Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 4, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 61 and 62 – News and Commentary

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 61 – News and Commentary (Part 1).

This episode was broadcast on June 3, 2014 at 5:30pm. Co-hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. The main topics we touched on were (1) upcoming events [including the Cambridge River Festival in Central Square (June 7) and the Citywide Dance Party (June 27)], (2) a proposal “to prohibit the use of wild and exotic animals in traveling shows and circuses”, (3) the migration of fish in the Charles River, (4) the upcoming Democratic convention, (5) updates on several municipal election reform proposals). [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 62 – News and Commentary (Part 2)

Broadcast June 3, 2014 at 6:00pm. Co-hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. Topics include (1) “Cambridge Conversations” conducted by Community Development prior to future “master plan” process, (2) a variety of matters relating to Central Square including the possibility of pushcart vendors and food trucks, (3) proposal to build low/middle income housing on a Central Square parking lot, (4) possible future uses for the Cambridge DPW Yard, (5) updates on the disposition of the Sullivan Courthouse and the prospect of future lawsuits, and (6) the approval of the FY2015 Budget and upcoming City Council meetings. [On YouTube]

May 19, 2014

The Courthouse Debate and other Key Items on the May 19, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,East Cambridge — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:31 pm

The Courthouse Debate and other Key Items on the May 19, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Sullivan CourthousePerhaps the Really Big Item this week is the whole matter of how to proceed on the Sullivan Courthouse controversy. Two reports from the City Solicitor were tabled at the May 5 meeting and are scheduled to be discussed at this meeting. There is also an Order calling for the next Planning Board meeting on this matter to be held at a suitable space in East Cambridge.

On The Table #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of two legal opinions as part of the City Manager’s Supplemental Agenda on Mon, May 5, 2014, regarding Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22 concerning the Sullivan Courthouse and Council Order Number 13 of Mar 17, 2014 concerning the First Street Garage. [City Manager Agenda Number Eleven of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table for further discussion at City Council Meeting of May 19, 2014.]

On The Table #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22, regarding whether the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing non-confirming structure. [City Manager Agenda Number Fifteen of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table.]

On The Table #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Council Order Number 13, dated Mar 17, 2014, which requested that city staff determine the relevant zoning requirements for the Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse with respect to use of the First Street Garage. [City Manager Agenda Number Sixteen of May 5, 2014 Placed on Table.]

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City staff and departments in an effort to move the Planning Board’s upcoming hearing on the Special Permit application for the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment from the Citywide Senior Center to a gymnasium or auditorium-type location within or nearby the East Cambridge neighborhood and report back to the City Council on this matter.   Councillor Carlone

I attended a meeting on this topic yesterday organized by the new "Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge" (NAEC) that was spawned in response to the courthouse disposition. Leading the discussion were David de Swaan, Bethany Stevens, Seth Teller, and Ilan Levy. Mr. de Swaan made clear that the meeting was to be "about facts, not opinions" and this was largely true. There were, as expected, some rather strong opinions expressed by at least one of the presenters who said, "We have not been well-served by the City apparatus." He called the Planning Board a "rubber stamp board" and (incorrectly) asserted that Planning Board members whose terms had expired were serving illegally on the board. Massachusetts law says otherwise. Though this may be bad practice, any board member whose term has expired may legally serve until his replacement is appointed. The speaker also emphatically expressed his disappointment with the Community Development Department; the Department of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation; and Inspectional Services – suggesting that they were all "asleep at the switch" in regard to the disposition of the Courthouse building.

The Planning Board decision on whether to grant a Special Permit is, I believe, currently anticipated to occur at its June 17 meeting. If I understand this correctly, as long as the minimum parking requirements are met both on site together with leasing from either the nearby City garage or the Galleria, then the decision may hinge on whether the proposal will have a "significant detrimental impact" compared to the previous use of the property. The Planning Board may otherwise be required to issue the Special Permit. There are good arguments to be made on either side of this issue, but one has to believe that a change from a prison to a mixed office/residential use is certainly a net positive. Perhaps this is why so much of the rhetoric seems to be centered around potential changes in wind, reflected light, and the likelihood that the building may be intensely used during late hours. Traffic and parking concerns are also an issue, but it’s not so clear that these will be significantly different than how things were during the decades when the courthouse was in operation on the site.

