Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 31, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 203-204: January 31, 2017

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:07 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 203 (Part 1)

This program was broadcast on Jan 31, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included national events, some announcements, and a recap of the Jan 30 City Council meeting. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 204 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 24, 2017 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. Topics include a recap of the Jan 23 City Council meeting, and some upcoming events. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

January 29, 2017

Now Featuring…. Coming Attractions at the Jan 30, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:57 pm

Now Featuring…. Coming Attractions at the Jan 30, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

GroundhogWith Groundhog Day fast approaching, and in recognition of a really great movie, perhaps the City Council will find the wisdom (and the kindness toward the City Clerk) to dispense with On The Table Items #3, #4, #5, #7, and #8. I mean, seriously, the Nutcracker performances are over for 2016, so why is the matter of banners promoting the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker still on the agenda every week? This will take all of one minute to dispense with these zombies and allow the City Council move on to bigger and better things (as well as the usual lot of smaller and poorer things). Here are a few agenda items that seem either interesting, controversial, or just plain ridiculous:

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an update on the Bicycle Safety Work Plan.

One conclusion that I draw from this report is that this plan is basically non-negotiable. On-street parking will soon be removed on major streets and any claims of "evaluation" are fiction. Politicians will henceforth be in charge of traffic engineering. Those who believe that bicycles belong on the sidewalk and not in the streets are now calling all the shots. Those of us who choose to ride in the street are now squeezed into narrower lanes and greater danger. I have yet to meet an MBTA bus driver who has anything good to say about Cambridge’s plans. I only wish City officials would drop the pretense of calling these "temporary measures" while at the same time making them permanent as was recently done in the Special Permit conditions imposed on the Mass and Main development in Lafayette Square.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the comprehensive Needs Assessment Report relative to the Community Benefits Ordinance.

This has been long in coming. There is a need for a more rational process in determining how money derived from new developments will be distributed for projects and institutions for the public good. I still have some concerns about "mitigation as shakedown" and the possibility that not-so-great projects will be permitted to go forward as long as the developers sufficiently "sweeten the pot" with additional contributions. I would rather see good projects regardless of the mitigation.

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the results of the biannual City of Cambridge Citizen Telephone Survey for 2016.

I have taught statistics courses, but I get no pleasure in reading statistical reports like these. All you really need to know is in the City Manager’s cover letter. "Overall opinions of the City remain very positive. Citizens’ extreme satisfaction with overall performance of City government in Cambridge … is a reflection on responsible, forward-thinking policies, and a capable and extremely dedicated workforce." "Affordable housing/housing was again identified as the ‘single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today’." Enough said.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-110, regarding the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Most of this is old news, but it’s good to have it summarized in this report. There is an important legal opinion from City Solicitor Nancy Glowa on the legality of the proposed Formula Business regulations in the petition. The rest of the petition is pretty solid and received accolades from the Planning Board, but we may have to live for now without the proposed change from the current Fast Food Cap to the more desirable Formula Business regulations. Then again, maybe we’ll see some revised language at the Feb 2 hearing on the matter. In any case, the core provisions of this petition should pass – and soon.

Charter Right #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Jan 23, 2017.]

This petition was rendered moot by the granting of the Special Permit for the Mass and Main and related developments this past Tuesday by the Planning Board. The votes aren’t there to pass this petition anyway.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Jan 23, 2017.]

The City Council should amend this Order to simply ask the City Manager to consider hiring a consultant to advise him on possible changes in the structure and function of City departments. While they’re at it, the City Council and the City administration should take a good objective look at all of the City’s volunteer Boards and Commissions to see if there are any efficiencies that can be made or if any of the ordinances that created some of these boards should be amended to better reflect today’s needs and priorities.

Then the City Council should take a good hard look at its own operations. For example, wouldn’t it work better if City Council aides were assigned to Council subcommittees rather than to individual councillors? Perhaps each Council subcommittee could also keep its own web page that tracks what each committee is doing, the status of any initiatives, and a record of all actions taken.

Resolution #2. Resolution on the death of Renae Gray.   Mayor Simmons

Renae was the first person to invite me (in 1991) to be on a board of a civic organization in Cambridge. She always brought positive energy to anything with which she was involved. This is a very significant loss to the civic fabric of the city.

