Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 29, 2010

Burning bridges

I have removed my most recent post.

Though it was factual — and passed muster with Robert Winters, who manages this forum — it did not address the main issue that motivates me to post here: my intense frustration with some directions which the Cambridge bicycle program is taking. My post was an expression of frustration rather than a description of current issues, and as such, it created more heat than light.

In the post, I asked whether Jeff Rosenblum was a builder of bridges. I think that was a fair question, but on the other hand I have burned some, and not only with him. I am no longer a member of the Massbike Technical Advisory Committee. Executive Director David Watson had already explained to me that my presence on that committee was getting in the way of Massbike’s work with governments. My recent post was the last straw for him.

I had already considered resigning for a couple of months. I regret that I did not have the courage to ask for a resignation. Instead, I backed myself into this situation. In the light of some of my posts in this forum, it may come as a surprise to my readers, but confrontation does not come easily for me. Sometimes I do not manage it well, and it bursts out.

Massbike and its predecessor organization, the Boston Area Bicycle Coalition, have been a major part of my life over the years. I have been on the Board of Directors, been President, attended hundreds of meetings and public hearings, written large reports under contract. I part from Massbike with considerable regret. On the other hand, I am also feeling much relief with this change. I had become increasingly frustrated with some directions Massbike is taking. I was increasingly uncomfortable as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee, and Massbike leadership was increasingly uncomfortable with me.

My underlying drive, my lifetime quest, as I must acknowledge to myself, is as a journalist. When I see something that disturbs me, my primary instinct is to provide information, to explain my concern, to try to make it understandable to other people. I am highly uncomfortable with biting my tongue in the interest of political expediency and compromise.

I have now freed myself from that obligation as it involves bicycling issues in Massachusetts, and so I think I will now be able to do a better job here on this forum. I offer my heartfelt thanks to Robert Winters for hosting this forum and for his support.

I’ll sign off with a quote, which I think is apt:

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.” –Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:57

October 27, 2010

Western Avenue proposal: ill-considered

Cambridge has posted its preferred design proposal for Western Avenue.

Conceptual Design Selection booklet, October 2010. This NEW booklet details the current draft proposed conceptual design. Online/ download:

Conceptual Design roll-plan. This shows the draft proposed conceptual design in plan form.
Online/ download:

Neighborhood Walk this Thursday, Oct 28, 5:30pm, Andala Cafe, 286 Franklin Street

Community-wide Public Meeting, Wed Nov 3, 7:00pm (open house 6pm), Cambridge Senior Center, 806 Masssachusetts Avenue.

Cambridge continues with its plan to slow traffic by making streets narrower, and so more stressful and hazardous for motorists, while moving bicyclists onto glorified sidewalks where it is difficult or impossible for crossing and turning motorists to see them. The repeated invitations for right-turning motorists to turn across the path of through-traveling bicyclists in this proposal leave me breathless, especially where groups of pedestrians will wait on a bulbout, concealing through-traveling bicyclists. Also, the proposed cycle track will greatly encourage contraflow bicycle travel without making any reasonable or safe provision for it. If you have any doubt about the hazard of contraflow travel on a bicycle sidepath, here’s a link to a study which addresses it. There also will be the same issues of snow clearance as already occur on Vassar Street. It is predictable that bicycle-pedestrian collisions will be a problem, as they have been on Vassar Street.

The word “protected”, in traffic engineering used to mean, for example, a left-turn traffic signal phase where opposite-direction traffic had a red light.

Now in the Cambridge proposal it is being used to mean “motor traffic turns right across through bicycle traffic, with interrupted sight lines and no traffic signal.”

The word “protected” sure sounds good, if you don’t know that the treatment under discussion results in increased crash rates.

“Traffic calming” in very ancient times (50,-100 years ago) used to mean traffic-law enforcement. Despite the availability today of efficient tools such as license-plate cameras to record speeding and traffic-signal violations, Cambridge chooses a hardware solution — narrow lanes, which make for more stressful, difficult and dangerous driving conditions — to address the software problem of poor motorist behavior, and emphasizes the point by using bicyclists as obstacles.

Cambridge’s message to its motorists, delivered by creating an obstable course: drive real slow, and look back over your right shoulder when you turn right, or you might kill one of our highly valued and highly vulnerable bicyclists, and it’s all your fault if you do, because, you see, they are protected.”

