Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 25, 2010

Message to Susan Clippinger, Director of Traffic, Parking, & Transportation

Filed under: Cambridge government — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:42 pm

May 25: Message to Susan Clippinger, Director of Traffic, Parking, & Transportation

Annoying as it is to have parking meters in front of my house at which you personally park YOUR car all day on most days, it is especially annoying when one of your thoroughly unprofessional parking officers chooses to harass me for pulling up in front of my house to unload groceries for all of two minutes without feeding the meter. When I asked her to just cut me some slack, she circled back to the meter getting ready to write me a ticket. She told me to take it up with you, so I am.

From which pool exactly do you draw your employees, Susan? Recent news stories suggest it’s a rather shallow pool. This particular “officer” is apparently well known for her harassment of people. I feel certain that now that she has matched my address, my face, and my vehicle I can expect to get “special treatment” from her at every turn. Perhaps I’ll point her out to you when next we meet. In the meantime, perhaps you’ll finally give some consideration to a policy regarding people without driveways and with parking meters in front of their homes. In my case, the primary users of the metered spaces on Broadway and on Inman Street are those coming to visit your very own department at 344 Broadway. Would it be so difficult for you to instruct your officers to cut some slack for the actual residents of these streets who need to occasionally unload groceries? Would that kill you, Susan?

Councillor Toomey has raised this issue on numerous occasions and you’ve ignored him every time. No wonder most elected officials hold you in such low regard. If the state-mandated Traffic Board existed, I would petition them, but you have chosen to ignore state law for many years now – leaving citizens no recourse other than to beg you when they feel a regulation should be changed. In the meantime, just cut us a little slack, OK? – Robert Winters

May 24, 2010

May 24, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:27 pm

May 24, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Tonight is Budget Adoption Night at City Hall. The related Finance Committee reports are these:

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 5, 2010, May 13, 2010 and May 19, 2010 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2011 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $426,629,125.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 13, 2010 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2011 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $16,416,120.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 13, 2010 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2011 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $9,935,015.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a meeting held on May 12, 2010 for the purpose of providing a summary to community leaders of the city’s current and proposed budget and an explanation of how state and federal budget cuts have impacted the city’s budget.

This year’s budget hearings were not controversial except perhaps for the School Department budget which eliminates several clerical positions. That matter still lies “On the Table” though apparently some resolution must be in the works as indicated by the lack of rancor reported at the May 19 School Department budget hearing. Perhaps some contractual guarantees prevailed or maybe positions elsewhere in Cambridge government were found in response to lobbying by city councillors and school committee members.

City Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-64, regarding the sale of the Sullivan Courthouse. [“In light of the courthouse’s great size (460,000 square feet), lack of parking associated with the building, and its out-of-date architectural style, I do not see any public reuse for the structure.” … “Should the property be sold to and redeveloped by a private entity local zoning would apply. We have expressed our willingness to work closely with any owner to develop a project of more moderate height and scale; with active ground floor uses; including some portion of residential use, in keeping with the neighborhood context; and with appropriate parking supply based on building uses.”]

The referenced courthouse building really is out of place and out of time – the product of a misplaced sense of progress decades ago. A modest-scale private mixed residential/commercial/office redevelopment is probably the best reuse for the site. Any proposals that have been floated for a public marketplace in the Lechmere area should happen in and around the existing commercial corridors along Cambridge Street and the O’Brien Highway (the former Bridge Street). There must surely also be a way to integrate the court functions that were previously in the Sullivan Courthouse into existing and new buildings adjacent to the historic court buildings in the Lechmere area.

City Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-77, regarding a report on a review of investments and business practices engaged in by the City to determine what activities are conducted with the State of Arizona. [“Following a review of the City’s current listing of CD’s purchased through Morgan Stanley, it was determined that a $100,000 CD was purchased on Apr 9, 2009 from the Asian Bank located in Phoenix, Arizona. The CD has a maturity date of July 9, 2010, and will not be renewed after reaching maturity. Our representative at Morgan Stanley has been instructed to refrain from purchasing any further investments in the State of Arizona.”]

Not unexpectedly, the City’s Arizona investments amounted to pocket change. The City Council has (thankfully) not yet voted on a meaningless policy position on the recent Arizona law regarding suspected illegal immigrants.

