Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 27, 2010

Sept 27, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:01 pm

Sept 27, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Perhaps the hottest item on tonight’s agenda is one that has received far more attention than it deserves. Earlier this year, staff at the Community Development Department suggested that changes might be in order for the current practice of seeking variances to the part of the Zoning Code relating to signage on buildings. This led to a City Council Petition that would regularize this process and shift things from seeking a zoning variance from the BZA to seeking a special permit from the Planning Board. Part of the logic was that the Planning Board and related staff were more attuned to design issues and that the mechanism might in this way be made more fair and consistent with citywide planning goals and standards. Then the excrement hit the blades.

This proposed zoning amendment should never have been a big deal, but this changed when inflammatory material showing the Charles River’s Cambridge shoreline lit up like Las Vegas with major corporate logos was circulated by opponents to the amendment. There were deficiencies in the original draft that could have led to unintended consequences around the city, and these were best illustrated by a spoken “virtual trip” through Cambridge by Kevin Crane (legal counsel for a major opponent of the proposed change) before the Planning Board during one of two summer meetings on this topic. However, the inflammatory rhetoric and graphics were never a realistic depiction of even the worst-case scenario of what could have happened as a result of the proposed changes. A series of amendments were proposed, the matter had its hearings before the Ordinance Committee, and it’s now ready for a City Council vote.

Whenever zoning controversies loom over the Cambridge City Council, they will often simply punt. That is, they will either re-file the petition under the hope that a settlement can be reached or that the controversy will die down. Either that or they will seek some kind of Solomonic compromise that averages the interests of both sides not necessarily to find the best solution but to get past the controversy. In the case of zoning petitions strategically filed so to come to a vote immediately before a municipal election, populism will often prevail. In the case of the sign ordinance changes, there is no municipal election in sight and it would seem that recent modifications to the original proposal should help grease its way to ordination. However, anything could happen. The relevant agenda items follow:

Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on Sept 7, 2010 to consider a petition filed by the City Council to modify the Zoning Ordinance regulation of signs. the question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Sept 27, 2010. Planning Board hearing held July 6, 2010. Petition expires Oct 5, 2010.

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Zoning Petition to Revise the Sign Ordinance – Article 7.000. [The Planning Board recommends that the original Petition be approved with amendments. The changes recommended by the Board to the original Petition language of the Building ID Signs section are summarized below.]

  • Establishment of a special permit process before the Planning Board.
  • A narrowing of the zoning districts where such signs may be permitted, to areas of concentrated office development at the eastern and western ends of the city.
  • Restriction of the signs to non-residential buildings only that are at least 100,000 square feet in size.
  • Limiting the signs to identifying the whole building or an office tenant occupying a significant portion of the building. The Planning Board recommends that at least 25% of the leasable area of the building be presumed to be significant.
  • Prohibition of such signs in local conservation and historic districts.
  • Enumeration of the criteria for approval of the Building ID Signs, including: how the sign would be viewed from nearby residential districts, open space, historic districts, and the Charles River; light pollution.
  • An articulation of the purpose of the provision.
  • A relaxation of one standard in the current Sign Ordinance to allow the placement of an ID sign on the screening wall of mechanical equipment located above the building’s roof where that placement would better integrate the sign into the architecture of the building.

If this were the only item on the agenda, we might be treated to a hefty dose of public comment by those who choose to remain only partially informed, followed by a quick vote and the dismissal of otherwise routine matters. But, alas, there are a couple of other juicy items on tonight’s menu – specifically on the Reconsideration portion of the agenda.

Reconsideration #1. Reconsideration filed by Councillor Toomey on the affirmative vote taken on September 13, 2010 to refer to the Ordinance Committee and to pass to a second reading a proposed amendment to the Municipal code that would increase the residential parking sticker fee. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Item Number Thirty-Six of August 2, 2010. On September 13, 2010 motion of Vice Mayor Davis to refer to Ordinance Committee and Passage to a second reading on roll call 7-1-1.]

