Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 22, 2010

March 22, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

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

Mayor David Maher has now appointed the City Council committees for this term. The appointments include a proposal to split the Health & Environment Committee into the Community Health Committee and the Environment & Sustainability Committee – also referred to as the Sustainable Environment Committee, though this seems overly specific. The previous committee has flipped back and forth between Councillors Davis and Decker, so the split seems as much an accommodation of these two individuals as anything else. Regardless, it’s a proposed rules change and the matter will have to “Lie on the Table” until the next regular meeting of the City Council in two weeks before it can be made official. It’s curious, to say the least, that with so much rhetoric about the importance of these committees during the delayed mayoral vote, a number of councillors didn’t even express their preferences until well after David Maher was elected mayor – now nearly a month ago – and there hadn’t been a single committee meeting scheduled until today when the required Budget Hearings of the Finance Committee appeared (May 5, May 12, May 13, and May 19).

There are several matters of interest on tonight’s agenda. Here are a few:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2010 and ending Mar 31, 2011.

The bottom line is that the water rate is increasing by 1.5%, primarily due to decreased consumption and relatively fixed costs. The sewer rate will increase by 7.9%, primarily to cover the increased MWRA assessment. The average combined increase for water/sewer will be 5.8%. It’s worth reading the whole document.

Communications #2. A communication was received from the Cambridge Climate Emergency Action Group, transmitting the recommendations of 2009-2010 Climate Congress for an all-city awareness and response campaign, and for city responses to the Climate Emergency.

This is really a topic for another day. The Cambridge Climate Congress is submitting its recommendations together with a very long list of ideas suggested at various brainstorming sessions. Some of them make a lot of sense. Some are easy to implement and some are difficult. Some are completely ridiculous, but this submission does make clear (for those who actually read it) that this list of ideas were neither voted nor approved and are provided simply to add to future conversations. The central theme is a stepped-up campaign of public awareness of available resources and the economic and environmental benefits of greater energy conservation.

Resolution #14. Resolution on the death of Clifford A. Truesdell, IV.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Decker, Vice Mayor Davis

Order #7. Dedication of an appropriate site in the vicinity of Essex Street and Norfolk Street in honor of Clifford Truesdell IV.   Councillor Decker

Clifford was a friend and a valuable, unique, and irreplaceable civic and political player in Cambridge. His memorial gathering on March 21 was memorable.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Assistant City Manager of Community Development to investigate the opportunity to partner with local non-profits in order to obtain and develop the properties currently held by the Jesuit Order that are being placed on the market into affordable housing opportunities for the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development in order to report back with draft language for an amendment to Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance to include a provision to facilitate the conversion of Institutional Property to Affordable Housing.   Councillor Toomey

I suspect that both of these orders are related to a recent news story about the proposed sale of 7 very desirable properties in the vicinity of Harvard Square. It’s possible that there’s a connection here to the tendency of “affordable housing” projects to end up only in certain neighborhoods (East Cambridge, North Cambridge to name a couple). These Orders could be interpreted as an effort to drive home a point about this unwritten policy, albeit one that is primarily driven by the economics.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to take the necessary steps to prepare Cambridge to participate in Earth Hour again this year.   Councillor Cheung

Knock yourself out, Cambridge. However, if you’re not aware of your own energy consumption every day, there’s really little to be gained by a one hour show. Personally, I never participate in these little statements.

Order #5. Public notification process and plans relating to the Blair Pond and the Alewife Reservation.   Councillor Simmons

Word has it that the “Silver Maple Forest people” will be making their presence known at Public Comment on this matter. I’m still waiting to see the elves.

Order #8. That the City Council place on the table the attached proposal to amend the City Council rules to replace the Health and Environment Committee with two committees, the Community Health Committee and the Sustainable Environment Committee.   Mayor Maher

Communications and Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher, transmitting the 2010-2011 City Council Committee Assignments.

