Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 27, 2013

Everything from Zoning to Soda Pop – Jan 28, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

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

Everything from Zoning to Soda Pop – Jan 28, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

One apparently overdue item not appearing on this week’s agenda is the text of the proposed contract between the City Council and City-Manager-To-Be Richard Rossi. Order #6 of Dec 3, 2012 stated: "That a contract which sets forth, inter alia, the provisions specified above, shall be provided by the Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee to the City Council for approval no later than Jan 7, 2013."

The Gov’t Operations Committee has since met in Executive Session on Dec 19, Jan 3, and Jan 23 on this matter, and it was expected that a proposed contract would be made available for public review by now. [Pursuant to Council Order #11 of May 2, 2011 and the City Council Rules, "The committee shall also be responsible for negotiating the City Manager’s contract of employment and shall ensure that the contract the committee recommends to the City Council for adoption is posted on the City Council website at least ninety-six (96) hours prior to adoption.] There’s no hurry since Bob Healy’s contract extends through June 30, 2013. Here are the last three contracts for reference:

2009-2013 contract   2006-2009 contract   2002-2006 contract

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Cambridge Historical Commission to approve the landmark designation for the Second Baptist/St. Francis of Assisi Church at 325 Cambridge Street.

We are fortunate to have the great staff of the Cambridge Historical Commission who produce reports like this one. You can always count on there being interesting information in these reports.

Manager’s Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the Forest City/Millennium Pharmaceuticals Zoning Petition.

The Planning Board unanimously recommends adoption of the petition. The proposed amendment and related development plan aligns well with recent recommendations of the Central Square Advisory Committee 2011/2012. It will dramatically improve the retail frontage of a block that has been an embarassment for decades. The new retail will focus on local businesses. The new development will provide office space (primarily) for Millennium – a locally spawned company that works primarily in oncology research and development, i.e. cures for cancer. The latest letter of commitment also promises the development of housing wherever a future Cambridge site can be located that will include a minimum of 25 "affordable" inclusionary housing units.

The Ordinance Committee held a public hearing on the petition on Jan 16 and forwarded it to the full City Council w/o recommendation while also keeping the matter in committee. It could be passed to a 2nd Reading at the Jan 28 Council meeting which would make it eligible for ordination as early as mid-February. There will be another Ordinance Committee meeting on the petition on Wed, Jan 30. The expiration date of the petition is Apr 17. (Zoning Petitions) It will be interesting to see how this petition is eventually voted – and if politics trumps reason.

Manager’s Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the City Council Petition to amend Section 13.59.33 Building and Site Requirements for Active Uses and Open Spaces, to delete requirement number 5 requiring public access in ground floor cafeterias.

Unfinished Business #10. 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 Jan 9, 2013 to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by amending Section 13.59.33 Building and Site Design Requirements for Active Uses and Open Spaces by deleting condition numbered (5) which reads: In order to promote pedestrian activity on adjacent public streets from tenants and employees within commercial buildings, any cafeteria serving such commercial space may be located only on the ground floor level of a building and must be opened to the public at lease twenty hours per week. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Jan 28, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Dec 18, 2012. Petition expires Apr 9, 2013.

This is relatively noncontroversial and reflects the evolution of the Kendall Square area over the last decade. There’s a good chance it will be ordained at this meeting.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to arrange publicity about Earth Hour 2013 including information on the city web site, calendar, emails, cable channel and in front of City Hall so that as many people as possible are encouraged to participate.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

I’ll just take this opportunity to once again say how little value I place on token events like this. I used to help organize Cambridge Earth Day events and eventually came to see such events as meaningless distractions (or opportunities to have bands play on the Esplanade sponsored by local radio stations). If you believe in good environmental practices, you should live those beliefs. Turning off your lights for an hour so that people can witness your righteousness accomplishes nothing.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work together with the appropriate city officials including the City Solicitor and report back to the City Council regarding modification of the ordinance (10.12.030) that links the awarding of a one yearlong Visitor Parking Permit per household to the purchase of a $25 Cambridge Resident Parking Permit.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

I guess nobody thought of this when they increased the Resident Parking Permit fee from $8 to $20 then $25. The intention of this Order is to allow residents who do not own a car to purchase an annual Visitor Pass for $10 instead of $25.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Public Health Department and report back to the City Council on the status of any health measure in effect in Cambridge which would ban tobacco sales in pharmacies and drug stores.   Councillor Cheung

My instinct was to make some snarky comment about how tobacco junkies would just drive further to feed their habits, and maybe this is the truth. However, the Order notes that "According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, 46 municipalities throughout Massachusetts, including Boston, Newton, Worcester, Somerville, Lowell, Brookline, Salem, Springfield, and Watertown have banned tobacco sales in pharmacies and drug stores." So the junkies will only have to drive to Arlington or buy it somewhere other than a drug store. It seems to me that this initiative will do little to convince people not to smoke and simply shift the sales to other outlets. Nothing solved.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Community Health Committee for a public meeting held on Dec 19, 2012 to discuss a ban on plastic bags.

If you’ve ever taken the tour of the Charlestown recycling facility where Cambridge recyclables are processed you’ll know how much difficulty plastic grocery bags can create in the process. They should never be included among curbside recyclables. You certainly don’t need them for buying groceries. Bringing your own reusable bags or boxes is a better option. However, the recommended Order says, "That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare a draft ordinance that will ban the use of plastic bags in the city." This appears to extend beyond grocery bags. What about plastic trash bags?

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Community Health Committee for a public meeting held on Jan 9, 2013 to discuss limiting the size of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages sold.

Initiatives like this are evidence that we’ve given up on education in favor of legislation. Rather than convince people to not swill down 2-liter bottles of Coke, we pass laws limiting what you can consume and/or how much you can consume. A more intelligent approach would be to require that drinks be sold on a strict per-volume basis so that there’s no advantage associated with super-sized drinks. In other words, if 60¢ buys you 12 ounces, $1 will buy you 20 ounces – the same 5¢ per ounce regardless of size. This won’t work with free refills, of course. Councillor Decker’s view: "She stated that while no one wants their choice to be taken away, as a larger society we need to ask what the tradeoffs are for the larger good." Yeah, that’s exactly who I want determining what’s good for me.

Finally, a few reports:

Miscellaneous #1. Transmitting notification of the 2012 Town Gown Reports.

Miscellaneous #2. Transmitting notification of the 2012 Public Health Annual Report.


January 13, 2013

On the Jan 14, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:53 pm

On the Jan 14, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are the items that caught my attention:

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-145, regarding a report on how the City might provide a reduced rate Hubway bike-share membership to its limited income residents.

The communication from Brian Murphy (CDD) makes abundantly clear just how affordable and heavily subsidized Hubway already is. Perhaps Councillor vanBeuzekom’s Order needs an additional clause calling on the City to assign staff to pedal the bikes and ring their little bells for the helpless citizens of Cambridge.

City Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Council Order Number 7 of 9/10/12 and Council Order Number 3 of 1/7/2013, regarding funding for Upward Bound.

It should surprise no one that our ever-generous City is coming forward with short-term funding to allow this academic year’s program to continue to its conclusion. However, this federally-supported program is not ripe for indefinite City funding far into the future. Note especially the Manager’s advice: "I will continue to strive to identify other funding sources for future years. However, unless, and until that goal is achieved, I would advise the program leaders to not commence enrollment for the 2013-2014 Academic term."

Resolution #9. Congratulating Nancy Glowa on her appointment as City Solicitor.   Mayor Davis

Yes, congratulations indeed.

Order #1. That the City Council move to Executive Session at the City Council meeting of Jan 14, 2013 to obtain legal advice and to discuss strategy with the City Solicitor regarding threatened litigation with respect to the Open Meeting Law complaint filed with the Attorney General by Tom Stohlman.   Mayor Davis

Those of us who have served on City boards and commissions have become aware of some of the unintended consequences of recent revisions and interpretations of the state’s Open Meeting Law. For example, it has been suggested that members of advisory committees with no regulatory function should refrain from ordinary or e-mail conversation outside of the setting of a public meeting. I would like to respectfully suggest that the State Legislature review the current law in regard to boards with no regulatory functions. There are good reasons for open meeting protocols for elected bodies and regulatory bodies. On the other hand, Mr. Stohlman’s complaint regarding the City Council’s adherence to the Open Meeting Law serves no useful purpose and focuses on the trees rather than the forest.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development and any other appropriate City personnel, Renae Gray from the Area 4 neighborhood, and any other appropriate group or individuals from that neighborhood to initiate the process of renaming Area 4 to a more appropriate name.   Vice Mayor Simmons

The intent of this Order has been around for a while. However, I believe there’s a misunderstanding expressed in the Order regarding the origin of the "Area 4" name. Vice Mayor Simmons says, "Area 4 is one of only two neighborhoods in the City of Cambridge that is known by its police district number, as opposed to a formal name." In fact, the name "Area 4" is not a police district number. Its origin dates to a 1953 report by the Cambridge Planning Board called "Thirteen Neighborhoods: One City". Mark Fortune was the planning director at that time. The report states that, "The thirteen neighborhoods of Cambridge were defined by the Planning Board staff and approved by the Planning Board in 1952 after years of study." [Original Map]