There are some abutters who are likely to pursue a lawsuit arguing that the property is not legally a "pre-existing non-conforming structure." This conflicts with the opinion of the City Solicitor whose opinion was characterized by one of the NAEC presenters as simply "transferred from the developer." Others at this meeting apparently feel that the best strategy would be to create maximum delay so that further political avenues may be pursued after Gov. Patrick’s term is over and a new administration is in place.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-25, regarding a report on the status of the Grand Junction Path project.

Order #17. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department regarding the feasibility of hiring a design consultant to design the rails-with-trail path along the Grand Junction corridor and to include money in next year’s budget for design funds for the Grand Junction Rails-with-Trails path.   Councillor Cheung

The report provides an excellent summary of the current situation and the history of the Grand Junction corridor over the years. This is, without a doubt, a project that needs to be pursued. If created in conjunction with new housing options in Somerville, Cambridge, and Allston, this could be a great accomplishment that everybody will one day celebrate.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance concerning building energy use reporting and disclosure.

This is perhaps the one feature of last year’s "Net Zero petition" that had nearly unanimous support. As the Manager’s statement says, "The ordinance would also enable the City and the community to plan more effectively for energy efficiency and renewable energy."

Applications & Petitions #4. A zoning petition has been filed by Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge to expand the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, MMD-1 to encompass 61 Mooney Street.

This would be a very minor alterarion to the existing district. I suppose we may presume from this petition that there is a state-sanctioned dispensary that wants to move to a Mooney Street location.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments as to whether it would be feasible to issue licenses/permits to push cart vendors and local artists, both at Carl Barron Plaza and similar spaces in Central Square.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung

When I served on a committee almost 20 years ago that made recommendations for streetscape and other improvements to the Central Square area, pushcart vendors were definitely a part of what was envisioned for the widened sidewalks and in places like Carl Barron Plaza. Some of the commercial establishments at that time had concerns about competition from vendors who did not have to pay property taxes, but the truth is that these kinds of uses can improve business for all parties if done well. I personally hope it’s not just pushcarts and artists. A hot dog stand would be great. I’m sure the vegan and gluten-free crowd will disagree.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine the feasibility of taking the Vail Court lot by eminent domain for the good of the community.   Councillor Simmons

While there is nearly unanimous agreement that something should happen with the long-abandoned Vail Court property (where Temple Street meets Bishop Allen Drive), eminent domain seems like a bad road to go down – whether done by the City or by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority with the City’s blessing. On the other hand, perhaps the mere threat of eminent domain may lead to some positive action by the property owner.

Order #7. Urge the Cambridge Housing Authority to delay implementing the smoking ban until such time as the organization can identify a new source of funding to robustly initiate the various smoking cessation programs that will be necessary to assist its tenants in complying with this new policy.   Councillor Simmons

Don’t delay. Other than the courting of votes, there is no reason to grant exceptional status to CHA properties. Banning smoking in all of these properties is in the best interest of all and there’s no excuse for delay. People will adapt to the change.