See comments above. Otherwise, I’d say that David Maher did a commendable job with his committee assignments.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to direct the new Executive Director of the Police Review Advisory Board to submit a report to the City Council detailing what are perceived to be the issues of greatest importance that the Police Review Advisory Board must focus on, and that this report should be submitted to the City Council no later than 90 days from the adoption of this order.   Councillor Simmons

Though this Order refers to a report of the Police Review Advisory Board (as opposed to the Cambridge Review Committee formed in response to the Great Gates Affair), it seems probable that there is a connection here. Regarding the Review Commission, anyone expressing a contrarian point on this whole matter shall hereby be exiled from the ranks of the politically correct, but here goes: This was a ridiculous committee to form in the first place – driven by a trivial episode last summer on Ware Street. However, since the money’s been spent we should at least get a few recommendations out of this. Then move on. Let the Police Review Advisory Board return to its ordinary business.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the feasibility of adopting a Pay-As-You-Throw program in Cambridge.   Councillor Reeves

A Pay-As-You-Throw program for rubbish collection in Cambridge (recycling would remain without any fees) is an intriguing idea and could translate into higher recycling rates and some potential economic benefits. However, Cambridge is already doing relatively well in their recycling rates and would not likely see nearly the benefits that some laggard cities and towns (like Boston) would see if they got serious about their rubbish and recycling. There are some potential downsides to such a program in a relatively dense city like Cambridge – including the fact that it’s very difficult to know exactly which apartment or condo is responsible for which rubbish and recycling. This could become a bureaucratic and enforcement nightmare. Compared to other cities, Cambridge might choose to stay with their current system (with the possible switch to a simpler single-stream recycling collection) and maintain domestic tranquility while still increasing their recycling rates. A little more education would go a long way.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to report back to the City Council with options for amending the city ordinance to allow for the Manager to permit civic organizations to use public space after hours.   Councillor Cheung

At first I thought this Order was asking about access to public buildings in which case I would have taken the opportunity to remind everyone about the original intent of the community schools concept. However, this is specifically about allowing one group to sleep out on the Cambridge Common as part of a planned march to Beacon Hill. If ever there was a situation that was best handled by “selective enforcement”, this is it. It’s best to look the other way on certain municipal ordinances in a case like this rather than amending the ordinances and opening the door to unintended consequences. If you say it’s legal for a “civic group” to camp out on the common, why wouldn’t a few ne-er-do-wells just claim civic group status and camp out out every night while calling it a protest against capitalism or some other silliness? Give the “Leadership Campaign” a one-night permit and leave the ordinances alone. — Robert Winters

Mark Levy’s take on the meeting (Mar 24, 2010)

FYI – Current Rules and Goals: Cambridge City Council & Cambridge School Committee

City Council Rules 2010-2011 (adopted January 4, 2010)

City Council Goals – FY2010-2011 (approved February 2, 2009)

City Council Committees (newly appointed for the 2010-2010 term)
Note: The City Council Rules will have to be amended to permit the splitting of the old Health & Environment Committee into the Community Health Committee and the Environment & Sustainability Committee.

School Committee Rules (adopted January 7, 2008)

School Committee Goals (adopted October 7, 2008)

March 8, 2010

March 8, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:45 pm

March 8, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

It is expected that Mayor David Maher will announce the City Council committee appointments either tonight or tomorrow. Let’s hope the persons most suitable to the tasks at hand find their way into leadership positions on these various committees (see March 1 notes below for elaboration). The City Manager’s Agenda is relatively routine this week, but there are a few notable Resolutions and Orders:

Resolution #5. Retirement of Marsha Weinerman from the Election Commission.   Mayor Maher

Though I have not always enjoyed the friendliest relations with Marsha during her time at the Election Commission, in the end it’s fair to say that she always tried to make the operation as professional as possible and was open to constructive suggestions even from the likes of me. In addition, when controversies arose over errors in the voter lists or what activities were permitted at the polls, she was always quick to defend her staff and take the heat – even when the national press chose to make a federal case out of relatively small and understandable missteps. I’m glad that as she leaves the job, she and I have managed to attain some level of mutual respect.