Please don’t peg me as a naysayer. I made suggestions for alternative treatments in an earlier post, which led to a lively and welcome discussion.

Also see Paul Schimek’s post on this blog.

I hope to see good citizen participation at the public events.

Your comments on this post are welcome too.

October 25, 2010

Oct 25, 2010 City Council Agenda – Not your typical City Council meeting

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:56 am

Oct 25, 2010 City Council Agenda – Not your typical City Council meeting

This week’s meeting was supposed to be a Roundtable meeting complete with flipcharts and a facilitator. Thankfully, an Order from the previous week did away with that annoyance. There’s another reason for the switch to a regular business meeting – the referendum petition entitled "SAVE OUR SKYLINE" filed with the Election Commission on Oct 15, 2010. The petition protests Paragraph D.3 of Section 7.16.22, Building Identification Signs, and Paragraph E of Section 7.16.22, General Waiver of Sign Limitations, part of Ordinance No. 1335 amending Section 7 of the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge. That’s the technical name for the "Sign Ordinance" that was recently modified so that a party wishing to have a building identification sign would no longer seek a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals but would instead seek a Special Permit from the Planning Board subject to certain reasonable standards. If you think this sounds like a relatively minor technical change, you would be correct.

The "Save Our Skyline" group submitted a whopping 15,535 signatures (obtained in large part via paid signature gatherers) to the Cambridge Election Commission of which 11,461 were certified as valid. This represents about 18.2% of the current 62,947 registered Cambridge voters – well in excess of the 12% required under M.G.L ch. 43, sect. 42 for a referendum protesting a local ordinance. Having met the required threshold, the ordinance is now suspended and the City Council is required to reconsider its original 6-3 vote. If one councillor flip-flops on this matter from YES to NO, that ends it – the amendment is defeated (a two-thirds vote is required for a Zoning amendment). If the City Council maintains its 6-3 vote, then the matter will appear on next year’s municipal ballot, OR the City Council may vote to authorize a Special Election before then on this single issue.

Except for the seemingly boundless amount of money thrown at this campaign, this is a relatively unimportant matter that has been propagandized beyond belief via inflammatory mailings and robocalls. That said, some councillors are nervous about the potential political fallout. Ideally, we will be treated to a clear and a rational explanation by all of the councillors on what the amendment does and does not do and why they voted the way that they did. It is, however, just as likely that Monday will bring a Royal Flip-Flop with some nonsensical rationale explaining "why I was for it before I was against it."

The matter in question is on the Agenda under "Communications and Reports from City Officers" which normally would come up late in the meeting. However, with a sizable crowd likely, it’s quite possible thet the rules may be suspended to take this up earlier.

This isn’t the only item of note on this week’s Agenda. There are also these notable items:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 10-127 and 10-151, regarding a report on plans for the Grand Junction Railroad.

Existing plans developed in recent years called for an Urban Ring bus rapid-transit service and a multi-use path along this corridor. It would seem that if Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray is reelected in another week or so as part of the Patrick/Murray ticket, we may soon see between five and twenty trains per day between Worcester and Boston whizzing across Mass. Ave. and other heavily-trafficked streets at grade level as former Worcester Mayor Tim Murray’s dream is realized.

Resolution #11. Congratulations to Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves and Gregg Johnson on their recent marriage.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Decker, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Seidel, Vice Mayor Davis, Councillor Kelley and Mayor Maher

After 36 years as a couple, I’d say congratulations are in order. That’s a pretty good run for any couple.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested, to the extent allowed by relevant law, to ensure that Cambridge does not approve any permits that the developer of the Belmont Uplands may request or require from the City of Cambridge until all legal proceedings surrounding this project have been resolved.   Councillor Kelley

I have to admit that for some time I have not been entirely convinced of the merits presented by those trying to save the "silver maple forest" that abuts Little Pond just west of the old Arthur D. Little site along Route 2. However, I attended a presentation the other day by Charles Katuska about the important role that a modest-sized forested area (17 acres) can play in terms of habitat and I find myself now favoring preservation of this open space. On the other hand, this is privately owned land. The proper way to have preserved this habitat would have been for the state and/or the Town of Belmont to have purchased the site. Current plans call for building about 300 units of housing on the site, much of which is located in a flood-prone area. The Belmont Conservation Commission opposed the project, but the developer (O’Neill Properties) appealed to the state and prevailed. In addition, the developer has secured other necessary local permits. The permitting is now under appeal. It’s not clear how much leverage Cambridge has in this, but the developer does apparently need to tie the project into Cambridge’s municipally owned sewers.

