On the Eve of Celebration or Disaster – Nov 7, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights
With the Presidential election looming, it feels almost like the early 1960s when many people believed that nuclear annihilation was a real possibility. In contrast, the kerfuffles and excesses of the little fish in our City Council pond seem almost quaint. Here are a few items to distract you from the national picture:
Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, requesting the City Council accept Chapter 218 of the Acts of 2016, “An Act Modernizing Municipal Finance and Government”, Sections 193 and 194 giving municipalities the authority to reduce speed limits on all ways other than state highways.
You may recall that not long ago the City Council hastily voted to reduce the speed limit to 20mph citywide. This led to a thoughtful response from the Dept. of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation recommending a citywide limit of 25mph with a lower speed limit for legitimate "safety zones" (as was the intent of the state enabling legislation). The City Council was also alerted at that time to the fact that any change had to wait until the new state law went into effect before adopting its provisions. That time has now arrived and we’ll shortly be seeing a 25mph limit in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, and likely other places.
Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to Council Order No. 15, dated Oct 31, 2016, regarding a Request for Proposal for consultant services related to the visioning, programming, governance, and re-purposing of the Harvard Square Kiosk as well as creating a Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group.
Charter Right #1. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement for the Foundry, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Oct 31, 2016.]
Both of these agenda items concern efforts by the City Council to intervene in processes that have been long underway and thoughtfully planned and implemented. Residents, including councillors, can raise questions and make recommendations about the outcomes of these process, but intervening in contracts is probably not the best way to proceed. In the case of the Harvard Square Kiosk and the surrounding plaza, the City is simply hiring a firm to create a vision for the programming, operation and governance of the kiosk and plaza. That consultant will be working with City staff and a working group of stakeholders on this task. The City has agreed to allow more time for public input on its Request for Proposals and to possibly generate additional respondents.
In the Foundry matter, the City Council voted to allow the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to shepherd the process leading to the selection of bidder who promises to achieve both the programmatic and financial goals specified by both the City Council and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. Now some city councillors want to go back to the drawing board and change the goals in such a way that the City’s costs to operate this "gift" from Alexandria Real Estate will be substantially increased.
Order #2. That the City Council urge the City Manager to establish a deadline of Nov 1, 2017 for fully implementing the various street improvements and safety measures for increasing bicycle safety that were passed during the Oct 17, 2016 meeting. Mayor Simmons
I hope that the interpretation of this Order is that whatever street improvements and safety measures are implemented are those that result from a thoughtful public process rather than in response to a blitzkrieg of pre-cooked solutions from activists.
Order #3. The City Manager confer with the City Solicitor on the possibility of allowing non-citizen Cambridge residents to vote in municipal elections without a home-rule petition. Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
Every few years there’s some kind of movement to allow non-citizens to vote in Cambridge municipal elections. This Order makes statements like "non-citizens … are presently barred from formally voicing their opinions" that are clearly misleading. The Order also fails to note that any non-citizen living in Cambridge is a citizen of some country and generally is able to vote in those elections. Home rule petitions from Cambridge and elsewhere have been filed before and have not been approved. I certainly hope this is not approved either, but the Order also apparently seeks some kind of legal loophole that would allow non-citizen voting without any state approval. I seriously doubt if that is possible. In matters like voting it’s best to have uniformity across all cities and towns in Massachusetts in terms of eligibility to vote in all elections.
Order #4. That the City Manager request permission from the DCR to continue Sunday closings on Memorial Drive year-round, starting in early 2017, and to work with the Cambridge Police, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and Public Works Departments and any other staff to implement this plan, and to report back to the Council as soon as possible on the feasibility and schedule. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone
I would rather see this expressed as a request to extend the season for this road closure rather than a year-round Sunday closure. There are consequences to these road closures, including increased traffic on other streets, and the costs should be weighed against the benefits (as well as the actual demand).
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report on behalf of Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 2, 2016 to discuss bicycle safety in Cambridge.
In reading this report I was glad to see that some City staff were taking a more thoughtful and measured approach than some city councillors. There is a lot of room for discussion and alternatives than just the blitzkrieg of orders introduced at the Oct 17 City Council meeting. I also hope that our elected officials can be educated about the difference between actual safety measures and politically expedient actions that don’t address the acual causes of cycling fatalities and injuries.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor David P. Maher, transmitting the Proposed Employment Agreement between the City of Cambridge and Louis A. DePasquale.
It appears that Louis DePasquale’s first day of work in his new role as City Manager will be Monday, Nov 14, 2016 and his contract will extend through Jan 8, 2021.