Order #5. Availability of public meeting space at the Cambridge Main Library and other library related issues.   Councillor Kelley

Though Councillor Kelley is well known for his frequent requests for information, often of questionable value and requiring substantial staff time, this particular request is of some interest. The new Main Library has become a very popular place and with this success has come some perhaps unintended consequences. Kelley’s Order notes that some staff from the various branch libraries have been needed at the Main Library with resulting decreased service at the branches (at least according to the Order). Councillor Kelley also asks about the availability of public meeting rooms and the new café space. Access to Library space is of some interest to me as a teacher who occasionally needs to arrange for makeup exams for a few students, and the Library is a great location for miscellaneous tasks such as this. Though not in Kelley’s Order, I would like to know if the room that houses the Cambridge history collection is open yet or when it will become open to the public.

I’m especially intrigued by this line in Kelley’s Order: “WHEREAS: Coping with the influx of high school students at various parts of the day has proven to be somewhat problematic.” High school students using the Library is a good thing to be sure, but perhaps there can be too much of a good thing.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to convene a meeting of various stakeholders in the Central Square community for the purpose of discussing and reviewing current action plans for Central Square.   Councillor Reeves

This Order is both necessary and timely. Anyone passing through Central Square today is struck by the number of commercial vacancies. This includes a number of properties that have remained vacant for several years now – perhaps most notably the MIT-owned space next to the new theater and the recently vacated space previously occupied by Pearl Art. A recent Council Order (with a response this week) inquired about making some of these vacant spaces temporarily available to various nonprofit groups. Though a nice sentiment, this is a distraction from the more serious challenge of attracting good, economically sustainable businesses to Central Square with a spectrum of spaces and rents that will ensure an economically diverse mix of businesses that match the needs and interests of residents in the greater Central Square area. This should not be about temporary solutions.

Councillor Reeves’ Order also makes note of the never-ending presence of people in the Square engaged in substance abuse and other problematic behavior. However, as long as the City directly or indirectly concentrates most of its shelters and social service agencies in the Central Square area, this problem will remain insoluble.

Once upon a time during its relatively brief existence, the Central Square Neighborhood Coalition was very successful in convening various stakeholders (residents, business owners, landlords, and City officials) to collaborate for their mutual interests in Central Square. Now is the time for more of that collaboration and it’s appropriate that Councillor Reeves should file the Order as he was, once upon a time, a major advocate for the betterment of Central Square before it was fashionable.

Order #10. City Council support for Massachusetts House Bill 4526 “A Bill Relative to Municipal Relief.”   Councillor Seidel

This Order is specifically about making loans available to private property owners for energy efficiency projects. It’s appropriate that with the conclusion of the “Cambridge Climate Congress” this past weekend the City Council should be advocating for initiatives such as this. Though the activity and outcome of this Cambridge Climate Congress is perhaps a topic for a much more involved discussion, at the very least we should expect to see some specific and sensible energy efficiency goals and City initiatives in the coming days and years. — Robert Winters

March 1, 2010

Marjorie Decker has withdrawn from the State Senate race

Filed under: 2010 State Senate election — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:50 pm

March 1 – Marjorie Decker has withdrawn from the State Senate race to replace Anthony Galluccio.
Here what she had to say:

After consulting with my family, friends, and close supporters over this past weekend, I have decided to withdraw from the Special Election for the Mass State Senate to replace Anthony Galluccio.

I chose to run for Senate for many of the same reasons that motivate me to serve on the Cambridge City Council. To me, public service is advocating for good jobs, affordable housing, better access to health care and equal opportunity.

Last year I called on my family, friends and constituents to give me their time, effort and financial support for my re-election to the City Council. They worked hard and sacrificed much to help me win that election. I have never run for office just for the sake of running.

When the Special Election for State Senate was first announced, I considered the prospects for victory extremely promising. Since I announced my candidacy, the number of candidates has increased dramatically – more than doubling – thus my chances of winning have been greatly reduced.

