Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 26, 2017

Before the March – Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:56 pm

Before the March – Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Time TravelIn between Resistance Rallies and Sanctuary Sessions, the Cambridge City Council occasionally meets to talk about Municipal Matters. Here are a few items that may be of interest to those not marching or carrying signs on Monday.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 35 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

It has become an annual tradition. Keep it up. People will complain anyway.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $48,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account. This appropriation will be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new Police Commissioner.

The public is invited to assist the City with the development of the leadership profile for the Police Commissioner search. Members of the public may participate in the process by attending one of the Citywide Public Forums or by providing written feedback. Two Citywide Public Forums, facilitated by PERF, are being held on:
  • Thursday, March 2, 2017, from 6-8pm, School Committee Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway
  • Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 10am–12pm, Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Avenue.


Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. 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 an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 27, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Nov 29, 2016. Petition expires Mar 1, 2017.]

This is the last chance to ordain this before its expiration date. It appears to have unanimous support, but there could still be a tweak or two before it’s official. The real question is whether these very modest zoning changes will provide sufficient incentive for us to see actual positive changes in Central Square. In any case, this is a good start.


Applications & Petitions #3. A Zoning Petition has been received from the owner of the property at Third Street and Cambridge Street to amend the existing zoning at that location to authorize the construction of a 45 unit residential building with small scale retail on the ground floor and parking below grade.

Another day, another zoning petition. Actually, there are two additional City Council zoning petitions being introduced at this meeting – Order #17 and Order #20.

Resolution #2. Thanks to Luis Vasquez for his service to fathers in Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Luis Vasquez is one of the most decent people I have met in my nearly 40 years in Cambridge.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to make the Sullivan Chamber and the prior goal setting facilitator, or any professional facilitator, available on a weekly basis for half day or full day City Council goal setting sessions   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

This Order seems to suggest that City Council goal-setting is an extended exercise that goes on for days and days. In truth, it’s just a snapshot of general priorities at a given time – and it has never taken all that much time to develop nor should it. Like a party platform, it just lays out some general goals and principles. It’s a bit bewildering that they haven’t completed this by now, but it’s not like building Rome.

Order #7. City Council support of the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen

Though this petition appears to be a response to the current specific redevelopment plans for the Abbot Building in Harvard Square, the idea contained in this petition is interesting and potentially worth pursuing. I suspect it would simply make official what likely already happens, i.e. the Cambridge Historical Commission evaluating buildings as possessing varying degrees of historical significance.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City’s commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City’s diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward.   Mayor Simmons

This is a laudable goal but the Order as written is a clear violation of state law. The City Manager is the appointing authority and this Order calls for making appointments to all boards and commissions contingent on approval of a City Council subcommittee. Another problem with this order is that the word "diversity" means a lot of things – and not just what people look like. Should there be mandatory diversity of viewpoint on all advisory committees? We could use a lot more diversity of viewpoint, but some of these boards do, in fact, act as advocates for a particular point of view. Perhaps this Order should be amended by replacing the word "requirement" with the word "goal" and by removing the proposal to give the Civic Unity Committee veto power over City Manager appointments.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on what progress has been made in meeting the goal of creating 1,000 new affordable units by the end of this decade.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

As a rule, goals like this are far too constraining in the absence of other considerations. If this was to be accomplished via Inclusionary Zoning, this implies that the City should have a goal of producing over 8,600 new housing units per decade under current standards or 5,000 new housing units under the proposed new 20% standard. I don’t wish to refer all such considerations to the Envision Cambridge process, but it is a valid long-term planning concern. In addition, housing growth (both "affordable" and in general) has to be accomplished in the whole region and not just in a few cities and towns within the region.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City Departments and industry leaders to generate a report on the potential growth of next-generation wireless technology in the City, to include: the expected footprint of citywide coverage from just one company and what market competition might produce; the integration of public and private infrastructure to support the network; what local standards the City might hope to maintain relative to aesthetics and safety; and how this new technology fits into our Broadband access plans.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Though these are all valid concerns, including the proliferation of seemingly random (and sometimes noisy and ugly) structures perched atop utility poles and buildings, my guess is that when all is said and done the selection of broadcast channels will continue to suck and the cost of access to "premium" services like Red Sox games will continue to soar without limit.