After a summer committee meeting on this topic, I was inclined to believe that this would actually pass with only token opposition. After all, the current fee of $8 has been in place for nearly 20 years and it was stuck at $5 for long before that. There is an obvious logic to some kind of fee increase. However, besides the argument that these fees were never meant to be anything more than nominal fees, the matter is complicated by the fact that these fees are now embedded into an ordinance (the Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance) which restricts the uses for this revenue. Perhaps more significantly, the collection of fees for resident permit parking was established in a 1965 Special Act of the Legislature that specifies that this revenue may only be used for traffic & parking related matters.

Normally this would be fine, but it has been publicly stated now by the City Manager and others that one use of this proposed fee increase would be to “get the message out” about climate change in conjunction with the agenda of the recent “Climate Congress” of activists that took place in a series of City Hall meetings this past year. It is clear that some members of the public and some city councillors take issue with this earmarking of revenues for the benefit of one interest group. Some have argued that, despite the virtue of the proposed purpose, use of this revenue should be subject to the same budget processes as all other matters while remaining consistent with the uses specified under state law. Of course, the real bottom line is that there are political advantages to saying that you stood in opposition to a fee increase, and that inclination could prevail if the rhetoric starts to thicken. This could come to a vote as late as October 18 and still be viable for the 2011 calendar year.

Reconsideration #2. Reconsideration filed by Vice Mayor Davis on the vote taken failing to refer to the Ordinance Committee a response relative to Awaiting Report Item #10-116, regarding a report on the impact of decriminalization of marijuana possession. [Motion of Councillor Cheung to refer to Public Safety Committee failed 4-4-1. Motion of Vice Mayor Davis to refer to Ordinance Committee failed 4-4-1.]

Regrettably, I was gone by the time this vote was taken on Sept 13 (as was Councillor Decker – hence the tie vote). I believe the sole purpose of the Ordinance suggested by Police Commissioner Robert Haas in this report was to give Cambridge Police more tools for controlling public consumption of pot, including the ability of police to confiscate the dope. I would be curious to know who stood on either side of this issue as well as their reasons, but for that I may have to watch the video.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the planning process for the  Concord Avenue redesign, the outreach efforts to inform the public of the project and how the planned changes in bike facilities in the project area were advertised in the outreach efforts.   Councillor Kelley

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee, for a meeting held on Aug 10, 2010 to discuss bike facilities including bike lanes, bike tracks and bike parking.

I was not a bystander in this matter. There does seem to be a growing trend within some City departments to treat cyclists as children and to move them onto the sidewalk along Concord Avenue and in some other locations. While it’s good to create this sidepath option for children along some roads with higher speeds and for most cyclists along highway-like throughfares such as Memorial Drive, it is a dreadful precedent to require most cyclists not to use the road along with all other vehicles. Besides the multiple inconveniences of these sidepaths, they often provide only a perception of enhanced safety when, in truth, they may actually be less safe. [Related article]

At issue in Councillor Kelley’s Order #2 is the especially annoying and very un-Cambridge recent practice of whisking some of these projects through with little opportunity for the public to respond until after the project is either under construction or out to bid.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the feasibility of adding historical sub-signs to street signs and replacing those sub-signs that were installed for the Bicentennial and commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 in 2012 with street sub-signs or some other method.   Vice Mayor Davis

Though an excellent idea, one has to wonder how it can be that we are still permitted to have celebrations of any war in this ultra-politically-correct enclave. I’m sure there are those in Cambridge who would rename Hamilton Street as Karl Marx Avenue, Erie Street as Lenin Street, Perry Street as Fidel Castro Boulevard, Lawrence Street as Sisterhood Avenue, and Decatur Street as Obama Way. – Robert Winters

September 13, 2010

Final Results – Sept 2010 State Senate Primary (Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex)

Filed under: 2010 Election,2010 State Senate election — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:46 pm

Until we get separate results, the totals for Charlestown and Allston-Brighton will be reported together under Charlestown.