In good conscience, I cannot ask my family, friends and supporters to give more time, effort and financial support if there is no realistic prospect of success.

Consequently, I have decided that at this time I can best serve by focusing all of my energies and efforts toward my role as a Cambridge City Councilor. As the effects of the recession continue to devastate working families, we have many challenges that must be addressed.

I want to thank my family, friends – new and old, and supporters –from Cambridge, Charlestown, Chelsea, Somerville, Revere, Saugus, Somerville, Allston and Brighton for their willingness to consider my candidacy and to offer their support to me.

It’s worth noting that, up to a point, it was the fact that there were many candidates in this race that helped make Marjorie’s campaign viable – as the only woman in an election that would likely be determined by vote-splitting and personal identity. Denise Simmons’ entry into the race changed the equation substantially, and now Simmons’ candidacy becomes immediately viable for the same and related reasons. Denise is now the only woman in a six-way race and she will likely be able to use her status as an African-American woman, an openly gay woman now legally married to her partner, and as the most recent Mayor of Cambridge to her advantage. This should translate into campaign donations from within the Senate district and from outside the district from various interest groups just as Jarrett Barrios was able to draw those donations a number of years ago for this same seat. Whether this helps her to succeed throughout this district remains an open question.

One factor worth considering in Marjorie’s decision to withdraw (though you’ll have to ask her!) is that she would have to share the support of labor unions with several of the other candidates. Another important factor is that this April/May election will have to be done all over again in September/November and you can only spend your campaign donations once. It is likely that, regardless who wins in the special election, many of the same candidates will do it again this fall, and short-term incumbency is not likely to provide that much of an advantage. It’s entirely possible that Marjorie will keep her resources intact and try again in September under more favorable conditions. If not, she really does have the potential to be a very good city councillor if, as we teachers like to say, she would only apply herself.

Regarding the Simmons vs. Decker aspect to this, I ran some numbers yesterday using the November 2009 municipal election ballots from the 11 Cambridge precincts in this Senate district. Denise Simmons was ranked somewhere on 48.9% of those ballots compared to Marjorie Decker being named on 21.1% of those ballots. Certainly, Marjorie’s status as a write-in candidate was a factor, but it’s reasonably clear that Denise Simmons would have the greater degree of Cambridge support in this election. Denise will, of course, have to share that Cambridge support with Tim Flaherty, Dennis Benzan, and Sal DiDomenico, each of whom have some base of support in the Peoples Republic.

Most of the speculation continues to be that Sal DiDomenico has the best chance right now in this election with Tim Flaherty driving hard for the hoop. Much of this is determined by the fact that Everett is expected to generate 30% or more of the votes in this election and Sal is the Everett candidate (with Cambridge roots). However, the likelihood in this race where vote-splitting will determine the outcome as much as anything is that the winner will largely be dictated by who can raise the most money and assemble the strongest get-out-the-vote effort on April 13. — Robert Winters

March 1, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:58 am

March 1, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

The City Council now has a mayor – Mayor Maher – and hopefully we’ll have City Council committee appointments today or very soon. David Maher has often portrayed himself as the “common sense” candidate and councillor, so let’s hope that rings true in his committee appointments. Several years ago, I posted the Grimm’s Fairy Tale “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage” in connection with these appointments to emphasize what can go wrong when responsibilities are assigned for the wrong reasons (see below). Some of the choices for the members and chairs of these committees should be obvious to anyone who follows City Council business. Here are some random thoughts on the possibilities:

Ordinance: Unless the Mayor wants to break from tradition and appoint himself, I suppose this leaves Councillors Seidel, Davis, and Toomey as the pool of most logical choices for Chair or Co-Chairs of this committee.

Finance: Though it would be a significant responsibility for the new guy, Councillor Cheung has the background most suitable for the job.

Health and Environment: Councillor Davis is the obvious choice, but the task of this committee is quite flexible and could lean more toward public health. In that case, Councillor Toomey’s work in the state legislature would make him an excellent choice as Chair of this committee.