Order #2. Amendment to Chapter 8.12.010 of the Municipal Code.   Councillor Cheung

This is almost like a mystery question. The Order basically just asks that the requirement that any gas station with self-serve pumps "have service bays and offer automotive repairs" be removed. On the face of it, this just seems like common sense since there are already self-serve gas stations in Cambridge where no repairs are made. But why is this revision being posed now? Is this just housekeeping or is there a service station that wants to do self-serve gas and get out of the repair business? It matters because self-serve stations usually come with bright lights, extended hours, and elaborate fire-suppression structures. That’s a pretty big change from Goober’s Fillin’ Station.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the MBTA to install a shelter on Aberdeen Avenue without advertising or lighting comparable to what was originally there and to consult with City staff to develop a policy that prohibits advertising and illumination on bus shelters in residential areas citywide and as well as in the Parkway Overlay District.   Councillor Devereux

We probably all would rather see less advertising on bus shelters, Hubway stations, etc., but that is how the maintenance costs are covered. Perhaps they can just dim the lights and make the advertisements classier.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Department of Public Works (DPW) and any other relevant City department and report back to the City Council on ways the City can help small businesses offset other costs, included but not limited to, the possibility of DPW picking up trash from these small businesses during their regular routes.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung

This debate has gone on for at least 25 years. The truth is that DPW already does pick up trash from small businesses in some mixed-use buildings (like next door to me). If the City did choose to include more commercial customers, they would also have to include recycling services.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by John Hawkinson alleging violation to attorney client privileged redactions of executive session minutes of the City Council for Aug 1, 2016, Oct 13, 2016 and the Oct 31, 2016.

While few will argue with the intent of the Open Meeting Law, there does come a point when complaints like these pass well into the realm of the ridiculous. In this particular case, these were Executive Session meetings specifically focused on contract negotiations. They are not subject to the Open Meeting Law and redaction in the minutes is permitted when appropriate, so no one should be surprised that much of the minutes were redacted. There are far more important things to worry about – even here in the Little Village of Cambridge. In any case, I wish the complainant would show a little more respect to the women who work in City government. Nobody appreciates being hounded while under threat of a negative "news" story that’s barely distinguishable from a personal attack. – Robert Winters

January 24, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 201-202: January 24, 2017

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:38 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 201 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 24, 2017 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. Topics include the Women’s March, Inaugural comments, Volpe site, Envision Cambridge. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 202 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 24, 2017 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. Topics include a recap of the Jan 23 City Council meeting, and some upcoming events. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

January 22, 2017

Coming up this Monday – Jan 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:32 pm

Coming up this Monday – Jan 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council agenda [extra detail here or here (15.4MB PDF)]

Jan 23, 2017

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person to the position of Assistant City Manager for Finance, effective Mar 13, 2017:  David Kale.

It’s like that line from the Blues Brothers – "We’re putting the band back together." Welcome back, David.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-107, regarding the purchase of K9 Rumba by Officer Peter Neal.

There was no absolutely right resolution to this dilemma. In the end, four-year-old Rumba still has work to do for the City of Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $35,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Human Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account, to be used to expand the existing contract with Food for Free to support the Weekend Backpack Program.

This is not the first time the City has taken up the slack when the state or federal government discontinued funding for a useful program such as this. I expect it won’t be the last.


Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation regarding the Medical Marijuana Zoning Petition. [The Planning Board does NOT RECOMMEND adoption.]

Committee Report #2 and Committee Report #3 from the Ordinance Committee for public hearings held on Dec 21, 2016 and on Jan 3, 2017 relative to the City Council petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance to delete the existing Section 20.700 – Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts; create a new Section 11.800 – Medical Marijuana; and list Registered Marijuana Dispensary within Section 4.35 of the Table of Use Regulations, allowed only by Planning Board Special Permit within Business A, B, B-1, B-2, C, Industry A-1, B-1 and B-2 districts. These are the 2nd and 3rd hearings on this petition.

The basic issue here is that if there are to be medical marijuana dispensaries in Cambridge, the existing zones where it is allowed appear to be inadequate as evidenced by repeated zoning petitions to add new small zones tailored to specific sites. The alternative is to simply make this an allowed use in some or all of the existing business districts (as long as other constraints are met). One identified complication is that under the recently passed initiative petition to liberalize the use, possession, and sale of recreational marijuana, the dispensary sites could also become recreational marijuana outlets. One discussion I have not yet heard is the reality of where such facilities would actually end up being located if they become an allowed use in business districts. These are not the kind of facilities that would be dependent on foot traffic and they don’t need a site that commands high rent, so the most likely sites would be in the smaller business zones or on the outer periphery of the Squares. Wherever they locate, their particular clientele will be sure to find them.


Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Massasoit Elk’s Lodge #129 Membership, 55 Bishop Allen Drive, transmitting opposition to the 19th floor height of the B-1 and B2 towers that are grossly out of scale for Central Square and Port neighborhoods, and far higher even than proposed by the C2 study.

I’m at something of a loss trying to understand out of which blue this petition came. The Normandy/Twining petition of a couple of years ago that has made possible the Mass & Main development that is now being permitted was a very public process with more than its share of controversy. That petition was ordained on a 7-2 vote on May 18, 2015 with significant concessions to produce affordable housing units as part of that development. A tremendous amount of planning and negotiation has occurred since then and many opportunities for the public to weigh in. This new petition is really the horse that left that barn 18 months ago. All of the relevant issues have already been debated. The communication from the Elk’s Lodge specifically references the petition. It’s difficult to guess what the real motivation is for this petition’s appearance at this time. It could be related to a potential City Council candidacy or maybe it’s a proxy petition promoted by an activist group, but it could also be based on fear of construction disruption when the Mass & Main development gets underway later this year. In any case, this petition is long past its freshness date.


Resolution #2. Congratulations to José Mateo for being named a 2017 Commonwealth Award honoree for Achievement by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.   Councillor Devereux

Resolution #14. Retirement of Greg Russ from the Cambridge Housing Authority.   Mayor Simmons

In their respective fields, both José Mateo and Greg Russ are local giants.


Order #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the License Commission, the Cambridge Arts Council, the Community Development Department, the Police Department, and any other appropriate City department to discuss the feasibility of allowing small businesses to host live acoustic music performances without a license.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

This seems like a great idea – certainly for occasional performances and particularly for those without amplification. There are, however, some factors that the City Council and the City administration may want to consider before making such a change, e.g. hours of operation, whether the business has "operable windows" that would project the sound outward, and if there might be some conflict with any residential abutters. Not all acoustic music is low volume, e.g. drums and horns. Acoustic doesn’t necessarily mean a folk singer gently strumming her guitar strings.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Mazen

Assessing the effectiveness of City departments and making necessary improvements should, of course, be standard practice. In that spirit, this Order seems perfectly great. However, the phrase "who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary" in regard to a hired independent consultant is more than a little problematic. If read literally, this would imply that the City Manager would hire a consultant who would not merely advise the City Manager and the City Council but actually independently make changes in the management of City departments. At the very least, the City Council should amend this order to make clear that any recommendations are strictly advisory.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community.   Councillor Toomey

Lately I have begun to think that the entire process regarding the Foundry building has become one large circular discussion that has brought of back to pretty much the same place we were at four years ago.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report on the current status of the Broadband Task Force, including a schedule for ongoing discussion and final decision and recommendation.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung

I still have not heard a convincing argument for why the City should invest a huge sum of money on a speculative initiative like this.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the Council with an explanation of how the success of these “pop up” lanes will be measured and what lessens we expect to learn from them to help implement safer bicycling facilities throughout the City as soon as possible.   Councillor Kelley

This is an incredibly perceptive Order from Councillor Kelley. I have already seen at least one advocacy group running surveys designed to "prove" the desirability of these changes. I cannot speak for the one near the Harvard Law School, but it’s hard to imagine that the obstacle course that was installed in Lafayette Square would pass muster in any objective analysis. There are plenty of trouble spots that can be identified for improved bicycle safety in Cambridge, but these don’t especially coincide with those promoted politically.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 13, 2016 to discuss recent and anticipated development projects and commercial and institutional leasing in Harvard Square and how such changes may affect the future of Harvard Square.

This was an interesting hearing, but it’s not at all clear what the action items are or where this discussion may be headed.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 4, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend provision of the Zoning Ordinance related to Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions into Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text of sections 11.200 through 11.206.

There is a noticeable urgency to pass these changes regardless of what the effect may be on new housing construction. The proposed mandatory percentage of "affordable units" is almost double what has been in effect since the 1998 ordinance was adopted. It may be economically sustainable, but this is not a sure thing. The only sure thing is that the adoption of these changes to Inclusionary Zoning will be prominently featured on a lot of campaign literature this fall. – Robert Winters

January 17, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 199-200: January 17, 2017

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:17 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 199 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 17, 2017 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. Brought to you by the Village Green Preservation Society and the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium. Preserving the old ways from being abused. Protecting the new ways, for me and for you. What more can we do?
[On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 200 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 17, 2017 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. Happy Bicentennial! [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

January 16, 2017

Members Sought for New City Manager’s Advisory Committee

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:02 pm

Members Sought for New City Manager’s Advisory Committee

City SealJan 13, 2017 – City Manager Louis A. DePasquale is seeking volunteers to serve on the new City Manager’s Advisory Committee. Community input is a vital component of the decision making process in Cambridge and the City strives to engage and involve all stakeholders. In an effort to foster community collaboration and deepen the understanding of community issues, the City Manager is forming this new advisory Committee.

The City Manager’s Advisory Committee will consist of 12-15 residents and stakeholders who will meet at least quarterly to discuss issues happening in the city, develop working relationships, work with organizations, bring different opinions to the table, and work to resolve problems in advance.

Selection of individuals to serve on the City Manager’s Advisory Committee will be based on their ability to represent the diversity of the Cambridge community. The final group of committed participants selected will be broadly representative of many backgrounds including: small/local business community, large business community, non-profit community, neighborhood associations, higher education, arts community, primary/secondary education, public health and human services, housing advocacy, faith community, new immigrant/under represented communities, youth community, senior community, LGBTQ+ community, and mobility community (bike/transit/pedestrian).

Applicants should be Cambridge residents or individuals with a strong connection with the City.

For more information, contact Lee Gianetti, Director of Communication and Community Relations, at 617-349-3317 or lgianetti@cambridgema.gov. Letters of interest, including resume and/or applicable experience, can be sent via email or mail by the deadline of Friday, February 17, 2017 to:
City Manager Louis A. DePasquale
City of Cambridge
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
E-mail: citymanager@cambridgema.gov

January 10, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 197-198: January 10, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 197 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 10, 2017 at 5:30pm. Main topics: Outdoor lighting, Central Square, Harvard Square, and emerging candidates for the 2017 municipal election. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 198 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 10, 2017 at 6:00pm. Main topics: Outdoor lighting, Central Square, Harvard Square, Inclusionary Zoning, and emerging candidates for the 2017 municipal election. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

January 9, 2017

New Year at City Hall – Jan 9, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:11 am

New Year at City Hall – Jan 9, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

2017It’s a relatively short agenda to open the new year, but there are some notable items:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Acting Police Commissioner Brent B. Larrabee, effective Jan 9, 2017.

Even if we’ll have Acting Commissioner Larrabee for just the next 6-8 months, he comes highly recommended by former Commissioner Robert Haas. That’s all I need to hear to know that the Police Department is in good hands.

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with suggested modifications, the zoning amendments to Article 19.000 related to lighting in project review.

This is a reasonable proposal and the modifications suggested by the Planning Board make sense. Nonetheless, the alarmists are out in full force arguing against reason. One message posted on a listserv states, "If you do not want Las Vegas style lights in Cambridge, if you believe you have the right to some darkness at night, you need to, once again, email your councillors right now." Yeah, right. Las Vegas here we come. Let’s see if the tail wags the dog Monday night.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with some minor modifications, the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition (Sater, et al).

I haven’t yet heard any serious objections to this zoning petition. It’s a very moderate step forward that may yield positive benefits for housing and retail in the Central Square area. It does not preclude further modifications that might one day emerge from the Envision Cambridge process.

Charter Right #2. City Council support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Abbott Building in Harvard Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Dec 19, 2016.]

Most of us want to see the exterior of this structure remain essentially as it is today – regardless of any changes in tenancy within the building. The word is that Curious George will find a new home nearby. One striking lesson from the Dec 19 City Council meeting discussion on this subject was that this area already has substantial protections as a neighborhood conservation district, and landmarking of this building really adds no additional protection. The issue, however, has become a political rallying point, so I don’t expect the City Council to exercise good sense here. There are important discussions that are needed regarding the future of Harvard Square, but this isn’t one of them. I would be much more thrilled if we could focus just a little attention on the detrimental effect of foreign investors treating this area and all of Cambridge as just a place to shelter their assets. Some of us actually live here – and not just for the investment value.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, relating to Council Goals and capacity building for the Community Development Department.

The City Council is long overdue in their periodic goal-setting process, and I imagine more than a few of them would like to address this sooner than later. Regarding whether the Community Development Department is understaffed or if there’s a need for a "vision statement for how CDD will run differently in the year 2020", I look forward to hearing what City staff and the rest of the city councillors may have to say on the matter. – Robert Winters

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: