Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 27, 2011

Feb 28, 2011 City Council Agenda – National & Foreign Affairs Night

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 9:56 pm

Feb 28, 2011 City Council Agenda – National & Foreign Affairs Night

This week brings a bonanza of Council Orders wishfully intended to direct the course of national and foreign affairs. There are five Orders relating to labor issues in the State of Wisconsin that read like photocopies of Talking Points memos from the National Democratic Party. Perhaps there should be a separate category for Parrot Orders like these. There’s also an Order about Libya and the soon-to-be-deceased Colonel Qaddafi from Councillor Simmons, and an Order from Councillor Decker objecting to the fact that some City officials and others had the audacity to learn a thing or two from Israeli security experts. The horrors! Meanwhile, back home, Councillor Reeves apparently wants to institute an affirmative action policy for liquor licenses. You can’t make this stuff up!

Here are the agenda items that warrant comment:

City Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-138, regarding a report on the feasibility of adding historical sub-signs to street signs and the possibility of commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 with street sub-signs.

As the Manager reports, "Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department staff have met with the Historic Commission and over the next few weeks will be meeting again to work out a small scale historic signage program that will focus on the streets related to important historic places and dates in the War of 1812." This is one of the great things about living in Cambridge. There’s a historical component to nearly everything in the city – either because it was itself historical or, in the case of the Cambridgeport street names, it commemorates an historical event. There’s also something endearing about the fact that we can commemorate the site of the Washington Elm where the United States Army began and retain street names commemorating the War of 1812 while being one of the few cities in the USA to have a "Peace Commission".

City Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-130, regarding a report on the status of installing community gardens at Riverside Press Park.

The Manager reports that "A recommendation for $60,000 for this purpose will be included in the submitted FY12 Capital Budget for City Council consideration." We’re also waiting to hear of any progress on the possibility of the Whittemore Avenue and Magoun Street community garden coming into City ownership – the subject of a Feb 7 Order and a recent Executive Session. Let’s hope that works out.

City Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-09, regarding North Massachusetts Avenue development.

According to the Manager’s report, "In response to neighborhood interest, CDD is developing a revision to the current zoning which would require commercial uses on the ground floor of most new projects, and provide a strong incentive to include ground floor retail. This proposed revision is expected to be the subject of a public discussion at the Planning Board in early spring, and followed by submission to the City Council."

This is good news, but there’s more to be done. Cambridge has been in a transitional state for more than a decade during which small-scale neighborhood retail has been transforming into condominium housing (because that’s where the money is). This has also been the case with old industrial and institutional buildings – sometimes with undesirable results as evidenced by the current dual zoning petitions to revise Section 5.28 of the Zoning Ordinance. It may be time for a more comprehensive look at the various mixed-use zones throughout the city.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Zevart M. Hollisian, Trustee of Garabed B. Hollisian Trust and L-Z Realty Trust and Seth D. Alexander, President, MIT Investment Management Company, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street; said parcel to be developed by Forest City.

This University Park extension has been anticipated for the last several months and follows on the heels of the proposed Novartis expansion and its own zoning petition for an area just a block away from the MIT proposal. This kind of piece-by-piece reactive zoning is not the way to plan the future of a city. Taken together, these two proposals have the potential to transform that section of Massachusetts Avenue significantly. Some of this is welcome and long overdue, but the proposed scale of these combined developments will completely change that area, especially in regard to building heights. It’s curious that we have a City Council subcommittee called the "Neighborhood and Long-term Planning Committee" that appears to do little relating to the apparent purpose of the committee other than to react to zoning petitions. Ultimately, if recent history is any indication, the likely outcome will be that the developers will get everything they want, and the elected officials will be content to extract questionable "community benefits packages" to be used as political currency.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to communicate with the Assessing Department and with the owners of the buildings in Central Square to notify them of Red Ribbon Commission future meetings.   Councillor Reeves and Councillor Cheung

This Order requires comment. By most accounts, the current "Red Ribbon Commission" has been a failure. The initial invitees were primarily business and property owners, though some neighborhood residents chose to crash the party. Nonetheless, this Order calls for contacting the property owners. The minutes of a recent Central Square Business Association meeting contain the following statement about the Red Ribbon Commission: "Board members reported on general dissatisfaction with progress and focus of monthly commission meetings and subcommittees. The Property Owners subcommittee has not even met yet, and there have been complaints that the Infrastructure subcommittee was closed to new members. It was agreed that board members will push for more focus through their sub-committee assignments. George (Metzger) will consider making a more direct outreach to Councilor Reeves."

Meanwhile, at last week’s East Cambridge Planning Team forum on Kendall/Central Squares, Mr. Reeves told of all the "exciting" things that were coming out of his commission. Really? In truth, the only interesting developments now occurring in Central Square are those that have been happening independent of Reeves’ commission – largely the result of a gradually recovering economy. The Reeves commission has basically consisted of Councillor Reeves repeatedly (and annoyingly) telling everyone about how personally offended he was to have been out of the loop as MIT and Forest City hatched their plans for their upcoming University Park expansion out to Mass. Ave. That’s the whole dynamic – Reeves floats an unformed idea or an expression of dissatisfaction and the participants react. It will be interesting to see what, if any, "exciting" things come out of this commission – just in time for this fall’s municipal election.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the City’s Economic Development staff and License Commission to identify potential minority candidates for future liquor licenses.   Councillor Reeves

The intent of Reeves’ Order seems to be to somehow bring about either the transfer of liquor licenses or the addition of new liquor licenses specifically for business owners meeting specific racial or ethnic criteria. I hope I’m not the only one offended by this. If the City Council passes rubbish like this, then they should all be sent packing. This Order warrants a Roll Call vote. Who will support affirmative action for liquor licenses?

Order #3. That the City Manager is hereby requested to confer with the Budget Department and direct the appropriate department heads to create a program in Cambridge similar to the Boston’s Department of Urban Mechanics which will develop and implement new ideas that improve City service delivery and report back to the City Council with a funding and human resource plan to implement such a program.   Councillor Cheung

Order #19. That as part of the upcoming budget process, the City Manager is requested to create a capital budget for the development of internet and mobile-based tools and set aside funds for the personnel necessary to enact such development.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Decker

These two Orders cover essentially the same topic – creating more technologically innovative ways for the City to conduct its affairs. This includes things as simple as expanding the list of bills payable online to more complex tools for engaging residents to be active participants in civic affairs (including reporting and response mechanisms for everything from potholes and unshoveled sidewalks to license and zoning violations).

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with details of the purchase agreement for Northpoint.   Councillor Toomey and Councillor Cheung

This is news to this observer. As the economy slowly recovers, Northpoint development is bound to follow. Moving the Lechmere station and expansion of the Green Line to West Medford are intertwined with this development. Significant alterations to the road network around Lechmere and the nature of the Monsignor O’Brien Highway (formerly Bridge Street) all hinge on what happens at Northpoint.

Order #8. Amendment to Cambridge Municipal Code regarding City Manager’s contract being posted 96 hours before it is to be voted on by the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

It’s curious that this is being proposed now. Unless there’s some kind of late breaking news, the next discussion of this contract is a year away. Perhaps this is a case of blog-driven legislation. It’s a good idea in any case to have more of this out in the open and this is a very reasonable proposal, though anyone who has been paying attention would have read the 2002 contract, the 2006 contract, and the current 2009 contract right here at the Cambridge Civic Journal – no need to assign the task to some Northeastern students to "research" this. My recollection is that at the time each of these contracts was signed, there was minimal public comment and the source of the commentary was entirely predictable. I was there for all of the contract signings going back to the early 1990s and I gladly exchanged a handshake with Bob Healy each time.

Order #11. That the City Council calls on various international stakeholders, including the United States, to advocate for the immediate resignation of Colonel Qaddafi.   Councillor Simmons

Orders like this are why people make jokes about Cambridge. "That the City Council calls on various international stakeholders, including the United States, to advocate for the immediate resignation of Colonel Qaddafi." Yeah, I’m sure that will tip the balance.