CandidateAllston-
Brighton
CambridgeCharlestownChelseaEverettRevereSaugusSomervilleTotalPercent
Total03591
(11 complete)
2462
(13 complete)
1434
(16 complete)
4285
(18 complete)
873
(3 complete)
763
(3 complete)
464
(2 complete)
13872
(66 complete)
100.0
DiDomenico, Sal09939577213249423440227701050.6
Flaherty, Tim0259314997011028448323237682949.2
Write-In/Other056128200330.2

These are now official vote totals.
Sal DiDomenico won this election by a margin of 181 votes.
The Somerville Journal reported that candidate Flaherty filed for a recount of the ballots cast in Everett. This recount was expected to commence on Saturday, Sept 25, but Tim Flaherty has now rescinded his request for a recount.
For comparisons, the results of the April 2010 Special Primary Election may be found at: http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=616.

Sept 13, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:38 am

Sept 13, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

The summer is over for the Monday Night Nine. The City Council returns to 31 items on the City Manager’s Agenda (including the perfunctory vote on the Community Preservation Act entitlements for Just-A-Start and Homeowner’s Rehab) plus 119 Resolutions, 15 City Council Orders, and 5 Committee Reports. There will also likely be some discussion of the proposed changes to the Sign Ordinance that have been distorted by both sides of that controversy. As if that isn’t enough, the Council will also likely take up the two items “charter righted” from the previous meeting – backyard chickens and a proposed increase in the resident parking permit fee. So, let’s get started with the items that stand out.

Mgr #19. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:

1A. 80% of FY2011 CPA Local Fund revenues ($5,200,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;

1B. 10% of FY2011 CPA Local Fund revenues ($650,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

1C. 10% of FY2011 CPA Local Fund revenues ($650,000) allocated to Open Space;

2A. 10% of FY2010 State Match revenues ($1,640,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;

2B. 10% of FY2010 State Match revenues ($205,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

2C. 10% of FY2010 State Match revenues ($205,000) allocated to Open Space;

3A. 80% of the Fund Balance ($800,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Affordable Housing Trust;

3B. 10% of the Fund Balance ($100,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

3C. 10% of the Fund Balance ($100,000) allocated to Open Space; and

4A. Appropriate ($7,500) from the Fund Balance the cost for the Community Preservation Coalition Membership Dues.

Having spoken at the hearings leading up to this vote, there is little left for me to say. The nine-member CPA committee was appointed after the 2001 election with the understanding that the maximum (80%) would always be given to subsidized housing and the minimum (10% each) would always be given to Open Space Acquisition and Historic Preservation. The City Council never reviews this prioritization, and they will never deviate from it regardless of any vacuous “debate” that might take place this Monday. If you have anything to say on this topic, you are advised to stay home and watch football.

Mgr #21-25: Five appropriations totaling $2,565,802 to the School Department from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds.

There’s not much to say other than to note that this is a considerable amount of money. A March 31, 2010 report noted that: “The City of Cambridge has been awarded (up to that time) approximately $6.5 million in ARRA funding through both entitlement and competitive grants. Some of the departments receiving ARRA funding include the School Department, Community Development, Police Department and Public Works.” These new appropriations are in addition to the previous sum and there may have been other ARRA funds awarded in the interim.

Mgr #31. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-116, regarding a report on the impact of decriminalization of marijuana possession.

Police Commissioner Robert Haas proposes in this report that an ordinance be passed prohibiting the smoking of marijuana or hashish in public places, on City property, and while riding the bus. The penalty would be a $300 fine for each offense and confiscation of the drugs.

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 09-147, report on what barriers would prevent residents from raising chickens and what could be done to remove these barriers. [Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor Davis on City Manager Agenda Item Number
Twenty-Seven of Aug 2, 2010.]

It was interesting to read a Sept 8 Boston Globe article about people raising chickens in Brookline, Belmont, Lexington, and Newton. It’s anyone’s guess whether City officials will take steps to draft regulations that might permit this in Cambridge. It is, however, apparently perfectly OK to keep and feed non-native geese down at the river’s edge, so why not chickens and ducks?