Order #9. That without discounting the gravity of the crimes perpetrated against Yngve Raustein, the City Council does hereby go on record expressing support for Joseph Donovan’s application for parole, which will be reviewed on May 29, 2014.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is a good action for the City Council to take. The site joedonovanproject.com provides the essential details of the case:

On Sept 18, 1992 at 9:45pm along Memorial Drive, three Cambridge teenagers – Joseph Donovan, Shon McHugh and Alfredo Velez – exchanged words with 21 year-old MIT student Yngve Raustein. This led to Joseph Donovan punching Raustein sending him to the ground, but it was McHugh who then pulled a knife and stabbed Raustein to death. Because McHugh was only 15 at the time, he was tried in juvenile court, received a 20 year sentence, served only 11 years for the murder, and has now been free for over a decade. Velez was sentenced to 20 years and served less than 10 years. Because Donovan was 17 at the time of the incident, he was tried as an adult for complicity with the murder and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He has now served 22 years in prison while the actual murderer walks free. Both surviving members of Yngve Raustein’s immediate family, including his mother and his brother, support the application for Donovan’s release.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of relocating the Department of Public Works and any plans for creating open space at the current location once DPW operations are moved.   Councillor Toomey

Having volunteered in numerous recycling and composting initiatives over the years, I have a certain fondness for 147 Hampshire St. (DPW Headquarters) and the Public Works Yard. That said, there are many better uses for that property as long as an appropriate alternative can be found for a new DPW yard. The current central location has been great for the Recycling Drop-off Center and other uses, but the surrounding neighborhood is quite dense and could benefit greatly from some well-planned open space on that site.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Election Commission, and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance to determine the feasibility of publicly funded elections for Cambridge, taking into account models for implementation from other municipalities as well as the exploration of new publicly funded models.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

While I can certainly respect the sentiment espoused by this Order, I cannot imagine any reasonable way for such a proposal to be administered, and I’m not really convinced that it’s a good idea. Contrary to what is stated in the Order, public funding will likely not reduce the influence of private contributions unless there’s also a cap imposed on overall spending, and I don’t see that happening. If the receipt of public funds is made conditional on refusing many private sources, then most or all of the successful campaigns will likely not participate, and this may become little more than a financing plan for fringe candidates.

In matters such as this, perhaps we should all take a few lessons from Craig Kelley and Fred Fantini who consistently run successful municipal election campaigns on a shoestring budget. If they can do it, I’m sure other candidates can do it. That seems like the preferred course of action.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to detail how the non-zoning recommendations that have emerged from the K2C2 Report can and will be implemented in the months ahead.   Councillor Simmons

It is my understanding that the recently rejuvenated Central Square Advisory Committee will advise on these matters, but there have not yet been any solid plans put forward for either the non-zoning recommendations or possible zoning recommendations. Hopefully there will be some movement on both as this year progresses.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public meeting held on May 6, 2014 to discuss the effectiveness of the City Council Aide positions as well as procedural issues regarding the submission of policy orders and resolutions.

It’s unfortunate that this is cast as a question of the "effectiveness of the City Council Aide positions" when the real question is whether it’s appropriate that tax dollars should be given to what are undeniably political patronage jobs. If the City Council or its committees need enhanced staffing, there are far better and more legally defensible ways to provide such support. As I have stated before, political privilege is like entropy. It always increases. – Robert Winters

March 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Year History of Water/Sewer Rate Increases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 28, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 33-34: Discussing Foundry options with guest Rozann Kraus

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 33 with Rozann Kraus (Part 1) – broadcast Jan 28, 2014 at 5:30pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 34 with Rozann Kraus (Part 2) – broadcast Jan 28, 2014 at 6:00pm

January 27, 2014

Striking Before the Iron’s Hot – Jan 27, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council,East Cambridge — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:34 am

Striking Before the Iron’s Hot – Jan 27, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

This week brings two Orders relating to the disposition of the Foundry Building that was added to the City’s assets as a result of the Alexandria rezoning process a few years ago. One City report last June recommended that the building be sold, but advocates for a variety of possible future uses have been making their wishes known ever since the building was transferred to the City. It’s not so clear that any real consensus has been developed about what the next steps should be. In any case, we now have two somewhat competing Orders trying to steer the discussion. It’s possible that the City Council committee appointments might be made known at this meeting, but it’s not an agenda item. Here are some of the more interesting agenda items:

City Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a presentation on Poverty in Cambridge based on census data and American Community Survey data. [presentation dated Jan 21, 2013 (PDF)]

The data in this presentation dates to 2009-2011. At that point the median household income in Cambridge was $69,259; it was $130,349 for married couples with children, $92,604 for a single father with children, and $46,809 for a single mother with children. Black or Hispanic residents were more than three times as likely to be living in poverty as White or Asian residents. It’s a short and not very detailed report, but it’s interesting.

City Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an appropriation of $2,450,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for audiovisual upgrades in City buildings, including: the Sullivan Chamber, the Ackermann Room, and Sophie J. Anastos Room in City Hall; the Senior Center Ballroom; the City Hall Annex Community Room; the Lombardi Room at 831 Massachusetts Avenue; the Walter J. Sullivan Water Treatment Plant Lobby at 250 Fresh Pond Parkway; and a portable AV system.

This appropriation is long overdue – and it’s unfortunate that it’s coming only after the strongest advocate for these improvements, Councillor Ken Reeves, has exited the City Council. Anyone who has attended public meetings and events over the years has experienced their share of malfunctioning equipment, poor acoustics, and presentations that could only be viewed if you picked the right seat. The range of proposed improvements is impressive and the price tag seems to be well worth it. The only thing I would add would be to have the City Council staff review the seating in the Sullivan Chamber where, under the current configuration, many of the audience seats are difficult to access and much of the space near the entry door lacks seating. Creating multiple aisles for greater access and providing some movable folding chairs would be a big improvement. [I’m speaking now as the official "long term observer" in the Sullivan Chamber.]

Chip Norton
Chip Norton

Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Frederick "Chip" Norton.   Mayor Maher

The announcement of Chip’s unexpected death on January 13 left many of us stunned. Chip was the Watershed Manager for the Cambridge Water Department who led many public tours at Fresh Pond and in the Cambridge watershed in Weston, Waltham, Lexington, and Lincoln. He was one of the most decent, friendly people you could ever know and Cambridge was so lucky to have him working to protect the Cambridge watershed and educating people about our water supply.

My first serious involvement in Cambridge civic affairs came with my appointment to the Mayor’s Water & Sewer Advisory Committee by Mayor Al Vellucci around 1988. Ever since then I’ve maintained a friendly relationship with many of the people who are responsible for Cambridge’s water supply. For some of us, this is not just the death of a respected City employee but also the loss of a friend.

Order #1. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances to rezone the northern border of Richdale Avenue from Upland Road to Walden Street from C1-A to residential C-1 be refiled   Mayor Maher

Order #2. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances in the Linear Park area be refiled.   Mayor Maher

There are routine re-filings of zoning petitions that expired during the closing days of the previous Council term. They will now be the first order of business for the new Ordinance Committee whose Chair has not yet been announced. The only thing for sure is that the Chair won’t be Mayor Maher. The mayor sits as an ex-officio member on all City Council committees but is the Chair of none of them.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to initiate a traffic and parking study pertaining to the further development of Area IV if one is not already available.   Councillor Simmons

The incentive for this Order is apparently the long-anticipated opening of the H-Mart grocery store which is now finally starting to take shape in the old Harvest Market space. The Order also references the new 10 Essex Street building that will bring another 46 units of much needed houisng to the Central Square area plus ground floor retail (possibly associated with H-Mart). There’s little doubt that the new housing and retail will have some impact on the surrounding area, but these are great new additions to Central Square. It’s not so clear what additional purpose will be served by a traffic and parking study other than to confirm the obvious.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to compile a comprehensive list of nonprofit, for-profit, neighborhood associations, and distinguished individual-practitioner stakeholders who benefit from, inform, or participate in STEAM-related education and training in an effort to determine the feasibility of dedicating the Foundry to STEAM related entities.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Mazen

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Arts Council to determine the types of spaces that are most needed within the local arts community with the view of using the Foundry to fill those needs and to allocate appropriate funds to make appropriate upgrades for the purpose of creating a community arts center.   Councillor Toomey

These are probably the agenda items that will bring out more public comment than everything else combined. That said, there seem to be a number of assertions made that are not necessarily accurate. For example, the Benzan/Mazen Order #9 states that "Our neighborhoods are in dire need of substantial new space dedicated to mentorship, apprenticeship, scholarship, fabrication, expression, and training related to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics)." When was this conclusion determined? If anything, what has become clear is that there is now passionate advocacy for many goals, and they are not necessarily all compatible. The Toomey Order #10 favors a community arts center. The previous City Council exhibited more than a little sentiment toward use of some of the Foundry space for entreprenuerial/innovation space.

There have been numerous instances over the years where political advocacy for "community space" ran well ahead of actual demand. Youth Centers have been built that were not particularly well-utilized. In East Cambridge, the Multicultural Arts Center hasn’t always lived up to its public purpose. One could certainly argue that the latest trend toward STEM and STEAM are really educational functions that should more properly be developed in conjuction with the Cambridge Public Schools (and which may require a range of new employees). Though it’s appreciated seeing both new councillors and long-term councillors jumping in early to address the future of the Foundry issue, it does seem that they are striking the iron before it’s hot.

I would respectfully suggest that we should first take a step back and assess what all the unmet demands really are (and not just what some advocates say they are) and what assets the City has to meet these demands. It’s particularly interesting that councillors who bought into the need for a "master plan" for development have not yet expressed any interest in a "master plan" for the many auxiliary services that the City does deliver and should deliver using its variety of school buildings, youth centers, and other facilities, including the Foundry building.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and Massachusetts Attorney General to determine whether Councillors ‘replying all’ to emails addressed to the council@cambridgema.gov on business that may subsequently come before the Council are unintentionally violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.   Councillor Cheung

I hope I’m not the only one who believes that there’s a need for Councillor Toomey and his colleagues in the State House to tweak the Open Meeting Law to correct for the numerous unintended consequences that it has caused that do harm to collegiality and cooperation among elected officials and with the public.

Order #12. That the City Council go on record urging swift passage of the STEM Gateways Act.   Councillor Cheung

As a STEM person myself (mathematics lecturer), I can’t argue with the sentiments contained in this Order. – Robert Winters

October 24, 2013

Toomey Highlights Work on Grand Junction Train Issues, Vision for Future Bike Path

Filed under: Cambridge,East Cambridge,transportation — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:48 am

Toomey Highlights Work on Grand Junction Train Issues, Vision for Future Bike Path

On Wednesday, City Councillor Tim Toomey released a new video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6jv5rJJPjk) highlighting his work on issues related to the Grand Junction Railroad in Cambridge. The Grand Junction, which traverses several Cambridge neighborhoods, has become a hot button issue in recent years with proposals for Commuter Rail trains and ethanol transport being considered at the state level. Toomey, who resides in East Cambridge several blocks from the tracks, has been a strong supporter of creating a mixed-use bike and pedestrian path in the Grand Junction’s right-of-way.

"Grand Junction is an incredible asset for our community," Toomey said Wednesday. "While it has an important regional significance, being the only rail link between the northern and southern halves of the MBTA Commuter Rail system, it is also essentially a large swath of undeveloped, lightly-used land in the heart of Cambridge. With the exception of Commuter Rail maintenance trains and a freight train that carries produce to Chelsea several times per week, the tracks are seldom used. It’s pretty clear that there are many outside of Cambridge that have an eye on it, but unfortunately their plans tend not to benefit abutters of the tracks in any way."

In 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) began studying ways to use the Grand Junction Railroad for Commuter Rail service from Worcester to North Station. Their plans, which included more than twenty trains per day travelling at high speeds through six intersections in Cambridge and Somerville, were met with intense community skepticism and opposition. Councillor Toomey’s outspoken opposition helped force the state to more closely study the plan, and it was eventually shelved.

