Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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.

March 4, 2018

On the Agenda – March 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:08 pm

On the Agenda – March 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here are the things sure to get a rise out of at least someone:

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine why there continues to be significant audio and video difficulties during live internet broadcasts of City Council meetings, how these difficulties can be resolved. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons as Amended.]

I have no idea what this was delayed or even debated last week. These live webcasts as well as the Cable TV broadcasts have always had problems no matter how many times they have been "fixed". That said, I’m not so sure that the best solution would be to host official proceedings on YouTube.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons as Amended.]

There are places where this makes sense and other places where it would be a pointless restriction. It makes a lot of sense in our pedestrian intensive major Squares and a few other places but, like the boy who cried "wolf", if you overplay your hand you run the risk of the restriction being generally ignored.

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Simmons.]

Carlone Smashes Capitalism!Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk, Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Carlone, submitting draft language on "AN ACT TO PRESERVE AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE THROUGH A TENANT’S RIGHT TO PURCHASE".

This is the most incorrectly titled piece of legislation I have seen in a long time. It should more properly be titled "AN ACT TO EXPAND EMINENT DOMAIN AUTHORITY TO INCLUDE ALL RENTAL PROPERTY AT TIME OF SALE". Any city councillor who supports this as written doesn’t deserve to ever be reelected. The same goes for any member of the state legislature who supports the proposed home rule legislation.

When you read through the details of this proposal it becomes clear that the most likely outcome will be that the "right of first refusal" will be directed to the City or one of its agents – especially in certain neighborhoods targeted for this treatment, and slowly but surely more and more rental properties will no longer be privately owned. If our elected officials actually want to do something useful, they should devise ways to encourage multi-family ownership by small landlords. This would do a lot to support housing affordability for middle-class residents and their tenants. This was the primary method of middle-class housing affordability in Cambridge for the last century.

Update: I was very pleased to see Carlone’s pilfered Somerville proposal soundly defeated on a 2-7 vote with only Carlone and Zondervan in favor. Carlone, in particular, should reconsider his practice of using ghost writers for legislative proposals. The original order to have the City Solicitor draft the language also died on a 3-6 vote with Siddiqui joining these two on this misguided proposal.

Apparently (according to Zondervan) both Boston and Somerville are pushing this same approach to move as much privately owned rental property as possible into public ownership, and he was "embarrassed" that Cambridge would not be joining them. It doesn’t surprise me that the Revolutionary Guard in Somerville (a.k.a. the current Board of Alderman) is pushing this. After all, revolutionaries tend to lose their credibility when not smashing capitalism or overthrowing something. I have to wonder if Boston is actually in favor of this. There are a lot of two-family and three-family buildings in Boston and a lot of owner-occupant small landlords who will not be pleased at this taking.

Resolution #1. Resolution on the closing of Ryles Jazz Club.   Councillor Toomey

When I first moved to Cambridge 40 years ago the first building I was ever in was a gymnasium at the corner of Harvard and Prospect Streets (now and office building) to play frisbee in February, and the second building was Ryles for beers afterwards. I hope that a similar use can continue in that space.

Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of William "Bill" Noble.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

There was an obituary in the Feb 26, 2018 Boston Globe for Bill Noble – longtime tenant activist and one of the central figures at Cambridge City Council meetings during the rent control years in Cambridge. Present at most City Council meetings during many of those years were Michael Turk, Connie Thibaut, and Bill Noble from the Cambridge Tenants Union (CTU). There was a time when public comment at meetings happened whenever in the meeting a particular agenda item came up, so it was often necessary to stay through the end of the meeting if you wished to give public comment. The mainstays of the CTU were often there for the whole meeting. Some of the other regulars are quoted in the obituary. Bill Noble was also actively involved with the Riverside-Cambridgeport Community Corporation (RCCC – though everyone called it "R Triple C").

It was an interesting coincident that the obituary for Bill Noble was published the same day that many of the Small Property Owners Association (SPOA) from way back when were at the City Council meeting opposing what they see as a back-door attempt to impose similar controls on property that they successfully opposed nearly 25 years ago. It was almost like a virtual reunion – and a reminder of how Cambridge used to be an ongoing political war zone.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Community Development Department to apply on behalf of the City of Cambridge for the Housing Choice Designation before the Apr 30, 2018 deadline.   Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon

At last week’s City Council meeting, City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement in the everlasting quest to build a new bridge over the railroad tracks west of the Alewife Brook Parkway that would connect the Alewife Triangle and the Alewife Quadrangle, but he gave no specifics. Everybody was intrigued about what he was driving at. [By the way, the only people who call it "The Quad" are people who attended prep school.]

I heard of one possible mechanism through which funding might be derived to build this bridge. The Governor recently created the "Housing Choice Initiative" which allows communities to apply to the state to be recognized and designated as a "Housing Choice Community." To qualify, you have to either show that you’ve produced a certain rate of new units or adopted certain best practices. Cambridge would be in that top tier for housing produced and would qualify. Communities that qualify would get an advantage in applying for discretionary state funding and exclusive access to a new capital fund called the "Local Capital Projects Fund", which will be funded by casino revenue. More information is available at: https://www.mass.gov/housing-choice-initiative

Wouldn’t it be great if a by-product of Cambridge encouraging new housing (rather than trying to block it) was a community benefit like this bridge, hopefully built in conjunction with a new commuter rail stop to support the new housing and jobs?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, Attorney General and District Attorney to investigate the possibility of Cambridge joining this national suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Mallon

The Order sounds good, but I was intrigued by the fact that it has six co-sponsors. I think this is great, but I expect some ne’er-do-well will claim it’s an open meeting law violation. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development, the Director of Communications and Community Relations, or any other relevant City department with the view in mind of producing a document that can be presented at the City Council Housing Committee to provide a better perspective on the City’s current efforts to address the housing issues facing Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

Perhaps Councillor Carlone can just ask the Somerville Board of Alderman to send the information.

Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide the City Council with an Inman Square Reconstruction Project Timeline.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley

This project is based on established Listen Zero principles, but I suppose the planners can at least pass on a calendar of non-negotiables.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the City’s plans for incorporating dock-less bikes into its urban mobility opportunities, to include licensing, contractual and liability issues; and that said report be transmitted to the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing on the issue of a dock-less bikeshare system.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Siddiqui

I had no idea that the City had any such plans but, then again, according to established Listen Zero principles, it’s essential to push things like this through with as little discussion as possible.

Order #8. That the City Council, City Manager, and City Staff are requested to work as quickly as possible to enact the necessary laws and regulations, including zoning and licensing of retail cannabis establishments, in order to implement the state law in a manner that addresses the racial and economic injustices of the past.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

The gist of this Order is that anyone who is less than enthusiastic about the proliferation of marijuana (oh, excuse me – cannabis) is refusing to address the "racial and economic injustices of the past". The sponsors are intent on "ensuring equitable enforcement and reasonable availability of cannabis throughout the city." Well, I guess we all have our priorities. – Robert Winters

February 25, 2018

Bridging the Divide – Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 7:49 pm

Bridging the Divide – Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are some of the more interesting items on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

This has become an annual tradition, and it’s still something we should celebrate.


Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council vote to approve the use of the new voting equipment and to discontinue the use of the existing voting equipment effective immediately.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Deputy City Clerk, Paula Crane, transmitting a report for a City Council public hearing held on Tues, Feb 20, 2018 for the purpose of the City Council and the public to view the new voting equipment purchased by the Election Commission.

We first used the current AccuVote machines for the Sept 1996 State Primary, and they were a huge improvement over the punchcard system we used prior to that. It was necessary then to have some custom programming done so that the same scanners could also be used for the municipal PR elections, and that will again have to take place with the new ImageCast machines. That’s just for creating the ballot data text files. The election tabulation will continue to be done the same we’ve been doing it. In addition to firming up our system for our own sake, it’s worth noting that with Ranked Choice Voting being advocated in Massachusetts and elsewhere (though not necessarily PR), what we do in Cambridge may be helpful down the road in other places.


Charter Right #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages as follows: 2A. Property located at 40 Cottage Street; and 2B. Property located at 44 Cottage Street.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, whether a building is landmark-worthy should depend only on the building and not on its owners or occupants.

Update: The City Council landmarked only one of the two properties (44 Cottage Street) and sent the other (40 Cottage Street) to Unfinished Business even though the landmarking only makes sense as the pair of buildings. Apparently, these councillors believe that landmarking is a function of whether they like the property owner or not (and whether they supported you politically).


Resolution #24. Congratulations and thanks to William B. "Bill" King on the occasion of his retirement.   Mayor McGovern

Suffice to say that I have great respect for all who voluntarily serve on City boards and commissions out of a sense of civic duty rather than single-issue advocacy. Bill King is one of those people who has consistently defined over many years what it means to be a great citizen.


