Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 6, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 55 and 56

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:07 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 55 with State Representative Marjorie Decker. This program was broadcast on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [Watch on YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 56 – upcoming events, the FY2015 Budget, and news updates. This program was broadcast on May 6, 2014 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters.? [Watch on YouTube]

May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo – Key Items on the May 5, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:21 am

Cinco de Mayo – Key Items on the May 5, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few things that caught my attention:

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-34, regarding a report on the City’s legal options on preventing the use of electronic billboards in the City.

billboardApparently, Clear Channel would like to replace many of its existing billboards with electronic versions. There’s a hearing this week (May 8) in Boston regarding a plan to change the billboard where Broadway crosses the Grand Junction RR tracks (picture is from 2009 – an especially entertaining ad). The current mechanical sign has the capacity to rotate between, I believe, three different advertisements. Installing new advertisements takes time and money, but an electronic billboard would allow for an unlimited variety of advertisements at essentially no additional cost beyond routine maintenance of the display. It’s pretty clear why Clear Channel and other billboard owners would like to make the change.

This is potentially a delicate legal matter. Once upon a time Cambridge sought to have all such billboards removed and, if I remember correctly, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. New billboards are now prohibited, but existing bilboards are grandfathered.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-07, regarding a report on the what steps would be necessary to change the method by which surplus votes are transferred in municipal elections and whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method and whether this requires a Charter change. [Read the report]

The report lays out various options the City could pursue if there was the will to make a change. It could be as simple as a majority vote of the Election Commission if there was even one place in the country in that was using Fractional Transfer (or something very close to it) at the time of passage of M.G.L. Chapter 54A in 1938. Since this is extremely unlikely (believe me, I looked into this a dozen years ago), the next simplest route would be to seek a Special Act of the Legislature via a Home Rule petition. The report wisely suggests that if the City Council and the Election Commission really want to pursue this, a consultant specializing in proportional representation and municipal elections should be hired to develop a "comprehensive plan regarding the possible effects, costs, implementation, laws/regulations, proposed schedules and completion dates, pros/cons, skills and knowledge required, etc., with regard to such replacement" before any proposal to move toward replacing the Cincinnati Method of surplus ballot transfer with the Fractional Transfer Method proceeds. This would be a wise course of action, especially since other changes would have to be made regarding recount rights and procedures. Specifically, existing law permits a defeated candidate to seek a "manual recount", so what exactly would that mean under a proposed system with fractional ballot transfers conducted by computer?

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee recommended goals and objectives.

It’s worth the read, but perhaps the most relevant two phrases in the report are: "Cambridge’s contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gases is miniscule on a global level" and "The city must also begin to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change even as we work to minimize the degree of those impacts." From a long-term investment point of view, many actions taken in the name of adaptation to climate change can also be good long-term infrastructure investments. Regardless how one feels about climate change, such investments are likely to be in the best interest of the city and its residents even if not all of the worst-case scenarios pan out.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of two legal opinions as part of the City Manager’s Supplemental Agenda on Mon, May 5, 2014, regarding Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22 concerning the Sullivan Courthouse and Council Order Number 13 of Mar 17, 2014 concerning the First Street Garage.

This remains one of the most significant challenges of this City Council term, and there’s a chance that this will ultimately be decided in court. The City Manager promises to have responses at this meeting on (a) the legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing non-conforming structure; and (b) the relevant zoning requirements for the First Street Garage. Meanwhile, the chosen developer for the property (Leggat McCall) has now introduced a plan to lease parking in the Galleria garage. This could greatly complicate the City’s options because any arrangements involving the City-owned First Street Garage would afford the City some leverage in the project.

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-12, regarding a report on developing a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes violations.

Charter Right #3. That the City Council hereby endorses the National Association of City Transportation Official’s Urban Street Design Guide. [Order #12 of Apr 28, 2014]

Order #3. That the City Manager confer with the School Department; the Public Health Department; the Community Development Department; the Police Department; the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department; and any other relevant departments on the establishment of a Safe Routes to School Program for Cambridge which includes safety improvements to the street infrastructure as well as promotion and education components.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen

One thing common to these three agenda items is the reference to cycling infrastructure, and there are divergent points of view regarding what facilities are appropriate in different contexts. One case in point is Vassar Street where "cycle tracks" were installed a number of years ago to mixed reviews. Travel lanes in the road were narrowed to the point where a cyclist who wants to use the roadway has little choice but to "take the lane". Pedestrians routinely use the sidewalk bicycle lanes, and delivery vehicles now park in the middle of the sidewalk because there’s no longer any place to pull over in the roadway. Nearby on Ames Street, the City installed another "cycle track" to the right of parked vehicles, so now when a delivery truck stops to make deliveries they do so across the path of cyclists.

Few people disagree on the value of separate facilities for bicycles alongside arterial roadways and along recreational trails such as rail-to trail conversions, but there is plenty of room for disagreement on how best to accommodate cyclists on ordinary roads. Personally, I prefer to share the road with other vehicles and follow the same rules as motor vehicles.

Order #1. That the City Manager direct the Community Development Department to develop and create a solar PV incentive program for residential property owners in Cambridge, and to request any necessary budget allocations to fund such work, including potential staffing and direct funding of solar installation incentives, and using student canvassers to reach homes and businesses that have been pre-screened as suitable for solar PV installation.   Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is the kind of initiative I hope would come about as the City talks about "net zero" and other matters involving energy management. The bottom line is that if homeowners and other property owners can access such programs at a reasonable cost, many would do so in a heartbeat. In this regard, the carrot is far preferable to the stick.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Staff and Departments to prepare draft language that would enable the City Council to implement the 2002 nexus study recommendations, as an interim measure pending completion of the new nexus study.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

An adjustment to the current formula is overdue. The current Housing Contribution rate is $4.58 per square foot of applicable gross floor area (of new commercial development) and the recommendation 12 years ago was to increase this to $7.83 (which would now be about $10 per sq. ft. in current dollars). It’s worth emphasizing that these contributions are only associated with new commercial development.

Order #8. That the City Council does hereby go on record naming D. Margaret Drury as Clerk Emeritus of the City of Cambridge in recognition of her outstanding service to the City of Cambridge and its residents.   Mayor Maher

If the Vatican can have a Pope Emeritus, we can certainly have a Clerk Emeritus. We also had Mayor Emeritus Al Vellucci. Perhaps we should recognize Bob Healy as City Manager Emeritus.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department and members of the volunteer community to arrange an informal question and answer session with members of the City Council regarding the new Open Data Ordinance which is to come before the City Council.   Councillor Mazen

This was the subject of Committee Report #1 at the Oct 21, 2013 City Council meeting.

Order #10. That the City Council go on record urging elected officials of U.S. House and Senate to promote and support legislation that classifies broadband providers like Comcast as a telecommunications service under the common carriers provision of Title II of the Communications Act.   Councillor Mazen

Though I don’t understand the genesis of this Order or if there is any kind of coordinated effort toward its goal, any actions to retain "net neutrality" are welcome. – Robert Winters

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