Some of the more invented neighborhoods (like Area 6) later adopted more acceptable names (like Mid-Cambridge). Much of "Area Four" today was historically known as Cambridgeport, though the people of Area 5 have successfully appropriated that name. The truth is that people in any neighborhood can use whatever name they wish. If it sticks, and if the political people choose to use that name, it will eventually become the "official" name. It’s not so clear that having City staff meet with a few selected individuals in a neighborhood is the right way to assign a name to any neighborhood. The bottom line about Cambridge is that no person or group of people speaks for any neighborhood in this city. Only neighborhood-wide consensus about the name of a given area can define the name of that area.

This applies emphatically to those who are now referring to Central Square simply as "Central," and doubly for the recent reference to the stretch of lower Mass. Ave. between Lafayette Square and MIT as "LoMa". I almost wretched when I heard that.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the possibility of a gun buy-back program in Cambridge.   Mayor Davis

You knew that one was coming.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to initiate a plan of action setting up a procedure for future projects and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

I’m not sure what exactly Councillor Cheung is getting at with this Order. The text of the Order refers to "debris removal, including but not limited to hazardous waste," but one would think there must already be standards for dealing with these materials. It seems pretty certain that this is spelled out in state regulations.

Order #11. That the City Manager confer with the License Commission, Community Development Department, Planning Board and Board of Zoning Appeals on the logistic of deliveries of trash removal from business issue and report back with relevant information and ideas for improvement to the Cambridge City Council.   Councillor Cheung

Though much of this is probably already addressed in building codes, the subject of this Order has some value. There are many instances where the provision of recycling services and waste disposal have been compromised by building design and, quite significantly, by renovation. In the neverending quest to produce more rentable space, basements, alleys, rear yards, etc. are often designed in a way that makes these basic services unnecessarily difficult. The Planning Board currently is studying a similar issue regarding the provision of bicycle parking.

Order #12. That the City Council go on record urging Harvard University to give serious consideration to Homeowner’s Rehab’s bid to purchase Putnam Square Apartments and to work closely and cooperatively with the City, Homeowner’s Rehab, Inc., tenants and others to ensure a successful sale of the property to Homeowner’s Rehab, Inc. so that Putnam Square Apartments may continue to provide affordable housing for current and future elderly and disabled tenants.   Councillor Decker

Knock ’em dead, Marjorie. The key statement in the Order is "The City of Cambridge believes the affordability of this building is legally bound into perpetuity in exchange for the agreements and variances Harvard was granted prior to the development of 2 Mt. Auburn committing it as an affordable building to Cambridge seniors." That said, it seems a bit over the top to demand that Harvard donate "100% of the profits from the sale of the building to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund." Sometimes I wonder if our City’s elected officials would move to carry out the City equivalent of "nationalizing the housing industry" if they could find a legal way to pull it off. Isn’t that what rent control was all about?

Committee Report #3. 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 Jan 3, 2013 to continue discussion with Attorney Elizabeth Valerio, representing the City Council in negotiations with the next City Manager, Richard Rossi.

Not if Tom Stohlman can help it! – RW

January 7, 2013

A Sampler from the Jan 7, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,Kendall Square,planning — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 12:40 am

A Sampler from the Jan 7, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The 2013 City Council season opens this Monday with little at bat and a lot on deck. Here is a sampler of some interesting agenda items:

Communications #4. A communication was received from Tom Stohlman transmitting a copy of a letter to Ms. Amy Nable of the MA Attorney General’s Office in response to his Open Meeting Law Complaint.

This is an interesting interpretation of the Open Meeting Law. It seems to suggest that the only legitimate legislative actions the City Council or any public body can propose is the kind that’s dreamt up in a vacuum by an individual or that emerges spontaneously on the floor of the City Council. I don’t think ANY legislative body works this way nor do I think any effective organization or group of individuals works this way. People talk to each other. Elected officials talk to each other (or at least we hope this is the case). Sometimes a consensus around a good idea develops before the whole group gets together. The public gets a chance to chime in, discussion ensues, and a vote is taken. What is to be gained by turning elected officials into robots in straitjackets? What is so offensive about the practice of allowing councillors to individually sign on as sponsors of a City Council Order prior to voting on the record in favor of the Order? If you are unhappy about the decision to hire Rich Rossi as City Manager for a few years, so be it, but why make such a whine out of sour grapes?

Resolution #15. Resolution on the death of Karen Klinger.   Councillor Cheung

Karen Klinger, photo from CCTVWhen I receive email messages from Cambridge people, I confess to classifying the senders mainly into three categories: Friends, Civics, and Politics. Only my real friends are classified as Friends. I lump much of the mail I receive into the Politics category and, quite frankly, I don’t put a lot of weight in that stuff. The special category is Civics – for people who are really trying to do all the best things a citizen should do. These are the constructive people, the thoughtful people, and many of them I eventually call Friends. Karen Klinger was a Civic person, well on her way to being a Friend – a constructive and thoughtful citizen who did not participate in civic life merely to inflate her ego or to obstruct whatever comes along. Karen and I would often ride together on the bike rides sponsored twice per year by the Cambridge Bicycle Committee and we would catch up on things as we rode through the streets of Cambridge.

When I heard that Karen had died after an extended illness, I looked back at some of the messages we had exchanged over the last few years. Just two years ago when fellow cyclist Henry Lewis died suddenly, Karen wrote these haunting words: "That’s so sad about Henry Lewis. What happened? He looked to be the picture of health on the Bow Tie Ride. A very enthusiastic, charismatic guy. I always find it especially shocking when seemingly healthy people who are surely younger than I am suddenly die. I can’t get the image of him, enthusing about the ride and the one coming up next spring–with a music theme–out of my head." Karen was also a very enthusiastic, charismatic gal and I will especially miss her when riding in the next Cambridge Bike Tour on May 13.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate city staff to provide a report to the City Council explaining the SOV target rate that has been established for the City of Cambridge; data that explains how the City of Cambridge is doing in relation to meeting its SOV target rate; and future plans to reduce the actual SOV rate including barriers to achieving as low a rate as is possible.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

Nothing unusual in this Order. It’s highlighted primarily to note how certain issues and language seem to rise and fall in importance over the years. It wasn’t so long ago that the City Council often referred to the problem of "single occupancy vehicles." Much of those concerns were incorporated into the City’s Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordiance that effectively replaced the old Interim Parking Freeze. That ordinance drives much of City policy today. We don’t really hear the phrase "single occupancy vehicle" any more. The language today tends to focus on larger themes like energy efficiency, climate change, LEED standards, smart growth, and transit-oriented development. I remember a day 24 years ago when recycling was the new wave. We really have come a long way since then.

Order #4. That the City Council go on record strongly urging the City Manager to fill the two vacancies on the Planning Board with people who have a background in, or association with, the skilled labor and building trades.   Vice Mayor Simmons and Councillor Cheung

I beg to differ. The Planning Board ideally consists of objective, fair-minded people who bring a range of relevant skills to the business of planning the future of the city and its urban design. What exactly is the value added by insisting on having skilled labor and building trades represented on the Planning Board? Will there be another Order forthcoming urging that representatives from the life sciences be appointed to the Planning Board in recognition of their major presence in Kendall Square and elsewhere? Why not have representatives from the universities in recognition of the dominant role they play in Cambridge? Those vacancies should be filled as soon as possible, but the pool should not be restricted to any specific interest group.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 12, 2012 to receive an update on the long-term vision for Kendall Square.

There’s not much to add other than to highlight all the potential activity that is now on deck. New buildings are under construction in Kendall Square and there may be other significant changes there from whatever emerges from the recently re-filed MIT Kendall Square zoning petition and the concurrent planning process now underway. Meanwhile, at the other end of Main Street, the Fennell properties – all 15 of them in the Lafayette Square area – recently sold for $32 million to New Jersey’s Normandy Real Estate Partners which is teaming up with Twining Properties, the New York firm that brought the Watermark apartment towers along with new retail and restaurant offerings to Kendall Square. Great things (or horrible things) could come of all this, but it’s guaranteed to not set well with many activists. It should keep things peppered up around here for the next few years.

Committee Report #2. 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 Dec 19, 2012 to introduce Attorney Elizabeth Valerio, who will represent the City Council, in negotiations with the next City Manager, Richard Rossi.

The specifics of the proposed contract with our next City Manager Richard Rossi are due to appear sometime this month.

Miscellaneous #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012.

There are a few City publications that are worth perusing, and this is one of them. If you really have time to waste, you can also check out the City’s annual line item budget at the Cambridge Public Library. That’s the one that gives the names and salaries and benefits of all the City’s full-time employees. Or you could go hiking. I’ll choose the latter.

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