Charter Right #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation to increase the residential parking sticker fee. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Item Number Thirty-Six of Aug 2, 2010.]

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee, for a meeting held on July 13, 2010 to discuss the parking fee structure.

It’s not clear what will happen with this, but Councillor Decker promised to schedule a Finance Committee hearing on this in addition to the expected Ordinance Committee hearing. Neither has been scheduled and the change would have to be made by the end of September in order to be implemented for 2011.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on July 8, 2010 to consider a petition filed by the City Council to modify the Zoning Ordinance regulation of signs.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on Sept 7, 2010 to consider a petition filed by the City Council to modify the Zoning Ordinance regulation of signs.

My understanding is that this whole controversy grew out of concerns by the Board of Zoning Appeals about frequent requests for variances to this part of the Zoning Ordinance (which were often granted). There was some feeling that this should be handled not by the variance process but instead via a review process by the Planning Board. Significant proponents are backing the proposed changes (as amended), and opponents have lined up on their side of the issue with inflamatory photoshopped images suggesting worst-case scenarios. I suspect the City Council will pass some kind of amendment eventually, and I’ll leave it to others to speculate on the effect of all those $500 checks directed to political campaign accounts.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a meeting held on Aug 16, 2010 to discuss the process for the City Council to use in setting the City Council goals FY11and FY12.

This is the biennial goal-setting process and what is proposed is a pretty good process. The finished product always looks terribly generic to this observer – lots of rosy language about diversity and fostering community and the usual stuff, but the process does have the potential to motivate some of the councillors to take on some initiatives. [current FY2010-FY2011 goals]

Resolution #26. Congratulations to Colleen Johnston on her appointment as Acting Executive Director of the Human Rights Commission.   Mayor Maher

Resolution #27. Congratulations to Brian Corr on his appointment as Acting Executive Secretary of the Police Review & Advisory Board.   Mayor Maher

Something is going on here, but I don’t know what. Marlissa Briggett was appointed on Jan 19, 2010 to be the Executive Director of the Cambridge Human Rights Commission and Executive Secretary of the Police Review & Advisory Board. It appears that she is no longer serving in that role. Colleen Johnston has been on the staff of the Human Rights Commission, and Brian Corr is the Director of the Peace Commission.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council on the nature of MBTA improvements to the Grand Junction Railroad.   Councillor Toomey

It appears that Worcester Mayor Tim Murray (oh yeah, now he’s Lt. Governor) is on the verge of getting his Worcester-North Station commuter line in spite of the absurd amount of grade crossings this will produce in a well-traveled part of Cambridge. The diesel fumes should also delight the Cambridge Climate Congress and all those who were so concerned about a few buses that might have followed this route as part of the now apparently defunct Urban Ring proposal.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments and report back to the City Council with the explanation of how the project on Broadway near the Marriott Hotel which reduces traffic to one lane came about and what it hopes to accomplish.   Councillor Toomey

This is noteworthy primarily because of the way changes like this happen seemingly without any input from the public or from elected officials. If Councillor Toomey gets to argue this out at a subsequent meeting with Traffic Czar Susan Clippinger, I’ll bring popcorn to the meeting.

Order #8. That the City Council go on record in opposition of the Mass Department of Transportation traffic management plan which will disproportionately affect the East Cambridge neighborhood comparative to other abutting communities.   Councillor Toomey

Apparently the Craigie Bridge (the one you may know as the Museum of Science Bridge) will be restricted during reconstruction work from Nov 2010 to April 2011 to two lanes from Boston to Cambridge and zero lanes from Cambridge to Boston. When are they supposed to start restricting the Longfellow? This could get interesting!

