Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 25, 2011

Cambridge Re-Precincting – May 31 Final Vote

Filed under: elections — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 6:00 pm

PROPOSED VOTING PRECINCTS AVAILABLE ONLINE

The Board of Election Commissioners met on May 24th to discuss the suggestions made at that meeting and the May 19th public hearings. After reviewing many suggestions, the Commissioners are now considering the following two maps:

May 31st Proposed Scenario 1 (with current precinct overlay in red)

May 31st Proposed Scenario 2 (with current precinct overlay in red)

The Commissioners will vote on a final map at their meeting scheduled for May 31, 2011 at 5:30pm.

In many areas of the City, voters would continue to go to the same polling places to cast their ballots as they have in the past. It should be noted that the re-precincting changes would not take effect until the 2012 elections.

Questions or comments can be sent to elections2@cambridgema.gov.

Other maps of interest:

Population by Census Block

The current map with 11 wards and 33 precincts

The May 19th proposed map with 11 wards and 33 precincts

The May 19th proposed map with the present precinct overlay in red


Editor’s Note: Each of the proposed new maps has only minimal changes from the current map. The main changes are in East Cambridge where above-average population growth over the last decade requires that precincts be adjusted so that all 33 precincts in the city have approximately equal population.

May 24, 2011

2011 Cambridge Municipal Election Calendar

Filed under: 2011 Election — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 10:01 pm

2011 Cambridge Municipal Election Calendar (and advice for candidates)

Fri, July 1:

Municipal Election Nomination Papers available at Election Commission office, 8:30am to 5:00pm.

Nomination papers will be available through the Aug 1 submission deadline, but it is advisable that a candidate pick up papers early and get started collecting signatures. The process is an excellent way for a new candidates to "get their feet wet" and acclimate to the process of asking for support. ALL pages of your nomination papers must be notarized and there are a total of three sheets. You will also want to get a current database of registered voters. This is available from the Election Commission free of charge to any candidate who has pulled nomination papers. Voter history files and the street listing are also available. If you are a legitimate candidate and want a merged file showing all currently registered Cambridge voters with their ten year voting history in Cambridge elections (if they voted – not who they voted for!!), you can request it from me free of charge.

Mon, Aug 1:

5:00pm deadline to submit nomination papers & statements of financial interest for candidates.

A minimum of 50 valid signatures must be filed and a candidate may submit up to 100 signatures. Once a voter’s signature has been recorded for a particular candidate, it cannot be used for another candidate in the same race. That is, a voter should sign for exactly one candidate for City Council and one candidate for School Committee. Candidates should submit as many signatures as possible over the minimum of 50 because it is very likely that some signatures will not be certified. It is advisable that all signatures be checked against the voter registration list before submitting them. Candidates do not have to submit all their signatures at one time, and it is advisable that signatures be submitted as each sheet becomes full. The Election Commission staff traditionally checks signatures soon after they are submitted, so it is possible to know how many signatures have been tentatively certified in case it is necessary to obtain more signatures to reach the minimum of 50 certified signatures. Actual certification is only official when the Election Commission votes to approve them.

Mon, Aug 15: 5:00pm deadline for Election Commission to certify signatures on nomination papers.
Wed, Aug 17: 5:00pm deadline for municipal candidates to file withdrawal of nomination.
Wed, Oct 19: 8:00pm deadline to register to vote in municipal election. In person registration hours are 8:30am to 8:00pm at Election Commission office only. (Mail in registration must be postmarked by Oct 19).
Mon, Oct 31:

5:00pm deadline for School Committee candidates and Political Committees to file Municipal Campaign & Political Finance Reports. (City Council candidates should consult their OCPF packets regarding depository-filing requirements).

City Council candidates are required under state law to set up a depository account at a bank. The bank will report all deposits and expenditures directly to the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF). School Committee candidates are not required to set up a depository account, but they must file a campaign finance report in mid-October and at the end of the year.

Fri, Nov 4: Election Commission will be open 8:30am to 5:00pm for over-the-counter absentee voting.
Sat, Nov 5: Election Commission office will be open 9:00am to 5:00pm for over-the-counter absentee voting.
Mon, Nov 7: Noontime (12:00pm) deadline to apply for absentee ballot, either for mail-in or over-the-counter voting.
Tues, Nov 8:

Municipal Election. Polls are open 7:00am until 8:00pm.
All absentee ballots (except Overseas Absentee Ballots) must arrive at the Election Commission office by 8:00pm to be counted. Ballot count begins at Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square after the polls close. Overseas Absentee Ballots are due by 5:00pm on Friday, November 18th, but must be postmarked by November 8th.

Overseas Absentee Ballots and Provisional Ballots will be counted on Friday, November 18th at 5:00pm.

It is expected that the Election Commission will report preliminary election results Tuesday evening (Nov 8), but this tally does not include auxiliary ballots (write-in ballots and other ballots not yet counted for a variety of reasons). These will be scanned and tabulated on Wednesday. Unofficial election results are expected to be announced on Wednesday when all of the auxiliary ballots have been included. The official election results will not be complete until any overseas absentee ballots and provisional ballots have been included on Friday, November 18.

Wed, Nov 9: 9:00am-5:00pm. Ballot count resumes at Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Avenue, Central Square.
Fri, Nov 18: Overseas Absentee Ballots and Provisional Ballots will be counted at 5:00pm.

Regular Election Commission Office Hours: (Unless otherwise indicated)
Mondays: 8:30am to 8:00pm
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays: 8:30am to 5:00pm
Fridays: 8:30am to Noon

Holidays: The Election Commission will be closed for the following holidays:
Independence Day – Monday, July 4th
Labor Day – Monday, September 5th
Columbus Day – Monday, October 10th

Printable copy of 2011 Municipal Election Calendar

May 23, 2011

May 23, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights – Budget Adoption

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:45 pm

May 23, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights – Budget Adoption

The main item on the menu is the adoption of the FY2012 Budget and a variety of final authorizations to borrow money for capital projects. The Manager’s Agenda also includes responses to 12 of the 36 items on the 2011 Awaiting Report list. Another 16 items from 2010 remain on Awaiting Report. Perhaps a little more spring cleaning is in order.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-53, regarding a report on way to make the Follen Street/Little Concord Avenue intersection safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.

Bicycle safety expert John Allen has a few things to say regarding the original Order as well as in response to this report. John Allen is the author of Street Smarts, a guide for safe cycling that has been adopted in several states. It is generally best to heed his advice even when it goes against current trends/fads. I know of no one who understands the nuts and bolts of bicycling safety more than John Allen.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-12, regarding a report on any foreseeable tax revenue implications of Vertex’s decision to leave Cambridge.

The analysis from Director of Assessment Bob Reardon indicates that the length of time associated with Vertex’ exodus as well as the continuing high demand for Cambridge lab space will result in no significant tax impacts. The sky shall not fall.

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to information regarding Information Technology (IT), which was requested at the Information Technology Department (ITD) Budget Hearing.

Though much of this report will appeal only to techies, two items are noteworthy:

• Citizen Complaint System – Enhancements to the current Cambridge Request System (CRS) to allow the public to enter a complaint directly to the work order system and receive notification of the work order ticket, an estimate of when the problem will be resolved and notification when the problem is resolved. The Complaint System will include access to a website database that shows the ticket and status.

• An Optimized Search Function – Using Google Search, enhance the search function on the City website to return more relevant information.

Manager’s Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to dedicated funding for GLBT Commission activities.

Manager’s Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-02, regarding a report on tax treatment of health benefits for couples in same sex marriages.

The first of these provides $2,500 in supplemental funds to the GLBT Commission in addition to continuing support from other departments. This may not satisfy those who would prefer a dedicated staff position, but the whole matter of staffing for this and similar commissions still needs some attention and political will. The second of these indicates that the total financial impact of this added benefit is quite manageable – the estimated cost to the City with full implementation is approximately $12,000 per year; for the School Department the cost with full implementation is estimated to be closer to $21,000 per year.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to ask the City’s private law firm to waive any statute of limitations defense regarding potential liability to Cambridge for its actions and advice in the Monteiro case. [Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor Davis on Order Number Fourteen of May 16, 2011.]

Perhaps this Order is now moot since the expiration referenced in this Order occurred yesterday. It’s hard to know for sure what the intent of this Order was, but its author appears to be Councillor Kelley’s mentor Richard Clarey who has been at war with the City Manager for perhaps two decades. On the surface, the Order seems designed to drive a wedge between the City administration and its outside legal counsel. Specifically, if the City’s actions in the dismissal of a problematic employee were done on the advice of this legal counsel, the case can be made that City’s actions were not "retaliation." This Order suggests that the City should retain the option of suing its own legal counsel – not exactly the best move in ongoing litigation.


Budget-related items to be voted at this meeting:

Committee Report #1. Finance Committee Report for public hearings held on May 4, 2011, May 11, 2011 and May 12, 2011 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2012 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $439,008,170.

Committee Report #2. Finance Committee Report for a public hearing held on May 11, 2011 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2012 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $14,902,620.

Committee Report #3. Finance Committee Report for a public hearing held on May 11, 2011 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2012 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $11,613,225.

Unfinished Business #10-13, 15-17. Various orders requesting appropriation and authorization to borrow:
• $1,300,000 to provide funds for improvements to Alberico, David Nunes and Fulmore Parks and the establishment of a community garden at Riverside Press Park;
• $33,754,300 to continue sewer projects in the Harvard Square, Agassiz, Western Avenue and Alewife Watershed areas of the City.
• $2,000,000 to provide funds for improvements to several City facilities including the East Cambridge and Inman Square Fire Stations and the Ryan Garage/Simard Building at Public Works;
• $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of several streets included in the Complete Streets Initiative as shown in the five year street and sidewalk program;
• $2,000,000 to provide funds for the second phase of the reconstruction of the Harvard Square Tunnel (Cambridge Street Underpass);
• $300,000 to provide funds to facilitate coordination among the various consultants working on the design and planning projects for Kendall Square and perform interim repairs in the area; and
• $3,000,000 to provide funds for the architectural design and construction of an elementary school to be either rebuilt or renovated as part of the multi-year Elementary School Rebuilding Program.

Barring a delayed Rapture, it’s expected that the General Fund Budget ($439,008,170) will pass on an 8-1 vote with Councillor Kelley, as always, voting in the negative. You can expect a speech from Kelley regarding the Law Department budget, possibly conflated with the topic of Charter Right #2. Though the Annual Budget is the single most important vote by the City Council almost every year, there are basically never more than a few minor changes to the Manager’s submitted budget – regardless how much time is spent pontificating about the Budget. High priority items for individual councillors are usually worked out (when feasible) before submission of the proposed Budget, so the adoption is usually noncontroversial. If Cambridge’s financial resources were as strained as many other Massachusetts cities and towns, it might be an entirely different story.


Unfinished Business #14. Ordinance Committee Report for a public meeting held on Mar 2, 2011 to consider a zoning petition originally filed by Chestnut Hill Realty and re-filed by the City Council to create a new section that would allow for the construction of rental units in the basement levels of existing multifamily buildings in Residence C Districts within 1200 feet of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street or the Red Line through a special permit process. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 16, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires May 31, 2011.

This "workforce housing" petition will likely be voted at this meeting or be allowed to expire if there are insufficient votes to pass it. As has been mentioned here many times, the amount of campaign contributions that flowed from the petitioner to several elected councillors makes this a vote worthy of scrutiny.

Committee Report #4. Ordinance Committee Report for a public hearing on Apr 6, 2011 and a follow-up public meeting on May 17, 2011 to consider a petition to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance filed by Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research, joined by M.I.T. as land owner, 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 will likely be Passed to a 2nd Reading tonight, perhaps with the amendments recommended by the Planning Board. When it comes to a final vote, most likely in a few weeks, it will almost certainly be passed. Together with the concurrent MIT/Forest City petition affecting an area just up the street on Mass. Ave., there will likely be a major transformation of Mass. Ave. over the next few year between Sydney Street and the railroad tracks. – Robert Winters

May 20, 2011

Response to City officials’ comments about Concord/Follen

Robert Winters has posted a comment (#3 here) to my post about bicycling issues on the May 16 City Council agenda. Robert quotes Assistant City Manager for Community Development Brian Murphy and Traffic, Parking & Transportation Director Susan Clippinger about Follen Street and Little Concord Avenue. Their response, by way of the City Manager, is addressed to the City Council at next week’s meeting.

Their response (again, in comment #3 here) addresses some of the issues with the Follen Street/Concord Avenue installation, and reflects some progress.

Serious design issues, however, will still remain:

  • The configuration still has the same blind corners.
  • Because of the location of the curb cut into the brick plaza, bicyclists traveling away from the Common must still swerve to the right, toward approaching motor traffic, to reach the curb cut at the crosswalk on the far side of Follen Street. Bicyclists entering from the brick plaza are still close to a wall which also obscures motorists’ view of them.
  • Motorists approaching on Follen Street still won’t have a stop sign — see this Google Street View — despite the blind corners.
  • The contraflow bike lane adjacent to wrong-way parking remains.
  • There is another blind corner at the Garden Street end of the pedestrian plaza, particularly for cyclists who continue toward the Radcliffe Quadrangle on the sidewalk (and many do, though that is inadvisable).
  • The “bike box” on Concord Avenue leads to more confusion than anything else, as described here. Also, many cyclists ride east on the north sidewalk, so they can access the plaza directly, posing a risk of head-on collisions with westbound cyclists and pedestrians at the blind corner between the sidewalk and the plaza.

Contraflow bicycle travel would be safer if parking were removed from one side of Follen Street — however, the public insists on using public street space for private car storage. As a bicycling advocate and former Cambridge resident who owned a (rarely used) car and had no other place to park it than the street, I can see both sides of this issue. It is not going to go away. The people who laid out Cambridge’s streets could not foresee the deluge of private motor vehicles that would descend on the city, and had no plan either to accommodate it or to forestall it.

I do think that a very significant safety improvement could be made without removing parking, by reversing the direction of one-way motor traffic on Follen Street and Little Concord Avenue. Then cyclists headed toward the blind corner would be going in the same direction as motorists. The motorists would be going very slowly here, and cyclists could easily merge toward the center of the roadway. A curb cut into the plaza in line with the center of the roadway would avoid cyclists’ having to swerve right. This curb cut would lead cyclists traveling toward the Common to the right side of the street.

A contraflow bike lane could then be installed on the south side of Little Concord Avenue, but it would still be adjacent to wrong-way parking. I’d rather see shared-lane markings far enough from parked cars to allow a motorist to start to exit a parking space without running head-on into a cyclist or forcing that cyclist into oncoming traffic. One-way, slow streets where bicyclists are allowed to travel contraflow are common in Germany, without bike lanes, and research has demonstrated their safety.

As to Murphy’s and Clippinger’s comments:

Motor vehicle volumes on the street are very low and most drivers are ones who live there and use the street regularly. The contraflow lane was installed to improve safety for cyclists by creating a dedicated facility for them to ride in and through the presence of pavement markings to remind motorists that bicyclists are traveling there.

The low motor-vehicle volume argument is an example of what I call “bean counter” safety analysis. I have heard the same argument before from Cara Seiderman, in connection with the wrong-way contraflow lane on Scott Street. This approach offers cyclists and motorists only statistical comfort, leaving them defenseless against actually preventing a crash through their own actions — as in “well, I can’t see over the SUV parked in front of my car, but probably no cyclist is coming so I’ll pull out.”

The bike lane does serve as a buffer to help prevent collisions between cars and other cars, but it doesn’t pass the test of preventing collisions between cars and cyclists. The comforting words “dedicated facility” don’t actually describe how it works in practice. Reminding motorists that bicyclists are traveling in the bike lane doesn’t count for much if the motorists can’t see the bicyclists.

Clippinger describes a safety analysis which looked at generalities about traffic volume. The claim that the dedicated facility was installed to improve safety may describe intention, but it does not describe either the design, or the outcome. This is a crash hotspot, remember. I have described design issues, and some solutions that look rather obvious to me. The city, as usual, installed a boilerplate bike lane design without much insight into whether it actually would be functional and safe.

May 16, 2011

About bicycling issues on City Council agenda tonight, May 16, 2011

A cyclist and a motorist approach the blind corner at Concord Avenue and Follen Street

A motorist cuts off a cyclist at the blind corner of Concord Avenue and Follen Street

The city's own picture of this scene shows a cyclist happily steering straight toward a curb.

A picture of the same scene from the City's Web site shows a cyclist happily steering straight toward a curb, which is cropped out of the picture.

Looking from the opposite direction, this is the path a bicyclist must take, swerving toward traffic to reach the curb cut.

Looking from the opposite direction, this multiple-exposure photo shows the path a bicyclist must take, swerving toward Follen Street traffic to reach the curb cut at the crosswalk.

This post attempts to shed some light on agenda items on tonight’s City Council agenda.

The quoted sections are from another commenter. I’m not sure I know how to reach him, and time is pressing. I don’t know whether I have permission to use his name, so I won’t. The unindented paragraphs  are my own. We’ll start with the other person who commented.

Two of the three items on the city council agenda are interesting examples of problems related to bicycle infrastructure that has been implemented over the past several years.  The third is simply a request to fill potholes, but includes an ignorant comment about bicycles needing to ride near the curb (not true according to Massachusetts law or Cambridge ordinance).

That is agenda item O-7 on the page linked here

The first bicycle facility problem is a contra-flow lane through a blind corner where motorists have no expectation that there will be contra-flow traffic of any sort as they round the corner on a one-way street.

http://bit.ly/iAHCfU

That is agenda item O-3 on the page linked here.

The street view is looking south on Follen Street as it intersects (Little) Concord Avenue.  The bike lane crosses in a contraflow manner from left to right, and then continues across the small brick plaza to the right to join with Garden Street and the continuation of Concord Avenue.  The intersection just beyond the plaza is the same one where Cambridge has installed a bike box critiqued by John Allen

(http://bit.ly/jQN595).

The contraflow bike lane is adjacent to wrong-way parking, another odd feature of this installation — see this for a description and explanation of wrong-way parking:

http://bikexprt.com/bikepol/facil/lanes/contraflow.htm#scottst

Upon reaching the corner, bicyclists have to ride out past a stop bar and stop sign before they can see around the corner. A stop sign requires two actions, a stop and a yield. The yield is what actually prevents a collision — but it is only possible where you can see conflicting traffic.

Many if not most of the bicyclists approaching this intersection are Harvard students headed up to the Radcliffe quadrangle. Are we to assume that they aren’t bright enough to figure out that they must yield? The problem is that nobody ever instructed them, and many have little bicycling experience as they suddenly find themselves dependent on a bicycle for transportation. Also, the stop bar isn’t where there’s anything to yield to unless a pedestrian happens to be crossing — it encourages running the stop sign, sort of like traffic ju-jitsu: aha– fooled ya!.

See Google Street View looking toward the stop sign:

http://tinyurl.com/4yfz9bc

I have a discussion of this contraflow bike lane in the page linked below this paragraph. The third photo down the page shows the stop sign. I prepared the page linked below years ago, shortly after the installation. This was clearly going to be a problem location.

http://bikexprt.com/massfacil/cambridge/harvardsq/litlconc.htm

The curb ramp on the far side of the intersection is located at the end of the crosswalk rather than in line with the bike lane. Bicyclists must ride toward approaching traffic to reach the ramp.

Bicyclists coming in the opposite direction off the little pedestrian plaza are hidden by a wall and subject to similar risks. This entire treatment is a prime example of Cambridge’s principle of Design by Wishful Thinking.

The second problem is at a rather unremarkable intersection, so it is not clear to me why there would be issues.

See Council Order O-19 on the page linked here.

http://bit.ly/kQWgBQ

The street view is looking south on Ellery Street as it approaches Broadway.  Ellery is a narrow one-way street with a bike lane.  Traffic is typically slow, but can be heavy at rush hour.  Broadway is a two-way narrow connecting through street with parking and no bicycle infrastructure in this area.  Traffic typically runs about 25-30mph, slower and heavier at rush hour.  The intersection is also at the corner of a local public high school campus.  Neither street is difficult to cycle on if you have at least modest traffic experience.

There is a flashing yellow and red overhead signal indicating a stop sign for Ellery Street entering from the north.  I tried to find data related to the several accidents cited, but did not see anything apparent on the Cambridge city web site.  I can speculate that most of the car/bike accidents are probably due to scofflaw behavior — either bicyclists in the Ellery bike lane not heeding the stop sign as they continue across Broadway, or wrong-way riders in the Ellery Street bike lane illegally approaching Broadway from the south.  Also likely would be standard right hook, left cross, and failure to yield collisions caused by motorists, but I don’t see why those would be any worse at this intersection.

I see a double-whammy right-hook provocation for bicyclists headed south on Ellery Street, in that the bike lane on the far side of the intersection is to the left of parking (and in the door zone, as is usual in Cambridge), while the bike lane on the near side is at the curb and carried all the way up to the intersection. So, bicyclists are encouraged to overtake motorists on the right, then merge left inside the intersection where motorists turn right.  I think that the high traffic volume and prevalence of high-school students probably also account for the number of crashes. There probably are scofflaw crashes too. Yes, it would be very interesting to see details so as to get a handle on what is actually happening here.

