Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 30, 2014

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:29 am

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The curtain falls tonight on the FY2014 Fiscal Year as the City Council enters its Summer Recess – but not without a little controversy. Councillor Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone is the first signer of a new zoning petition that is almost guaranteed to bring some fireworks in advance of the July 4 holiday. The petition has near zero chance of ultimately passing but stands out prominently in its disrespect for the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, and previous Cambridge City Councils who have passed a variety of zoning petitions with detailed Special Permit criteria spelled out to guide the Planning Board in the granting of Special Permits under the Zoning Ordinance.

Monkey WrenchApplications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

The intent of this petition appears to be to enact an effective 30-month moratorium on all larger proposed developments in Cambridge by turning each project into a political football. Except for Councillors Carlone and Mazen (first and last signers), the signers of the petition consist almost entirely of principal players of the Cambridge Residents Alliance who have made no secret of their desire to enact such a moratorium. The essential component of the petition is the transfer of Project Review Special Permit authority from the Planning Board (where there is substantial professional expertise) to the City Council. Anyone who has ever witnessed the Planning Board working together to devise detailed conditions on the granting of a Special Permit should now imagine what this process might look like if conducted by the City Council as they play to the favor of their various political supporters. I shudder to think of it.

Fortunately, it appears that this misguided proposal has the support of only the two city councillors who signed it. Ideally, the City Council would just vote it down and declare it Dead On Arrival, but it’s possible that it may be formally referred to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee (co-chaired by Carlone) so that it can receive a proper funeral. As a zoning petition, it would require 6 of 9 city councillors to support it and that’s pretty much an impossibility unless they start lacing the Kool-Aid with hallucinogens.

Meanwhile the initial phase (Cambridge Conversations) of the upcoming review and possible revision of the City’s existing master plans has been met with expressions of satisfaction from most members of the public. Perhaps this is why Carlone and Company have chosen to toss a monkey wrench into the process. Political organizing thrives so much more when wrapped in controversy.

Communications #6. A communication was received from Rick Snedeker, 107 Clifton Street regarding a request for a Special Act Charter for Cambridge that does not include Proportional Representation.

This is included primarily for comic relief. This Snedeker fellow has now written a series of letters to the Cambridge Chronicle detailing his hostility regarding the structure of Cambridge city government and the way municipal elections are conducted. He believes that having 90% of ballots count toward the election of city councillors is more disenfranchising than a winner-take-all election where often fewer than 50% of ballots count toward the election of a candidate. That’s interesting math. He would have elections of ward councillors by simple plurality vote with no runoffs or primary elections. This installment from Snedeker also calls for the Mayor and City Council to be able to dismiss any City department head by a simple majority vote. I can only imagine the thrilling City Council meetings when a department head says something not to the liking of the elected councillors.

Communications #11. Sundry communications were received regarding the East Cambridge Courthouse.

There are 38 individual signed letters plus an additional 74 petition signatures in support of the proposed redevelopment of the Courthouse building. The prisoners are now out of the East Cambridge Courthouse and the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Legatt McCall, the chosen developer, is imminent. While there is clear opposition to the proposed redevelopment from many residents, it’s pretty clear that this is not a unanimously held position. The Planning Board is expected to make a decision on the Special Permit for the 40 Thorndike Street proposal at its July 29 meeting (to be held in East Cambridge, most likely at the Kennedy-Longfellow School). Regardless what the Planning Board decides, it is very likely that lawsuits will follow.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on June 25, 2014 to discuss the ongoing out of school/STEAM working group research.

I’m sure the participants at this meeting meant well and I think we all want to see some good programs developed in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). The report, however, is remarkable in some of its convoluted quotes. Some of my favorites are these: "Councillor Mazen explained that it’s important for one subgroup to track other subgroup. People in this subgroup should ask other subgroups: Are we talking around the subject or are we addressing it?" and "Councillor Mazen confessed he isn’t opposed to having another subgroup but he feels that this can fall into other subgroups and can also be discussed by each subgroup." and "Councillor Mazen said he hoped next time will be an opportunity for everybody to work more circularly about a coordinator position".

Exactly how does one "work more circularly?" Does it involve beating around the bush? I’ll have to consult with my subgroup about this. – Robert Winters

Note: Due to construction in the Sullivan Chamber, this City Council meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at 459 Broadway (CRLS).

June 29, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 67-68: More News Around Town (June 24, 2014)

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 8:47 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 67

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 67 featured some highlights of a recent City Council Roundtable meeting on Climate Change Mitigation and Preparedness Planning. This episode was broadcast on June 24, 2014 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Presentation at City Council June 23, 2014 Roundtable meeting on City’s Climate Mitigation and Preparedness Planning
City website on Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment
Interactive Hurricane Inundation Maps (Mass. Executive Office of Public Safety and Security)

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 68

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 68 touched on a variety of current hot topics in Cambridge and featured some highlights of a recent meeting regarding traffic and related issues in the Fresh Pond/Alewife area. This episode broadcast on June 24, 2014 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

June 24, 2014

Starts and Stops, mostly stops

I’m commenting on the “Starts and Stops” article which appeared in the Boston Globe on Sunday, June 22, 2014.

That’s behind a paywall. You may need to log in as a Globe subscriber to see it. (I’m one, but if I recall correctly, there’s a limited number of views till the paywall descends). You can also log in from home in the Boston area using a library card number.

The Globe article describes a bicycle-specific traffic signal on Western Avenue and makes the claim:

The Western Avenue signal is timed so that cyclists get a green light a few moments before their vehicular counterparts headed toward Memorial Drive; that way, cyclists have several seconds of a head start to get out ahead of the cars and become more visible to motorists, especially motorists turning right who may not think to look for cyclists approaching on their right side.

That only works if bicyclists happen to be waiting when the light changes. Otherwise, according to the description in the article, there is a right-hook conflict, with motor vehicles turning right across the path of bicyclists approaching in their right rear blindspot. I haven’t checked out the installation yet; I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more detail.

The article goes on to say:

Additionally, signals like this one address one of the biggest gripes motorists have with bike riders: that they’re constantly running red lights. For cyclists, there can be no confusion whether they’re expected to stop at a red light when that light shows a little bicycle. Many engineers believe that when cyclists are assured that a traffic light is targeted at them and designed to protect their safety, they’re much more likely to wait for their rightful turn to proceed through the intersection.

Here’s the photo which the Globe posted with the article.

New bicycle-specific traffic light on Western Avenue

New bicycle-specific traffic light on Western Avenue

Wishful thinking. Normal traffic lights also apply to bicyclists. Do we need our own very special, and eexpensive, signal just so we will feel pampered? The traffic light shown in the photo, by the way, isn’t at Memorial Drive. It is at Putnam Avenue, a block earlier. Because the photo doesn’t show the installation which the article describes, I’m not entirely clear about the details.

It was previously possible for bicyclists to approach Memorial Drive in the through lane and enter on the normal green light — or sensibly, though in violation of the specifics of traffic law, at the left side of a right-turn lane lane, and also enter on the normal green. Now, bicyclists and right-turning motorists are, at least as described in the article, forced into a right-hook conflict.

Please, who are the unattributed “many engineers”? Opportunistic bicyclists and pedestrians, motorists too — commit traffic-signal violations because they get annoyed with waiting. Compliance improves if a traffic-light system is designed to minimize waiting time. This one doesn’t, and right-hook conflicts don’t protect anyone’s safety.

I am about to attend the summer meeting of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), where I sit on its Bicycle Technical Committee. Two proposals currently before the Committee, in experimental status, are special bicycle traffic signals, and right-turn lanes with a bicycle lane inside their left side. I would have hoped that Cambridge had submitted a formal Request to Experiment from Cambridge for either of these proposals — which would add to the knowledge base, and confer immunity from legal liability — but I’ve seen none. I should have. The Federal Highway Administration calls on the NCUTCD to review them.

Oh, and also — in the Globe’s photo, it looks as though a car is sitting in the bikeway.

More to come.



June 21, 2014

Who’s in the Picture?

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 6:14 pm

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce recently posted this photo from a ribbon-cutting event supposedly in the 1970s, though it could be later. Can you identify everyone in the picture? That fellow on the right is lookin’ pretty sharp!

June 19, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 65 and 66 – Democratic Convention and News around Town

Filed under: 2014 Election,Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:52 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 65 – The Convention

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 65 featured an account of the recent Democratic Party Convention in Worcester. This episode was broadcast on June 17, 2014 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 66 – News around Town

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 66 touched on a variety of current hot topics in Cambridge. This episode broadcast on June 17, 2014 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters.? [On YouTube]

June 18, 2014

Cambridge Uber Alles

Filed under: Cambridge,transportation — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:32 am

Cambridge Uber Alles

TaxiJune 16 – It’s fun watching from the sidelines as Uber, an estimated $18 billion company, brings out the troops at License Commission hearings in support of its ability to operate an iPhone-operated livery service for urban professionals with company credit cards and fistfuls of disposable income. Reading or listening to the testimony, you would swear that they were the transportation equivalent of Mother Teresa feeding the poor. The local taxicab cartels in Cambridge and Boston are no better. They are effectively city-endorsed gangsters who have paid exorbitant prices for taxicab medallions in order to secure the right to overcharge passengers and protest any measure that might result in consumer savings. Perhaps the most entertaining aspect to the conflict is that legions of union-supporting, left-winging, capitalism-protesting, Cambridge Occupying hipsters are essentially arguing for free enterprise with minimal regulation. Oh, the horror! Here’s what Cambridge Mayor David Maher had to say about the conflict:

"Years of careful investment, smart urban planning and targeted economic development in Cambridge have allowed for a transit-centered culture to emerge for people who not only live here, but come here to work every day. Cambridge has been incredibly successful in reducing automobile usage, strengthening our bicycle and pedestrian options, and providing an environment where innovative transit solutions can thrive," said Cambridge Mayor David Maher. "We are the worldwide leader in innovation and we have no intention to back away from the progress we have made. I have been assured that the License Commission intends to have a fair hearing on the proposed transportation services regulations. I trust that they will have an open, transparent process and that tonight’s meeting is the first in a series of dialogues with the public and with affected businesses."

I am a big fan of David Maher and we all know that he is perhaps the most capable mediator in the city. It is worth emphasizing, however, that this is a battle waged along lines that are irrelevant for most of the people who live in Cambridge. We walk, we bike, we take buses and trains, and some of us may even occasionally drive without apologizing for our contribution to the destruction of the planet. How many Cantabrigians actually travel in taxis and limousines? Then again, perhaps I’m behind the times and failed to notice that many new residents prefer to be carried in chariots to their destinations at exorbitant cost as they send text messages and robotically play with their apps on their precious iPhones and other devices.

I’ll take the bus, thank you. – RW

June 16, 2014

Reports, Responses, and Requests on the June 16, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:29 pm

Reports, Responses, and Requests on the June 16, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Welcome to the Peoples RepublicThis week’s agenda is dominated by a long list of reports from the City Manager. Of the 36 items on "Awaiting Report", we can now scratch off 15 of them. The City Council will, of course, continue to pile on more requests before they vacate for much of the summer.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-47, regarding a report on enforcement of ICE detainers against persons who may be wanted for immigration purposes.

After all the impassioned testimony at the meeting when this Order was introduced, Commissioner Haas’ words say it best: "In many respects, the practices of the Department go beyond the scope of the City Council Order…"

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-21, regarding a report on the implementation of a city-wide job fair for Cambridge residents.

This was a great initiative from Vice Mayor Benzan. The event is scheduled for Wed, Oct 8, 2014 from 10:00am to 1:00pm at the IBM Innovation Center, 1 Rogers Street at Charles Park.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-41, regarding the feasibility of push cart vendors and local artists both at Carl Barron Plaza and similar places in Central Square.

It never ceases to amaze me just how complicated it can become to carry out an otherwise simple initiative. Perhaps the most unsatisfying aspect of the proposed pilot program is that no food vendors will be permitted "due to limits on Peddler Licenses within 300 ft of a Common Victualer License and the Fast Order Food Cap in Central Square." I was really looking forward to picking up a pretzel or a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and mustard on the street in Central Square. Regulations be damned!

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-42, regarding a report on relocating the Planning Board hearing on the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment to a site in East Cambridge.

The Planning Board public hearing for 40 Thorndike Street will be held in East Cambridge, but the date and location has not yet been determined. The word at a recent meeting of the new Neighborhood Assn. of E. Cambridge was that the likely date would be July 15. [Note: During the City Council meeting, Iram Farooq from CDD suggested that July 29 is the likely date, but this has not been finalized.] The remaining prisoners in the jail are expected to leave (rather than escape) in the next week or two and it is anticipated that the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth and the designated developer Leggat McCall will be completed immediately following the closing of the jail. Though many have argued that the Commonwealth should have assumed greater responsibility for the environmental remediation of the property and possibly even the demolition of the existing building, it would appear that state involvement will cease with the transfer of the property. After that it will all be in the hands of the developers, the Planning Board, the various neighborhood groups, and the courts.

Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-50, regarding a report on an update of the City’s composting pilot program.

Some highlights: Total collected to date, almost 30,000 lbs, (after week 9) averaging 3,270 lbs/wk (1.7 tons) over 555 participating households. From the pre-pilot trash run, the average household had 18.75 lbs/wk of trash. Composting reduces that ~33% to 12.1 lbs/wk. 64% of households now produce one bag of trash or less per week. 78% noticed they have less trash, 50% say their trash weighs less and 45% say that their trash smells better. So far, so good.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-37, regarding a report on the feasibility of painting green all designated bike lanes on all major streets.

The Bottom Line: "Our current policy is to install colored pavement markings at locations where it may be necessary for a vehicle or pedestrian to cross a bicycle facility. We believe reserving these special colored markings for conflict zones really emphasizes the importance of the location and indicates to all users that they need to give this area greater attention and proceed with caution. If all lanes were colored – we would lose the opportunity to differentiate these special locations of heightened importance." Makes a lot of sense.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-46, regarding an analysis and assessment of the position of Aide to the City Council.

The manager is recommending that the salary for these positions be increase by $3200, effective in FY14 (the current fiscal year). The original Order called for making these full-time positions, but the Manager’s response only speaks of a salary increase. The committee report on this matter called for analysis of these positions but was not sufficiently explicit about what analysis should take place – even though the issue of the legality of the fundamentally patronage jobs was questioned at the hearing.

A message circulated by Councillor Kelley summarizes things rather well: "If one believes that Councillors should have personal assistants (often former campaign managers, donors, neighbors or other campaign supporters) then this pay raise may make sense. If you believe, as I do, that this extra layer of expensive bureaucracy gets in the way of Councillor-to-Councillor communication, has no professional standards or requirements in hiring, results in confusion as more political appointees get involved in issues and gives incumbents a massive City-funded leg up on challengers, you may wish to oppose the suggestion that assistants get a $3200/year pay raise, bringing the compensation for this part-time job up into the 50K range."

Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-54, regarding the feasibility of installing a large screen television to show the World Cup Matches.

Look for a large screen television showing the World Cup Matches to appear in the Lafayette Square area around Sat, June 28 and continue through the final round which ends on Sun, July 13. It should be a fun time in Central Square – unless the wrong team loses or the right team wins in which case let’s hope the police are ready to manage the crowds.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department to determine the legality and if feasible, the institution of a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance for the City of Cambridge, with special provisions for small businesses. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Amended Order Number Seven of June 9, 2014.]

As I stated last week, it seems perfectly clear that without enabling legislation from the state legislature, the City of Cambridge does not have the authority to institute its own minimum wage law. It also seems pretty certain that any Home Rule authority granted by the legislature would most likely require approval by local voters. This initiative has more to do with political organizing than anything else. Meanwhile the state is proceeding with what will likely be a successful enactment of a revised state minimum wage law (with some exceptions) somewhere around $11 per hour.

Resolution #12. Congratulations to Katherine Watkins on being appointed as City Engineer/Assistant Commissioner for Engineering for the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Excellent choice of a well-deserving and thoroughly qualified engineer and a wonderful person. We are really lucky to have people like this working for the City of Cambridge.

Order #5. That the City Council go on the record in opposition to any type of casino project in the Greater Boston area whether constructed and managed by Mohegan Sun or Wynn Resorts.   Councillor Mazen

It’s not our call and I seriously doubt whether anyone charged with making the decisions will take this Order seriously.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate city departments on the feasibility of allowing zoning data such as special permits, variances, and building permits to be available on the City’s Open Data Portal.   Councillor Cheung

This is a good idea and it reminds me of an Order from Councillor Kelley some time ago calling for the tagging of all data relating to a given property across various City databases so that a person could get a complete picture. It’s probably also worth saying that now that we have the City’s Open Data Portal we will likely get another request every week for something else that should be included in the publicly accessible data. This will likely keep a lot of people busy for a long time.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a communication from Councillor Nadeem Mazen requesting the approval of the City Council to attend the 10th Annual International Fab Lab Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

It’s interesting that the conference that Councillor Mazen wishes to attend with City support just happens to overlap substantially with what he does in his own personal business/employment. Perhaps this will start a trend. Councillor Simmons can have the City pay for her attendance at a conference of independent insurance brokers because, well, Cantabrigians need insurance. Councillor McGovern can attend a conference of social workers because, well, there’s a need for social work in Cambridge. Councillor Carlone can attend a conference of architects on the City dime because, well, we have a lot of nice architecture in Cambridge. You get the picture. – Robert Winters

June 10, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 63 and 64 with Glenn Koocher

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:59 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 63 with Glenn Koocher (Part 1)

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 63 with Glenn Koocher, host of the original Cambridge InsideOut. This episode was broadcast on June 10, 2014 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 64 with Glenn Koocher (Part 2)

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 64 with Glenn Koocher, host of the original Cambridge InsideOut. This episode was broadcast on June 10, 2014 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

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