Resolution #22. Happy Birthday wishes to a special Cantabrigian.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Decker, Councillor Kelley, Mayor Maher, Councillor Reeves, Councillor Seidel and Councillor Toomey

Hmmm….. Henrietta Davis had a birthday on May 18 and she’s the only city councillor not listed as a sponsor. Could she be that “special Cantabrigian?” Had this been Councillor Reeves’ birthday, he would have been the lead sponsor.

Resolution #36. Congratulations to Littane Bien-Aime on being selected a 2010 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow following a nationwide contest.   Councillor Cheung

We hope that the Rangel award is not in recognition of ethical violations such as using political connections to evade New York City housing laws or accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean.

Order #7. That the City Council Committee on Transportation, Traffic and Parking schedule a public meeting on the City’s traffic calming and bike facility programs.   Councillor Kelley

It’s likely nothing will come of this, but Councillor Kelley is to be commended for directing some attention toward the generally unquestioned and arbitrary decisions of City transportation planners.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the property known as the Norton Woods that has been reopened after being closed due to flooding with a newly instituted no dogs policy.   Councillor Decker

The bottom line is that this area is not public property and the owners (American Academy of Arts and Sciences) can institute any rules they wish. They’ve been great in allowing public access to the property and though it may be worth politely asking a question or two about their policy on dogs, ultimately it’s their call.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to inform the City Council on how the Cambridge Historical Commission, the Cambridge Room of the Cambridge Public Library, the Cambridge Historical Society, and Cambridge Community Television might work together to digitize the various Cambridge historical collections and determine how these various entities will work together to preserve Cambridge history of the past, current happenings, social history, architectural history and preservation, and other matters of historical significance to Cambridge.   Councillor Reeves

This is a timely and useful Order from Councillor Reeves. Though it’s unclear why CCTV is included in the mix, the fact is that we now have a proper Cambridge Room at the new Main Library and there’s a clear need to preserve and archive material and to make much of it digitally available. A professional archivist was reportedly to be hired, but it’s not clear from the FY2011 budget whether this has actually taken place or what the job responsibilities would be for this person and for others already working in the Historical Commission who might play a role in such a project. This is an area where volunteer assistance and a cooperative arrangement with the Cambridge Historical Society (which is already engaged in digital archiving) may be worth considering.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a delineation of the boundaries of Joan Lorentz Park.   Councillor Seidel

Normally this might be just a formality, but with the new Library, reconstruction at the high school, and pedestrian connections being reconfigured around these tightly integrated uses, it’s worth clarifying who’s responsible for maintaining which pieces of this jigsaw puzzle. In some respects, everything outside of the buildings has the feel of a single contiguous park, but clarity today may be helpful 20 or 30 years from now should there be future plans to reconfigure the space.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a hearing held on May 6, 2010 to consider a petition filed by the City Council on behalf of the Green Building/Zoning Task Force to amend the zoning ordinance to encourage green building practices in Cambridge.

Normally, a committee report like this doesn’t really stand out, but there is one notable record of public testimony in the report worth highlighting:

Guy Asaph, 29 Oakdale Street, said there is no reason for anyone to invest $30,000 in a solar system. A $25,000 investment would produce $25 in electricity. There is no incentive. He said that if we want to make energy issues seriously, there have to be real incentives. The proposals are nice, but they do not go far enough. The greenest buildings are big buildings, so up-zoning and providing incentives are the best ways to make Cambridge buildings more energy efficient.

Though the units of measurement are clearly misstated here (an investment of $25,000 is a one-time cost, but it’s unclear whether the $25 in electricity is per month, per year, or over the useful life of the investment), it is useful to be clear about whether there is much bang for the buck in some proposed energy projects like solar panels and wind turbines. I have heard credible testimony suggesting that the payback for energy generation projects like these are very minimal in a Cambridge context, while energy conservation measures (such as insulation and higher efficiency) usually have clear economic and environmental benefits. Where should the investment money be concentrated? Insulation and efficiency seem to be the smart choices much more than on-site power generation. Cambridge is not the same as Hull or Oklahoma (“where the wind comes sweeping down the plain”).

Mr. Aseph doesn’t stop at questioning the economics of solar installations. He also makes the case for packing more and more higher density buildings into the City. Considering the fact that he develops real estate for a living, this is a rather self-serving vision (to say the least) even if there may be a grain of truth in his wish to upzone the city ever higher. — Robert Winters

May 10, 2010

May 10, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:05 pm

May 10, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

The City Manager’s Agenda tonight features significant public investment items – primarily authorizations to borrow for infrastructure projects. Here’s the list:

Mgr #8. Appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,250,000 to continue sewer projects in the Harvard Square, Cambridgeport, and Alewife Watershed areas of the City.

Mgr #9. Appropriation and authorization to borrow $700,000 to provide funds to replace the existing artificial turf on the soccer field at Danehy Park as well as resurfacing the 400 meter running track.

Mgr #10. Appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds to fund the reconstruction of JFK Street between Eliot and Brattle Streets.

Mgr #11. Appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,500,000 to provide funds to fund the first phase of the reconstruction of the Harvard Square Tunnel (Cambridge Street Underpass).

Mgr #12. Appropriation and authorization to borrow $500,000 to provide funds to fund the design of the restoration of the Kendall Square area on Main Street between Broadway and Ames Street.

Mgr #13. Appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,500,000 to provide funds for improvements to several City buildings including the East Cambridge and Inman Square Fire Stations, Ryan Garage at Public Works, Central Square Library, and several elementary schools.

There should be “suitably engrossed” awards in gilded folders given to city councillors who generate excessive numbers of suitably engrossed resolutions at (I believe) around $5 a pop. This week’s runner-up award goes to Mayor Maher for his 11 identical resolutions to various people for “passing the Massachusetts Department of Public Health written and performance test for the position of Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).” The top prize this week goes to Councillor Simmons for her 51 (I’m not kidding) nearly identical resolutions to people for their “work on the Prince Hall Memorial Committee.” Good thing she has that aide to help with such important “research” matters like this. By the way, did I mention that the single biggest jump in department budget over a five year span was for the City Council. So many resolutions, so little time.

Councillor Decker has another Vanity Order this week:

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to determine with due consideration for, among other things, return on investment, to what extent it is reasonable to not participate in any business activities substantially connected with the State of Arizona, municipalities in Arizona, and other business entities in Arizona or conducting substantial business in Arizona.   Councillor Decker

Regardless of the merits of the Arizona law, it’s arrogant for an elected official in the northeast to weigh in on matters in a border state whose issues she can’t even begin to appreciate. Besides, it’s hard to imagine the City of Cambridge having any investments in Arizona, so this really is just a Vanity Order.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and commission heads to develop a standard set of resources, facility privileges, tools, and barebones operating budget the unfunded commissions may use in their work of enacting Council policy.  Councillor Cheung

Essentially all Cambridge citizen boards and commissions work closely with one or more City departments which provide support for these boards. Councillor Cheung’s Order focuses primarily on “the capability for all commissions to post and maintain an email distribution list” and seems to suggest that the capacity for this should be made available on City servers rather than via such services as YahooGroups and GoogleGroups. This does raise the inevitable issue of public records. Clearly, if City servers are involved then any and all communications are potentially available as public records. It’s not clear if this is the case for communications among members on outside servers. Another consideration is that with an outside service the group “owner” can freely moderate the group and even delete some communications. This probably would not be permitted if hosted on City servers as it may constitute “destroying a public record.” Perhaps things are better left as they are.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on the impact of the MWRA water pipe rupture on the Charles River in Cambridge.  Councillor Seidel

Actually, Councillor Seidel’s Order asks about two incidents: the recent MWRA break in Weston and a February 2010 diesel spill in the Lower Charles River Basin. While I cannot speak to the latter, I can say with some confidence that the Weston break had no impact whatsoever on Cambridge other than to highlight the great advantage of having our own independent water supply. As it turns out, I was leading a group of 40 hikers that day (May 1) along a section of the Sudbury Aqueduct in Wellesley and telling the history of Boston Water and about how this aqueduct was last used about 35 years ago and was still maintained for use in a “catastrophic emergency”. Little did I know that such an emergency was unfolding even as I spoke and that by day’s end the Sudbury Aqueduct would be back in service during the emergency. — Robert Winters

May 4, 2010

Jessica Eckhardt’s conversation with Nicole Freedman and Jeff Rosenblum

Following the Urban Revolutions event on April 28 (see previous post on this blog), Cambridge resident Jessica Eckhardt spoke with Boston’s Bicycle Program director, Nicole Freedman. They had known each other as members of the bicycle racing community. Eckhardt also spoke with Jeff Rosenblum, who works in the Cambridge Community Development Department and who was a co-founder of Livable Streets. Following (you may have to click on a “more” prompt just below this) is Eckhardt’s account of the conversation.