Order #4. That the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee is requested to hold a hearing(s) with the intention of developing a more effective method for the City Council and Cambridge residents to discuss mitigation concerns during zoning discussions.   Councillor Kelley

It’s interesting that we have now reached the point where the appropriateness of a development proposal is now regularly eclipsed by consideration of what kind of mitigation can be squeezed out of the developer or owner of the property. It makes you wonder if "Long Term Planning" plays any role at all any more or if it’s all about using zoning restrictions to determine the price of doing business. This somehow does not seem consistent with the original intent of the legislation (M.G.L. Chapter 40A) that enabled local zoning ordinances.

Order #7. That the City Council go on record encouraging voters to vote no on Ballot Question 3 in the Nov 2 election.   Councillor Simmons

Order #8. That the City Council go on record encouraging voters to vote no on Ballot Question 1 in the Nov 2 election.   Councillor Simmons

It should come as no surprise that the City Council as well as other government officials here and elsewhere are opposed to the ballot questions being put to voters this November, and Questions 1 and 3 in particular. Question 1 would eliminate the sales tax on alcoholic beverages. Question 2 would effectively end the Chapter 40B "snob zoning" law that’s been used to promote low-income housing projects in cities and towns with little "affordable" housing. Question 3 would cut the state sales tax from the current 6.25% down to 3%.

The unfortunate thing about ballot questions like these is that voters often have to choose between two extremes. The argument against Question 1 is that it would result in the loss of revenue to support treatment programs for people with alcohol and drug addiction. However, are all revenues raised by this tax actually dedicated toward this purpose or just a portion of the revenue? If one could be assured that worthwhile programs could be preserved and nonspecific revenue curtailed, now that would be a good choice. Ideally, Question 2 would not call for the end of Chapter 40B, but rather the curtailment of its abuse by developers who use it as a bludgeon against local objections. Most significantly, Question 3 might call for a rollback of the state sales tax to the 5% rate that most residents had grown accustomed to rather than down to 3%.

This is the dreadful thing about "direct democracy." The public is often not given a proper choice other than what advocates on one side of the other wants. On the other hand, that’s why we supposedly have representative government – to elect representatives who will carefully consider all matters and reach compromises that most residents can live with. Unfortunately, in a state where one party controls virtually everything, there is little in the way of dynamic balance to ensure the kind of middle ground that many of us would prefer. I wouldn’t mind seeing some political diversity grow out of the upcoming election.

Specifically on the sales tax question, I will likely vote NO for entirely selfish reasons. If the sales tax is cut in half, it is doubtful that the City of Cambridge will slash all programs in the wake of reduced local aid. Property taxes will therefore rise closer to the levy limit. As a relatively low-level consumer, sales tax does not add up to a whole lot for me in a given year. On the other hand, I would really not like to see my property taxes leap up to cover the costs of the various necessary and unnecessary programs that will doubtless continue to be funded. It will likely cost me more if the sales tax is slashed. — Robert Winters

October 18, 2010

Oct 18, 2010 City Council Agenda – Meanwhile, back in the Sullivan Chamber….

Filed under: City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 12:48 am

Oct 18, 2010 City Council Agenda – Meanwhile, back in the Sullivan Chamber….

The items that jump out are as follows:

Unfinished Business #5. Reconsideration filed by Councillor Toomey on the affirmative vote taken on Sept 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 Aug 2, 2010. On Sept 13, 2010 motion of Vice Mayor Davis to refer to Ordinance Committee and Passage to a second reading on roll call 7-1-1. Sept 27, 2010 no action taken on reconsideration. Affirmative vote taken Sept 13, 2010 to refer to Ordinance Committee and to pass to a second reading on proposed amendment to the Municipal Code that would increase the residential parking sticker fee effective as of Sept 13, 2010.] The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 11, 2010.