Order #17. Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance by creating a new Section 11.900 – Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings; Maintenance and Security Requirements.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

I’m eternally curious about the motivation of actions such as this one. Could this be related to the long-term vacancy of a place like the Harvard Square Cinema building? Or is this just a way to address long-term horror shows like the Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive without having to file a half dozen City Council orders and inviting lawsuits after an eminent domain taking? I do find it curious that this proposed zoning amendment would assess a monthly fee at a rate of 4.17 percent of the assessed value of the property on any property that is vacant more than 6 months. That’s 50% of the assessed value per year. With rates like that this really starts to look like a regulatory taking of the property and it’s doubtful that courts will look kindly on such a fee structure.

Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to ask the Volpe Working Group to consider how the GSA building will be integrated in with the rest of the site and to ask the independent design consultant to be more involved in the urban design process going forward.   Councillor Cheung

At the MIT meeting on this matter it was revealed that the Volpe replacement building would have to be located at the northwest corner of the Volpe site and that much of the open space associated with the future federal property could be integrated with the rest of the open space planned on the site. Details at http://www.volpemit.com and, in particular in this PDF slide presentation of the Feb 16, 2017 meeting.

Order #20. Proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinances regarding rooftop spaces in Central Square.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

This seems like a sensible outgrowth of the discussion that grew out of the Central Square Restoration Petition which will hopefully be ordained by the time this Order comes up in the agenda. See you at the March. – Robert Winters

February 22, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 207-208: February 21, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 207 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 21, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included the potential effect of national politics on the Cambridge municipal elections, the current minibond sale, and the recent update by MIT about plans for the Volpe site. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 208 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 21, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included the recent Roundtable meeting of the School Committee and City Council, the current field of candidates in the Cambridge municipal election, and some highlights from the Feb 13 Cambridge City Council meeting, especially the discussion of Inclusionary Zoning and Planned Unit Developments (PUDs). The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

February 21, 2017

Black ice blindness

Snowmelt drains across "protected" bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

Snowmelt drains across “protected” bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

The photo is of a stretch of barrier-separated bikeway recently installed on the north side of Massachusetts Avenue between Sidney Street and Douglass Street in Cambridge. The headline of the February 17, 2017 Boston Globe article with this picture is “Snowbank becomes accidental hero for area cyclists”.

But — the shiny area in the bikeway is meltwater from said snowbank. When the temperature drops, the water freezes into a sheet of black ice. The usual drainage techniques don’t work here because, if you will excuse me for belaboring the obvious, the “hero barrier’ is uphill and water runs downhill. I discussed bikeway drainage issues in more detail recently in a post on another blog and years ago in connection with the 9th Avenue bikeway in Manhattan. Just to make it clear, I do have  nice things to say about other features of the 9th Avenue bikeway.

Neither Steve Annear, author of the Globe article, nor anyone quoted in it, makes any mention of the black-ice problem. They are all enthusiastic about the snow-barrier.

From the article: “I like this snowbank-protected cycle track,” Ari Ofsevit, a local cyclist, said on Twitter.

Ari is more than just a “local cyclist”. He widely, imaginatively and thoughtfully discusses transportation improvements his blog. I usually agree with him, except when he turns a blind eye to problems with barrier-separated on-street bikeways.

The article cites Joe Barr. Director of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation for the City of Cambridge:

Barr acknowledged that the snow mound separating the bike lane and the road has offered a sense of protection to cyclists, but he said it could also be masking damage to the base of the flexible posts.

“We won’t know that until we get some more melting. But it certainly looks good on the street,” he said.

And Richard Fries, Executive Director of the massachusretts Bicycle Coalition, commented:

It’s great. It won’t last that much longer, but it does help to hammer into people’s heads [road] patterns and driving habits,” he said. “Because it’s there, it makes the existing bike lane more visible to drivers and more prominent.

Segregation promotes a sense of entitlement on the part of the majority group –in this case, motorists. How do I explain to horn-honking motorists that I have to ride my bicycle in “their” travel lane, now narrowed to make room for the barrier, to avoid crashing on a sheet of black ice?

Or for that matter, to travel at my usual 15 miles per hour so I’m not stuck behind a cluster of bicyclists who are traveling at 8 miles per hour?

Or to avoid being right-hooked and crushed under the back wheels by a right-turning truck where the bikeway ends at Douglass Street?

Just asking.

February 13, 2017

Monday the 13th – Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 9:15 am

Monday the 13th – Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda

This is a very short agenda this week. Here are a few things of possible interest:

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #2. 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 an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition.