"That was a real victory for our community," said Toomey. "There is such a strong need for better public transportation in our state, but that was not the way to do it," Toomey said, adding that the Massachusetts Sierra Club joined in opposition to the state proposal. "By blocking that proposal, we kept Grand Junction open to uses that will provide tangible benefits to Cambridge residents."

In 2013, Toomey emerged as a leading voice in the fight to stop a Fortune 500 company’s plan to use railroads in Cambridge and Somerville to move millions of gallons of flammable ethanol each week. The plans included the possibility that Grand Junction could be used for trains carrying more than 60 tanker cars full of flammable chemicals. This proposal was met with intense community opposition not only in Cambridge, but in many of the surrounding communities. After a successful push by legislators at the State House, Global Partners, the petroleum company behind the proposal, backed down from their plans.

"Again, this was an immense victory for our neighborhood and the entire region, really," Toomey said. "An accident in a place like Cambridge or Somerville would have disastrous effects. While we have one of the best trained and best equipped fire departments in the entire country right here in Cambridge, an ethanol accident in an urban residential area would necessitate a regional response capability that just does not exist right now," Toomey said, adding that this was another plan that would have potentially precluded a positive community use for the Grand Junction Railroad.

"I think the fact that our community has had to fight back against destructive uses of these tracks twice in as many years highlights the urgency of building the rail trail," said Toomey, referring to a proposal to use unused space next to the Grand Junction railroad tracks to construct a mixed-use bike path. "This corridor passes through Kendall Square, where we have seen enormous growth in the numbers of people who bike and walk to work as opposed to driving cars," said Toomey. "The rail trail would offer a safer place for people to commute and recreate. The demand is already there."

In a video released on Wednesday, which can be found on Toomey’s website, the City Councillor describes work he has done to bring the rail trail closer to construction, including his work to include the path in the East Cambridge Open Space Planning Study and secure $500,000 in funding from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"More and more people are realizing just how much sense this project makes," Toomey said. "Just as we have been successful in opposing problematic proposals in the past, I firmly believe we can be successful if we support the rail trail with the same intensity."

Note: This was taken from a press release.

May 30, 2013

Cambridge Delegation Partners with MassDOT to Host Ethanol Train Meetings (June 4-5, 2013)

Filed under: Cambridge,East Cambridge,transportation — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:00 pm

The Cambridge legislative delegation invites residents, homeowners, local businesses, and community organizations to join them for two public forums about a plan proposed by Global Partners to transport ethanol through the City of Cambridge using the existing rail system. To facilitate participation, two forums will be held. The first meeting will occur on June 4 at 5:30pm at the King Open School, 850 Cambridge St., Cambridge. The second meeting will take place on June 5 at 6:15pm at Graham and Parks School, 44 Linnaean St., Cambridge.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will present the findings of their ethanol safety study and answer questions from the public. Following this presentation, elected officials will facilitate an open discussion about the proposed plan and explore opportunities for public involvement.

The meetings will be hosted by the Cambridge legislative delegation, including Representatives Toomey, Decker, Rogers, and Hecht, and Senators Petruccelli, Jehlen, and DiDomenico.

MassDOT’s ethanol safety study and related documents can be found at http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/planning/Main/CurrentStudies/EthanolSafetyStudy.aspx

Any questions regarding the meeting may be directed to Dan Weber at Daniel.Weber@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2380.

———

Note: Here’s what Congressman Mike Capuano had to say about this in an Apr 26 letter that’s included in the agenda materials for the Monday, June 3 Cambridge City Council meeting:

Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Michael E. Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts

April 26, 2013

Mayor Henrietta Davis
Cambridge City Hall
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Dear Mayor Davis:
I am writing to you in response to recent correspondence I received from the Cambridge City Council regarding a proposal to bring ethanol through several Massachusetts communities by rail. I understand the Council’s concerns and support its efforts to find a safer way to transport ethanol through heavily populated areas.

