Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 24, 2014

In the Pipeline – Coming up at the Nov 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:48 am

In the Pipeline – Coming up at the Nov 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

6 inch water main - MWRA
6 inch water main – MWRA

The City Council was supposed to tour the Alewife area this morning to learn the things that all of them should already have known for some time. Perhaps the rain gave them a reprieve. Meanwhile, here are some things on tonight’s menu:

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-132, regarding a report on monitoring aged pipelines to prevent unexpected breaks.

One of the realities of older cities is that some of the infrastructure has been in place for many decades and maybe even for a century or more. The Water Department used to have on display some of the water pipes that were excavated when replaced. They were so occluded that you couldn’t believe water could even pass through them. It’s not just the water pipes, of course. There are still plenty of "direct bury" electrical lines that are not in conduit, and blocks and neighborhoods that often operate at full capacity and beyond just begging for a failure. The gas line to my house recently had to be re-lined due to low pressure from the street. When they excavated, they found that the century-old gas line was so degraded and perforated that the packed earth was all that was keeping gas in the line. Renewing old cities is a neverending task.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Calendar Item Number 2, dated June 16, 2014, regarding the legality and feasibility of instituting a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance.

The City Solicitor’s analysis is an interesting read. The bottom line is this: "Although no Massachusetts court has analyzed the legality of a minimum wage ordinance, based on cases that have analyzed local legislation of the landlord-tenant "civil relationship," it appears that a minimum wage ordinance would lie outside of the City’s authority under the Massachusetts Constitution."

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Conversations final report, Strategic Recommendations for a Citywide Plan.

The more interesting process will be the comprehensive planning process that will soon commence. Hopefully that will be as productive as the one that took place in 1992 leading up to the Growth Policy Document: "Toward a Sustainable Future" that still stands at the core of the current "master plan" for the city. My greatest concern is that this could degenerate into an arena where competing factions spend more time lobbying for their predetermined positions that they do cooperatively sketching out balanced plans for te good of the city. The fact that this will get underway at the same time that municipal election campaigns are being organized will likely further pollute the waters.

One of the things I found interesting about the "Cambridge Conversations" process is how fundamentally different many of the public comments were from much of what now occupies the activist sphere. There is generally a tremendous amount of satisfaction with the way the city has evolved in recent years and the fact that so many people want to live here is proof of this. This is not so surprising in that most established neighborhoods have largely been unaffected by recent growth – except for the escalating cost of housing. Most of the growth has taken place in areas that were formerly industrial – consistent with established plans.

Quite a few people, including me, identified the lack of coordinated regional planning as a concern – especially transportation planning. My guess is that the stickiest point next year will revolve around housing. Everybody will say how important affordable housing is, but the battle lines will be drawn between those who support additional housing development in Cambridge and the region vs. those who want to severely restrict new housing with the possible exception of subsidized low- and moderate-income housing.

The best outcome next year will be if the focus can be on "place making" in interesting and creative ways instead of just fighting over how much density or how high the buildings should be. People all over the country are moving back into cities, and figuring out how best to accommodate that trend and create great urban environments should be high on the priority list.

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Normandy Real Estate Partners and Twining Properties to amend Article 20.000 of the Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 20.800 entitled Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Subdistrict within the Central Square Overlay District.

This is guaranteed to get a lot of attention in the coming months. Rather than prematurely argue the merits of the petition, I’ll simply say that this is a symptom of a serious problem with the current Cambridge City Council. An extensive planning process (K2C2) was completed about two years ago that culminated in recommendations for Kendall and Central Squares. The City Council has been in a state of paralysis since then. They are under no obligation to support all of the recommendations, but they certainly should be discussing them and proposing changes that can garner majority support. Instead, they have done nothing. So a property owner has to come forward with a zoning petition to jump-start the process.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant City Staff and Departments to examine the feasibility of posting advisory signage to broadly encourage a motor vehicle speed limit of 20 to 25 miles per hour on City streets.   Councillor Carlone

I really don’t think that traffic signage should be about "encouragement" other than the occasional "SLOW" sign. The City lacks the authority to arbitrarily establish speed limits, but there are some specific street types for which that authority should be sought. For example, a one-way street with parking on both sides and a relatively narrow travel lane should have no greater than a 25mph speed limit. Streets with bike lanes should be regulated in such a way that motor vehicle speeds in lanes adjacent to a bike lane should not be more than 15-20mph above typical bike speeds. There should also be much stricter enforcement of all traffic laws (and, yes, that includes cyclists).

