Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 29, 2013

Let’s Go Down to the Levy – Sept 30 City Council Agenda Notes

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:08 pm

Let’s Go Down to the Levy – Sept 30 City Council Agenda Notes

The most significant agenda item is the public hearing and vote relating to the proposed FY2014 tax rates.

City Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Mass Dept. of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2014: [Full Report]

(1) The FY14 property tax levy of $328,544,945 reflects a $11,597,175 or 3.66% increase from FY13, the lowest increase since FY06.

(2) Pending approval from the Mass. Dept. of Revenue, the FY14 residential tax rate will be $8.38 per thousand dollars of value, a decrease of $0.28 or -3.23% from FY13. The commercial tax rate will be $20.44, a decrease of $1.06 or -4.9% from FY13.

(3) As has been the practice in recent years, $11 million in reserve accounts is being used to lower the property tax levy.

(4) Approximately 74.1% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY14 tax bill. In addition, another 13.5% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250.

(5) The median tax bills show a 2.54% increase for single-family homes, a 2.54% decrease for condominiums, a 2.85% increase for two-family homes, and a 4.38% increase for three-family homes. These figures factor in the residential exemption ($215,649 for FY14).

(6) In large part due to new construction, the City’s excess levy capacity (as defined by Prop. 2½) increased by approximately $13.4 million, or 12.87%, to $117.5 million in FY14.

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a notification from the State Department of Revenue that as of July 1, 2013, the City of Cambridge certified free cash balance is $142,176,089.

This is the highest amount in the City’s history and represents a $26.3 million increase over last year.

City Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the proposed zoning petition regarding Medical Marijuana Regulations. [Full Report]

Basically, the plan is to create two "Medical Marijuana Overlay Zoning Districts" where dispensaries could be located. One area is on either side of Fresh Pond Parkway (including the Shopping Center) and the other is in the NorthPoint area. Related public health regulations governing these dispensaries are expected to follow.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Superintendent of Schools and the Assistant City Manager for Human Services with the view in mind of appointing a task force to recommend an approach to four year old education in Cambridge   Mayor Davis

This appears to be an outgrowth of last week’s Roundtable Meeting with the School Committee. Pretty soon we’ll have a record number of Task Forces.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to review the selection process for the Inclusionary Unit program with a view toward making the process favorable towards former and current Cambridge residents.   Vice Mayor Simmons

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to establish an owner’s handbook to be given to all residents living in Inclusionary Units, and for the Community Development Department to establish formal, annual check-in meetings with all Inclusionary Unit residents.   Vice Mayor Simmons

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to report back to the City Council on the style, quality, and long-term care of all Inclusionary Units.   Vice Mayor Simmons

This is a curious suite of Orders from Councillor Simmons reflecting questions and concerns about the operational aspects of the City’s generally very successful Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance.

It’s worth noting that the naysayers from the "Cambridge Residents Alliance" (CRA) recently stated: "We reject inclusionary zoning as the primary way to develop affordable housing by including a small percentage of affordable units in large towers of market-rate housing. In fact, those developments have a ripple effect on surrounding neighborhoods, driving rental prices up and leading to a net loss from the city of residents who need affordable units." The CRA’s preferred approach seems to be centered on policies designed to concentrate low income residents in specific areas, especially in and around Central Square. Their thesis that increasing the supply of housing causes housing prices to rise is questionable at best.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate new technology methods of communicating street sweeping to residents, with the specific request that an "opt-in" text alert be sent to residents who own parking passes (and resident guest parking passes) by linking geo-coded phone numbers with locations that are to be swept.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

"No parking on the Odd side of the street or your car will be tagged and towed." – I guess that’s not clear enough for the new wave of residents who can’t survive ten minutes without their blessed little iPhones.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Department of Public Works to devote a greater number of resources towards the challenge of improving the cleanliness of Central Square.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

I can’t argue with the intent of this Order, but it’s really more about how the available resources are deployed than just the raw amount of resources. Also, there has to be a lot more required of those property owners in Central Square who are not doing their fair share. For example, if the patrons of the Middle East cover every post and utility box with stickers and other graffiti doesn’t it make sense that the good owners of the Middle East should hire someone to clean up their mess? It’s not right to just dump all the responsibility on the DPW.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to review the permitting process and any zoning and building code barriers to greater adoption of solar energy.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 21, 2013 to discuss the proposed "Net Zero" amendment to the Zoning Ordinance….