As you know, my office approaches all issues honestly, even when I expect the response may not be what is hoped for. Therefore, I am compelled to inform the Council it is my understanding that neither federal nor state law seems to provide ways to prevent ethanol from being transported through any community. There are laws and regulations available to ensure safety, but bans on the transport of hazardous materials have not been upheld in court. The Council may know that the Washington DC City Council enacted a ban on hazmat transportation through the city, but it was struck down in federal court. As far as I know, no other city has passed legislation banning the transit of hazardous materials and had the ban stand up in court. Of course, if others can identify alternative paths to judicial success, I stand ready to support them.

I am sure the Council realizes that ethanol is currently transported by rail through many urban, rural and suburban communities all over the country, including in Massachusetts. It is my understanding that the Cambridge Fire department is informed pursuant to state and federal regulation of such transits and is prepared to handle emergencies related to them. I have been informed that any local or state restrictions imposed on rail transportation of hazmat are pre-empted by interstate commerce regulations. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) informs me that they do not have jurisdiction to deny ethanol or other hazardous materials transit and do not have the authority to require the use of certain routes. The FRA does regulate track safety, street crossings, operational requirements and the integrity of tanker cars. I have asked that the FRA carefully review the integrity of the infrastructure that could be used for ethanol transport and I am confident this request will be supported.

It is my understanding that substantial work must be undertaken on the rail line that connects to Global Petroleum’s ethanol facility in Revere. Improvements may also be necessary elsewhere on the routing lines under consideration before they may be used for ethanol trains. I am confident that FRA will only allow ethanol trains on lines that meet FRA safety and operational standards and I will work hard to ensure that this confidence is well placed.

I have also reached out to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG). It is my understanding that EPA does not have a role in allowing or disallowing the transportation of ethanol. TSA informed me that ethanol is not a Rail Security Sensitive Material (RSSM) and therefore TSA does not require additional safety and/or security measures for its transportation. Please note that if ethanol were deemed an RSSM, it is my understanding that TSA still could not prohibit it. Given that the storage facility is along the water, the USCG is required to approve the facility’s security procedures. I have long experience with the Coast Guard and am confident this is a responsibility that the USCG takes very seriously.

While I regret that my initial review of the matter indicates ethanol transport cannot be prohibited, I believe my office can be helpful in other areas. One suggestion would be to have city public safety officials assess the city and region’s preparedness for a release of ethanol. I have read the MassDOT report on ethanol and understand that area fire chiefs believe there is a need for staff training and equipment. My office stands ready to aggressively support any municipal or state effort to access federal funding or seek mitigation. I also strongly support making sure first responders are informed in a timely fashion when ethanol will be transported.

Although I am not optimistic that I can prevent this proposal from being implemented, I will continue doing everything I can to be sure that the interests of our communities are protected. Particularly in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings, I understand the unease you may feel and the desire to make sure that everything possible is done to protect public safety. Please keep my office informed of the Council’s actions and any support I can offer in your endeavors.

Sincerely,
Michael E. Capuano
Member of Congress

March 12, 2013

East Cambridge Dollars for Scholars

Filed under: East Cambridge — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:28 am

East Cambridge Dollars for Scholars (formally the East Cambridge Scholarship Fund) is currently accepting applications for the 2013-2014 academic year from East Cambridge residents who are attending, or planning to attend, a college or university, graduate school or vocational/trade schools. Applications may be obtained by writing to:

East Cambridge Dollars for Scholars
P.O. Box 410026
Cambridge, MA 02141

or by emailing eastcambridgedfs@hotmail.com. In addition, applications are available at the East End House, the Frisoli Youth Center, the Kennedy Community School Office, the Sixth Street O’Connell Library and State Representative Tim Toomey’s office on Cambridge Street. The deadline for submitting an application is April 8, 2013.

Thank you.
East Cambridge Dollars for Scholars

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