Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 28, 2016

Leapin’ Legislators – Items of Interest on the Feb 29, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:50 pm

Leapin’ Legislators – Items of Interest on the Feb 29, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

FrogThere’s not much to leap about on this week’s agenda, but here are a few items that stirred my interest:

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Mazen on Feb 22, 2016.]

Under normal circumstances, an eminent domain taking of residential property is not the best course of action, but Vail Court is clearly exceptional. This property has been derelict now not for years, but for decades. It is problematic for abutters and for anyone who cares about the greater Central Square neighborhood.

Unfinished Business #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor E. Denise Simmons transmitting proposed changes to the City Council Rules and the City Council Committee Assignments for the Council Term 2016-2017. [Placed On Unfinished Business for one week on Feb 22, 2016 per Rule 36b.]

For those unfamiliar with the City Council Rules, any rules change is required to "lay on the table" for at least a week before it can be finalized. Since the standing City Council committees are established within the City Council Rules, they are not formally reconfigured until the rules are finalized. However, since the Chairs of each of the committees were announced weeks ago, there was nothing preventing them from scheduling meetings. So far, only the Finance Committee has scheduled meetings.

Applications & Petitions #1. A petition was received from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, requesting permission for twenty-five banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Memorial Drive to Vassar Street and six banners on poles along Broadway from Longfellow Bridge to Third Street to publicize the upcoming MIT celebration of their move from Boston to Cambridge 100 years ago.

This should be fun. The official "Crossing the Charles procession and competition" is set to take place on May 7.

Dancing FrogResolution #8. Congratulations to the African American Heritage Alliance on the unveiling of a memorial quilt which will illuminate the unique history and vital contributions of African Americans in Cambridge through the creation and dissemination of an historic trail, educational materials, and programs for residents and visitors.   Mayor Simmons

One of the greatest things about living in Cambridge is that there’s history to be discovered on almost any street in the city. This is a great addition to the historical fabric.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Tax Ordinance and, if required, appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer tax on real estate transactions in the City of Cambridge such that the value of a real estate transaction not less than $1 million be taxed on a sliding scale based on said transaction value, with proceeds being earmarked for affordable housing initiatives in the City, and to report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

This will likely go nowhere in the state legislature, but it’s an interesting new angle on generating funds for affordable housing programs. Legally there’s a rather large obstruction to this proposal going anywhere – namely that the Community Preservation Act is already funded by such a tax on real estate transactions, and Cambridge already allots 80% of that CPA revenue toward affordable housing.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to form a special working group that will be tasked with developing a framework for the continued stewardship, curatorship and oversight of the Out of Town Kiosk in Harvard Square.   Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

Perhaps this same special working group can take on the establishment of a jointly operated storefront abutting Carl Barron Plaza in Central Square that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. Oh yeah, that’s in Central Square, so I suppose that means it will be assigned a lower priority.

Arguably, the most significant thing on this week’s agenda doesn’t appear on the agenda at all – namely the question of a contract extension for City Manager Richard Rossi. According to the current contract, there is no set date by which Mr. Rossi must inform the City Council of his intentions, but the City Council is obliged to notify Mr. Rossi of their intentions no later than March 1, 2016. There is no doubt that the City and its residents would be well-served by having Rich Rossi continue as City Manager for at least another year or two (preferably more). I sincerely hope that a majority of the City Councillors will see the wisdom in signaling their intention this Monday to enter into discussions with Mr. Rossi on a contract extension. Indeed, based on Mr. Rossi’s superlative performance over the last few years, I can see no reason why the vote should be anything other than unanimous. – Robert Winters

February 27, 2016

Are You As Smart As A CRLS Student?

Filed under: Cambridge,schools — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:45 pm


EinsteinDo you remember all the elements on the periodic table? How about the formula for determining the length of an arc on a circle? Who was that president who served after Grover Cleveland? Questions similar to these will be asked at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin Community Academic Challenge entitled “Are You As Smart As A CRLS Student?” on Wednesday, March 16 at 7:00pm. Mr. Billy Costa, a Cambridge High and Latin graduate and host of the WGBH-TV “High School Quiz Show” will be the moderator. The event is free and open to the public.

This is the second time this event, sponsored by the CRLS Alumni Association, is being held. The first contest was won by a team from the Cambridge Police Department. Comments about the evening included:
"It was great fun for all, and wonderful to see so many parts of the Cambridge community come together to participate."
“I was a score keeper for the first contest and I was so impressed -bowled over really – by the whole thing. I loved every minute.”

This test of knowledge will be held in the school’s theatre. Members of community organizations, schools, businesses, CRLS alums and neighborhood groups are invited to enter teams of four colleagues to challenge teams of CRLS students in this exceptional battle of the brains. Individuals are also welcome to register by themselves and will join others that night in creating a team.

Students are encouraged to create their own four person teams from their classes, clubs and athletic teams. Trophies for the adults and financial prizes for the students will be awarded. Please note; no life-lines, phone a friend or smart phones are allowed. The CRLS Jazz Combo will be performing between rounds and smart food refreshments will be served before the contest starts.

For more information about the evening and to register your team (adults and students), contact Henry J. Lukas, retired CRLS Assistant Principal at, 617-784-5838 or check There is no registration fee.

Grand Opening Celebration and Tour of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School – Sunday, Feb 28, 2016

Filed under: Cambridge,schools — Robert Winters @ 2:25 pm

Sun, Feb 28

Grand Opening Celebration and Tour of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School  (100-102 Putnam Avenue)

2:00pm   Grand Opening Ceremony

3:00pm   Building Tours

4:15pm   Refreshments (cafeteria)

Grand Opening Celebration and Tour of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School

The Cambridge community is cordially invited to a grand opening celebration and tour of the city’s first near net zero school building. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School complex opened on December 21, 2015, and houses the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School and the Putnam Avenue Upper School – as well as the Department of Human Service Programs’ Preschool, After-School, and Community School programs.

Designed by Perkins Eastman, the building embodies Net Zero ideals and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in action. Throughout the building are embedded opportunities for students to explore the arts, sustainability, and engineering concepts – including math-themed interactive artwork and interpretive displays with signage illuminating the facility’s use of insulation and sustainable materials, consideration of natural light, and reliance on systems for solar energy collection, geothermal heating, and grey water reclamation. The construction manager for the 100 Putnam Avenue project was Rich-Caulfield a Joint Venture.

Expected to achieve LEED-Platinum certification, the building is designed to generate an Energy Use Intensity 60% less than typical educational buildings in New England. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building certification system by the U.S. Green Building Council.

This new complex is the latest example of the City of Cambridge’s commitment to architecture that is both beautiful and sustainable. It is also the first in a multi-year, multi-school building program aimed at enhancing and improving the quality of learning environments for students in Cambridge Public Schools.

For more information on this event or the school building project, visit

MLK Opening

February 24, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 115-116: Feb 23, 2016

Filed under: Cambridge InsideOut,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:37 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 115 (Part 1) – Presidential Politics

This episode was broadcast on Feb 23, 2016 at 5:30pm. In this episode we stepped outside of Cambridge and talked about the presidential primaries a week before Super Tuesday. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 116 (Part 2) – More Local Matters

This episode was broadcast on Feb 23, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

February 21, 2016

Back to Work (Really) – Monday, Feb 22, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:05 pm

Back to Work (Really) – Monday, Feb 22, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Committee Members
Ordinance Carlone (Co-Chair), Cheung (Co-Chair)
(committee of the whole)
Finance McGovern (Chair)
(committee of the whole)
Government Operations,
Rules, and Claims
Maher (Chair), Cheung,
Mazen, McGovern, Toomey
Housing Mayor Simmons (Co-Chair),
McGovern (Co-Chair),
Carlone, Devereux, Maher
Economic Development and
University Relations
Devereux (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Mazen, McGovern
Human Services & Veterans McGovern (Chair), Devereux,
Maher, Mazen, Toomey
Health & Environment Devereux (Chair), Carlone,
Kelley, McGovern, Toomey
Neighborhood and Long Term
Planning, Public Facilities,
Art, and Celebrations
Mazen (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Devereux, Maher
& Public Utilities
Toomey (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Kelley, Mazen
Civic Unity McGovern (Chair), Devereux, Kelley,
Mazen, Mayor Simmons
Public Safety Kelley (Chair), Maher, Mazen,
McGovern, Toomey

Back to WorkNote: Much of this meeting’s agenda was originally set for February 8, but all City of Cambridge offices were closed that day due to snow. All of those items were carried over to the February 22 agenda.

The 2016-2017 City Council committee assignments have been announced by Mayor Simmons. There are also proposed amended 2016-2017 City Council Rules on the agenda for this week’s meeting. The proposed changes include uniformizing most City Council committees at 5 members and allowing for the possibility that some Roundtable meetings may be televised. One curious departure from tradition is that Mayor Simmons will co-chair the Housing Committee and also be a regular member of the Civic Unity Committee. In all my year’s of Council-watching, I don’t recall the Mayor being anything other than an ex-officio member of any subcommittees (other than committees of the whole) and certainly never a co-chair. I have to interpret this a strong desire of Mayor Simmons to continue work begun on these committees during the last term.

I’m especially pleased by the appointments to the Government Operations, Rules, & Claims Committee – especially with the City Manager’s contract discussion coming up (very) soon. The City Council must give notice of its intentions no later than March 1.

Other interesting items on this coming Monday’s City Council agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Sharlene Yang as the new STEAM Coordinator.

So much of the focus on STEM/STEAM has seemed like little more than political fashion, but if any of these efforts result in matching young people growing up in Cambridge with real opportunities in the local economy of today, it will all have been worth it. That said, a coordinator needs to have something to coordinate and it will be interesting to see if the required opportunities develop.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Sage Cannabis, Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

Communications #8. A communication was received from Michael Dundas, Chief Executive Officer, Sage Cannabis, Inc., 13 Commercial Way, Milford, MA, regarding a status update on the zoning amendment petition APP 2015 #72 filed with the Cambridge City Clerk on Nov 9, 2015.

Order #3. That the zoning petition filed by Milford Medicinals, Inc. be placed on file.   Mayor Simmons

It’s hard to say where this matter is going to ultimately end up, but it’s important to note that the City Council and City staff spent a considerable amount of time on the current zoning that delineates two areas where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate. Has the case really been made that those districts are inadequate and that additional mini-districts have to be established whenever a medical marijuana dispensary wants to operate elsewhere? It’s also worth considering how the marijuana sales landscape will take shape in the event that the ballot question on legalization prevails later this year.

Resolution #18. Congratulations to the MIT-based members of the LIGO collaboration on their contributions to the observation of gravitational waves.   Councillor Cheung

Occasionally my worlds collide. The "chirp" of two black holes colliding was the talk in every corner of MIT on February 11. Even MIT President Rafael Reif was as excited as a kid at a carnival.

Order #5. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to amend the provisions of the PUD-KS District set forth in Section 13.10 of the Zoning Ordinances and which includes a majority of the Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, be refiled as of Feb 9, 2015.   Councillor Carlone

This re-filing has been anticipated for some time, and now there will be an Ordinance Committee to work on it.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant City departments to study the benefits of a wellbeing index and plan for how it might be incorporated into various City planning processes, including the city wide Master Plan.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

Call me skeptical. I just read the following description of a wellbeing index: "The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is designed to be the Dow Jones of health, giving a daily measure of people’s wellbeing at the close of every day. With a daily measure, determining the correlation between the places where people work and the communities in which they live, and how it impacts their wellbeing, is now possible. Additionally, the index will increase an understanding of how those factors impact the financial health of corporations and communities." This seems to be in part a continuation of the spectrum of policies that Cambridge planners have been using for years in promoting transportation alternatives and integrating passive and active recreational opportunities wherever possible. My skepticism comes from the potential subjectivity of such a measure. I’m reminded how when various measures of cycling safety led to inconclusive results, a new "comfort index" was invented in order to justify specific policies regarding road design that some planners wanted. How shall we measure "wellbeing"?

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding how the decision to move these festivals out of Central Square was reached, what plans the City has to initiate other festivals in Central Square to replace these lost activities, and what can be done to return these festivals to Central Square.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

It would be great if the Central Square Worlds Fair could one day be revived, but these events don’t come cheap, and they don’t all yield benefits for the existing businesses in Central Square.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Public Works Department, and any other relevant City department to level the sidewalks and add new lighting to Carl Barron Plaza prior to any renovations taking place.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Any significant renovations to Carl Barron Plaza will likely be delayed until the River Street improvements happen a couple of years from now. That said, basic maintenance of the sidewalks and better lighting shouldn’t be delayed. One comprehensive improvement that could also be made now would be a jointly operated storefront abutting the plaza that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. An outside public restroom (the Portland Loo) recently open in the Harvard Square area, but it would be so much better (and more secure) if such a facility in Central Square was done jointly with enhanced police presence. The plumbing will also be a lot simpler.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

The perennial sore thumb continues to throb. Non-friendly eminent domain takings are a huge hassle and don’t always end well, but this situation is ridiculous.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Clerk to communicate the City Council’s strong support of Harvard’s graduate research and teaching assistants to choose collective bargaining to the Harvard University administration.   Councillor Cheung

Some form of collective bargaining may make sense here, but being a graduate student teaching assistant is not a career option and should not be categorized the same way as long-term jobs are – unionized or not. More than anything else, this is really a test of the ethical standards of universities like Harvard, and any discussion of what constitutes fairness should also be extended to adjunct faculty for whom this often does constitute a career choice.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to seek permission from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for the use of two lanes (one in each direction) of Memorial Drive for non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians only and further to coordinate with the appropriate city departments to close two lanes to cars (one in each direction) on Memorial Drive on Apr 29, 2016, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Walk/Ride Days, and the kick-off of the 5th Annual Walk/Ride Day Corporate Challenge.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Mayor Simmons

Though there may be some popular appeal in doing something like this, the unfortunate reality is that the DCR "parkways" have become essential links between the urban core and major roads like the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 2. This includes the need for a through lane as well as a turning lane at numerous locations. Removing two travel lanes or even shutting these roads down altogether may be fine on weekends and holidays, but the road already operates at capacity during rush hour on working days. It is hard to imagine the DCR agreeing to such a road closure on a busy Friday. If so, perhaps the name should be changed from "Walk/Ride Day" to "Piss Off Thousands of Commuters Day." – Robert Winters

February 20, 2016

Campaign Finance – 2015 Cambridge City Council Candidates

Filed under: 2015 Election,Cambridge,campaign finance,elections — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:08 pm

Vote!This year (2015) is a municipal election year and the roster of candidates is now final. Here is where the campaign accounts stand for incumbents and challengers for Cambridge City Council. This information will be updated as the year progresses.

It will be interesting to see how the new individual contribution limit of $1000/year (up from $500/year) affects campaign receipts and expenditures.

City Council Campaign Finance - 2015 (based on bank reports, updated Feb 20, 2016)

CandidatesStartEndOpenReceiptsExpendBalance#1 Votes$ per #1 Vote
Benzan, Dennis1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$8207.45$70200.89$78273.51$134.84
Carlone, Dennis1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$4272.67$33079.30$37256.45$95.521002$37.18
Cheung, Leland1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$6002.06$95266.51$39430.61$61837.961189$33.16
Connolly, Mike16-Jul-1515-Feb-16$0.00$50381.44$39581.86$10799.58841$47.07
Courtney, Kim1-Jan-1515-Dec-15$0.00$1869.94$1869.94$0.0072$25.97
Davidson, Mariko25-Jun-1515-Feb-16$0.00$15232.25$15232.25$0.00853$17.86
DeGoes, Plineo16-Jun-1515-Dec-15$0.00$4550.00$4550.00$0.0051$89.22
Devereux, Jan1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$0.00$55720.44$53162.94$2557.501307$40.68
Dietrich, Xavier13-Jul-1515-Dec-15$0.00$2360.00$2360.00$0.0027$78.90
Kelley, Craig1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$2601.58$39626.05$37858.49$4369.141434$26.40
Levy, Ilan13-Jul-1531-Dec-15$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.00153$0.00
Maher, David1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$28741.21$55839.21$83063.27$1517.151637$50.74
Mahoney, Paul F.2-Jul-1515-Feb-16$0.00$5075.00$2376.64$2698.36251$9.47
Mazen, Nadeem1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$12273.54$69320.74$81508.96$85.321929$42.25
McGovern, Marc1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$6098.45$67556.62$72900.57$754.501202$60.65
Mello, Gary1-Jul-1531-Dec-15$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.00119$0.00
Moree, Gregg1-Jul-1515-Feb-16$0.00$13320.00$13316.42$3.5878$170.72
Sanzone, John1-May-1515-Feb-16$0.00$3085.28$2280.50$804.7832$71.27
Simmons, Denise1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$7447.29$59939.41$61288.24$6098.461715$35.74
Toomey, Tim1-Jan-1531-Dec-15$18782.29$48207.68$60573.92$6416.051416$42.78
vanBeuzekom, Minka 1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$7380.40$46013.45$52113.55$1280.301014$51.39
Waite, Romaine2-Jul-1515-Feb-16$0.00$3687.95$3687.95$0.00
Williamson, James1-Jul-1531-Dec-15$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0072$0.00

The table can be sorted by category in ascending or descending order by clicking on the category name in the top row.

The $ per #1 Vote figures will continue to rise as expenditure reports continue to be filed.

All 2015 Campaign Finance Report Summaries (PDF) – last updated Feb 20, 2016

You can also look up these periodic reports (and more) yourself at the OCPF website.

The information in the tables below was compiled in early December 2015. Some additional receipts, expenditures, returned donations, etc. have occurred since then. The tables may be updated at some point in the future to reflect these changes.

Dollars Spent per #1 Vote


Percentage of Campaign Receipts from Cambridge


Additional Campaign Finance Details


February 16, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 113-114: The Picture Show

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 113 (Part 1) – The Picture Show

This episode was broadcast on Feb 16, 2016 at 5:30pm. We walked through a series of historical images of Cambridge with commentary (Part 1 of 2). The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 114 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 16, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. We walked through a series of historical images of Cambridge with commentary (Part 2 of 2). [On YouTube]

Background materials for these programs

February 9, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 111-112 (Feb 9, 2016)

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 111 (Part 1) with Michael Orr

This episode was broadcast on Feb 9, 2016 at 5:30pm. Our guest was Michael Orr, Waste Reduction Program Manager with the Cambridge Department of Public Works. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. Topics included the City’s curbside composting collection program and the upcoming Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 112 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 9, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. Topics included the newly appointed Cambridge City Council subcommittees, the newly appointed STEAM coordinator, and a few other updates. [On YouTube]

Background materials for these programs

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