Order #13. That the City of Cambridge go on record thanking Governor Deval Patrick for standing in solidarity with the workers from Wisconsin and all across the country who are being attacked.   Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung

Order #14. That the City of Cambridge go on record thanking Congressman Capuano for standing in solidarity with the workers from Wisconsin and all across the country.   Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung

Order #15. That the City of Cambridge go on record as standing in solidarity with the Massachusetts AFL-CIO in support of all union workers who are being attacked.   Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung

Order #16. That the City of Cambridge go on record as standing in solidarity with the workers from Wisconsin and all across the country.   Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung

Order #22. That the City of Cambridge go on record as standing in solidarity with AFSCME and all public employee union workers.   Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Cheung

These are five nearly identical Orders laced with phrases like "attempt to bust the union", "unions have been the backbone of this country", "Wall Street recklessness and CEO greed", "Governor Walker is in bed with the billionaire Koch brothers", and "standing in solidarity with the workers from Wisconsin". I understand the appeal of these sentiments, but it would be so much more productive if Cambridge City officials and elected officials across the country would directly address the underlying issues even as they raise their fists and prepare "to get a little bloody." There are distinctions between unions in the private sector and public employee unions, including the right to strike. Also, anyone who does not work for the government expects to pay more than a token percentage of their health care insurance costs (my share is 25%, for example) and most would argue that government employees should pay a percentage comparable to other employees. There are legitimate issues here and we would all benefit from a real discussion. Unfortunately, what we get instead is "solidarity" and an unwillingness to acknowledge some of the major structural problems in municipal, state, and federal budgets across the country. It’s great for political organizing and generating campaign contributions, but it’s also evasive – not unlike the shallow rhetoric of some of the Tea Party activists. By the way, city councillors, would you care to disclose all the details of your pension plans and health care contributions?

Order #20. That the City Council go on record seeking information about the nature of a delegation to Israel.   Councillor Decker

It’s difficult to understand why Councillor Decker gets so worked up about Israel as evidenced by her statement that "This trip was designed to observe Israel’s ‘counter-terrorism strategies and tactics’, tactics which are associated with indefinite detention, illegal occupation, torture, lacking any constitutional guidance." There are neighboring countries where any "infidel" is not even permitted to set foot in the country and where women are, for all intents and purposes, enslaved and subject to "honor killings" and other unspeakable horrors. Mysteriously, no City Council Orders are drafted highlighting that reality.

Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to hire a consultant nationally recognized as an expert to assess the strengths and weaknesses of how Cambridge does economic development and propose actions for improvements.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Decker

The main thrust of this Order is that "as part of the upcoming budget process, the City Manager be and hereby is requested to create a budget for an increased scale of economic development activity, including programs for the recruitment of job-creating companies to the city, support services for growing companies, and any other recommendations the aforementioned consultant may offer." The Order seems to suggest that Cambridge is somehow economically disadvantaged and that the situation is dire and in need of emergency intervention. Is this really the case? Most indications would seem to suggest otherwise.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for a public meeting held on Jan 25, 2011 to discuss reviewing ordinances detrimental to community goals.

The call of this meeting was a bit puzzling. The original phrasing was "to discuss current city ordinances that are hurting business growth," but this was changed to the more benign "to discuss reviewing ordinances detrimental to community goals". Nonetheless, virtually all of the suggestions presented at the meeting were about easing restrictions that might hinder business growth. Some of the ideas presented are quite good, but many of us have come to the realization that "streamlining" a process can just as easily lead to limiting the ability of neighbors to ensure peaceful coexistence with their commercial neighbors. For many of us, including those of us who live in a Business A-1 zone, this can have very personal consequences. – Robert Winters

February 15, 2011

Planning Kendall/Central Squares – Wed, Feb 23 public meeting of the East Cambridge Planning Team

Filed under: Kendall Square,planning — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:04 pm

Kendall Square & EnvironsKendall Square & Environs

Kendall and Central Squares will be getting a makeover in the not too distant future. The City is looking for ways to inject ‘life’ into these two areas. The Board of the East Cambridge Planning Team would like neighbors to have an active role at ‘the table’ when the City airs future plans. To do so, we have initiated a series of talks to discuss ‘good planning principles’ and what elements guarantee the successful outcome of a site. Our first talk will be held on:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at the Broad Institute Auditorium
(Main Street – Seven Cambridge Center) from 6:30 to 9 p.m.


Timeless Planning Principles for Kendall Square & Environs — Dennis Carlone

Dennis is a well-known architect and urban designer whose work includes the East Cambridge Riverfront Project as well as the original North Point Urban Design and Broad Canal & Environs Plan. After an overview of planning principles, Dennis will moderate the discussion.

Putting Good Design and Planning Together — Richard Heapes

Richard is co-founder and partner of Street Works. His slide presentation will illustrate what makes great places work from a design perspective and programming standpoint. This slide presentation has been shown to city groups all over the country.

New Quincy — Ken Narva

Ken is the other founder of Street Works and his slide-show will demonstrate how the timeless planning principles have been incorporated into the new Quincy Center transformation.

Kendall Square – a 2020 Vision — Alex Twinning

Alex’ slide show will demonstrate how these principles and the approach to Quincy Square can be applied to Kendall Square.

Questions & Answers

February 14, 2011

Feb 14, 2011 City Council Agenda – Valentine’s Day

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

Feb 14, 2011 City Council Agenda – Valentine’s Day

It’s the lightest of agendas coming up this Monday in the Sullivan Chamber. The only items of interest I’ll note on this "Cambridge blogger’s website" are the following:

Communications #3. A communication was received from Peter Zak Valentine, regarding the Health Care Bill.

The text of Peter’s letter is included here for your entertainment – from the National Officer in Charge.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to designate an individual in his office or in the Cambridge Police Department for the specific purpose of providing information to the City Council and the community-at-large about incidents, be they of crimes, fires, or floods that occur in Cambridge on a timely basis.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor Cheung

Every few years after a criminal incident there’s an Order like this one to create another position or designate a person for this task. The problem, if there is a problem, is not in the lack of personnel. It’s a matter of whether the job is being done as it should be. Complicating things in the case of criminal incidents is that sometimes there are good reasons for not disseminating this information while the bad guys are still being sought.

Order #5. That the Mayor, the City Clerk and/or City Council’s committee on Government Operations and Rules plan a meeting of the City Council to go over the new changes of the Open Meeting Law.   Councillor Simmons

We all believe in open and transparent government, but the fact is that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The additional record-keeping and prohibitions against a wide range of ordinary ways of communicating can be pretty stifling. There does come a point of diminishing returns in open government where the costs start to outweigh the benefits. Seriously, should every advisory committee with no actual regulatory authority have to adhere to the same rules as legislators? On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have all of the wheeling and dealing over zoning amendments more out in the open.

Order #6. That the City Manager address the problem of cars that have been left unshoveled for long periods of time causing problems for snow plows and difficulty parking.   Councillor Decker

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works to investigate designated spots near intersections for residents to move snow which would be picked up by DPW, snow melting machines and whether there are additional parks, parking lots or other public spaces that could be used to dump snow for this winter and in the future.   Councillor Cheung

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to report back with clarification on what the policy is regarding ticketing of cars who are parked more than three feet from the curb due to snowbanks.   Councillor Toomey

Snow, snow, and more snow. The DPW has done a great job under trying circumstances this winter. What a joy it is to see that the temperature may rise to 50° later this week. That said, a few warm days won’t solve all of the problems as noted in these Orders and we could use a few more visits from the trucks to help things along. It’s been really miserable for all who have to park on the streets of Cambridge. I haven’t moved my vehicle for weeks. There are some good ideas about how we can better deal with all the snow (and I do mean we – not just the men and women of DPW). In these days of social media that can help coordinate a revolution in Egypt, we can probably use the same tools to coordinate the allocation and/or removal of snow on the streets of Cambridge. Maybe not revolutionary, but still worth looking into.

Other notable items:

Les Barber, zoning mensch of the Community Development Department, enjoys his last day before retirement on Friday, Feb 25.

As was noted in a Late Order at the February 7 City Council meeting, former City Councillor Brian Murphy will soon take the reins as Assistant City Manager in charge of the Community Development Department. I met at length with Brian when he first ran for City Council. I suggested that he attend the Budget Hearings to learn more about City government and meet all the players in the City administration. Brian attended every one of those hearings. As a councillor, he then chaired the Finance Committee. He and David Maher were also the prime players among the elected officials in negotiating with Harvard in their major Riverside development a few years ago. You have to respect a guy who actually shows up and does his job, and I’m sure Brian will be a popular hands-on manager at Community Development.

Speaking of the Finance Committee, Councillor Decker initiated a series of Finance Committee hearings for early public input on the upcoming FY2012 Budget. The first hearing only had one public attendee, but the second meeting on Feb 12 had perhaps a dozen or more. Hopefully attendance will be better if this becomes the norm in the future. Those of us who attended were treated to a top-notch interactive presentation with Louis DePasquale, David Kale, and other people from the City Finance Department and the Budget Office. – Robert Winters

City Manager’s Budget Guidelines to City Department Heads (for upcoming FY2012 Budget)

• Salary and Wage Budgets can increase to reflect, Increments, Pensions, Health Insurance, Medicare and Allowance increases. This includes a projected 11% increase in health insurance costs and a 5.5% increase in pension costs over the current fiscal year.

• All vacancies will be reviewed. Position reductions may occur as part of this process. Therefore, budget submissions should include a description of the operational impact on your department if vacant positions are eliminated.

• For FY12, it is the City Manager’s goal to submit a budget to the City Council that supports their priorities with the same number of or fewer positions.

• Non-Salary Budgets are to be level funded. Generally, no increases to Other Ordinary Maintenance, Travel and Training or Extraordinary Expenditure accounts.

• All non-personnel operating items with contractual increases must be absorbed within the budget and not knowingly under-budgeted. Major contracts for services must be reviewed to ensure departments have sufficient funds to meet contractual needs. Energy budgets will be reviewed on a department by department basis. Departments will need to document, for their budget hearing, large cost increases and the impact on their operating budgets if the increases are absorbed in their present level of service budget.

• Extraordinary Expenditures must be updated and one-time items from the current fiscal year eliminated.

• Reductions in Grant Funded programs cannot be absorbed into the General Fund Budget.

• Each Department will be asked to review their current operations and provide suggestions to achieve savings through service/position reductions, restructuring or efficiencies.

Budget Calendar

Jan-March • Department Budget Preparation and Hearings with City Manager
March • Water-Sewer Rate approved by City Council
April • Proposed Budget Submitted to City Council
• 2nd half tax bills sent to property owners
May • City Council Budget Hearings
• 2nd half bills due
Late May • Budget Adoption
June • Current Fiscal Year ends June 30
July • New Fiscal Year begins July 1
September • Tax Rate set/Final Tax Levy Established
September/October     • Tax Newsletters sent to residents
October • Property tax bills sent/Abatement Application Deadline
November • 1st Half bills due

February 7, 2011

Feb 7, 2011 City Council Agenda – AAA bond ratings, community benefits, and City boards and commissions

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:03 am

Feb 7, 2011 City Council Agenda – AAA bond ratings, community benefits, and City boards and commissions

City Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge receiving three Triple A ratings from the nation’s major credit rating agencies.

It’s become almost routine that the City of Cambridge receives the highest possible bond ratings. Expect all the councillors to make the usual flattering speeches, and possibly the usual suspects during public comment suggesting that the City administration has somehow sacrificed quality of life on the altar of municipal bond ratings. It’s worth noting that with so much attention being paid nationally to the matter of unfunded pension liabilities (and other post-employment benefits), Cambridge would not be receiving the bond ratings that it does if it was on particularly shaky ground in these areas.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner regarding the increase of graffiti in the vicinity of Chatham Street, Dana Street, Broadway and Massachusetts Avenue with the view of increasing police patrols in the area and increasing efforts to make residents aware of the graffiti hotline.   Mayor Maher

Making more people aware of the graffiti hotline may not necessarily lead to productive results. Here on Broadway we made such a call and didn’t get a call back until about a month later. The message essentially was that the City can’t do anything regarding private property, and for the tagging on utility poles, mailboxes, etc., nothing would be done until at least next Spring. The City should be applauded for its good intentions, but things do sometimes fall flat in the execution.

Another example is the Rodent Hotline. Several years ago, I called in about an infestation of several foot-long rats in my neighbor’s yard/junkpile. That led to Inspectional Services addressing that problem, but also requiring me to remove my old VW Bus (parts car) from my yard even though this was unrelated to the rodent problem. My tenants and I like that my backyard is a better place now, but the immediacy of the directive meant that I didn’t have time to harvest the parts I would have liked to keep. I no longer recommend calling the Rodent Hotline to anyone due to the possibility of unintended consequences.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant State and City staff about the possibility of retaining the pedestrian light to allow at-grade crossing of Memorial Drive after the completion of the footbridge.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Seidel

Considering the distance between traffic signals on Memorial Drive west of this location, this would not be a burden on traffic and it would be a good alternative for many people, including cyclists. If the DCR has issues with this, perhaps they might accept relocating the traffic signal from Pleasant Street to Magazine Street.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to inquire into the feasibility of instituting a phone book opt-out program in Cambridge to reduce waste and the costs associated with that waste.   Councillor Decker and Councillor Cheung

Great idea – and essentially identical to the March 17, 2008 Order from Councillor Seidel. Whatever became of that Order? Phone book publishers make their money on how many of these obsolete books they can spread around, so I imagine there will be resistance to cutting back. Yellow Book is famous for its deceptive mailings that fool unwary businesses into spending hundreds of dollars per year for these useless listings.

Order #5. That the Mayor convene a Roundtable meeting with the Planning Board to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern.   Councillor Seidel, Councillor Reeves, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Cheung

Considering the fact that the most controversial matters that come before the City Council are zoning petitions which also come before the Planning Board, you have to wonder why the two bodies don’t meet more often just to better understand the priorities of the respective bodies. That said, city councillors have not shown any particular mastery in zoning matters other than how to shake down an applicant for "community benefits" (see below).

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Department of Public Works to make accessible to the public, either on the city’s website or by constituent request, all un-cleared sidewalk complaints received, and all violations issued either due to those complaints or otherwise.   Councillor Cheung

This clearly is in reference to the requests from Saul Tannenbaum for this data that he put into publicly accessible maps [Jan 14 report], [Jan 29 report][Jan 31 report]. His actions are civics at its best. Not only should Saul (and others) have access to this data at no cost, any previous charges should be refunded. Better yet, the City should post this information and create these maps.

Order #11. The Cambridge City Council should begin as soon as possible to develop principles which will guide future community benefit negotiations for future development projects where large renovations are requested.   Councillor Reeves

This is not the first Order on this topic. However, the more fundamental issue is the erosive effect of this practice of shaking down developers for "community benefits" in exchange for votes for zoning petitions. It’s difficult to imagine the current City Council ever voting down an upzoning petition from a major developer with deep pockets who is in a position to effortlessly donate a few million dollars in exchange for gaining many millions of dollars in value to their project. The sky is literally the limit. Planning goals are often in direct conflict with the promise of a bonanza of "community benefits." Rather than working out policies for guiding future community benefits negotiations, perhaps the City Council should consider eliminating or severely limiting the practice.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for a public meeting held on Jan 6, 2011 to receive a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for a development consultant for Kendall and Central Square and the transition area (Lafayette Square).

This was an interesting committee meeting that tested the limits of the City Charter. Normally, elected councillors have to be very careful about leaning on City departments in matters involving any kind of hiring. The meeting was informative regarding both the scope and limitations of the RFP. It also remains quite clear that the greatest impact (or lack of impact) on Kendall Square and Central Square and all points in between will come from the property owners who make the investments in their properties. Except for zoning restrictions, the City’s role will be limited to supporting these initiatives and trying to influence them to whatever degree they can.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on Jan 5, 2011 to hold a discussion between the Civic Unity Committee and the Civic Unity Advisory Committee.

Councillor Simmons submitted a document entitled "The Civic Unity Committee" (Attachment A) and provided a brief history of the Civic Unity Committee. It was very interesting to read about the history of this advisory committee during the 1940s and 1950s, and it’s worth considering what role such an advisory committee might play today. However, if City officials really wish to revisit what role, if any, this committee should be playing, the process should not end with this one committee. Though it would require the kind of leadership this City Council most likely does not possess, there is some wisdom in revisiting the missions of the Peace Commission, the Human Rights Commission, and several other City boards whose missions overlap. Indeed, perhaps there should be a process in which ALL of the City’s boards and commissions revise their missions and are consolidated as appropriate for greater effectiveness. – Robert Winters

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