Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 29, 2011

Jan 31, 2011 City Council Agenda – The Joy of Zoning, The Agony of Street Cleaning, and The Evil Empire

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

Jan 31, 2011 City Council Agenda – The Joy of Zoning, The Agony of Street Cleaning, and The Evil Empire

Coming up this Monday are the following items of interest (or objects of derision, depending on your point of view):

Zoning Petitions – We have one new one from Novartis and two old ones to be re-filed.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Chris Klee, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and Seth D. Alexander, President, MIT Investment Management Company, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map to allow for the creation of a new Special District 15 along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue between Albany Street and Windsor Street opposite the location of the Novartis main campus at the former Necco Building.

This petition has been anticipated for several months. Novartis wants to expand its presence on Mass. Ave. near MIT and consolidate its Cambridge operations into this area. Everybody loves Novartis, but will the City Council gladly accept the proposal to allow building heights up to 140 feet by Special Permit? That’s perhaps twice the height of anything there now and more like what might be seen in Kendall Square. The situation now with this City Council and zoning petitions from major players is that approval is almost guaranteed and the only issue is what "community benefits" can be extracted from the petitioner. I hope they do better with this one.

Order #8. That the City Council re-file the Chestnut Hill Reality zoning petition.   Mayor Maher and Councillor Seidel

Order #12. That the City Council re-file the petition by William H. Fox et al to amend the zoning in the area of Cottage Park Avenue on Feb 17, 2011 and refer it to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for hearing and report.   Councillor Seidel

The first of these had its Ordinance Committee hearing snowed out, so the re-filing is purely procedural. The Fox petition received a negative recommendation from the Planning Board in part because there are unresolved issues pertaining to yet another zoning petition – the City Council Petition to amend Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance (conversion of nonresidential structures to residential use). The timing will now allow the City Council petition to be resolved before the Fox petition is considered for adoption.

Resolution #3. Retirement of Les Barber from the Community Development Department.   Vice Mayor Davis

Resolution #6. Retirement of Elaine Madden from the Community Development Department.   Mayor Maher

These are both significant exits from the Community Development Department. Elaine Madden has been a long-time Economic Development Project Planner, and Les Barber is Director of Zoning and the key person in all matters relating to zoning issues in Cambridge. The Community Development Department is currently headed by Acting Assistant City Manager Susan Glazer while the process of finding the permanent successor to former head Beth Rubenstein continues. This is undoubtedly a major transition time for the department.

Once upon a time, the primary mission of the Community Development Department was commercial development and growing the real estate tax base of the City. It was common back then for the department to publish major planning blueprint documents for developable parts of the city. Some of these plans became reality and others largely remained on the shelf as citizen downzoning movements cut back the plans. With the demise of rent control, the department’s emphasis shifted toward housing development, including "affordable housing" projects and inclusionary zoning. While this emphasis has clearly not disappeared, there has been an apparent shift toward economic development in the department. Major personnel changes could solidify this change in focus.

Order #1. The City Manager is requested to communicate with the Central Square Business Association and the Community Development Department to set up and design a competition to design the future of Cambridge.   Councillor Reeves

Order #2. The City Manager is requested to communicate with Eric Lander of the Broad Institute, The Kendall Square Business Association and the Community Development Department to set up and design a proactive science game.   Councillor Reeves

Reading these Orders leaves one with a view of Councillor Reeves as starstruck by Eric Lander of the Broad Institute. I’m sure everyone will welcome the idea of sponsoring design competitions for some of the major squares and thoroughfares of Cambridge. On the other hand, one might think that with a Community Development Department consisting of 44 people, the goal "to design the future of Cambridge" will be viewed as more than just a student design project.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on any foreseeable tax revenue implication of Vertex’s decision to leave Cambridge and the amount of office space potentially being vacated.   Councillor Toomey and Councillor Simmons

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to determine what incentives were given to Vertex as part of their relocation deal and evaluate how Cambridge could offer those same incentives to companies it is attempting to lure from out of state to the city.   Councillor Cheung

There have been indications that the City Manager did, in fact, offer such incentives to Vertex, but these were not the only factors in the decision by Vertex to relocate to Boston. There could be a significant short-term impact of Vertex leaving, especially in light of the fact that Vertex was the 6th largest employer in the city. On the other hand, by all accounts there is still significant and growing demand by life science companies to locate in Cambridge. One question that is not often asked, but perhaps should be asked, is whether it is healthy in the long term to have so much of the local economy dominated by the life sciences and any other single industry. It’s not quite the same as Detroit and the automobile industry, but it’s generally best to not balance your economic stability on too narrow a base. At least we’ll always have the universities.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate departments to remove improperly placed furniture items that are reserving parking spaces.   Councillor Kelley

I know that Councillor Kelley hasn’t been around very long, but it has been standard practice for a long time for the Public Works Department to remove these objects after a few days grace period. Though I’m sure there are some exceptions here and there, reserving parking spaces is relatively rare in Cambridge. It’s probably fair to say that Public Works employees have been pretty busy in recent days and perhaps gathering up all the old chairs and buckets and other markers hasn’t been the top priority.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate the possibility of continuing street cleaning days through the winter for the purpose of using those days to clear non-arteries of snow.   Councillor Cheung

I believe I can speak for most Cambridge residents here and say that we’d like to keep those three months of relative peace without having to worry about whether you’re parked on the even or the odd side of the street on those two dreaded days out of each month. It was Councillor Davis who filed an Order a few years ago that resulted in December being added to the street cleaning schedule. Now Councillor Cheung wants to add the remaining three months to the schedule. Please don’t. If anything, give us back December. If any street has a special need for snow clearance, the street can be posted on a case-by-case basis. In fact, residents can always request Public Works to do this if staff and equipment are available after things have settled down after a big snow event.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to devise a way to publicize events happening in the community in a visible location at the Main Library.   Vice Mayor Davis

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to devise a method to publicize events that are taking place at the Main Library, both before events occur and as they are happening, so patrons visiting the library may attend.   Vice Mayor Davis

From the Department of Redundancy Department. One would think that councillors or their personal staff (a.k.a. campaign staff) would actually read their own Orders before submitting essentially duplicate Orders.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Cambridge Arts Council and other relevant entities to ensure that public art is taken into consideration during the planning processes of the Kendall and Central Square areas, as well as along Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard to Porter Squares.   Councillor Seidel

Of course I’m sure that Councillor Seidel is aware of the "One Percent for the Arts" requirement in all major City projects. This includes all of the areas he mentions in the Order. The problem is not so much whether the City integrates public art into major projects but rather if the City does it well. One aspect to this not often mentioned is that the architects who are involved in planning major projects often see themselves as artists, yet a separate process is undertaken for the "art" part of the project. This has not always yielded the best results.

Order #18. That this City Council go on record encouraging the City of Cambridge to strengthen the language of the Cable Television Renewal License.   Councillor Decker, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Toomey

If you read this Order, you’ll see that Councillors Decker, Cheung, and Toomey want to take Comcast to task only over whether or not they will abide by the City’s smorgasbord of labor ordinances. Though current federal law severely restricts what issues can be negotiated by the City Manager in the relicensing (only public access, educational, and governmental programming), one might hope that city councillors would use their bully pulpits to pressure Comcast (a.k.a. The Evil Empire) to provide better service and better options to Cambridge residents. This is a City Council that does not hesitate to interject its views on foreign policy and a host of other matters unrelated to the City of Cambridge. Yet when it comes to something as simple as pressuring Comcast to offer an affordable Cable TV package for those who want a little more than broadcast TV that includes Red Sox games and maybe a movie channel or two, the City Council remains uncharacteristically silent. – Robert Winters

January 23, 2011

Jan 24, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:44 pm

Jan 24, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

As I am preoccupied with getting my courses ready for the start of the new semester, I’ll have to keep this one brief this week. Here are the items that struck me as significant or otherwise noteworthy:

City Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-189, regarding a report on the legitimacy of the tax exempt claim of Education First.

The report reveals little that was not already known. I take this opportunity simply to note that this was initiated by an Order from Councillor Toomey that was a consequence of a zoning vote a few weeks ago that also was the last straw leading to Councillor Toomey’s resignation as Co-chair of the Ordinance Committee. At the root of that controversy was the continued breakdown in trust between Councillor Toomey and the other Co-Chair, Councillor Seidel, that first became apparent during the controversy over last fall’s vote to amend the Sign Ordinance. You may remember that during that controversy, Councillor Seidel gave every indication in committee that he would be voting one way and then voted the opposite way apparently due to political concerns. As former Councillor Sullivan often said, "Your word is your bond."

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Arts Council and report back on the feasibility of the Arts Council partnering with local arts organization to establish a similar program to Shakespeare in the Park in Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

Good idea! The Cambridge Common, Danehy Park, and Magazine Beach would all be great venues for this sort of thing. Cambridge often just goes through the motions with the River Festival and Octoberfest and other regular attractions. Theater in the park (not just for kids) would be a great addition.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to contact Eric Lander, Broad Institute, to create a competition to design a Kendall Square of the future.   Councillor Reeves

Wait! Isn’t the City now putting out to bid a contract for a consultant to address the whole stretch from Kendall to Central Square stating at Kendall? We should gather input from all comers, but is the Braod Institute now being called upon to faciliate the future of Cambridge? Let me guess… BioTech!

Order #9. That the Austin, Texas "Parking Benefit District Pilot Program" be referred to the Council Committee on Transportation, Traffic, and Parking for further consideration and review.   Councillor Seidel

Upon reading this, my greatest fear is that the Traffic Department will simply use this as an excuse to install more parking meters in residential areas. They will then say, "Trust us. We’re doing it for your own good."

Miscellaneous #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the 2010 Town Gown Reports. [summary]

These reports are always an interesting read. The summary says a lot, but you can also read the detailed reports for Harvard University, for MIT, for Lesley University, and for Cambridge College.

Now…. back to writing my lectures. – Robert Winters

January 10, 2011

Looking Ahead to the 2011 Cambridge City Council Election

Filed under: 2011 Election,campaign finance,City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 9:00 am

Though it may be the time for Seasons Greetings for most of us, for local City Council candidates this is also the time for planning the campaign for the November 2011 election. Though the landscape will likely change somewhat between now and then, it’s interesting to look at the money raised and spent by the incumbent councillors and by those expected to run in November 2011. Here are the most recent figures.

City Council Campaign Finance (2009-2010) - updated Feb 18, 2012
CandidateOpenReceipts (2009-10)Expend. (2009-10)BalanceDate#1 Votes$/VoteNotes
Adkins, Lawrence$34.93$495.00$199.80$330.1312/31/2010103$1.94
Cheung, Leland$0.00$21757.50$13675.87$8061.6312/31/2010756$11.48$5000 repaid loan subtracted
Davis, Henrietta$11185.16$57901.70$66267.88$2818.9812/31/20101858$35.67
Decker, Marjorie$1867.27$101624.90$101716.40$1775.7712/31/20101285$79.16includes money related to State Senate campaign
Flanagan, Mark$0.00$140.35$140.35$0.0012/31/2010112$1.25
Glick, Silvia$0.00$12466.22$12424.01$42.2112/31/2010256$48.53
Kelley, Craig$6465.86$12620.92$9321.41$9765.3712/31/20101250$7.46
Leavitt, Neal$0.00$5856.17$5439.21$416.9612/31/2010136$39.99
Maher, David$12827.62$58636.50$53595.34$17868.7812/31/20101286$41.68
Marquardt, Charles J.$0.00$34909.40$31449.90$3459.5012/31/2010385$81.69
Nelson, Matthew P.$0.00$2255.00$90.50$2164.5012/31/2010--Filed papers for candidate account (Dec 2010)
Podgers, Kathy$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0012/31/201078$0.00no records
Reeves, Ken$6401.11$65906.34$67526.48$4780.9712/31/20101166$57.91
Seidel, Sam$775.16$27934.02$26701.73$2007.4512/31/2010900$29.67
Simmons, Denise$8689.90$117709.78$120780.40$5619.2812/31/20101785$67.66includes money related to State Senate campaign
Stohlman, Tom$0.00$5525.00$2790.76$2734.24 12/31/2010378$7.38
Sullivan, Edward$3950.24$25100.00$28420.48$629.7612/31/2010885$32.11
Toomey, Tim$34043.27$68070.73$97092.27$5021.7312/31/20101748$55.54includes money related to State Rep. campaign
vanBeuzekom, Minka$0.00$22097.64$19218.64$2879.0012/31/2010682$28.18
Ward, Larry$132.86$16933.34$16817.73$248.4712/31/2010736$22.85
Williamson, James$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0012/31/201090$0.00

Click on the field names to sort in ascending order and again to sort in descending order.

As always, you can look this up yourself at the website of the Office of Campaign & Political Finance (OCPF).

January 9, 2011

Jan 10, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: 2011 Election,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:34 pm

Jan 10, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

The 2011 Election Year is now in progress. Look for extra City Council committee meetings in the next few months as otherwise dormant councillors dream up items before it’s too late for their campaign literature and newsletters. Interesting items on Monday’s agenda include these:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-134, regarding a report on reducing energy consumption by ways of deleting and/or limiting email storage.

The originating Order was this:

O-15     Sept 13, 2010
WHEREAS: It has come to the attention of this City Council that while for the most part email is a more environmentally sound way to communicate, there are concerns related to energy consumption and emissions; and
WHEREAS: The amount of data being stored today accounts for two percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, the equivalent of the airline industry; and
WHEREAS: Sending large picture or video attachments can use the energy equivalent of boiling seventeen kettles of water; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby 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; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council on this matter.

The City Manager’s response informs us: "The IT Department implemented an e-mail storage tool called ArcMail which allows us to store all e-mail received on one server. We limit the amount of e-mail that any staff member can store to 300MB…. The ArcMail server has a copy of all e-mail received and it will never exceed the one server it runs on."

So I guess this means that the impact is somewhat less than the two percent of all carbon dioxide emissions generated by the City as suggested by this alarmist Order – one little computer quietly purring away in City Hall. Polar bears can sleep easy tonight in North Cambridge. Councillor Davis is already planning ways to provide heat and hot water for City Hall from the waste energy from that computer.

Resolution #30. Congratulations to City Councillor Marjorie Decker and her husband Bahij Bandar on the birth of their daughter, Laurice Catherine Bandar.   Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Davis

The Resolution pretty much sums up what all of us are thinking. Congratulations and I hope everyone’s OK.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and report back to the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee with the current policies impacting food trucks, the reasoning behind said policies and potential impact it has on the food truck industry and on the city in general.   Councillor Cheung

Anything that can be done to make Cambridge a welcoming place for these vendors should be done (within reason, of course). They were always the best option at MIT and at Harvard. What I’d really like to see are a few old-fashioned hot dog stands selling those snappy Sabrett hot dogs. Oops, my New York City roots are showing….

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works and other City departments to look into practices that will mitigate problems that occur (plowing snow into areas that have been shoveled by residents) and the insufficient and/or improper shoveling of the pedestrian way.   Councillor Simmons

Another winter, another version of this Order. There is, however, one new wrinkle on this old story. With the new single-stream recycling toters, the option of laying the blue bins atop the snow is now no longer an option for some. This means that residents have no choice but to dig a channel from the sidewalk to the street in which to roll the toter for curbside collection. My advice is that after you’ve shoveled out a channel, erect a barricade at the curb to deflect the snow when the plows come by. When the plows are done, take down the barricade and you still have clear path to the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the total number of same-sex married City employees currently receiving health benefits, the estimated valuation of the federal tax placed on those health benefits of employees currently impacted by this discrimination and a proposed plan for how the city will take a stand as a national leader who values all city employees as equal and how the City will carry the burden of discriminatory taxation on behalf of the impacted employees beginning with 2011 tax filing.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Seidel, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley

The operative phrase is: "how the City will carry the burden of discriminatory taxation on behalf of the impacted employees." Translation: Open your wallets, Cambridge taxpayers. Isn’t this an outgrowth of the federal health care legislation? You know, the one everyone would love once they actually read it?

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to investigate the possibility of allowing owners alternatives to alter flat roof structures for the purposes of creating better rain water runoff collection through a zoning mechanism.   Mayor Maher

The odd thing about this Order is how it is cast as a zoning issue. It seems more like a plumbing issue. Will we next be seeing charts and tables prescribing where rain barrels can be situated in different zoning districts? Will they have to pass a design review?

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to appoint appropriate city staff, including the City Solicitor, to work with the Cambridge GLBT Commission to create a city-wide ordinance on gender-neutral bathrooms.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Seidel, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley

I’ll let the Kinks respond.

Order #9. That the City Manager is hereby requested to report back to the City Council with immediate clarification on the City’s interpretation of the Responsible Employer Ordinance statute and a detailed report on how it is implemented and enacted.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Decker

Translation: Keeps those campaign checks from the labor unions coming fast. November’s not so far away. – Robert Winters

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