Human Services: It would seem logical that Councillor Reeves’ not-yet-implemented initiatives from the previous Council might warrant his continuation as Chair.

Civic Unity: This is, as always, anybody’s guess since this committee’s function has often been at the whim of its Chair except when responding to some hot issue of the day. Mayor Maher should flip a coin on this one.

Transportation, Traffic, and Parking: This was Councillor Davis’ bailiwick, though Councillor Kelley remains a logical choice to continue as Chair.

Government Operations and Rules: This may turn out to be the most important of the committees and perhaps the most politicized. Toward the end of this City Council term, there will almost certainly be discussion of the future possibilities for the position of City Manager. This committee also occasionally initiates discussions about possible Charter reform, though this is usually just a short-term reaction to dissatisfaction with the mayoral selection process. In recent years, the most logical choices were Councillor Maher and former Councillors Sullivan and Murphy. Though there may be no ideal choice this year, Councillors Toomey, Davis, and Seidel seem best-matched to the task.

Housing: Councillors Simmons or Seidel or Decker come to mind.

Neighborhood and Long Term Planning: Councillor Seidel, of course, though Councillor Cheung would be a welcome member of this committee.

Claims: Councillor Toomey always asks for it.

Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations: Perhaps Councillor Reeves or Councillor Davis.

Veterans: The clear choice is Councillor Kelley, a veteran who really cares about the purpose of this committee.

Cable TV, Telecommunications, and Public Utilities: Since energy and climate-related issues are advancing into the spotlight, perhaps this should again be chaired by Councillor Davis. However, it would also be a good choice for Councillor Cheung who has already proposed initiatives relevant to this committee. It would be great if at least some attention was given this term to future Cable TV and related options – an area that is quickly changing and for which structures laid out 25 years ago are trending toward obsolescence.

Public Safety: Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley, or Councillor Simmons come to mind.

Economic Development, Training, and  Employment: Councillors Simmons, Seidel, or Cheung are probably best-suited for this committee. Other reasonable choices could be Councillors Davis or Decker. In contrast, the previous Chair (Reeves) met this committee only once in two years and only then in response to complaints from some taxi drivers about being required to accept credit card payments.

University Relations: Councillor Cheung is the sensible (and obvious) choice.

Let’s see what we get, and don’t forget what became of the mouse, the bird and the sausage.

At the last Council meeting, two items were tabled via the Charter Right and will presumably be voted tonight.

Charter Right #1. Charter Right exercised by Councillor Seidel on City Manager Agenda Number Fourteen of Feb 22, 2010 on a communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the transfer within the Community Policing Grant of $31,360 from Grant Fund Police Extraordinary Expenditures account to the Grant Fund Police Travel and Training account to cover costs associated with the Cambridge Review Committee.

According to Marc Levy’s account of this in his Cambridge blog, Councillors Seidel, Reeves, and Decker all had things to say about this item, though their reasons for objection varied from lack of transparency and inclusiveness (Seidel) to outright disagreement with the entire purpose of this committee (Reeves). It seems likely that additional debate/speeches will be heard on this matter.

Charter Right #2. Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor Davis on Policy Order Number Eight of Feb 22, 2010 that the City Manager is requested to communicate to Oak Tree Development that the City Council requested that the CPA funds used for the preservation of St. James Church be returned to the City.