Regardless whether this passes or not or if its implementation is delayed a year, there is little doubt that this has become politicized, and the rumblings of the 2011 municipal election are already being felt. The proposed increase from $8 to $20/year followed by an increase to $25/year two years later isn’t much considering that it has not been raised in 18 years. It will, however, ultimately be an increase of over 200% and that’s good grist for the political mill. The more significant issue is that the additional revenue is slated to be dedicated toward "other actions addressing climate change," and some have questioned whether this is being done in order to deliver a revenue stream to satisfy the wishes of a particular activist lobby.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to communicate with relevant department heads to formulate a policy for the timely dissemination of accurate information during high-profile incidents.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Seidel and Councillor Simmons

The boring Gates-Crowley garbage continues. Apparently the greatest offense in the whole matter was that elected city councillors had their feelings hurt by not being in the loop. The loss of a good political opportunity is a tragic thing.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on whether there was an agreement by the Museum of Science to build a walkway behind the museum for pedestrians to use to traverse along the Charles River towards the Craigie Dam and if there was such an agreement, what is the current status of both the agreement and any relevant project.   Councillor Kelley

Yes, councillor, there were plans and even a nice green and silver brochure that described the plans. The Museum was not, however, going to build the walkway. The path was to follow the course that existed before the Museum was built atop the dam. Their parking garage is what blocked the way and plans were made for a connecting boardwalk to be suspended from the garage out over the river. It seemed like a very good plan, but it’s been on the shelf for quite a few years now.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Acting Assistant City Manager for the Community Development Department to identify a well-qualified consultant to assist with determining the desired future course of overall development in Kendall Square.   Councillor Reeves

Just what we need – another "well-qualified consultant" to assist the 44 full-time staff within the Community Development Department in taking a good, hard look at Kendall Square. Surely there must be sufficient expertise among existing staff for this. However, the really interesting part of this order is this: "WHEREAS: Kendall Square has also been discussed by local developers as an area that should be twice as dense as it currently is." Perhaps this is where the campaign contributions are coming from, but I doubt whether there are many residents who feel that a 100% increase in density in what is already one of the most densely developed parts of Cambridge is such a desirable thing.

Order #9. That the Roundtable meeting scheduled for Oct 25, 2010 be canceled and that a regular City Council meeting be held in its place.   Councillor Seidel and Councillor Toomey

Great idea. The previous one was insufferable (see below). — Robert Winters

Sept 20 – What’s the difference between the Cambridge City Council and a 4th grade classroom? Well, tonight it was hard to tell the difference. This was the first of two Roundtable meetings supposedly to get the City’s biennial goal-setting process going. At the August 16 meeting of the City Council’s Government Operations Committee, I was genuinely hopeful that this would be an interesting and productive process that might, in conjunction with the various City Council committees, lead to substantive initiatives for the next two years.

The first of these two meetings was to focus specifically on the (1) Human Services; (2) Neighborhood & Long Term Planning; (3) Health; (4) University Relations; and (5) Housing Committees. The next meeting (in mid-October) was to focus on the (1) Environment; (2) Public Safety; (3) Cable TV, Telecommunications, & Public Utilities; (4) Traffic, Transportation, and Parking; and (5) Economic Development, Training, & Employment Committees. This seemed like a real get-down-to-business approach. Now I’m not so hopeful. Indeed, upon re-reading the committee report, I see that all the specificity that was laid out at the meeting has been purged. Instead, the report states that these Roundtable meetings will consist of "reflection on the past year, consideration of which goals were met or not, what new issues and circumstances should the City Council consider in setting its goals for the upcoming budget year."

Tonight’s Roundtable opened up with a facilitator explaining in the vaguest possible terms what she had planned for the evening. Speaking as though everyone in the room was no older than about 9 years of age, she asked the city councillors "what the meaning of a goal" was. I cringed. The flipchart (yes, this was one of those flipchart and marker meetings) indicated that tonight they would be discussing the strengths of the city, how great we are, and other folderol. Pardon my severe cynicism, but talk like this makes me want to upchuck.

When I vote every two years, I want very much to believe that we are electing adults – people who are not always starting on page one. When I go to a Roundtable meeting where elected officials and City administration are addressed like children (and some willingly respond like children), it makes me wonder about who we have elected. I would dearly love to see at least one of them speak up and throw a monkeywrench into the whole insipid process and demand that they act like adults and get down to business without the need to sing Kumbaya or get in touch with their feelings.

The entire goal-setting process will consist of the two Roundtable meetings plus a "world café" where councillors and other City officials invite various participants, and end with a "retreat" where the assembled councillors will presumably settle on their goals for the next two years. Perhaps I’ll partake of the "world café" when it comes around (tentatively in early November), but tonight I was only able to stomach about ten minutes of the process.

 Robert Winters, Council watcher and eternal cynic

Harvard Crimson story on the Roundtable (Sept 21, by Rediet Abede)

Sign of the Times

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 12:41 am

Sign of the Times

Another marquee item on the civic landscape is the curious petition campaign to revoke recent amendments to the Zoning Ordinance relating to signage on commercial buildings. Most people didn’t even know there was a provision in state law to challenge a local ordinance via a petition campaign. The relevant part of the Mass. General Laws is Chapter 43, Section 42:

Section 42. If, within twenty days after the final passage of any measure, except a revenue loan order, by the city council or by the school committee, a petition signed by registered voters of the city, equal in number to at least twelve percent of the total number of registered voters, and addressed to the city council or to the school committee, as the case may be, protesting against such measure or any part thereof taking effect, is filed with the city clerk, the same shall thereupon and thereby be suspended from taking effect; and the city council or the school committee, as the case may be, shall immediately reconsider such measure or part thereof; and if such measure or part thereof is not entirely rescinded within twenty days after the date of the certificate of the registrars, the city clerk shall submit the same, by the method herein provided, to a vote of the registered voters of the city, either at the next regular city election not less than thirty days after said twentieth day, or at a special election which the city council may, in its discretion, call for the purpose, and such measure or part thereof shall forthwith become null and void unless a majority of the registered voters voting on the same at such election vote in favor thereof.

The petition described in this section shall be termed a referendum petition and section thirty-eight shall apply to the procedure in respect thereto, except that the words "measure or part thereof protested against" shall for this purpose be understood to replace "measure" in said section wherever it may occur, and "referendum" shall be understood to replace the word "initiative" in said section.

To the best of my knowledge, this provision has never been invoked in Cambridge. As a fan of democracy, it’s interesting to see it being put to use. On the other hand, most indications are that this has been little more than a bitter, well-funded campaign of retribution by one man – Philip "Terry" Ragon of Intersystems, a company which rents space in One Memorial Drive – a building that now also leases space to Microsoft. Cambridge voters would likely be out in front opposing the recent "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" decision of the United States Supreme Court that supposedly now facilitates the funding by corporate interests of major political campaigns. Yet this well-funded propaganda campaign by Intersystems and its agents brings barely a peep out of the Cambridge liberals. The inflammatory literature suggests that "Cambridge politicians are giving away our skyline to Wall Street." The literature refers to the amendment as "The Microsoft Amendment" and claims that it will bring "windfalls to wealthy landlords and out-of-state multinational corporations." I haven’t seen BS propaganda like this since the days of rent control.

The petition campaign appears to have successfully scaled the first hurdle of submitting sufficient signatures. With approximately 60,000 registered voters, 12 percent translates into about 7200 required signatures. The campaign reportedly has submitted in the neighborhood of 16,000 signatures. Many will likely be deemed invalid, but it seems probable that the threshold will be met. So what happens next?

Let’s be clear that the Cambridge City Council as a body was hardly deserving of a badge of courage in their 6-3 vote approving the amendments to the Zoning Code relating to signage. Councillor Davis did all she could to punt the matter before voting NO. Her rationale hardly came across as a matter of principle. Councillor Seidel gave every indication that he would be voting in favor of the amendment before doing a quick about-face and voting NO under the threat of political abandonment in next year’s municipal election. Councillor Kelley can always be counted on to vote NO in matters such as this, so his vote surprised no one. Among the six councillors who voted YES to approve the measure, there was a refreshing air of deliberateness – regardless how one might feel about the merits of the amendment. Councillors Cheung and Decker, in particular, were forthright in their statements and expressed great clarity in their view that the amendment was nothing like what the propagandists would have people believe.

It will be interesting, perhaps even entertaining, to see what happens next. The City Council could rescind their approval and, by doing so, look like spineless and incompetent political jellyfish. That may be their best option. On the other hand, they could let the storm pass and allow the measure to be placed on the municipal ballot in 2011 coincident with their reelection campaigns. Gone are the good old days of rent control trench warfare. We’ll have a municipal election dominated by propaganda about signs. There may be a $500 annual individual contribution limit for local candidates, but it will be sky’s-the-limit for a "Citizens United" type of campaign in Cambridge indirectly instructing misinformed voters who they should vote for based on one hopelessly overstated and relatively unimportant issue. Perhaps the safest option for the City Council would be to dip into the public trough and fund a special election on this single item safely segregated from next fall’s municipal election. In recent years, the Cambridge City Council has shown over and over again that incumbency protection is Job #1, so perhaps this is the most likely next step. — Robert Winters

Bill Walsh

Filed under: Cambridge government — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 12:39 am

Oct 17, 2010 – Bill Walsh

There’s a lot going on right now in the civic landscape of Cambridge. Anyone who has been around for a couple of decades will surely note the sudden death several days ago of former Cambridge City Councillor Bill Walsh, a man who made more than his share of friends and enemies over the years. Indeed, some of his best friends became his most bitter enemies, and some of his greatest adversaries became his closest friends. I am certainly not the person to write any definitive story of the man. Like many others at the time, Walsh was the lawyer in 1985 for the person from whom I bought my house, and I was able to witness up close the wild frenzy that was the offices of Ferraro & Walsh during those crazy days of real estate wheeling and dealing, condo conversion, and speculative deals that promised big profits on quick turnarounds. I was even invited to invest money in some of those deals, but I never did. Not only did I not have the money, I also understood that something that sounds too good to be true generally isn’t true.

My enduring sense of the man is as the janitor’s son who grew up on Hurlbut Street and who was less than welcome among the "lace curtain" crowd of the local Irish. He was even less welcome among the genteel Brattle Street crowd whom he disdained. Like many Irish-Americans in Cambridge, Bill Walsh saw his hometown of Cambridge as a place not so far removed from the days when "Irish Need Not Apply" was the rule, even though it’s unlikely that this was ever his own personal experience. Around 1990, he responded to a petition campaign to prevent the Commonwealth Day School, a very un-Yankee elementary school, from relocating to Brattle Street by making it into a personal campaign against the local upper crust. Bill, like many Irish-Americans, also saw politics as an essential tool for doing business and, perhaps, to even the score.

Though he ran successfully for a Cambridge City Council seat in 1985 and served until his sentencing for bank fraud in 1994, Bill Walsh’s first attempt at political office was when he ran for City Council in 1971 at the young age of 26. He finished 12th in #1 votes and was the next to last candidate counted out. His ballots primarily transferred to fellow Independent candidates Dan Clinton (who was elected) and Lenny Russell (who was the next and last candidate to be defeated that year). After his 1985 election, it could be said that Bill Walsh saw himself as the central figure among local Independents, political opposites of the now defunct but at the time very powerful Cambridge Civic Association (CCA). Of course, since the 1940s the central figure among Independents was Edward Sullivan, Middlesex County Clerk of Courts, former City Councillor, former Mayor, and the brother of City Councillor Walter Sullivan. Walsh was something of an upstart, but he did manage to galvanize the forces opposed to rent control like no one before him. The thing that defined Bill Walsh’s political role more than anything was his opposition to the rent control laws of the time.

Political players with the pro-rent control CCA hounded Walsh from the day he was elected to the day he went to jail in 1994. Some have suggested that these same political players dropped more than a dime or two to facilitate the prosecution. They were there most days at his trial. Ironically, the statewide passage of Question 9 in 1994 that ended rent control occurred soon after Walsh’s conviction and just before his sentencing when he was forced to vacate his Council seat. The CCA then began it’s own rapid descent into oblivion. Walsh’s political career may have gone down in flames, but his efforts helped bring the CCA to the edge of ruin and, without rent control as their defining issue, they came unglued. Bill Walsh may now be gone, but the CCA preceded him in death.

It is widely acknowledged that Bill Walsh resumed his real estate wheeling and dealing after his release from prison, though he largely acted through other agents and remained out of the public eye. Some current city councillors clearly benefited from their ties to Walsh in recent years, though no one has definitively proven anything illegal in these deals. Nonetheless, association with Bill Walsh in recent years has always raised a few eyebrows and suspicions. It was only during the last few years that his presence would be acknowledged at public events along with other former elected officials.

I still think of Bill Walsh as the janitor’s son who built his political and financial network by providing the means for working people to obtain property and wealth, but who was both reckless and somewhat unscrupulous in delivering those benefits. Perhaps his greatest violation was not any specific violation of law, but rather the fact that he left his friends in financial ruin when the speculative housing market soured in the early 1990s. Of course, anyone who chose not to see the Ponzi-like quality of some of Walsh’s schemes must bear much of the responsibility for their own financial losses. Some choose to blame Walsh for the changing demographics of Cambridge after rent control, but there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that this shift was already occurring and that the transition of Cambridge into the condo-dominated city it is today was inevitable. In any case, the passing of Bill Walsh is the passing of an era in Cambridge. — Robert Winters

Obituary: William Holland Walsh of Cambridge and Ogunquit, Maine suddenly October 15, 2010. Beloved husband of Mary Hayes Walsh. Visiting hours in St. Peter’s Church, 100 Concord Ave., Cambridge Wednesday 4-8pm. Funeral mass on Thursday at 10am.

William Holland Walsh of Cambridge and Ogunquit, Maine, Suddenly Oct. 15, 2010. Beloved husband of Mary Hayes Walsh. Son of the late William J. and Catherine A. (Holland) Walsh. Nephew of Donal Holland of Ballineen, Cty. Cork, Ireland. Funeral mass in St. Peter’s Church, 100 Concord Ave., Cambridge on Thursday at 10am. Relatives and friends kindly invited. Visiting hours will be held in the church on Wednesday from 4-8pm. Interment Cambridge Cemetery. In lieu of flowers please send donations in Bill’s memory to St. Peter’s School, 96 Concord Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138. In addition to serving as a Cambridge City Councilor for five terms, and serving the City he loved and his widespread constituency with tireless energy and enthusiasm; Bill had a very active law practice for many years. Although the firm, Ferraro and Walsh, was highly regarded for its work in the real estate field; there was no problem, big or small, that Bill did not take on, on behalf of his clients. His clients, many of whom became his friends over the years, were from all walks of life. Bill had great success both as an attorney and a real estate developer, but the true measure of his success was the degree to which he could help other people. Their success was his success. His good counsel, kindness, and caring touched the lives of countless people. He will be sorely missed but never forgotten.

October 4, 2010

Oct 4, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:24 pm

Oct 4, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Today we’ll be having two City Council meetings. At 3:00pm there will be a Special City Council meeting to discuss the costly Cambridge Review Committee Report that grew out of the absurd Gates-Crowley kerfuffle of Summer 2009. There are indications of efforts to pack this meeting with partisans on one side of this dated conflict so, as is usually the case, attendance at this meeting will be indicative of nothing. Frankly, we’d be better served if we all went out for a few beers. I hear Obama’s buying.

Far more significant is the Regular City Council meeting that will follow at 5:30pm. There will be a 6:30pm hearing on the City’s recommendations to the Department of Revenue that will determine the property tax rates for FY11. According to the City Manager’s communication, a 5.69% increase in the property tax levy is anticipated for a total levy of $283,961,699. The residential tax rate is expected to be $8.16 per thousand dollars of assessed value and the commercial tax rate is expected to be $19.90 per thousand.

The median tax bills are expected to rise 8.59% for single-family homes, 5.96% for condominiums, 3.80% for two-family homes, and 3.73% for three-family homes. (These figures include the residential exemption.) The overall valuation of the City’s residential property decreased 0.47% during Calendar Year 2009 while commercial property decreased 0.41%. As is always the case, changes in property values were not the same throughout Cambridge. Single family homes saw the greatest increase (+5.5%) along Grove Street at the western edge of Cambridge and the greatest decrease (-9.06%) in the Shady Hill neighborhood. Condominiums saw the greatest increase (+0.96% – barely noticeable) in Area 4 and the greatest decrease (-5.62%) in East Cambridge. Two-families increased in only one district (+2.87%) around Huron Village and saw the greatest decrease (-9.98%) in Neighborhood 10 (Brattle Street area). Three-families saw the greatest increase (+5.23%) in Shady Hill and the greatest decrease (-8.60%) in the vicinity of Fresh Pond.

The required roll call votes are as follows:

A. Authorize the use of Free Cash of $11,400,000 to reduce the FY11 tax rate;

B. Authorize $2,000,000 in overlay surplus/revenues to be used for reducing the FY11 tax levy;

C. Authorize $8,300,000 from the Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;

D. Authorize $1,198,615 from the School Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;

E. Classify property into five classes;

F. Adopt the minimum residential factor of 56.3344%;

G. Approve the maximum residential exemption factor of 30% for owner-occupied homes;

H. Vote to double the normal value of the statutory exemptions;

I. Vote the FY11 exemption of $280.00 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17D;

J. Vote the FY11 asset limits of $55,775 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17E;

K. Vote the FY11 income and asset limits allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 41D as follows: Income limits of $23,061 for single and $34,592 for married; and asset limits of $46,122 for single and $63,418 for married;

L. Vote the income limit for deferral of real estate taxes by elderly persons as determined by the Commissioner of Revenue for the purposes of MGL Chapter 62, Section 6, subsection (k) for a single person ($51,000) and for married ($77,000);

M. Vote to lower the interest rate by 4% to 14% for overdue water and sewer bills in FY11; and

N. Vote to accept MGL Chapter 200A, Section 9A, which allows for an alternative procedure for disposing of abandoned funds held in custody by the City as provided for in the recently enacted municipal relief legislation.

Otherwise, the meeting agenda is very light with no controversial items. The interesting Orders are as follows:

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department on how the transition of the Grand Junction Rail Road to Commuter Rail traffic could impede the implementation of the Grand Junction Rail Trail and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

This evolving issue promises to be a source of controversy as the Tim Murray Express rolls on through Cambridge. Councillor Toomey’s latest Order on this matter focuses on other uses that have been proposed for this rail corridor – most notably the idea of a Grand Junction Rail Trail. It’s hard to imagine commuter rail trains whizzing through the eastern part of Cambridge with six at-grade street crossings – some in pedestrian intensive areas.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the language in the noise ordinance as it relates specifically to the noise of car radios and what steps the police can take and what steps residents can take to combat and end this disturbance.   Councillor Decker

O-8     Oct 4, 2010
WHEREAS: The decibel level of the bass of some car radios is at such a level that it causes an enormous disturbance and distress when said cars are in motion, stopped at traffic lights, and idling; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back on the language in the noise ordinance as it relates specifically to the noise of car radios and what steps the police can take and what steps residents can take to combat and end this disturbance.

Some of us have been bringing up this matter for years only to have it fall on deaf City Council ears. Maybe Marjorie will be the one to finally convince her colleagues that the scourge of these vehicles is far more annoying and ever-present than signs on commercial buildings or the occasional leaf-blower. As a resident who lives on a street (Broadway) close to a traffic light, I would be happy to have the traffic light removed just to eliminate the annoyance of loud sound systems in cars driven by people with tiny brains. My recollection is that when Councillor Davis tried to bring up this issue of "boom cars" several years ago, she was stonewalled by Councillor Reeves. Let’s hope everyone has learned a thing or two since then. Perhaps the biggest difficulty is that most of the city councillors live on relatively quiet streets and don’t appreciate just how invasive these idiot cars can be. As a Walden Street resident, my guess is that Councillor Decker is treated to a front row seat just like those of us who live on Broadway, or Cambridge Street, or Mass. Ave., etc. Indeed, I believe Marjorie is the only one of the nine who is regularly treated to this abuse.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Public Health Department and ask for a report back on the feasibility of Cambridge following suit with banning smoking in public parks, beaches and other public places.   Councillor Decker

I believe the City Council already voted to ban smoking in public parks, but it’s doubtful that it was ever enforced. [Section 8.28.090 of the Municipal Code – Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places: A. Smoking Prohibited: No person shall smoke nor shall any person be permitted to smoke in any public place or municipal facility.]

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a hearing held on Sept 23, 2010 to continue to consider a proposed amendment to Chapter 10.17 of the Municipal Code entitled Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance to increase the residential permit parking fee from $8 to $20 effective in 2011 and $25 effective in 2013, and to clarify that the fee revenue can be expended on "other actions addressing climate change."

This matter awaits a vote at the next regular City Council meeting (October 18). The fee is not excessive, but the earmarking toward "other actions addressing climate change" deserves some discussion. — Robert Winters

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