Councillor vanBeuzekom’s Order is the kind of energy efficiency initiative that actually makes sense in that it addresses what all property owners could potentially choose to do to conserve energy and save money. In the meantime, however, we have to suffer through the narrow focus and questionable legality of the election-motivated "Net Zero" proposal. – Robert Winters

September 28, 2013

Candidates Night Out

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,elections — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:59 am

Sept 27 – There was a City Council Candidate Forum tonight – the first of the season – sponsored by the East Cambridge Planning Team and held at the Dante Alighieri Society Center at Hampshire and Portland Streets in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood of Cambridge. All 25 City Council candidates were there – a full banquet. One thing you have to understand about candidate forums, especially the first of the campaign, is that it’s not especially important WHAT the candidates say, but HOW they connect with the audience. Nonetheless, reporters will likely give detailed accounts of candidate statements, size up the candidates accordingly, and thereby completely miss the point.

The candidates who have a chance of being elected are the ones who actually speak directly to the audience without sounding as though they’re reading from note cards. They address their audience and appeal to them in human terms. The better candidates also say substantive things without being evasive. This projects both competence and honesty.

ECPT Candidate Forum

At the risk of appearing to play favorites, the candidates who were most successful at tonight’s forum were (in no particular order) Ken Reeves, Mark McGovern, Denise Simmons, Dennis Benzan, Leland Cheung, Tim Toomey, and David Maher. Also showing promise were Minka vanBeuzekom, Craig Kelley, Dennis Carlone, Logan Leslie, Luis Vasquez, Jefferson Smith, and Sam Seidel. To a lesser degree, Nadeem Mazen and Ron Peden also had some good moments. This is not to say that the other candidates were especially dreadful (well, maybe one or two) – just that they didn’t especially connect with the audience at this event. This will likely change in subsequent forums, especially next week’s MCNA Forum at Cambridge College where candidates will talk with individual voters around tables. Some candidates do much better in direct conversation than they do addressing an entire room.

Questions posed to the candidates included such topics as affordable housing, transportation, the City Manager and city government, funding for school construction, and perceived dysfunction of the current City Council. They were also asked to comment briefly on the season’s most overblown issue, the "Net Zero Petition," and relatively few candidates offered unqualified support. The two challengers who appear to be running the strongest campaigns were both clearly opposed to this petition as currently written.

The audience at this event was, as is often the case, largely composed of people who were there supporting particular candidates, but there were definitely some non-affiliates at the forum who were there to actually learn about the candidates. The event was recorded by CCTV and should be viewable soon either on Cable TV or via the CCTV website. – Robert Winters

ECPT Candidate Forum

September 26, 2013

PANGEA request for questions to be directed to Cambridge School Committee candidates

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,School Committee — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:01 am

Sept 26 – PANGEA (Parents for a Global Education Association), a new parent group, has made the following request for questions to be directed to Cambridge School Committee candidates. They would like to get questions no later than Oct 7 and plan to publicize candidate responses by Oct 24. (Questions can be sent to info@pangeacambridge.com):

Dear Cambridge Families,
We feel that world languages are an important part of an elementary education. Over the past few years, there has been a vigorous debate around exactly what type of language instruction the City will provide. Given the upcoming election, we feel that it is important to ask specific questions of the candidates and request their written responses. To this end, we are reaching out to the Cambridge community to see what questions they’d like to ask the candidates for School Committee on this issue. If you have a question you’d like to ask, please email us at info@pangeacambridge.com or send us a letter in the mail to: Jane Chiang, 245 First Street, Suite 1800-18020113, Cambridge, MA 02142

ALL QUESTIONS NEED TO BE IN OUR HANDS BY OCTOBER 7 TO BE CONSIDERED FOR INCLUSION.

We will read through these questions, and from these responses, send a list of questions to the candidates. We will then aggregate their responses, send them to the broader Cambridge community, and post them on PANGEA’s website: www.pangeacambridge.com.

We’d note that not every question sent to us may be submitted to the candidates. We will attempt to capture the key themes/questions that reflect the community as a whole.

Thank you.
Paul Ciampa, PANGEA member
Jane Chiang, PANGEA member

PANGEA (Parents for a Global Education Association) is an organization of parents and community members advocating for the development, support, and promotion of language immersion programs based on best practices in Cambridge for all children. We believe that effective cross-cultural and communication skills are integral to a global education. Language immersion programs are one way to fill that need. Strong world language programs can also provide these skills.

September 24, 2013

Episode 6 of Cambridge InsideOut – with Anthony Galluccio (Part 2)

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,elections — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:00 pm

Episode 6 of Cambridge InsideOut – On Electing a Mayor and being an effective city councillor – with Anthony Galluccio (Part 2). This episode aired on Sept 24, 2013.

Episode 5 of Cambridge InsideOut – with guest Anthony Galluccio (Part 1)

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,elections — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:58 pm

Episode 5 of Cambridge InsideOut – Looking at Past and Present City Council Campaigns with Anthony Galluccio (Part 1). This episode aired on Sept 24, 2013.

September 18, 2013

Episode 4 of Cambridge InsideOut – Big Issues in the 2013 School Committee election

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,elections,School Committee,schools — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 4:30 pm

Episode 4 of Cambridge InsideOut – Big Issues in the 2013 School Committee election.
This episode aired on Sept 17, 2013.

Episode 3 of Cambridge InsideOut – Big Issues in the 2013 City Council election

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,City Council,elections — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 4:28 pm

Episode 3 of Cambridge InsideOut – Big Issues in the 2013 City Council election.
This episode aired on Sept 17, 2013.

September 16, 2013

CPA, MXD, Bikes, and Net-Zero – Mon, Sept 16, 2013 Cambridge City Council preview

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:36 am

CPA, MXD, Bikes, and Net-Zero – Mon, Sept 16, 2013 Cambridge City Council preview

Here are a few possibly interesting items in this relatively brief agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate $10,307,500 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.

The CPA funds will be distributed as always – 80% toward affordable housing, 10% toward open space, and 10% toward historic preservation. There’s a reason why I stopped going to the meetings – it never changes.

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Boston Properties requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map in the area included within the "Ames Street District."

The petition should be noncontroversial. It calls only for minor amendments to the zoning in the MXD district that will allow residential and retail development to proceed.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments as to potential locations, including Hubway stations, where posting cycling laws and etiquette would be in the public interest and feasible for the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

We’ll have to ask Emily Post about the appropriate etiquette, but reminding cyclists that they are operating a vehicle and must follow the same laws as motor vehicles is always a good idea.

Order #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Election Commission to establish a Right to Vote Task Force.   Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Simmons

This Order is pure micromanagement of the Election Commission. It is doubtful that a comparable Order would ever be directed toward any other City department.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to revise the presentation of the FY15 City Budget document so that the details and costs associated with bicycle-related initiatives are presented as its own category and so that the City’s bicycle-related initiatives (i.e. infrastructure improvements) can be tracked and monitored separately from auto-related initiatives.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

I would like to see this only to learn the total amount of money that is being wasted to install a "cycle track" on Western Ave.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a task force to further examine the Connolly Petition to be comprised of, but not limited to, community advocates, members of the business community, property owners and developers, Cambridge Community Development representatives and other stakeholders.   Councillor Decker

This Order augments the planned "Getting to Net Zero" panel discussion scheduled for Wed, Oct 2, 6:00pm at the Main Library and the Roundtable/Working City Council meeting scheduled for Thurs, Oct 10, 3:00pm to discuss Connolly, et al. net zero zoning petition. It should be obvious that any action along the lines of this petition should have involved all stakeholders and not just the 350.org and anti-development crowds. Perhaps this will put back on track whatever positive merits may be contained in this petition and that a more thoughtful (and legal) approach can be found to the satisfaction of all. – Robert Winters

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