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the recent developments and sale of the Northpoint Project.   Councillor Toomey

The ever-evolving NorthPoint development takes yet another twist. Apparently Magic Johnson is part of the new team. It’s unclear what previous agreements about the development of this area and the Green Line extension through it will remain intact. Zoning amendments were made for this area, but any related understandings could get washed away. The state has apparently agreed to fund the construction of the relocated Lechmere/NorthPoint Green Line station, but everything else is in flux.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Director of Information Technology Department to address issues of energy consumption and emissions used by the City of Cambridge to include distribution of and dissemination of information to city employees and residents about ways to reduce energy consumption by way of deleting and/or limiting email storage.   Councillor Decker

My favorite quote in this Order is that “Sending large picture or video attachments can use the energy equivalent of boiling seventeen kettles of water”. Sure, maybe if you’re spamming them across the globe. In any case, people who send excessively large e-mail attachments are nitwits – even if their carbon footprints are the size of hamster feet.

Maybe we should come up with an estimate of how many boiling kettles of water are associated with robocalls and mass mailings in a typical political campaign. It warms my heart just thinking about it. – Robert Winters

September 6, 2010

2010 Pre-Primary Campaign Finance Reports (Cambridge Candidates)

Filed under: 2010 Election,2010 State Senate election,campaign finance — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 5:26 pm

Here are the summaries for all candidates seeking office in districts which are wholly or partially in Cambridge. The table is sortable in each field by clicking on the top row. You can also click on the candidate’s name to go to his or her OCPF page (Office of Campaign & Political Finance).

2010 Pre-Primary Campaign Finance Reports (Cambridge candidates)

CandidateOffice soughtStartEndOpenReceiptsExpendBalanceLiabilitiesNotes
DiDomenico, SalSenate: Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex6/1/20108/27/2010$3528.83$84880.00$62547.18$25861.65$28250.00$1500 in late contributions after Aug 27 are not included. Total receipts for primary is $86,380. Grand total for year is $195,335. Candidate loan to campaign is $28,250.
DiDomenico, SalSenate: Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex1/1/20105/31/2010$19201.42$108955.00$124627.59$3528.83$1550.00Previous report.
Flaherty, TimSenate: Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex6/1/20108/27/2010$292.47$60550.00$28080.09$32762.38$16000.00$11,500 in late contributions after Aug 27 are not included. Total receipts for primary is $72,050. Grand total for year is $226,339. Candidate loan to campaign is $16,000.
Flaherty, TimSenate: Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex1/1/20105/31/2010$756.91$154289.00$154753.44$292.47$0.00Previous report.
Bush, Barbara T.
Senate: Middlesex, Suffolk & Essex1/1/20108/27/2010$0.00$10590.90$4261.90$6329.00$8718.01
Tolman, StevenSenate: 2nd Suffolk & Middlesex1/1/20108/27/2010$149758.53$60098.00$77044.91$132811.62$0.00$500 in late contributions after Aug 27 are not included.
Petruccelli, AnthonySenate: 1st Suffolk & Middlesex1/1/20108/27/2010$10693.69$56675.00$66000.04$1368.65$0.00$2,000 in late contributions after Aug 27 are not included.
Brownsberger, WilliamHouse: 24th Middlesex1/1/20108/27/2010$12584.99$47961.00$11712.79$48833.20$6806.62
Wolf, AliceHouse: 25th Middlesex1/1/20108/27/2010$80752.40$24916.98$6578.33$99091.05$0.00
Toomey Jr., Timothy J.House: 26th Middlesex1/1/20108/27/2010$9202.29$27442.14$23014.43$13630.00$26345.00
Hecht, JonathanHouse: 29th Middlesex1/1/20108/27/2010$136.45$3000.00$0.00$3136.45$0.00$1,500 in late contributions after Aug 27 are not included.
Walz, MartyHouse: 8th Suffolk1/1/20108/27/2010$83153.07$46237.00$41040.34$88349.73$0.00
Rushing, ByronHouse: 9th Suffolk1/1/20108/27/2010$13915.89$500.00$140.00$14275.89$0.00

This table will be updated as reports come in. The filing deadline was Tues, Sept 7.

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: