Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 22, 2012

Culture, Rats, and Parking: Oct 22, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:02 pm

October 22, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights: Culture, Rats, and Parking

Tonight’s City Council agenda is short but contains a few interesting items:

Resolution #4. Congratulations to the newly state-designated Central Square Cultural District.   Councillor Reeves

This is yet another signal of the ongoing revival of Central Square and the need to maintain the positive momentum. The next steps should involve some additional housing construction and "filling the gaps" where inappropriate one-story buildings now occupy parcels that once had more appropriate scale buildings – on the order of perhaps 4 or 5 stories at the sidewalk. There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel regarding the eventual report of Goody/Clancy and the associated short-term advisory committee for Central Square. One of the greatest problems over the years is that interest in Central Square is cyclical – a push for some flavor of improvements and then the excitement dies down for another decade or so. It is certainly the case that Central Square is not Kendall Square and that the appropriate densities for these respective areas are not the same, but the right balance has to be created in Central Square so that the residents, businesses, and cultural attractions can all thrive – and we’re not there yet.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 3, 2012 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Susan Yanow, et al to rezone from the existing Business A to Business A-1 the areas bounded by Windsor, Main Streets, Bishop Allen Drive, Columbia, Prospect and Norfolk Streets; rezone from the existing Bus. B and CRDD to a proposed new district Bus. B-3 in the area bounded by Green, Landsdowne, Magazine and Prospect Streets and Mass. Ave. define as a protected neighborhood zone the area zoned Res. C-1 and bounded by Portland, Main and Windsor Streets and a line 120 feet north of and parallel to Main Street; rezone the areas currently identified as Municipal Parking Lots along Bishop Allen Drive to a proposed new Municipal Parking District (MP).

There is word going around today that the petitioners have withdrawn their petition. It’s not really clear that a petition that has been filed with 36 signatures can be "withdrawn" simply on the word of one or several of its proponents. There seems to be a suggestion that this withdrawal is being done strategically with the intent of revising and re-filing the petition. This would be a mistake. Such an absurd petition should be voted and defeated. Zoning petitions should not be filed simply as expressions of unhappiness. That’s what "letters to the editor" and the public comment period during City Council meetings are for.

Order #1. That the Mayor and the Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee are requested to provide updates every other week on the status of the City Manager search process to the City Council and to work with the City’s Information Technology staff to have those updates posted on the City Council website under a separate tab on the City Council’s page on the City’s website.   Councillor Kelley

All sentiments like this are in order. The choice of city manager is the single most important decision to be made by the City Council, and residents and other interested parties have a right to know what’s going on so that they can express themselves to their elected representatives – the only 9 people who will actually make the decision. My main reservation in this matter is that this might turn into some kind of "process carnival" in which every aspect of life in Cambridge is discussed with minimal focus on the only thing that really matters – the capacity to competently manage this city. I also have some concern that with this City Council, the tail might wag the dog and we could end up with a hopelessly wrong choice for the next city manager.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work together with Inspectional Services Department, the Department of Public Works, the Law Department, the Public Information Department, the Public Health Department and a group of concerned residents and property owners to explore action on suggestions for controlling the rodent population.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

This is one area in which her City Council colleagues should definitely heed the advice of Councillor vanBeuzekom. Prior to her election, Minka was an expert member of the Cambridge Rodent Task Force. Rodents quake in fear at the mention of her name.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City officials to explore the possibility of completing an on-street parking census and the impacts of a plan for the gradual reduction of on-street parking spaces over the next decades.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

Here’s where I part company with Councillor vanBeuzekom. Though some of my climate change friends may believe otherwise, on-street parking spaces are an essential resource for those who live in this "streetcar suburb" and who do not have access to off-street parking. I cannot respect the desire of an elected official who has off-street parking dictating to the rest of us that we should lose our parking in order to produce a negligible effect on world climate. – Robert Winters

October 1, 2012

Gathering Storm in Central Square – Oct 1, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 9:11 am

Gathering Storm in Central Square – Oct 1, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few items of interest on tonight’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Mass Dept. of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2013.

Here are some excerpts from the City Manager’s message on this topic:

"I am pleased to inform you that the actual FY13 property tax levy of $316,947,770 reflects a $17,857,132 or 5.97% increase from FY12, which is lower than the estimated increase projected in May 2012. The FY13 Budget adopted by the City Council in May 2012 projected a property tax levy increase of $19.7 million, or 6.6%, to $318,818,195 in order to fund operating and capital expenditures. The FY13 operating budget has increased by 2.87%."

"Based on a property tax levy of $316.9 million, the FY13 residential tax rate will be $8.66 per thousand dollars of value, which is an increase of $0.18, or 2.1% from FY12. The commercial tax rate will be $21.50, which is an increase of $0.74, or 3.6% from FY12. Both increases in the tax rate are less than FY12."

"This recommendation includes the use of $11 million in reserve accounts to lower the property tax levy; $2 million from overlay surplus; and $9 million in Free Cash. It should be noted that the certified Free Cash amount of $115.8 million is the highest amount in the City’s history and represents a $13.6 million increase over last year. Also, $0.6 million from the School Debt Stabilization Fund is used to offset increases in debt service costs that would otherwise have been funded from property taxes."

"Additionally, I am recommending that $10 million from Free Cash, as was stated at the time of the budget, be appropriated to the City’s Debt Stabilization Fund to offset anticipated debt service costs in the future for the City’s major capital projects especially in relation to the Elementary School reconstruction plan. This appropriation will help stabilize tax levy increases related to these projects in future years. This practice of using the Debt Stabilization Fund to offset debt service costs has resulted in a successful capital projects program, while maintaining stable property tax levy growth in past years."

"Approximately 74.9% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY13 tax bill. In addition, another 15.8% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250. Therefore, a total of 90.7% of the residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $250. This will be the eighth year in a row that a majority of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no change or an increase of less than $100. This accomplishment should not be taken for granted given the national economic uncertainties, while maintaining city and school services that citizens have come to expect and while providing a strong capital improvement program highlighted by major projects such as the Mayor Russell/West Cambridge Youth and Community Center, Healy Public Safety Facility, Main Public Library, War Memorial Recreation Center and CRLS."

This week will see a Planning Board hearing (Tuesday) and an Ordinance Committee hearing (Wednesday) on the Yanow Petition (a.k.a. the Permanant Parking Petition). This petition calls for reductions in allowed height and density in Central Square at a time when all discussions to this point have been about maintaining or marginally increasing the allowed density as an incentive for new housing, repairing some of the current deficits in the Square, plus other community benefits. The petition also seeks to enshrine surface parking lots as the pinnacle of urban design. If ever there was a zoning petition that should be laughed out of the City Council and the Planning Board, this is that petition.

Communication #1. A communication was received from CARU Associates, et al., transmitting written protest to the Susan Yanow, et al. Zoning Petition.

This communication from Central Square property owners suggests sufficient opposition that the Yanow Petition will likely require 7 of 9 City Council votes for adoption, though that calculation has not yet been made. There appears to be near-unanimous opposition from Central Square business owners and commercial property owners.

Save Our City ManagerResolution #4. Resolution on the death of James Leo Sullivan.   Councillor Maher

I don’t know if I ever met the man, but I have always admired James Leo Sullivan from afar. He set the standard for professional city management in Cambridge and mentored his successor Robert W. Healy. His obituary (which appeared in the Lowell Sun) is rich in information. If anyone has any photos of James Leo Sullivan that may be posted here, including photos of him with contemporaries, they would be greatly appreciated. James Leo Sullivan served as City Manager from June 1968 to April 1970 and then again from April 1974 to July 1981. He was succeeded in 1981 by Robert W. Healy.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Sept 19, 2012 to continue discussions to develop a hiring process for the position of City Manager.

Among other things discussed at this committee meeting was the desire to gather as much community input as possible to advise this most important decision that the City Council can make. Soliciting and receiving input from a representative cross section of Cambridge residents and others with interests in Cambridge is not an easy task. All too often we hear only from the "self-anointed, self-appointed" groups claiming to represent others. The real challenge for the city councillors will be to craft a medium-term and long-term vision for the next decade or more and then choose the right person to implement that vision. That person might now be in the City administration or it could be someone hired from elsewhere. Let’s hope that the elected officials listen to all the people in the city as they make their decisions. – Robert Winters

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