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to assess the possibility of adding dedicated cycling infrastructure to Pearl Street as a part of the reconstruction process.   Councillor Cheung

Councillor Cheung’s order conveniently uses the phrase "dedicated cycling infrastructure" rather than "cycle track." Contradicting many of Councillor Cheung’s assertions is the Vassar Street example where traffic is now routinely choked, there is almost no safe space remaining in the roadway except to "take the lane," emergency vehicles now avoid the street for safety’s sake, and trucks routinely park on the sidewalk due to the extreme inflexibility of the road design. For a great example of cycle tracks in practice on Concord Ave., see cambridgecivic.com/?p=2285 and especially the video at vimeo.com/55394832.

It’s also an established fact that when parking is removed travel speeds increase. I’m sure the City would then decide to turn Pearl Street into an obstacle course of speed tables and raised intersections. What is the incentive for complicating the road in this way? Have there been many bike accidents along this road? In the map at youarehere.cc/p/bicycle-accidents/cambridge, all I see is darkness on Pearl Street – few, if any, reported accidents. In other words, this is a "solution" in search of a problem. The preferred alternative would be to do a complete repaving of the street with appropriate street markings. Kids can continue to ride legally on the sidewalks if they wish.

Order #5. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Election Commission and the appropriate City departments to determine a feasibility study and subsequent action plan, instituting suffrage for immigrants in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

This notion comes up every decade or so and thankfully has gone nowhere each time even when a home rule petition was able to squeak by before getting buried by the state legislature. We already have a suffrage mechanism for immigrants. It’s called citizenship. Many people, including me, feel that citizenship and the right to choose elected officials are indistinguishable. I would not want non-citizens electing my representatives – even in municipal elections.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to examine ways to streamline both the City’s process and the City’s technology for replying to Massachusetts Public Records Law requests and to examine how major cities’ open data and FOIA requests are handled, including options for a full time data management team including representatives of the City Clerk’s office, the City Solicitor’s office, and IT.   Councillor Mazen

The only question in this regard should be which information should be publicly available – not the cost or difficulty in obtaining it. It’s understandable that accessing some documents may require significant time and that there should be a cost associated with that, but this should not apply to the wide range of data that can be made publicly available with relative ease. – Robert Winters

November 10, 2014

STEM and Root – On the Agenda of the Nov 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,schools — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:24 pm

STEM and Root – On the Agenda of the Nov 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

It’s a very short agenda this week. Here are a few items of interest with brief comments.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the License Commission to approve the jitney application of Groupzoom, Inc., d/b/a Bridj for a six month pilot program.

Bridj has been described as a cross between a bus and a taxi service. It’s a Cambridge-based company that ran into regulatory roadblocks several months ago when planning to launch its service in Cambridge. These are interesting times with the emergence of services like Uber and the widespread availability of applications for mobile communication devices that make services like Uber and Bridj possible. This recommendation from the Cambridge License Commission is for a six-month pilot program but it does seem like the future is upon us and we’ll be seeing a lot more services like this in the future. There was a day when omnibuses and trains were all run outside of government control. Could we be going Back to the Future?

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Whitehead Institute, Nine Cambridge Center, to amend the Zoning Ordinance, Sections 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 to provide for an increment of 60,000 square feet of GFA to be allowed by special permit in a portion of the MXD District, in Section 14.70 by retitling "Special Provisions Applicable Within the Ames Street District" and by adding a new Section 14.72 "Special Provisions Applicable Outside the Ames Street District.

The proposal seems sound, but the fact that it does not propose to build housing (only contribute money toward that goal) might translate into some resistance. Not every site is appropriate for housing and this may be one such site. It also proposes to simply expand an existing structure. However, this petition should focus some attention on the bigger picture of adding housing in Kendall Square in locations such as the site of the Volpe Transportation Center down the street. I’m sure there will be some who will say that no changes should be approved until the "Master Plan" process is complete, but that really borders on the ridiculous in a district such as this.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Michael Brandon, 27 Seven Pines Avenue, regarding the Planning Board appointments.

Translation: Mr. Brandon is unhappy with the recent appointments to the Planning Board. His description of the appointments: "Despite the dedication, expertise, civic-mindedness, and good intentions of the board members, this same-as-it-ever-was, opaquely picked panel of powerless project tweakers is obviously designed and inherently destined to obey the administrative staff’s instructions and support the rampant, unplanned, uncoordinated, uncontrolled overdevelopment of the city’s neighborhoods and natural resources that continues to degrade the quality of residents’ lives." I beg to differ. The current Planning Board members and the new appointees are all great people whose interests align well with the great majority of Cambridge residents.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to locate the additional funding needed to move forward with the archiving and preservation of all City Council records in the Vault Phase II project.   Councillor Simmons

Cambridge is an historic city that should appropriately maintain all of its historic treasures – including the records of City Council proceedings. Whether or not this project can be completed in the current budget cycle, it does have to happen. The City has done a lot in this regard over the last decade or so, especially in conjunction with the opening of the new Main Library and its most excellent Cambridge Room.

STEM and rootCommittee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, 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 and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on Oct 28, 2014 for the STEAM working group and its subcommittees to discuss how best to present their research to the greater Cambridge community and for working group members to collectively put forth sound recommendations around: STEAM workforce development, the alignment of all stakeholders, access for all to the innovation economy, and partnerships that will speed the journey.

I have been looking over the committee reports on this for a while now and it’s hard for me to get a clear picture of what’s going on other than some "brainstorming," creating some kind of web portal, and creating a new "coordinator" job. Maybe this will all turn out great, but so far it seems more like a lot of politically-oriented people riding on board the current national STEM bandwagon. One might think from these reports that education and excitement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has been thoroughly lacking in elementary and secondary schools in Cambridge. That’s not the case. There is, however, a gap between the world of MIT, Harvard, and a host of science and technology-oriented companies in Cambridge and many young Cambridge residents who could benefit from jobs and other opportunities in these schools, labs, and companies. I worry that advocacy relating to the Foundry Building as well as much of this other STEM/STEAM discussion may lead to enhanced opportunities for young people who were already going to find good opportunities anyway. Only time will tell if those who might otherwise have been left out will somehow get excited about the opportunities around them and get a head start on developing the kind of skills that will be necessary to access these opportunities.

Frankly, this isn’t something that should be bubbling up from a couple of City Council subcommittees. Efforts in this regard should really be growing out of a partnership between the Cambridge School Department, our great local universities, and some of the companies that have been locating in Cambridge during the last few decades. They have had some representation at these committee meetings, but it would be so much better if they were driving the initiative. Otherwise the whole initiative could just come and go with only an extra job left in its wake. The entire Cambridge School Department and all the other local schools have to be at the root of any lasting change.

I am old enough to remember President Kennedy’s exhortations on the importance of science and mathematics education in the era of the space program. So many young people, including me, drew inspiration from what was happening during those years. I don’t know what the modern-day equivalent inspiration might be, but that’s really what is needed in order to get people jazzed about mathematics, science, and related fields. – Robert Winters

November 6, 2014

CRLS Alumni Association – 2014 Homecoming Calendar

Filed under: Cambridge,schools — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 9:26 am

CRLS Alumni Association – 2014 Homecoming Calendar

  • Mon, Nov 24:  Rindge Tech Dinner – Tickets sold by the Rindge Tech Alumni Association: Hellenic Cultural Center, 25 Bigelow Avenue, Watertown.
  • Wed, Nov 26:  Open House at CRLS – tours of the new facilities and meeting with Principal Damon Smith 10:00am to 12:00pm @ CRLS. Free of charge!
  • Wed, Nov 26:  Alumni Reunion Night – All classes, all schools. Free Hors D’oeuvres 8:00pm to 10:00pm. Cash Bar. @ Grendel’s Den, 89 Winthrop St., Harvard Square.
  • Thurs, Nov 27:  Boys Alumni Soccer Game – 9:00am to 11:00am at Danehy Field #4. No charge!
  • Thurs, Nov 27:  Pre-Game Tailgate – CRLS Football game, with coffee, snacks and good company, 8:30 to 10:00am @ Dilboy Field, 324 Alewife Brook Pkwy., Somerville.
  • Thurs, Nov 27:  CRLS vs Somerville Football Game at 10:00am. AWAY GAME @ Dilboy Field, 324 Alewife Brook Pkwy, Somerville. $5.00 tickets.
  • Fri, Nov 28:  “Back to the Future” Annual CRLS Alumni Association Luncheon with brief business, 11:30am to 2:00pm @ CRLS. No charge, registration requested.
  • Fri, Dec 5:  CRLS Fall Musical “The Addams Family” 7:00pm. with reception @ Fitzgerald Theater, CRLS. $5.00 tickets.

To register or pre-pay for tickets, please go Eventbrite.com and search “crls alumni” or check out the CRLS Alumni Association page on Facebook.

The alumni association is open to those who have attended CRLS and all of its predecessor schools such as Rindge Tech and CHLS. As of today, there are 849 members with the goal of bringing this up to 1000 by the end of the calendar year and to 1500 by the end of this school year. Sign-up and some information is available at https://crlshomecoming2014.eventbrite.com.

November 2, 2014

Boarding and Baiting – Nov 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:22 pm

Boarding and Baiting – Nov 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Boards & Commission ReceptionThere’s a reception this Wednesday honoring the many volunteer members of Cambridge’s boards & commissions. The City administration, the Mayor and, presumably, all of the city councillors actually appreciate the efforts of these residents who give their time and energy in support of their city – all without compensation. Some board members deserve special thanks and recognition for their willingness to serve on regulatory boards such as the Planning Board which often has to decide controversial cases. Their public service and generosity often puts them in the crosshairs of malcontent activists who thrive on negativity.