Communications #7. Sundry e-mails received on support of the protected bike lanes, relative to Policy Order #4 of Feb 12, 2018 Council Meeting. Copies are on file for review in the City Clerk’s office.

I generally ignore all emails that are the product of a coordinated campaign with a list of "talking points", but I did happen to read one of these sundry emails that stated "You will see no slander in comments from the people who support the new infrastructure." I am reminded of the statement "Fortunately time takes care of old people for us" stated by one particular idiot who didn’t appreciate the criticism by older people of the Cambridge Street configuration.

PSFormer Mayor Alice Wolf submitted a late communication at the previous meeting with specific objections to the current configuration of Cambridge Street and the suggestion that a better configuration should be found. The Cambridge Bicycle Committee was created from her initiative, so let’s put to rest the claim that criticism of this configuration is a fringe phenomenon of "the anti-bike people".

Order #2. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to direct the new bicycle lane working group, once it has been convened, to hold a series of “listening sessions” at the senior buildings throughout Cambridge in order to ensure that our senior residents, who might otherwise be unable to attend the various hearings to weigh in on this issue, will have adequate opportunities to have their voices heard on an issue that could have an outsized impact upon them.   Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern

Wouldn’t it be great if "Vision Zero" didn’t always mean "Listen Zero" when it comes to public feedback and other points of view? I will try to be optimistic. Then again there’s this:

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-16, regarding a report on Inman Square construction.

Synopsis: The City is very interested in your ideas about the color of the sidewalk and what varieties of flowers should be planted in the vicinity of the planned reconfiguration of Inman Square that is not subject to any compromise, discussion, or alternative perspectives.


Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

I agree with this Order, but not just in the situation of "proximity to land-uses serving vulnerable populations". Some streets warrant lower speed limits simply because there is fast-moving traffic directly adjacent to a narrow sidewalk, e.g. westbound on Putnam Ave. When Prospect St. used to have an additional lane with neither a buffer nor parking it was very dangerous, especially close to Central Square. On-street parking can, in fact, be very effective in traffic calming – even moreso when speed limits are reduced.

Blue Heron BridgeOrder #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City staff on the feasibility of initiating a formal transit study and action plan of the Alewife area in response to unanimous concerns of the Envision Alewife Working Group regarding the need for a pedestrian/bicycle/shuttle bridge from the Quadrangle area along Concord Avenue across the railroad tracks to the Triangle area on Cambridgepark Drive and a commuter rail stop which would be critical to create neighborhoods that are safe and healthy for residents and businesses.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone

It would be great if the City and our various government representatives could find a way to make this happen, but not in the absence of either a new commuter rail stop or shuttle service or both. It will be very difficult to sell this proposal simply as a pedestrian and bicycle amenity (as has often been done), so I’m glad to see this phrased as it is. Contained in this letter is also one point of view that there should be a grade crossing of the railroad tracks (or underpass or bridge) at the western end of Cambridgepark Drive. You’ll never see a new grade crossing approved there, and an underpass is unrealistic. As for a bridge option, it’s only realistic to imagine one new bridge over the tracks and (even though I may like it there) all the proposals I’ve seen in the last few decades don’t have it that far west. The letter also suggests a pedestrian bridge over the Little River. Except for the usual difficulties associated with building anything near a waterway, that bridge would be relatively easy to build and inexpensive. See picture (Blue Heron Bridge over the Charles River between Newton and Watertown – Wikipedia).

Update: City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement but gave no specifics. Everybody is intrigued about what he was driving at.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

It’s curious that the authors of this Order chose not to specify what form of "Right of First Refusal bill" they want. There are good reasons why House Bill 3017 never made it out of committee. Do the authors simply want the City Solicitor to provide language that’s the same as H.3017 or do they want a Home Rule Petition that is fundamentally different? It would be nice if the focus was primarily on providing options for long-term tenants rather than on creating a framework for ensuring that private property in select neighborhoods is transferred to public/quasi-public ownership.

Update: Councillor Simmons exercised her Charter Right on this vacuous Order. This Order brought out more people during Public Comment than everything else on the agenda.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to develop a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons

The current version of the Incentive Zoning provisions was ordained on Sept 28, 2015. That ordinance has the following provision: "The City shall initiate a reevaluation of the Housing Contribution Rate and any other aspect of these Incentive Zoning Provisions at an interval of no less than three (3) years from the time the rate was last amended by the City Council." That’s what a nexus study is, so I suppose this Order is right on schedule. – Robert Winters

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.

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