 in refunds subtracted
McGovern, Marc01/01/1701/31/18$14,966.66$70,826.09$79,416.58$6,376.1702/01/18$500 returned check subtracted
Moree, Gregg08/16/1701/15/18$0.00$905.22$905.22$0.0001/15/18$174.78 loan subtracted
Musgrave, Adriane05/16/1701/31/18$0.00$34,223.98$33,749.31$474.6702/01/18
Okamoto, Nadya03/16/1701/31/18$0.00$10,947.09$10,603.52$343.5702/01/18
Pillai, Hari07/24/1701/15/18$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0001/15/18
Santos, Jeffrey06/07/1701/31/18$0.00$13,516.75$12,561.21$955.5402/01/18$116.61 loan subtracted
Siddiqui, Sumbul02/16/1701/31/18$0.00$45,524.60$36,190.55$9,334.0502/01/18
Simmons, Denise01/01/1701/31/18$10,179.79$70,105.13$72,689.42$7,595.5002/01/18$500 excess subtracted
Sivongxay, Vatsady01/01/1701/31/18$0.00$37,905.88$37,872.35$33.5302/01/18
Sutton, Bryan06/16/1701/31/18$0.00$1,229.49$1,208.13$21.3602/01/18
Tierney, Sean02/01/1701/31/18$0.00$31,570.29$29,029.71$2,540.5802/01/18
Toner, Paul02/16/1701/31/18$0.00$86,325.01$86,159.48$165.5302/05/18
Toomey, Tim01/01/1701/31/18$4,069.67$70,081.14$49,126.17$25,024.6402/01/18$200 refund subtracted, $18144.68 loan repayments included
Volmar, Gwen06/09/1701/31/18$0.00$12,965.56$12,430.56$535.0002/01/18
Zondervan, Quinton01/01/1701/31/18$3,510.00$62,436.05$64,666.39$1,279.6602/01/18
2017 City Council Bank Reports (updated Feb 6, 2017 at 10:14pm)

Campaign Finance Reports – 2017 City Council (updated Feb 6, 9:50pm)

Vote!

February 5, 2018

Coming up at the Feb 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 3:49 pm

Coming up at the Feb 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere’s my first pass (and Gronkowski didn’t pull this one down either) at the interesting agenda items with the usual brilliant/annoying observations.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to inquire whether the Community Development Department will apply for the Targeted Brownfields Assessment Grant regarding Jerry’s Pond.   Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley

Many people may have forgotten this by now but there were once plans to enhance that whole area – not only by making Jerry’s Pond an available resource but also doing, dare I say, some development in the vicinity of the MBTA headhouse east of the parkway and within the fenced-in area associated with the W.R. Grace site on the north side of the path. First it was the threat of naphthalene in the soil, and then asbestos. I will never believe that permanently fencing in a contaminated site near a T station is preferable to cleaning it up and turning it into a resource rather than a liability.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City Department to gain a sense of who is purchasing buildings in Cambridge.   Councillor Simmons

I think this will be very interesting information, and not only because I’d like to see just how much property Gerald Chan now owns in Cambridge. At least he lives nearby. The greater problem is that in an uncertain world there’s a lot more financial security in Cambridge real estate than in either pork bellies or Chinese financial markets. This reality is not always compatible with the quaint old notion of buying property either because you want a place to live or you need a place to operate your business. Cambridge property has in many ways become primarily a place to store wealth. Barring some new form of gold rush elsewhere I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Order #6. That the City Manager explore the possibility of an "ALL WALK" pedestrian signal at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Prospect Street, and River Street.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

As appealing as this may seem, the traffic volumes on these streets may dictate otherwise. The greatest problem is the conflict between pedestrians crossing Mass. Ave. and right-turning vehicles from River Street onto Mass. Ave. There used to be a "slip lane" there, but that was even more hazardous for pedestrians. The real problem, in my opinion, is that many drivers and pedestrians don’t have a clue about how to balance assertiveness and courtesy. I’m reminded of a small book from about 35 years ago called "The Boston Driver’s Handbook: Wild in the Streets" that really said it all, especially the Cambridge tradition of acting aloof when crossing in Harvard Square.

I often think about writing a story on "How to Be a Pedestrian in Cambridge" complete with a guide to hand gestures and best ways to stop vehicles with just a look. These lessons will, of course, be lost on habitual cell phone users.

Order #7. City Council support of Representative Provost and the Cambridge Legislative Delegation’s efforts to pass a Right of First Refusal Bill, with an amendment for cities to provide final implementation modifications as needed.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Please explain how this will apply to a multi-family homeowner who wishes to do a formal sale to family members or close friends for a price well below what is dictated by the market. – Robert Winters

January 29, 2018

Featured Items on the Jan 29, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

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

Featured Items on the Jan 29, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Mayor McGovern has appointed the City Council committees and their Chairs pending final adoption of the City Council Rules. In addition, here are just a few of the noteworthy agenda items:

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding efforts to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations, the feasibility of appropriately placing electric vehicle chargers on residential streets where there is need, the status of possible City fleet replacement to electric vehicles, expanded outreach and education on available rebates and incentive programs, and the feasibility of requiring developers to include a greater number of electric vehicle charging stations in new or substantially renovated multi-unit buildings. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons on Jan 22, 2018.]
Approved as Amended, Add’l Order Approved to also refer to Health & Environment Committee

This Order from last week exposed a potentially pretty significant rift. It’s one thing to require electric vehicle charging capacity in new residential and commercial construction, but providing charging stations on public streets basically means that only those who can afford a $100,000+ Chevy Volt or comparable vehicle will be able to use those parking spaces. [Correction: It’s the Tesla Model S that went for ~$100K. The Chevy Volt apparently goes for ~$30K.] It’s understandable that people without driveways might want a mechanism for charging their cars (since running power cords across the sidewalk or down the street is not an option), but how will it go over with the neighbors if only some people are privileged to use these parking spaces?

Unfinished Business #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018 to discuss and suggest changes to the City Council Rules and transmitting recommended changes to the City Council Rules.
Approved – and copies of the amended Rules were made available at the meeting

I honestly don’t know what Rules Changes they finally settled on at last week’s meeting. The meeting materials only show the suggestions from the Ad-Hoc Committee and it’s simply not worth reviewing the video to find out what the Council decided on before referring the revised version to Unfinished Business. It’s primarily just nickel-and-dime stuff anyway.

Communications #16-25 and #27 transmitting written opposition to the Peter Kroon, et al. Harvard Square Overlay District Zoning Petition.
Referred to the Petition

In addition to these communications, most of the public comment at last week’s Ordinance Committee meeting was against the petition. I believe there may now be or will soon be expressed written opposition from more than 20% of the affected land ownership which means that a three-quarter super-majority vote would be needed to pass the Kroon Petition, i.e. 7 votes instead of 6 out of 9. I don’t think it had the votes anyway, but it apparently doesn’t matter because the Ordinance Committee failed to move it out of committee so it can’t be passed to a 2nd Reading on Monday and it therefore cannot be ordained prior to the expiration date. It seems likely that a revised version will be filed after the Feb 19 expiration.

One particularly offensive part of the Ordinance Committee discussion centered on term limits on membership on the Harvard Square Advisory Committee and the desire of the petitioners and some councillors to drive one particular person out of the Chair and maybe even off the advisory committee entirely. There is a notification in this week’s agenda for the reappointment of two 20+ year members to the Library Board of Trustees. Will the City Council now argue that they should be booted from the Board in the quest for "new blood"? City boards & commissions benefit greatly from having a mix of newer members and long-time members who carry a lot of institutional memory and skills. Having a good balance is what’s really important.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor and any other appropriate City departments to report back to the City Council with an update on any work that is currently underway regarding regulating adult use marijuana and to suggest next steps to the Council.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern
Approved

This is a timely order. The Trojan horse of medical marijuana facilities has already entered the city and it has the munchies.

Vision Central SquareOrder #4. That the City Manager is requested to explore funding options for the possibility of creating a Business Improvement District (BID) for Central Square.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern
Approved

It is quite apparent that groups like the Harvard Square Business Association and the Central Square Business Association are already taking on some of the rules associated with a Business Improvement District. This may be the right time to make this official in Central Square. The benefits are many and the down sides are few.

PS – The Central Square Business Association and its most excellent Executive Director Michael Monastime hosted an especially good charrette on Saturday on the future of Carl Barron Plaza in the heart of Central Square. This was just the first of what will be many opportunities for public input on the upcoming River Street reconstruction project (from the river to Carl Barron Plaza) that will commence at some point in the next year or so.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department with the view in mind of creating a list of mitigated private spaces that are available to the public, what the exact eligibility of using these spaces is, and making the list available to the public.   Councillor Toomey
Approved

This is a welcome request. Most people have no idea what spaces are available for use and what rules govern the use of these open spaces and meeting spaces. It will be great if this information can be made available along with information on all City-owned resources that are available for public use. Ideally there should also be a list of all spaces in churches and other buildings that are available for use at modest cost for meetings and events.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works and the City Engineer on the potential of utilizing trenchless technology, micro tunneling and/or pipe jacking to lessen the time and impact on the residents of Gore Street.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Mallon
Approved

Order #8. That the City Manager maximize the community benefits from and mitigating the impacts of the Cambridge Crossing sewer construction.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Toomey
Approved

Suffice to say that if during the construction of that dedicated sewer line the century-old water mains and gas mains are replaced (which will have to occur at some point anyway), that is, in itself, significant mitigation. If some of the electrical infrastructure can also be renewed and moved from poles to underground that would be even better.

Order #7. Endorsing Requests for Action or Further Study for the I-90 Allston Interchange Project in Boston.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone
Approved

This is a complicated project with the potential for a lot of benefit and a fair amount of disruption during construction. I won’t offer any opinions just now, but there are plenty to go around. It’s worth the read.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor Marc C. McGovern, transmitting the City Council Committee Assignments for the Council Term 2018-2019 pending adoption of the Rules as amended.
Placed on File

There’s nothing particularly stunning about the appointments – mostly natural matches of function and interest. There are maybe three out of the 11 standing committees that could become cauldrons of controversy, but it’s probably best to wait and see. I’ll let you guess which three. – Robert Winters

January 22, 2018

Choice Bits from the Jan 22, 2018 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:34 pm

Choice Bits from the Jan 22, 2018 Cambridge City Council agenda

Peoples Republic of CambridgeHere’s my first pass at what seems interesting (at least to me):

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $23,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Elections Commission Other Ordinary Maintenance Account to reimburse funds used for the 2017 voter guide printing and mailing. The reimbursement is necessary to cover other election related expenses.

Voter turnout went up in the 2017 municipal election by about 26% from 17,959 to 22,581. There were many factors – reaction to the 2016 presidential election, multiple vacancies and a large field of interesting new candidates, several issues whose flames were fanned by activists, increased use of social media and related tools to target voters, and the citywide mailing of the voter guide. It’s hard to say which factors had the greatest effect. I’ll add that the most well-funded campaign was unsuccessful while a new candidate soared over quota with relatively little campaign funding. Perhaps money is no longer, as Tip O’Neill used to say, "the mother’s milk of politics".

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5 million from Fund Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures account, for the City’s first contribution to the GLX project.

This expenditure has me thinking about the Mass Pike (I-90) realignment project now being planned for the Allston-Brighton area across the river, and the current omission of the proposed West Station that was to be part of it. I have been reading about suggestions that since the concurrent new development in that area would primarily be by Harvard University, then perhaps Harvard should be providing the funds for the new station. Could this be the new normal, i.e. that developers and host cities who would benefit by new transit should pay for the transit? The realization of the Green Line Extension seems to have been made possible, at least in part, by the promise of financial contributions from Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, and the developer of the NorthPoint area.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt parts of the Kroon, et al, Harvard Square Zoning Petition and to further study some parts.
[Original Petition Text][CDD Memo – Nov 8, 2017][Revised Petition Text][Planning Board Recommendation]