This one should be filed along with the author’s previous order a few years ago to downzone a stretch of Memorial Drive essentially to pastureland in response to concerns over hotel workers being fired. A City Council Order should be both serious and legally legitimate. In this case, regardless how one may feel about this proposed development, Community Preservation Act funds were used by St. James Church for the restoration of its belfry. It is simply not logical to demand that because this church (or any entity for that matter) received public funds for part of its property that this should allow the City to make demands on other property owned by the church or which may soon be sold by the church. The belfry was preserved and remains preserved regardless what happens nearby.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Assistant City Manager of Community Development to work with community groups and to conduct a feasibility study of a public market at Lechmere Square.   Councillor Toomey and Councillor Cheung

This idea was floated by the East Cambridge Planning Team last year and deserves a good look even if something very different comes out of the discussion. This is an important parcel which will be vacated when the T station moves across the McGrath Highway which hopefully will one day be restored to something less like a highway and more like an urban boulevard.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Chief Information Officer of Information Technology to to evaluate available options and report back to the City Council with the results of that evaluation and a timeframe for transitioning to a modern web video platform.   Councillor Cheung

Once again, our new Councillor injects his ever-so-modern perspective into the workings of the City Council and spares no details.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the infrastructure of Central Square, its planned improvements, and whether these improvements are on track to be completed in time for the BIO 2012 conference.   Councillor Reeves

The only point I would make on this one is that any infrastructure and improvements in Central Square should be done first for the betterment of its residents and existing businesses and should not be driven by the needs of a conference, no matter how large, that will last a few days and be gone. A little more detail on exactly what infrastructure is being referenced in this Order would also be appreciated. — Robert Winters

The Mouse, the Bird, and The Sausage – by Brothers Grimm

Once upon a time, a mouse, a bird, and a sausage, entered into partnership and set up house together. For a long time all went well; they lived in great comfort, and prospered so far as to be able to add considerably to their stores. The bird’s duty was to fly daily into the wood and bring in fuel; the mouse fetched the water, and the sausage saw to the cooking.

When people are too well off they always begin to long for something new. And so it came to pass, that the bird, while out one day, met a fellow bird, to whom he boastfully expatiated on the excellence of his household arrangements. But the other bird sneered at him for being a poor simpleton, who did all the hard work, while the other two stayed at home and had a good time of it. For, when the mouse had made the fire and fetched in the water, she could retire into her little room and rest until it was time to set the table. The sausage had only to watch the pot to see that the food was properly cooked, and when it was near dinner-time, he just threw himself into the broth, or rolled in and out among the vegetables three or four times, and there they were, buttered, and salted, and ready to be served. Then, when the bird came home and had laid aside his burden, they sat down to table, and when they had finished their meal, they could sleep their fill till the following morning: and that was really a very delightful life.

Influenced by those remarks, the bird next morning refused to bring in the wood, telling the others that he had been their servant long enough, and had been a fool into the bargain, and that it was now time to make a change, and to try some other way of arranging the work. Beg and pray as the mouse and the sausage might, it was of no use; the bird remained master of the situation, and the venture had to be made. They therefore drew lots, and it fell to the sausage to bring in the wood, to the mouse to cook, and to the bird to fetch the water.

And now what happened? The sausage started in search of wood, the bird made the fire, and the mouse put on the pot, and then these two waited till the sausage returned with the fuel for the following day. But the sausage remained so long away, that they became uneasy, and the bird flew out to meet him. He had not flown far, however, when he came across a dog who, having met the sausage, had regarded him as his legitimate booty, and so seized and swallowed him. The bird complained to the dog of this bare-faced robbery, but nothing he said was of any avail, for the dog answered that he found false credentials on the sausage, and that was the reason his life had been forfeited.

He picked up the wood, and flew sadly home, and told the mouse all he had seen and heard. They were both very unhappy, but agreed to make the best of things and to remain with one another.

So now the bird set the table, and the mouse looked after the food and, wishing to prepare it in the same way as the sausage, by rolling in and out among the vegetables to salt and butter them, she jumped into the pot; but she stopped short long before she reached the bottom, having already parted not only with her skin and hair, but also with life.

Presently the bird came in and wanted to serve up the dinner, but he could nowhere see the cook. In his alarm and flurry, he threw the wood here and there about the floor, called and searched, but no cook was to be found. Then some of the wood that had been carelessly thrown down, caught fire and began to blaze. The bird hastened to fetch some water, but his pail fell into the well, and he after it, and as he was unable to recover himself, he was drowned.

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