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“Urban Revolutions” event at MIT

What follows here is a very long post, but Robert Winters has given me a free rein. I haven’t seen any other news coverage of the “Urban Revolutions” event, so here goes. Despite its length, this is not a transcript — though I quote the speakers liberally, I have summarized much of the session. If you see a “more” prompt just below, click on it so see the rest of my account. Thanks Robert!
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May 3, 2010

May 3, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:40 am

May 3, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

The City Manager will give an overview of the FY2011 City Budget early in tonight’s meeting followed by the usual platitudes from councillors. The Budget Hearings start this Wednesday (see schedule below). Word is going around that hordes of townies will be at tonight’s meeting for Councillor Toomey’s tabled Order from the previous meeting. [That the City Manager is requested to restore funding for School Department clerical positions until a proper and negotiated process can be achieved with the Cambridge School Department and Unions representing the employees, and to report back to the City Council on the progress.] School Committee members have commented that these changes occurred only after appropriate process and that these staff reductions are consistent with a long-held commitment to cut back on excesses in central administration within the School Department. It would seem that some of these jobs may have their roots in political friendship. More significant is the question of whether it is appropriate for the Cambridge City Council to intervene in personnel issues within the School Department and under the supervision of that other elected body – the Cambridge School Committee.

There are also these other items of minor interest:

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads on the feasibility of offering closed captioning for streaming video on the City’s website.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Decker

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads on the feasibility of updating the City of Cambridge’s website with automatic translation software.   Councillor Cheung

Very well to make this information accessible to all, but it does raise the issue of diminishing returns. How much additional investment and staff support will it take to provide these marginal benefits?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the possibility of making the property at 93 Kirkland Street part of Cambridge’s affordable housing stock through purchase and renovation by the City or by a qualified non-profit.   Councillor Seidel

Once again, the knee-jerk response is that taxpayer money should be spent without question on “affordable housing” projects. Maybe it’s a good idea, but taxpayers should really question where their money is going.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher, transmitting changes in the membership of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee. [Councillor Decker has been removed from this committee, per her request. Councillor Simmons has been appointed to this committee. The committee now consists of Councillors Seidel (Chair), Cheung, and Simmons.]

The entertaining thing about this communication is that Councillor Decker wishes to cut down on her committees because of “the breadth of work I expect to be engaged in as Chair of the Housing, Health, and Finance Committee.” Suffice to say that Councillor Decker’s record of attendance at Council committees has been at or near the bottom for as long as she’s been on the City Council. It will be interesting to see the “breadth of work” of which she speaks. She will now serve on just 6 committees while all of her Council colleagues will serve on 8, 9 or 10 committees. — Robert Winters


Wed, May 5

9:30am The City Council’s Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the FY10 City Budget. This hearing to be televised. (Sullivan Chamber)

Police Department
License Commission
Mayor’s Office
Executive
City Council
City Clerk
Law
Finance Admin.
Budget
Personnel
Assessing
Purchasing
Auditing
Treasury/Revenue
Information Technology
Employee Benefits
General Services
Election Commission
Public Celebrations
Reserve
Animal Commission
Fire Department
Traffic, Parking & Transportation
Police Review & Advisory Board
Inspectional Services
Weights & Measures
Electrical
Emergency Communications

Date changes for individual departments may occur.

Wed, May 12
6:00pm The City Council’s Finance Committee will conduct a public meeting for the purposes of providing a summary to community leaders of the city’s current and proposed budget and an explanation of how state and federal budget cuts have impacted the city’s budget. This hearing to be televised.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Thurs, May 13
9:30am The City Council’s Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the FY10 City Budget. This hearing to be televised.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Cambridge Health Alliance
Public Works
Water
Community Development
Historical Commission
Conservation Commission
Peace Commission
Cable TV
Debt Service
Library
Human Services
Women’s Commission
Human Rights Commission
Veterans
MWRA
Cherry Sheet
Summaries Section
Revenue Section
Public Investment

Date changes for individual departments may occur.

Wed, May 19
6:00pm The City Council’s Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the FY10 School Department Budget. This hearing to be televised.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Thurs, May 20
9:30am The City Council’s Finance Committee will conduct a public hearing to discuss the FY10 City Budget (if necessary). This hearing to be televised.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Mon, May 24
5:30pm City Council meeting  (Sullivan Chamber) – Expected date of Budget Adoption.

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