The long-awaited appointments of several new Planning Board members are on this week’s agenda. As with every current member of the Planning Board, the new appointees will bring wisdom and a generous spirit to the Planning Board. Unfortunately, the anti-everything activists await them only with slings and arrows. One especially sorry individual even characterized the appointments in a message titled "Healy-Lite locks and loads his ‘Planning’ Board" stating that "Member-for-Life Chairman Hugh Russell and five other real estate and construction industry reps were retained and extended" and "three more connected pro-development insiders added to the team." His unhappiness is apparently tied to his great disappointment that an applicant who has repeatedly been involved in lawsuits against the City was not appointed (shocking!). The appointments by City Manager Richard Rossi are, in fact, excellent choices and his message to the City Council shows just how responsive this City administration has been to feedback from the public.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of the following citizens to the Planning Board effective Dec 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly.

Nov 3, 2014
To the Honorable, the City Council:

I am pleased to inform you that I have appointed the following citizens to the Planning Board effective Dec 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly. They will be serving on the Board with continuing members Steven Cohen, Tom Sieniewicz, Hugh Russell, and Ahmed Nur (Associate Member).

Let’s extend a hearty welcome to Mary Flynn, Luis Bacci, and Thacher Tiffany who will lend their various talents to the planning of their city. Let’s also extend heartfelt thanks to outgoing members Pam Winters and Steve Winter who have given so much of themselves over the years as members of the Planning Board. As with the newly appointed members, they are our neighbors and friends.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of members to the Police Review & Advisory Board effective Oct 23, 2014: Mertin Betts, reappointment to a 5-year term; and Beverly C. Sealey, appointment to a 5-year term.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Ivria Glass Fried as a member of the Conservation Commission for a term of 3-years effective Nov 1, 2014.

Much attention has been focused on the Planning Board appointments, but there are many City boards – and hundreds of appointments to be made. The Police Review & Advisory Board (PRAB) and the Conservation Commission are two boards that also serve crucial functions within the City of Cambridge requiring special expertise. We’re lucky to have as much available talent in Cambridge as we do.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation to change the street name "Rumeal Robinson Place" to Norfolk Place.

I have lived long enough in Cambridge to remember that street being renamed in honor of former CRLS basketball star Rumeal Robinson who went on to achieve fame in both college basketball (Univ. of Michigan) and in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks and several other teams. After his playing career ended he tried his hand at property development in Jamaica and ended up being arrested and charged with bank fraud, bribery and wire fraud. He was found guilty and served time in jail. His adoptive mother, Helen Ford, was swindled out of her home by one of Robinson’s business associates when Robinson asked her to use it as collateral for a loan. The agenda item contains only the message from the City Engineer: "I have received requests from property owners and residents of Rumeal Robinson Place, formerly known as Norfolk Place, to change the name of the street back to Norfolk Place. I have consulted with both the Historical Commission and the Traffic Department regarding this request and have also met with the residents and property owners of the street. All parties are supportive of the requested change." Considering the background, it’s no surprise that everyone is in agreement that the name of the street should revert back to Norfolk Place. [You can read one account of the story here.]

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-19, regarding an update on the Concord-Alewife Plan.

The short version is that the Concord-Alewife Plan was well-conceived and the associated zoning was adopted by the City Council in 2006. At the core of the plan was the goal of introducing housing into this previously commercial precinct to transform it to a mixed use district. Now that the recovering economy has led to housing production in this area, some activists have risen up over the last few years to oppose it. The plan will not be reviewed separately but the City expects to "develop recommendations for possibly updating the plan and zoning in the Concord-Alewife area as the early phase of the upcoming Citywide Planning process in the context of the overall city goals and objectives." Next year is shaping up as an interesting battleground between the pro-growth and no-growth forces. Quite a few cans have now been kicked down the road that we’ll now have to travel.

Order #2. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, the Department of Public Works and Boston Properties BXP to determine the financial feasibility of the repair needed to the Galaxy: Earth Sphere sculpture and fountain.   Councillor Mazen

There’s some interesting background (and photos) on this in former Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Associate Director Thad Tercyak’s article "MBTA Role in Cambridge Center Project – Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project, 1979-1989". The artist’s name, by the way, is Joe Davis.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a listing of all available land and buildings currently on the market or potentially for sale in order to initiate a discussion about land purchase and subsequent development of 100% mixed-income housing.   Councillor McGovern, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Simmons

I’m sure some developers would also like to get a copy of that listing once it becomes a public record. It will save them a few bucks on research. Two points can here be made. First, it’s not such a good idea to show your cards in potential real estate transactions. Second, consider carefully how neighborhood residents will perceive their City government. Most people tend to want to preserve what now exists – even if this is not in their overall best interest or that of the city and the region. The choice they may end up with is between a developer wanting to build lots of gilded condos or the City wanting to build subsidized housing. It’s likely that neither option will match the ideal of existing residents. – Robert Winters

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