Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 31, 2013

Early look at the April 1 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,Kendall Square,MIT — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 9:14 pm

Early look at the April 1 Cambridge City Council agenda

Here’s a sneak peek at what’s coming up at Monday’s City Council meeting:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-29, regarding a report on the feasibility of not allowing residents of new buildings to obtain on-street resident parking stickers.

The City Solicitor reports that this question was already fully answered 11 years ago when the question arose whether resident parking stickers could be withheld from Harvard students residing in Harvard dormitories. The advice then as now was that a resident of Cambridge whose motor vehicle is registered in Massachusetts and principally garaged in Cambridge is entitled to receive a resident parking sticker. End of story.

Another zoning petition arrives:

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Michael Phillips, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to the Special District 2 (SD-2) zoning district in North Cambridge.

Heather Hoffman insists that the East Cambridge Planning Team has expressed no opinion on the MIT/Kendall Zoning Petition in:

Communications #2. A communication was received from Heather Hoffman regarding the MIT petition and East Cambridge Planning Team.

Councillor Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee responds with:

Order #7. That Committee Report #6 of Mar 18, 2013 be amended on page two in the second paragraph by striking out the sentence that reads: "The MIT proposal has received support from the East Cambridge Planning Team."   Councillor Maher

So what DOES the East Cambridge Planning Team really have to say about this? Inquiring minds want to know.

Contrary to the fanciful claims of the Wizard of Essex Street that the MIT faculty doesn’t like the MIT/Kendall Petition, there are these:

Communications #6. A communication was received from Marc Kastner, Dean, School of Science, Donner Professor of Science, MIT School of Science transmitting strong support for the Institute’s proposed rezoning of Kendall Square.

Communications #7. A communication was received from Adele Naude Santos, Dean, Professor of Architecture and Planning, School of Architecture + Planning transmitting enthusiasm and support for the Institute’s Kendall Square proposal.

Communications #9. A communication was received from David Schmittlein, John C Head III Dean, MIT Sloan School of Management, Professor of Marketing transmitting support for the Institute’s proposed rezoning of Kendall Square.

Could it be that the "MIT Faculty Newsletter" is not actually the newsletter of the MIT faculty? It sure seems like it.

We should all be entertained by Councillors Decker and Cheung when this comes up:

Order #1. That all public meetings and hearings be conducted within the city limits and have a Cambridge address, and in the event that a public meeting or hearing is held outside of the city limits, that a vote be required of the City Council to approve said meeting or hearing being held outside the city limits.   Councillor Decker

Vice Mayor raises a valid question with:

Order #3. That the Government Operation and Rules Committee is requested to provide an update to the City Council on any progress that has been made in drafting a Community Benefits & Mitigation Plan, and that an expected timeframe in which a formal recommendation on policy might be made to the City Council is also provided.   Vice Mayor Simmons

Councillor vanBeuzekom declares war in:

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to urge the Cambridge Retirement Board of Trustees to cease investments in fossil fuel companies, review Cambridge’s investment portfolio, contact fund managers for any fossil fuel company investments, prepare a report which explains options for investing in the pension fund in a way that maximizes positive impact of the fund, establish investment policies which support local projects and jobs, create a timeline for implementation of findings and release annual updates.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

Will Cambridge ban gasoline after they ban plastic bags, styrofoam, and soda pop? Will they declare Cambridge a pepperoni-free zone? – Robert Winters

March 19, 2013

Letter from Tom Stohlman (Mar 19, 2013)

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:47 am

To the City Council,

The City Charter says:
"Except in the cases of executive sessions authorized by section twenty-three A of chapter thirty-nine, all meetings of the city council shall be open to the press and to the public, and the rules of the city council shall provide that citizens and employees of the city shall have a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any such meeting in regard to any matter considered thereat."

It appears sometime in the past, someone crafted an interpretation of these words which would allow the City Council to meet and not give citizens "a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any such meeting in regard to any matter considered thereat." I’m sure it may have been for some good reason along the lines of, "We, the City Council, need to be able to meet and discuss matters before us without devoting the whole meeting to listening to the public talk about matters before us."

Thus the "roundtable" meeting was born. I think it was illegal then and I think it is illegal now.

The City Council Rules were voted without (much) debate at the beginning of your term, and reflect the wishes of some long-gone previous incarnation of the City Council. The rules are broken, in multiple senses of the phrase. The rules are ignored when they get in the way. The rules are invoked inconsistently to stifle debate. The rules are also broken if they actually keep you from doing your job.

I know you all and I know you are capable of having a discussion among yourselves and giving the public "a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any such meeting in regard to any matter considered thereat." It’s your meeting and you control it, not some long-gone previous incarnation of the City Council, not the City Manager, not the City Solicitor, and not the public.

The City Charter gives you that power. All it asks in return is that you do what it says. I recognize that my Charter right must be invoked reasonably and I want you to devote as much time as you can to discussing this among yourselves in whatever way you find most useful. Even if the Charter didn’t require it, you should open all your meetings (and sub-committee meetings) to whatever form of public communication (speech, TV, Internet, letters, emails, etc., etc.) is reasonably available and you should give the public a reasonable amount of time to be heard (literally).

I ask that you get a fresh start, and embrace the spirit of the Charter’s words this Friday at 9:30am. Find a way to hear the public while having a (real) discussion among yourselves and City staff about this important matter before you, the MIT PUD5 Zoning Amendment.

Best,

Tom Stohlman
19 Channing Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-547-5246
tstohlman@alum.mit.edu

March 18, 2013

Evacuation Day at City Hall – March 18 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council,planning — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:57 am

Evacuation Day at City Hall – March 18 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Here are what seem to be the highlights for this Monday’s City Council meeting grouped by topic:

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Planning Board for 3-year terms effective Mar 13, 2013:
Tom Sieniewicz (Full Member)
Steven Cohen (Full Member)
Catherine Preston Connolly (Associate Member)

Resolution #15. Thanks to Thomas W. Anninger for his years of service as a member of the Cambridge Planning Board.   Councillor Maher

Though the Planning Board has been short a few members lately, it’s been functioning like a well-oiled machine. Tom Anninger’s exit from the Board is a real loss, but the newly appointed members appear to be very qualified and should prove to be excellent additions. They’ll arrive just in time for some serious discussions about possible plans for Central Square and other areas that were part of the recent K2C2 study. It is noteworthy that the recent January 7 Order #4 strongly urged 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." None of the three appointees seem to fit that description, and that’s probably a good thing.

Manager’s Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2013 and ending Mar 31, 2014.

City Manager Order
Agenda Item No. 16A     Mar 18, 2013
ORDERED: That the following block rate for water consumption and sewer use in the City of Cambridge be in effect for the period beginning Apr 1, 2013 and ending Mar 31, 2014.

  Annual Consumption* FY13
Water Rate
FY14 Proposed
Water Rate
FY13
Sewer Rate
FY14 Proposed
Sewer Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF $3.02 $3.02 $7.86 $8.19
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF $3.24 $3.24 $8.32 $8.67
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF $3.44 $3.44 $8.93 $9.31
Block 4 2,001 – 10,000 CcF $3.65 $3.65 $9.62 $10.02
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF $3.96 $3.96 $10.23 $10.66

*All rates are per CcF. CcF is an abbreviation of 100 cubic feet. One CcF is approximately 750 gallons; and be it further

This marks the 4th straight year for these water rates, i.e. no increases for three years from the level set for FY11. This is the first increase in the sewer rate after two consecutive years of no increases.

Manager’s Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the MIT-Kendall Square Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #4. 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 Feb 26, 2013 to continue discussions on the petition by MIT to create a new Section 13.80 Planned Unit Development 5 (PUD-5) District; specifically to discuss the built form, including FAR, Height, Footplates, Open Space and Parking.

Committee Report #6. 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 Mar 7, 2013 to continue discussions on the petition by MIT to create a new Section 13.80 Planned Unit Development 5 (PUD-5) District; specifically to discuss Uses, Incentive Zoning, Community Fund, Housing and Sustainability. A presentation will be made by the Executive Director of Historical Commission on historic building.

Order #11. That a one-time suspension of Council Rule 23B be allowed, for the broadcast of the Fri, Mar 22nd, 9:30am Ordinance Committee Meeting (a meeting to discuss issues relating to the MIT PUD-5 zoning petition).   Councillor vanBeuzekom

As a group, these are probably the most significant items on the agenda. The Council will most likely pass the MIT/Kendall petition to a 2nd Reading in order to get it in the queue for possible ordination in a few weeks. The Ordinance Committee is still deliberating the issue, and it will surprise no one if there are additional tweaks to the zoning language before the matter comes to a final vote.

One yet unresolved issue is the matter of how MIT will respond to demands for additional on-campus and near-campus housing for graduate students and post-docs. It’s a legitimate question, and the MIT administration is seriously analyzing this now. The question of whether this housing should be intertwined with the zoning petition is somewhat unclear, especially since MIT has numerous other options for where such housing could be constructed if their analysis proves the need. It’s unfortunate that this issue has been latched onto by at least one new Council candidate who has about as much familiarity with MIT as a fish has with a bicycle.

Applications & Petitions #6. A zoning petition has been received from Charles D. Teague, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to clarify existing law so that said law can be enforced by inserting text after Section 7.20 Illumination, with the existing text to be retained and labeled as Section 7.23 Lighting Restrictions for Residential Districts.

Yup, another zoning petition, and a pretty anticlimactic one after the Forest City petition and the MIT/Kendall petitions that some have used to define their political campaigns.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council and the Cambridge community on the current status, to the extent that it is possible, of the investigation into the June 3, 2012 murder of Charlene Holmes.   Vice Mayor Simmons

I am grateful to Vice Mayor Simmons for bringing this issue back into public view. It is incredibly disturbing to think that this cold-blooded murder in front of witnesses is still unresolved almost a year later.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works as to the feasibility of installing fiber-optic conduits when doing sewer reconstruction and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom

The fact is that these fiber-optic conduits are sometimes run inside the sewers. Don’t worry, you won’t see that stuff and it won’t get all over your data.

Order #9. That the conversion of further soccer fields at Danehy Park to artificial turf be delayed until further study of the impact of artificial turf on player’s health be completed along with a report which quantifies the decreased use of the more fragile grass playing fields throughout the city as a result of the installation of artificial turf playing fields be prepared by the Recreation Department.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

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 meeting held on Feb 5, 2013 to discuss the long-term impact of grass versus artificial turf at Danehy Park.

Though I have not been following this issue, the committee report makes clear that this is a Big Issue for a lot of people – especially the soccer crowd. It does seem a bit weird that Councillor vanBeuzekom is bringing up the concern that "this infill material may contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, benzene, benzothiazole and other toxic derivatives that may present a health risk to residents" as justification for delaying the installation. Is this out of concern for health risks or just opposition to replacing natural grass with artificial turf? I’ll go with the majority of soccer players. If they’re OK with it, then go for it.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to offer City of Cambridge engineering expertise to the City of Belmont so that both cities may work together to ensure that the residents of Cambridge, Belmont and Arlington be protected from the impacts of flooding in Alewife SubWatershed and report back to the City Council.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

On the surface, this certainly seems like a good idea. I always wonder whether the real intention of Orders like this is to delay development proposals or whether there are serious environmental concerns. In matters such as this we also get a clear view of how lacking the regional planning can sometimes be in these parts. Instead, we talk about loaning our expertise to neighboring towns.

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 Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Feb 6, 2013 to receive a briefing on the recommendations of the C2 Report.

There’s also a Roundtable City Council meeting coming up on Wed, Mar 27 at 5:30pm on the report of the Central Square Advisory Committee 2011/2012. This is pretty important stuff. Some choose to see only danger and fear of change; while others see opportunity. I count myself in the latter group. The actual zoning recommendations yet to come out of CDD are eagerly awaited. – Robert Winters


Quick Notes on what went down at the Mar 18 City Council meeting:

1) Many people showed up to protest the impending termination of the Longy School’s Preparatory and Continuing Studies program. The City Council’s University Relations Committee will address this at a meeting on Wed, Mar 20 at 2:00pm in the Sullivan Chamber of City Hall.

2) Throngs of soccer players, parents, and coaches came out to question Councillor vanBeuzekom’s Order #9 that recommended delaying the installation of artificial turf on soccer fields at Danehy Park. The Order was subsequently withdrawn. (It would likely have been defeated.)

3) Open Houses on the MIT/Kendall Square Initiative (zoning petition) are scheduled for Sat, Mar 23 from 10:00am to noon and Tues, Mar 26 from 6:00pm to 8:00pm at One Broadway, 1st Floor, next to Firebrand Saints. Look for the blue windows.

MIT/Kendall Open House

4) There was a somewhat disjointed discussion on the appropriateness of a proposed Ordinance Committee roundtable meeting this Fri, Mar 22 at 9:30am to discuss the details of the MIT/Kendall petition. The debate centered on whether it should be televised and whether public comment should be permitted. The procedural compromise was to change this to a City Council roundtable meeting (which are not televised and where public comment is not permitted). Ordinance Committee Chair David Maher promised that there would be another Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic prior to a final vote on ordination. It was also stated that this petition will expire on April 15 rather than April 24 as previously established. Apparently even though state law sets the deadline at 90 days after its first Ordinance Committee hearing, section 1.52 of the City’s zoning ordinance sets the deadline at 90 days after its initial Planning Board hearing (who knew?). The Law Dept. recommended the Apr 15 deadline. After the discussion the City Council passed the petition to a 2nd Reading. This puts it in the queue to be voted for ordination after Mar 28 and before the Apr 15 expiration date.

5) Councillor Decker announced that the state has designated Homeowners Rehab, Inc. (HRI) as the agency to negotiate the sale of the 2 Mt. Auburn St. housing currently owned and managed by Harvard University. She indicated some hope that good news may follow regarding the long-term affordability for tenants of this building. – RW (additions and corrections welcome)

March 12, 2013

East Cambridge Dollars for Scholars

Filed under: East Cambridge — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:28 am

East Cambridge Dollars for Scholars (formally the East Cambridge Scholarship Fund) is currently accepting applications for the 2013-2014 academic year from East Cambridge residents who are attending, or planning to attend, a college or university, graduate school or vocational/trade schools. Applications may be obtained by writing to:

East Cambridge Dollars for Scholars
P.O. Box 410026
Cambridge, MA 02141

or by emailing eastcambridgedfs@hotmail.com. In addition, applications are available at the East End House, the Frisoli Youth Center, the Kennedy Community School Office, the Sixth Street O’Connell Library and State Representative Tim Toomey’s office on Cambridge Street. The deadline for submitting an application is April 8, 2013.

Thank you.
East Cambridge Dollars for Scholars

March 4, 2013

In Like A Lamb – March 4 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:32 am

In Like A Lamb – March 4 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

February went out like a lion last week with the signing of a 3-year contract with Manager-to-be Richard Rossi and the unanimous ordination of the Forest City zoning petition that had been the subject of much contrived controversy. In contrast, March arrives in comparative calm. Here’s what caught my attention this week:

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to expand enforcement of the prohibition on Cambridge pick-ups by non-Cambridge cabs not specifically called to Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Councillor Cheung’s Order asks "to expand enforcement of the prohibition on Cambridge pick-ups by non-Cambridge cabs not specifically called to Cambridge." Well, it’s in the regulations, as they say. That said, doesn’t it seem ridiculous that taxi service is completely balkanized with local city councils dictating who can and cannot pick up fares in their towns? Shouldn’t there be some kind of compact among the various municipalities of Greater Boston – like a taxi free trade zone? I would personally take it a step further and eliminate taxi medallions completely. Whoever can offer the best service at the lowest price should get the business – not who pays the most for a medallion.

Order #3. That the Chair of the Civic Unity Committee is requested to inform the City Council of plans to hold a committee meeting to discuss the Monteiro case and any lessons to be learned from it prior to the current City Manager’s leaving office.   Councillor Kelley

Beat that dead horse, Councillor Kelley. The chief lesson learned should be the importance of jury selection.

Three-fifthsOrder #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the City Council on the feasibility of creating a development program, whether through density bonuses or other means, where residents of new buildings would not be allowed to obtain on-street City parking stickers.   Councillor Kelley

I believe the illegality of this idea has already been settled, but why not get creative? How about we give those residents three-fifths of a parking sticker in honor of their less-than-citizenship status. It should hold us until the 13th Amendment to the City’s Plan E Charter is ratified by two-thirds of the city’s neighborhoods.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department to explore the possibility of adding an RSS feed feature to all of the City of Cambridge websites.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

I suppose there’s a way to do that, but I don’t believe the City of Cambridge uses a content management system (CMS) like a typical blog might have. I’m guessing here that Councillor vanBeuzekom wants the content of these pages to be fed directly into news aggregators and the like. Having played around this weekend with RSS feeds for the CCJ site, I know that it’s possible to do this (assuming I haven’t made any huge errors), but it seems like a rather poor idea to do this for "all of the City of Cambridge websites" as stated in the Order. There are, however, particular City web pages where important updates and events are posted. Those pages should have all the appropriate features added to make them easy to be picked up by the various electronic robots roaming the internets.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor David P. Maher transmitting a copy of a letter sent to Attorney Kathryn Brown of Forest City Boston requesting clarifying language contained in the "Letter of Commitment".

I’ve been reading with amusement an account elsewhere that makes this letter into some kind of controversy and a validation of things discussed during last week’s vote on the Forest City petition. To paraphrase Dr. Freud, sometimes a letter is just a letter.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Craig Kelley regarding discussion about pending lawsuits.

I sometimes wonder if some of our elected councillors are working against the interest of the City and its residents. – RW

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