There is wisdom in the Planning Board recommendations (as usual). It is especially interesting to see the Board agreeing that the "formula business" regulations adopted not long ago for Central Square would also be appropriate for Harvard Square (and presumably elsewhere). The Board makes a special point regarding the review of signage which might be subject to review by both the Historical Commission and the Planning Board. [Frankly, I think the issue of signage is overstated. Some business districts, e.g. Central Square, would benefit from some additional "gawdy" and "spectacular" signage.] Despite some legal risk in moving toward "formula business" regulations, it is far preferable to some previous regulation such as the regulation of "fast food". One other positive recommendation from the Planning Board is for the exemption of below-grade space from floor-area limitations. This is consistent with the Barrett Petition of a couple of years ago. The Planning Board also cites the City’s recently completed Retail Strategy. Indeed, the whole matter of the table of uses in the City’s various zoning districts needs some attention.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding efforts to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations, the feasibility of appropriately placing electric vehicle chargers on residential streets where there is need, the status of possible City fleet replacement to electric vehicles, expanded outreach and education on available rebates and incentive programs, and the feasibility of requiring developers to include a greater number of electric vehicle charging stations in new or substantially renovated multi-unit buildings.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

It’s worth noting that Eversource doesn’t exactly have the best track record for proactive electric utility planning in Cambridge. They generally upgrade service only when new development requires it or if the service fails. If electric vehicle charging locations are installed on some Cambridge streets it seems likely that increased capacity will be needed and aging and failed service will have to be upgraded – like on my street where the underground service failed several years ago and where numerous "temporary" quick fixes are now the norm.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Public Works to publicize and enforce a “zero tolerance” policy on space savers, working to remove them as quickly as possible following snow events.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Is this really a widespread problem in Cambridge? The only places where I have seen this are on streets near public housing. A better solution would be to selectively have even/odd side parking restrictions during which all snow is pushed back all the way to the curb and/or consolidated – assuming there are no plastic "flexi-posts" there to prevent it.

Order #4. City Council support of the New York City climate lawsuit.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

I’m starting to get the sense that every City Council meeting agenda is going to have several climate change-related Orders, and that this will become the universal public policy litmus test – even for things that have little or nothing to do with climate change.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to explore mechanisms for achieving greater levels of snow clearing by the city and increase the public response during major snow events or heavy snow winters.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

See above.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Chief Information Officer for the City and report back with information regarding electronic device usage and current processes regarding the same.   Councillor Toomey

Did the exiting three councillors run off with their City-issued computers and phones?

Order #8. That the Mayor is requested to work with the appropriate City staff to establish a method of effectively communicating the new rules for the 2018-2019 City Council term with the members of the public.   Councillor Simmons

I’m on it.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018 to discuss and suggest changes to the City Council Rules and transmitting recommended changes to the City Council Rules.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux regarding the outcome of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee hearing.

There were some good ideas and some not-so-good ideas expressed at this meeting. It doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing any realignment of the Council committees. At some level it doesn’t really matter. The real question is whether or not the councillors actually show up for the committee meetings and if they decide to take up matters of substance. – Robert Winters

January 14, 2018

Civic Nerdiness

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 7:42 pm

Civic Nerdiness

Annual Documents SealThis week on Tuesday, Jan 16 at 2:30pm, the City Council’s Ad-Hoc Rules Committee will conduct a public hearing in the Sullivan Chamber to discuss and suggest changes to the City Council Rules. This committee consists of Vice Mayor Devereux (Chair) and Councillors Mallon and Kelley; as well as Donna Lopez, City Clerk; Nancy Glowa, City Solicitor; Maryellen Carvello, Office manager to the City Manager, and Wil Durbin, Chief of Staff to the Mayor.

I suppose it must be the pinnacle of civic nerdiness to care about the City Council Rules, but the structure of the City Council subcommittees, their mission, the number of members on each committee, and what constitutes a quorum are actually contained within the City Council Rules. From this civic nerd’s point of view this actually is significant. In an ideal world the subcommittees should be where most of the detail work takes place. Unfortunately, it has sometimes been the case that these subcommittees become little more than discretionary devices for their respective Chairs where matters that sometimes have little to do with the purpose of the committee are pursued. In addition, there have been some topics in the last few years that didn’t really have a natural match to any of the existing City Council committees or which were taken up by what might be viewed as the wrong committee. For example, if there is a Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, why were matters relating to bicycle transportation handled within the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations Committee? [I would restructure the committees just to shorten the name of that one.]

It’s interesting to look at what the standing committees have been at various times in Cambridge history. Here are a few snapshots, including some recorded in the City’s Annual Documents (yes, I really do have these original books on my shelf):

Joint Committees: 1887
Accounts
Almshouse
Assessor’s Department
City Engineering
Claims
Finance
Fire Department
Fuel
Health
Lamps
Ordinances
Printing
Public Instruction
Public Property
Roads and Bridges
Rules and Orders
Water Supply

Standing Committees
of the Mayor and Alderman

Bonds
Claims
Elections and Returns
Fire Department
Health
Licenses
Police
Roads and Bridges
Sewers

Standing Committees
of the Common Council

Bills in the Second Reading
Elections and Returns
Enrolled Ordinances

Joint Committees: 1911-1912
Accounts
Assessor’s Department
City Engineering
City Home
Claims
Finance
Fire Department
Health
Highways
Legal Matters
Legislative Matters
Ordinances
Parks
Printing
Public Property
Public Instruction
Water Supply
Wires and Lamps

Standing Committees
of the Board of Alderman

Bonds
Cemeteries
Claims
Elections and Returns
Fire Department
Health
Highways
Licenses
Parks
Police
Rules and Orders
Sewers
Soldier’s Aid
Street Railways

Standing Committees of the Common Council
Bills in the Second Reading
Elections and Returns
Enrolled Ordinances
Rules and Orders

City Council Committees: 1938
Americanization and Education

Bonds

City Engineering

City Planning

Claims

Elections and Printing

Finance

Health

Industrial Development

Legislative Matters

Licenses

Military Affairs

Ordinances

Parks and Cemeteries

Public Celebrations

Public Property and Public Institutions

Public Safety

Public Service

Roads and Bridges

Rules and Orders

Soldier’s Aid

Water Supply

Wires and Lamps

City Council Committees: 1998
Cable TV and Communications

Civil and Human Rights

Claims

Economic Development, Training, and Employment

Elder Affairs

Environment

Finance

Food Policy

Government Operations

Health and Hospitals

Housing and Community Development

Human Services and Youth

Ordinance

Public Safety

Public Service

Rules

Sister Cities

Traffic and Transportation

Veterans

City Council Committees: 2000
Cable TV, Telecommunications, and Public Utilities

Civic Unity

Economic Development, Training, and Employment

Finance

Government Operations, Rules, and Claims

Health and Environment

Housing

Human Services

Neighborhood and Long-term Planning

Ordinance

Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations

Public Safety

Transportation, Traffic, and Parking

Veterans

City Council Committees: 2012
Cable TV, Telecommunications, and Public Utilities

Civic Unity

Claims

Community Health

Economic Development, Training, and Employment

Environment

Finance

Government Operations and Rules

Housing

Human Services

Neighborhood and Long Term Planning

Ordinance

Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations

Public Safety

Transportation, Traffic, and Parking

University Relations

Veterans

City Council Committees: 2016
Civic Unity

Economic Development and University Relations

Finance

Government Operations, Rules, and Claims

Health and Environment

Housing

Human Services and Veterans

Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations

Ordinance

Public Safety

Transportation and Public Utilities

City Council Committees: 2018
?????

It’s likely that prior to the adoption of the Plan E Charter that went into effect in 1941 there was either the need or the desire for more oversight of City departments, and both the number and the nature of the City Council (and Board of Alderman) committees seem to reflect this. Some standing committees are essentially permanent (Ordinance, Finance), but others clearly change with the times and even with the desires of individual councillors. What should be the focus of City Council subcommittees for the 2018-2019 City Council term? Should they remain the same? Are there any priorities that warrant a redefinition of the Council subcommittees? Should we revive some committees from the long past?

If you have any ideas, come to the meeting Tuesday afternoon. – Robert Winters

January 7, 2018

Cold Start – Jan 8, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting (and more)

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:57 pm

Cold Start – Jan 8, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Cold StartThis first regular meeting of the 2018-2019 Cambridge City Council will be chaired by our newly minted Mayor Marc McGovern. As one might expect, it’s a short agenda as the new and returning councillors settle in. City Council committee appointments may not be settled for a few weeks, so the only business will be what takes place in the regular Council meetings for now. There is one active zoning petition and 15 items from Awaiting Report that were requested to carry over to the new Council.

Here are some agenda items this week that seem interesting:

On the Table #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, regarding assessing and approving Neighborhood-Based Resiliency. [Tabled on the motion of Councillor Kelley on Dec 18, 2017]

I remember when the term "Sustainability" was first popularized. It took people years to decide what the word really meant with various interested people and groups trying to fashion it in a way that suited their ideals and/or agendas. I’m not really sure what was ultimately decided. Though I have some idea what the term "Resiliency" might mean, e.g. hardening of infrastructure, my sense is that we’re in a place similar to where we were with "Sustainability" 25 years ago. For example, does Alewife Resiliency translate into transit-oriented development with better connections for all transportation modes or does it mean "Don’t build anything there because there may be flooding at times." The current narrow political dichotomy will likely answer in two radically different ways. Soft definitions are always risky propositions.

Order #1. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to reach out to representatives of supermarkets other than Star Market, such as Market Basket, to determine the possibility of their opening a location at 20 Sidney Street, and to report back to the City Council on this matter.   Councillor Simmons

There has been an active discussion about the store closure on the Cambridgeport listserv over the last few days. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote there:

The Memorial Drive Stop & Shop closed in May 1994 which left the Cambridgeport area very much in need of a local supermarket. I believe it was in 1997 when University Park (really Forest City) offered to host a Star Market in their hotel/garage building. This was definitely done in order to sweeten the deal in order to obtain the necessary curb cuts (and let’s not forget the discontinuation of Blanche Street). There had been a City analysis of access to supermarkets in the wake of the Stop & Shop closure that informed the University Park decision.

At the time a lot of us felt that the whole concept of a 2nd floor supermarket with paid parking (though a discount was offered) was not a sustainable plan, but there really was a serious need for food access at that time – especially for Area 4 (now The Port) and MIT people who would get there on foot. Some of that logic has changed in recent years as more people live without motor vehicles, but most people who do any significant grocery shopping will choose to drive to a place like Market Basket in Somerville not only for the prices but also because there’s (usually) available parking. It’s virtually impossible that Market Basket would want to operate in the University Park space. It’s completely contrary to their very successful business model in which they own most of the locations of their stores and pay no rent. There are other operators that have a very different business model that might be able to make it work at this location, but only if University Park is willing to negotiate a rent that can make it sustainable.

Though I don’t believe there is any legal obligation that University Park must continue to host a supermarket, I think there’s at least some moral obligation to do so. The original University Park plans called for a "marketplace" that was never built (as well as a movie theater), and some might argue that the inclusion of the Star Market was a sort of making good on that original concept. Perhaps more significantly, the offer to host the Star Market came at a point when the matter was before the Planning Board and the City Council (for the curb cuts), and it was part of the negotiation even if there was no formal commitment to maintain the supermarket in perpetuity. – RW

Back in 1998 I wrote this: "We also learned at this meeting that an agreement has been worked out with the new Star Market at University Park that would make parking for the supermarket free for the first 1½ hours. This was one of the stickier issues a few years ago when the City voted to grant various curb cuts and to discontinue Blanche Street in order to make way for the hotel and supermarket." – Sept 14, 1998 in CCJ Issue #12

Here’s what I wrote on June 16, 2000: "There have also been persistent rumors about just how permanent the Star Market is at that location. For now, at least, it appears to be staying put." Well, it lasted longer than I thought and is now scheduled to close on Feb 3, 2018. Hopefully another supermarket operator can be found and that Forest City/University Park will be willing to offer a long-term lease with terms that can can allow a supermarket to economically operate there. Not everyone wants to shop by bike at Whole Paycheck.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on progress made in regards to the Stated Goals of the City Council, as outlined during the 2016-2017 City Council term.   Councillor Simmons

Goals are important, but the primary goal should be to not spend an endless time talking about them. – Robert Winters


The Upshot: There was a very healthy discussion regarding the future of the supermarket site in University Park. Look for some community meetings to take place in the coming weeks and months.

Mayor McGovern has appointed Councillors Carlone and Kelley as Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee.

Mayor McGovern also appointed a Special Ad-Hoc Rules Committee to review the City Council rules and the recommend any changes, including possible restructuring of the City Council subcommittees. This Ad-Hoc Committee will consist of Vice Mayor Devereux (Chair) and Councillors Mallon and Kelley; as well as Donna Lopez, City Clerk; Nancy Glowa, City Solicitor; Maryellen Carvello, Office manager to the City Manager, and Wil Durbin, Chief of Staff to the Mayor. This committee is requested to come back with recommendations in time for the next City Council meeting on January 22.


Jan 1, 2018 – The 2018-2019 Cambridge City Council was inaugurated this morning in the Sullivan Chamber of City Hall. After each elected councillor took the oath of office, the new City Council took care of its first order of business – the election of the Mayor. Though the eventual outcome was already known to many in the room for the last few weeks, there is always at least some drama due to the possibility that an alternate deal could be struck in the interim. However the vote went more or less as predicted with Marc McGovern being elected as Mayor for the 2018-2019 term. The initial vote was 7-2 for McGovern with Councillors Simmons and Toomey casting their votes for Tim Toomey, but Councillor Simmons changed her vote to McGovern to make the final vote 8-1.

After a speech by the newly elected Mayor McGovern that stressed themes of unity the Council then elected Jan Devereux to serve as Vice Chair of the City Council for the 2018-2019 term. That vote was initially 5 votes for Jan Devereux and 4 for Denise Simmons, but Alanna Mallon and then Craig Kelley changed their votes to Devereux to make the final vote 7-2 with Councillors Simmons and Toomey voting for Simmons.

After these proceedings there were several statements by councillors thanking Sandra Albano for her 47 years of service to the City and especially her role managing the City Council office since 1982. Sandy’s last day on the job is tomorrow – Jan 2, 2018 – and it’s hard to imagine City Hall without her.

Perhaps the high point of the entire Inaugural Meeting was Cambridge Police Deputy Superintendent Pauline Carter Wells singing John Lennon’s song "Imagine" – just as she did two years ago and just as inspiring.

Later in the day, starting at 6:00pm, the newly elected 2018-2019 Cambridge School Committee took their oaths of office and elected Kathleen Kelly as the Vice Chair (who will be responsible for making all subcommittee appointments). That vote was initially split with Manikka Bowman and Laurance Kimbrough voting for Manikka Bowman; Emily Dexter and voting for Patty Nolan; and Fred Fantini, Kathleen Kelly, Patty Nolan, and Marc McGovern voting for Kathleen Kelly. Emily Dexter and Laurance Kimbrough then changed their votes to Kathleen Kelly leading to the final 6-1 vote to elect Kathleen Kelly.

Mayor McGovern has tapped Wil Durbin to serve as Chief of Staff of the Mayor’s Office. He also tapped Luis Vasquez to be in charge of constituent services and outreach. Both are inspired choices.

The Plan E Charter only designates the Mayor as Chair of the City Council and the School Committee. All other roles and initiatives of the Mayor and the Mayor’s Office are at the discretion of the Mayor, and every Mayor defines their role differently. Mayor Simmons was a wonderful Mayor for the last two years and our newly elected Mayor McGovern promises to be just as inspiring in how he defines his role for the next two years.

One last note: A new portrait of former Mayor Barbara Ackermann now graces the back wall of the Sullivan Chamber. This was an extra special treat. – RW

Mayor McGovern oath
Marc McGovern is sworn in as Mayor
Mayor McGovern
Mayor McGovern’s inaugural address
Pauline Carter Wells sings "Imagine"
Pauline Carter Wells sings "Imagine"
Barbara Ackermann portrait in Sullivan Chamber
Barbara Ackermann portrait in Sullivan Chamber

The Mayors of Cambridge

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