I’m not looking for any answers, but I thought people on this list might be interested in what Cambridge lawmakers are thinking.

May 16, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council,Kendall Square — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:23 am

May 16, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

There was actually a Special City Council meeting last week (May 9) to move along three capital budget items that were subject to the charter right at the May 2 meeting. Details are available here. The City Manager’s Agenda this week contains a variety of transfers of funds between statutory categories within a number of departmental budgets – general housekeeping in advance of the anticipated vote on the annual budget next week. There are also Planning Board reports on two current zoning petitions – one unfavorable (Chestnut Hill Realty) and one favorable (Novartis) with proposed amendments.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adoption the Chestnut Hill Realty Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #15. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Mar 2, 2011 to consider a zoning petition originally filed by Chestnut Hill Realty and re-filed by the City Council to create a new section that would allow for the construction of rental units in the basement levels of existing multifamily buildings in Residence C Districts within 1200 feet of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street or the Red Line through a special permit process. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 16, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires May 31, 2011.

The City Council could potentially vote on the Chestnut Hill Realty petition at this meeting. This petition reeked of mendacity from its introduction as a vehicle supposedly for the creation of basement "workforce housing." It seemed clearly designed entirely to maximize potential revenue from existing properties. The Planning Board report explains some of the negative aspects of the petition without explicitly calling out the petitioners for their mendacity. One potentially interesting aspect to this petition is the extraordinary amount of money that was passed from the top brass of Chestnut Hill Realty into the campaign accounts of (at least) two city councillors. Even if innocent of attempting to buy votes, the scale of the contributions cast enough doubt to fill a basement (or several basements).

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the petition by Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research to create a new Special District 15 on the site bounded by Massachusetts Avenue, Albany Street, Osborn Street, State Street and Windsor Street.

This petition will likely be passed to a 2nd Reading and come to a final vote in the next few weeks. It seems certain that this petition will prevail with appropriate amendments. The Planning Board seems to have done a good job in proposing design guidelines and regulating the massing of any future buildings, though the 85 foot height limit on the Mass. Ave. frontage may seem a bit high. The maximum height in the affected area could be as great as 140 feet. In any case, this portion of Mass. Ave. and the neighboring section that is the subject of the MIT/Forest City petition will likely soon experience a radical transformation – hopefully for the best.

Charter Right #1. A petition has been received from Theresa M. Stone, Executive Vice-President and Treasurer, MIT, together with a transmittal letter from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, MIT Investment Management Company to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to add a new section 13.80 to the Zoning Ordinances entitled PUD-5 District and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-5 District in the Kendall Square area; said petition rezones a 26-acre parcel in the Kendall Square area. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Applications and Petitions Number Four of May 2, 2011.] [Text of petition]

The May 9 City Council Roundtable meeting with the Goody Clancey consulting firm working on the Kendall Square/Central Square (K2C2) analysis yielded a fairly optimistic response from most in attendance. The scale of MIT’s proposal for Kendall Square is very significant – enough to have triggered a major backlash movement had it been introduced a decade or so ago – yet most affected parties now seem more interested in working constructively with the City, MIT, and other major property owners in the area to ensure the maximum benefit to the adjacent neighborhoods. The change has been gradual, but there has been a radical shift in the manner in which major development proposals are now received by both elected officials and residents. With some good faith on all sides, there is the possibility of some great outcomes.

At one of the recent East Cambridge Planning Team forums about the future of Kendall Square, I made some suggestions that might have been viewed as ridiculous, i.e. a batting cage and/or a miniature gold course in the heart of the new Kendall Square. I actually wasn’t kidding. Anyone who knows the ways of MIT will understand that the unusual and even the seemingly ridiculous can often be exactly the right match. Perhaps a rollercoaster that wraps around the buildings?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to designate the appropriate person to fill the pot holes and dangerous road imperfections on the stretch of Putnam Avenue between Western and Massachusetts Avenues, especially those that appear near the curbs where bicyclists must ride.   Vice Mayor Davis

I’m glad someone said it. Usually, the City does an impressive job at patching the potholes at the end of winter. This year it’s been an adventure on many streets, including Pleasant St. between Mass. Ave. and Western Ave., Mt. Auburn Street near Fresh Pond Parkway, many portions of Broadway, and other Cambridge roads. Is this the new traffic calming technique?

Order #9. That the City Council go on record as requesting that the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy maintain the existing State laws governing cable licensing, which adequately protect cities and towns, residents of the Commonwealth, and video service providers.   Vice Mayor Davis

I’m not entirely convinced about this. While I don’t believe cities and towns should lose the ability to negotiate good contracts with potential television providers, it would be a shame if potential competitors to Comcast (The Evil Empire) were dissuaded from doing business in Cambridge. The status quo is not the best.

Order #12. That the City Manager direct the appropriate department heads to install a discreet, unobtrusive, drop down projector presentation screen in the Sullivan Chamber and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

You might have to rearrange or remove some of the painted portraits of former mayors in order to accommodate the screen. I have some suggestions where you could start.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to ask the the City’s private law firm to waive any statute of limitations defense regarding potential liability to Cambridge for its actions and advice in the Monteiro case.   Councillor Kelley

It’s hard to tell what Councillor Kelley’s motive is here. He recently said how he wants the City Council to take over the Law Department (not exactly kosher under the city charter). My guess is that Kelley is just taking direction from his handlers in order to undermine the City’s legal strategy.

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 Apr 26, 2011 to conduct a follow-up meeting on outdated city ordinances.

There are some interesting proposals contained in the committee report. I especially like the idea of permitting food vendors in city parks, though I imagine they would probably be selling organic roll-ups rather than hot dogs or sausages – this is Cambridge after all. I’m a little concerned about some of the proposed changes affecting mixed residential/commercial areas. I don’t believe any of the city councillors live in such zones, but I live right in the middle of one. Will they look after my best interests? Sometimes the only way residents can negotiate for a peaceful existence is when businesses have to seek a variance for a change of use. It doesn’t prevent the change so much as help to ensure that it’s something we can all live with. – Robert Winters

May 2, 2011

May 2, 2011 City Council Agenda – The Budget Cometh

Filed under: City Council,Kendall Square — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:50 am

May 2, 2011 City Council Agenda – The Budget Cometh

Top of the Agenda is the Budget Overview by the City Manager, 6 major loan authorizations, and an expenditure related to the consultants addressing planning issues for the Kendall Square/Central Square area. The content of each item speaks for itself. The Budget Hearings start this Wednesday.

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for the second phase of the reconstruction of the Harvard Square Tunnel (Cambridge Street Underpass).

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $300,000 to provide funds to facilitate coordination among the various consultants working on the design and planning projects for Kendall Square and perform interim repairs in the area.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,300,000 to provide funds for improvements to Alberico, David Nunes and Fulmore Parks and the establishment of a community garden at Riverside Press Park.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $33,754,300 to continue sewer projects in the Harvard Square, Agassiz, Western Avenue and Alewife Watershed areas of the City.

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $3,000,000 to provide funds for the architectural design and construction of an elementary school to be either rebuilt or renovated as part of the multi-year Elementary School Rebuilding Program.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for improvements to several City facilities including the East Cambridge and Inman Square Fire Stations and the Ryan Garage / Simard Building at Public Works.

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of several streets included in the Complete Streets Initiative as shown in the five year street and sidewalk program.

Unfinished Business #12. That the FY2012 City Budget be referred to the Finance Committee, with the exception that the Budget Overview be postponed to a certain date, that being the May 2, 2011 City Council meeting and will be placed on Unfinished Business at which time the City Manager will give an overview of the FY2012 City Budget. [Order Number Twelve of Apr 25, 2011 referred to Unfinished Business.]

Discussion and action on several Orders from April 25 were postponed via charter right. These include:

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a complete and comprehensive list of all concessions made to the City and broader Cambridge community by developers and the universities in exchange for zoning relief, special permits, or Council approval. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Reeves on Order Number Eleven of Apr 25, 2011 (Councillor Cheung).]

Councillor Cheung’s Order concerns the "community benefits" and other forms of soft currency associated with the wheeling and dealing for zoning amendments – a questionable practice that elected officials seem to relish. It’s no wonder that discussion of the Order was postponed.

Charter Right #4. That the City Manager is requested to review all PILOT agreements with non-profits and institutions in the city. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Order Number Thirteen of Apr 25, 2011 (Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Simmons).]

This Order from Councillors Davis and Simmons is motivated by Mayor Menino’s recent initiative in Boston and calls for a review of all existing and potential payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements with non-profits and institutions in Cambridge. At the last meeting, Vice Mayor Davis expressed some dissatisfaction that Menino had not also gone after religious institutions for taxes. It’s not at all clear what the sponsors of this Order would like to see come out of this review, and it’s worth noting that it was not so long ago that the City of Cambridge executed long-term PILOT agreements with (at least) both Harvard and MIT.

Applications & Petitions #4. A petition has been received from Theresa M. Stone, Executive Vice-President and Treasurer, MIT, together with a transmittal letter from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, MIT Investment Management Company to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to add a new section 13.80 to the Zoning Ordinances entitled PUD-5 District and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-5 District in the Kendall Square area; said petition rezones a 26-acre parcel in the Kendall Square area. [Text of petition]

This petition has been anticipated for some time. The full buildout associated with this zoning proposal is very significant, but it’s mostly confined to an area within the existing MIT campus. Neighboring East Cambridge nonetheless has a significant stake in the outcome. This is primarily a good and interesting proposal if anything close to the image presented at public meetings becomes reality. Based on the recent optimistic actions of all the major Kendall Square property owners we’ve seen lately, good things will come – regardless of any role the City or its consultants have yet to play.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Thomas J. LaRosa, Acting General Counsel, Department of Conservation and Recreation, informing the City that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, acting through the DCR, has under consideration the acquisition of approximately 2.2753+ acres of land, or other property interest, in the City of Cambridge. The property is located between a previously protected section of the Watertown Greenway in Watertown and Fresh Pond.

This concerns the railroad right-of-way that runs along Fresh Pond, behind the Shaw’s on Mt. Auburn Street, along the ege of the Mt. Auburn Cemetery and into Watertown. Hopefully, this will soon become a recreational path – a plan that’s been discussed for an eternity but which may finally become a reality.

Resolutions #28-63 by Councillor Reeves are a regurgitation of the Cambridge winners of the Boston Phoenix’s 2011 "Best of Boston" reader contest. That’s 36 totally irrelevant suitably engrossed resolutions costing perhaps $5 or more each plus postage. It’s just great spending other people’s money. This makes you wonder what exactly is the job description of a city councillor.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation to examine how parking spaces are designated for delivery/loading with a view towards reclaiming some of these spaces for the use of the general public.   Councillor Simmons

You know, if the City’s Traffic Board mandated by state law had been appointed, there may have been a vehicle for residents and businesses to actually petition for changes in how these spaces are regulated. Just saying….

Order #7. That the City Council amend Rule 23A which deals with the Order of Business to include a dedicated section for Councillors to make announcements.   Councillor Simmons

Does this really require a change in the Rules just to make occasional announcements? Answer – No.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Mar 2, 2011 to consider a zoning petition originally filed by Chestnut Hill Realty and re-filed by the City Council to create a new section that would allow for the construction of rental units in the basement levels of existing multifamily buildings in Residence C Districts within 1200 feet of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street or the Red Line through a special permit process.

Communications & Report #1. A communication was received from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, regarding motion to discharge the Ordinance Committee of the Re-filed Chestnut Hill Zoning Amendment Petition.

As I’ve said before, regardless of the merits this is a case where you have to follow the money. The petitioners (Zuker and company of Chestnut Hill Realty) have contributed obscene amounts of money to the political campaigns of several city councillors. They are asking for the right to squeeze nearly 200 additional units of housing into the basements of existing buildings and have comically referred to this cash bonanza as "workforce housing".

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee for a public meeting held on Apr 14, 2011 to discuss moving to a paperless City Council Agenda, connecting City Council goals and City Department staff and City Council Committees to foster efficient and collaborative results and a proposal to amend the Municipal Code to require posting of the City Manager’s contract 96 hours before it is to be voted on by the City Council.

Though I could not attend this meeting, the report seems to suggest that (a) half the councillors would like to keep their printed agendas; and (b) they’re willing to pass either a rules change or an ordinance regarding the posting of a future contract in advance of the vote, but they’re not sure which. Great. Wonderful. But not really all that important. – Robert Winters

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