It is expected that the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting. This will put it in the queue for ordination at the Feb 27 meeting – hopefully by a unanimous vote.

Resolution #5. Wishing Ken Reeves a Happy Birthday.   Councillor Toomey

When Ken was on the Council it was a tradition to not only wish him a happy birthday on his Feb 8 birthday, but to also commemorate him for the entire month of February. It’s nice to see Councillor Toomey continuing the tradition – at least for the day. Happy Birthday, Ken!

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist, and any other appropriate City department to establish a Tree Task Force to better protect the urban canopy.   Councillor DevereuxAll Hail Marx and Lennon

This is the only City Council Order on the agenda this week. Perhaps such a task force could be established within the Public Planting Committee rather than duplicating effort. More generally, this is a good time to take a look at all of the City’s various Boards, Commissions, Advisory Committees, and Task Forces to make sure that the right issues are being addressed, there is no duplication of effort, and that volunteer energy is being best utilized.

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 Jan 12, 2017 to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 regarding sandwich board and A-frame signs.

The littlest issue had its day in committee. Most seemed to agree that some basic guidelines should be established and that the permitting of such signs should be done in the future by City staff without the need for City Council approval of every such sign. An ordinance change will be required to make it so. – Robert Winters

February 7, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 205-206: February 7, 2017

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:26 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 205 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast February 7, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included the Patriots’ dramatic come-from-behind Super Bowl win, events in DC, civic opportunities, and a partial recap of the Feb 6 Cambridge City Council meeting. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 206 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast February 7, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included a partial recap of the Feb 6 Cambridge City Council meeting and some unfinished matters that may soon be acted on. We also took another look at the roster of possible candidates for the 2017 Cambridge municipal election. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

February 6, 2017

On tap at the February 6, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:41 am

On tap at the February 6, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Patriots - Super Bowl ChampionsHere are some items of possible interest this Monday. Budget Season is on the horizon. More importantly, pitchers and catchers report February 13 and position players on February 16. Even more importantly, wasn’t that come-from-behind Patriots victory in the Super Bowl just spectacular?

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of of $3,709,949 in funds from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Grant to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures account for the Alewife Sewer Separation Program.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Public Works to set and meet a firm 2017 deadline for fully completing all remaining parts of the Huron A, Huron B, and Concord Avenue contracts, provide a full accounting of all costs (to-date and future) compared to the original contracts and budgets and schedule a community meeting as soon as possible to update the public on the schedule and budget for completing the project, as well as a complete list of all remaining punch list items for each of the contract areas.   Councillor Devereux

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $2,300,000 to provide funds for the design, drainage, and installation of new field surfaces at Russell Field and the Graham and Parks School.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,100,000 to provide funds for the construction of sewer separation, storm water management, and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the Cambridgeport Neighborhood.

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $1,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

Call me an infrastructure geek, but I just love this kind of stuff – how all the systems of a city run from water supply to sewerage to electric service and everything else that goes on unseen and underappreciated (until something goes wrong).

Charter Right #8 (Order #3 of Jan 23, 2017). 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. Placed On Table on motion of Mayor Simmons on Jan 30, 2017.]

My understanding is that better language was being worked out and this item should be voted on Monday. Most importantly, any consultant hired by the City should advise the City Manager, but it’s still entirely the Manager’s decision how to structure City departments. As I mentioned last week, this may also be a good time to look at the structure of all the City’s volunteer Boards and Commissions, and maybe the City Council should also give some thought toward how its subcommittees function (or not function).

Unfinished Business #10. A proposed amendment to the Ordinance entitled "Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge" to insert in Article 11.00 a new Section 11.800 Medical Marijuana. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 6, 2017. Planning Board hearings were held Nov 1, 2016 and Jan 3, 2017. Petition expires Feb 7, 2017.]

The deadline is here, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City staff to make available the City’s GIS system data regarding the total number of parking spaces designated as resident-permit only by street address, the total number of residential off-street parking spaces by street address, and the total number of cars registered in Cambridge by street address.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

Councillors Devereux and Mazen are gathering data to make the case for removing parking on several major streets, including Broadway, Cambridge St., Hampshire St., and Mass. Ave. in order to remove bicycles from the roadway. They have apparently neglected to inquire about parking for schools, City buildings, churches, day care facilities, funeral homes, and all businesses. They also neglected to inquire about parking needs by times of day. I’m sure it was just an oversight. And pigs can fly. – Robert Winters

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: