Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 8, 2010

Nov 8, 2010 City Council Agenda – After capitulation, the post-recission Council moves on to other business

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 3:54 pm

Nov 8, 2010 City Council Agenda – After capitulation, the post-recission Council moves on to other business

Last week’s meeting (sorry, I missed it) featured the recission of two provisions of the thoroughly misrepresented Ordinance No. 1335 amending the Sign Ordinance. The City Council, while expressing its disgust with the manner in which the petition campaign to challenge the Ordinance was conducted, voted 8-1 to rescind the two provisions and called for the establishment of a Task Force to further study the matter and make recommendations. This was a politically safe strategy and, except for Councillor Toomey’s NO vote, showed a willingness among councillors to not let any one of them be singled out for political retribution. It’s hard to say where things will go from here, but Council Order #4 this week gives a hint of potential volatility. Cambridge conspiracy theorists naturally assume that the new Task Force will be stacked to ensure a pre-determined end.

Meanwhile there’s this:

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation for the approval of a loan order in the amount of $14,535,000 as well as a vote relative to Chapter 2.110 ("City-Owned Land and Buildings".)

This is the Big Item on this week’s Agenda. Residents and elected officials have been waiting a long time to hear about what would eventually become of the former Police Station as well as a couple of currently surplus school buildings. This answers the Police Station part of the question – a proposed multiple use for the Cambridge Housing Authority, the Community Learning Center, and the City’s Multi-Service Center. This is a win-win-win solution if the details can be worked out – a Multi-Multi-Service Center.

Agenda Item No. 9A     Nov 8, 2010
ORDERED: That $14,535,000 is appropriated for remodeling, reconstructing, and making extraordinary repairs to the original police station at Five Western Avenue in Central Square, including HVAC, plumbing, and electrical system improvements as well as other interior and exterior renovations, including any and all incidental costs related thereto; and that to meet this appropriation the Treasurer with the approval of the City Manager is authorized to borrow $14,535,000 under Chapter 44 of the General Laws or any other enabling authority.

Agenda Item No. 9B     Nov 8, 2010
ORDERED: Pursuant to the provisions of G. L. c. 121B, § 23(d) authorizing the City to "establish exceptions to existing ordinances and bylaws regulating the design, construction and use of buildings" in order to work cooperatively with the Cambridge Housing Authority in the planning, construction and operation of a project, the City Council hereby establishes an exception to Chapter 2.110 of the Cambridge Municipal Code, to the extent that said Chapter may be applicable hereto, and orders that said Chapter shall not apply to the leasing and/or redevelopment of City property at the former Cambridge Police Department Headquarters at 5 Western Avenue, and hereby authorizes the City Manager to enter into an agreement with the Cambridge Housing Authority for the leasing and/or redevelopment of this property, as set forth in the City Manager’s Nov 8, 2010 letter to the City Council.

We’ll still have to wait and see what the future holds for the old Graham & Parks building on Upton Street as well as the old Longfellow School building on Broadway. The Longfellow building seems destined to be "swing space" for a parade of school building renovations around the City just as it is now serving as the temporary home of the CRLS 9th Grade during renovations at the high school. Many Mid-Cambridge residents hope that the old Longfellow building will once again become a permanent school building once all the system-wide renovations and consolidations have occurred. Mid-Cambridge is the most populous neighborhood in Cambridge and currently has no neighborhood elementary school.

Order #1. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Election Commissioner to look into the discrepancies of voters being "inactive" or registered under a misspelled or wrong address.   Councillor Cheung

This Order is singled out entirely for the humor contained therein. Councillor Cheung misspelled the word "mispelled" in the first WHEREAS.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to advise the City Council on how to facilitate a public yard sale.   Vice Mayor Davis

Craigslist? Posters? Flyers? C’mon, Henrietta, do you really need to seek the advice of City departments for an answer on how to do this? Besides, Cambridge residents seem to be rather expert on organizing community-wide yard sales without the need for nanny government to make it happen. In Mid-Cambridge, they do a great job on Fayette and Antrim Streets (and elsewhere). The same is true all over town. Perhaps the City would be well-advised to just get out of the way.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to set up a process to reach out to experts and the public in order to create a balanced panel to participate in the Sign Ordinance Task Force.   Vice Mayor Davis and Councillor Kelley

See remarks above. Balanced is in the eye of the beholder. Furthermore, even the most "balanced" of committees is guaranteed to be accused of bias if it recommends anything other than what the listener wants to hear.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Human Services Department about the feasibility of hosting a weekly contra dance at the West Cambridge Youth and Social Center and report back to the City Council on this matter.   Councillor Decker

Many of you may recall that the contra dancers were the biggest constituency who came out to protest the proposed arrangement between the Huron Ave. VFW Post and the City to reconstruct the facilty in order to house both a replacement for the VFW Post and the proposed West Cambridge Youth Center. The old VFW Post had been rented by the contra dancers who feared losing the dance hall. They frequently referred to the rare and marvelous "sprung floor" of the facility. Upon inspection, it turned out that there was no sprung floor at all – just greatly deteriorated support under the floor rendering it vulnerable to collapse. In Cambridge, we don’t like to allow facts to get in the way of an attractive argument. The City did eventually alter their plans to allow for a wider variety of uses in the new community center. It’s strange that the contra dancers are only now considering moving back to Cambridge.

Order #9. That this City Council go on record recommending that Cabot, Cabot and Forbes reconsider naming Plumb House as the general contractor on the project on Fawcett Street.   Councillor Decker, Councillor Toomey and Councillor Reeves

Once again, the Cambridge City Council thrusts its collective nose into places it does not belong. The three sponsors of this Order state, "Plumb House has a history of bringing in its own workers and not utilizing the skill of local workers." So what? The property is being developed by Cabot, Cabot and Forbes who chose a general contractor whose workers are not, to the best of my understanding, indentured servants. They choose to work for this contractor and they receive wages in return – simple. They are not being forced to work. The sponsors state that Plumb House does not meet "community standards regarding wages and benefits," but it sure would be nice to see a sampling of the actual wages and benefits these workers receive rather than referencing "community standards" as though this actually means anything. My guess is that they’re OK with their wages and benefits even if the Cambridge City Council thinks otherwise.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Housing Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 4, 2010 for the purpose of receiving an update from the Affordable Housing Trust.

This Report has lots of quotable quotes in it – mainly statements from the Cambridge Affordable Housing Catechism that states that all affordable housing developments are great and that anyone who raises any questions is evil. For example:

"Councillor Decker said that the City Council and the residents need to have more data about why Cambridge still needs affordable housing, and how many Cambridge residents are struggling to stay in Cambridge. Supporters of affordable housing also need the hard data and facts to counter the false assertion that the 80-10-10 split of CPA funds keeps Cambridge from acquiring and preserving open space. Councillor Decker expressed her grave concern with respect to political fear mongering regarding poor people and ‘those people’ who live in affordable housing."

There’s also this Committee Report on the "digital divide":

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, Chair of the Cable TV, Telecommunications and Public Utilities Committee for a public meeting held on Oct 14, 2010 to discuss the digital divide and the potential for using teleconferencing in the schools.

Much of this report tells the tale of the City’s efforts to bridge the digital divide by arranging for free computers and free Internet and WiFi access in public housing developments. The report seems to suggest that those who planned these installations envisioned a population who could not afford computers and who would be using these resources to look for jobs and to access essential information. CCTV director Susan Fleischmann stated that "massive amounts of data are being downloaded and this could be why the system is slow. CCTV has no resources to do the monitoring." Seems like music and video downloads are what is actually being provided. Also contained in the minutes of this meeting is this delightfully cryptic statement from Councillor Cheung, most certainly garbled in translation:

"Councillor Cheung stated that not all search engines are created equal. Google, he said, is located next to a power plant."

Perhaps that’s the "engine" in the "search engine." — Robert Winters


  1. Re order #8:

    It’s been hard to find out the details, but the rumor was that there was some resistance from the city to renting it to dance groups every week on a long-term basis, and the rental fee was more than the dances could pay. It’s been about a year since the center opened, and there have been periodic dances there, so it’s not strange that the dancers are now seeking help from the council.

    The big reason why the dancers wanted to save the hall, or build a new dance space in the youth/community center, was not the sprung floor. It was because there was *no other venue* for a weekly dance in Cambridge or the surrounding areas. The dance was forced to move to Concord, which meant there was no big dance in the city.

    (And if we want to be picky about facts: While the VFW’s floor supposedly could not be built under today’s codes, because of its widely-spaced joists which made it springy and great to dance on, it was not deteriorated or on the verge of collapse.)

    Comment by boblothrope — November 15, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  2. Re: Order #8

    Shortly after the Community Center hall opened, the NEFFA (the contra dance group) organized an “experimental dance”. If the hall had been wonderful, we would have pursued moving the dance. We were not surprised to find that the hall presented a mixed bag of issues. Here are the highlights, as reported to the dancers at the time:

    “Each hall has its share of advantages and disadvantages. Regarding Cambridge, the top things people liked were the location, the floor, clear sound, possibility of working air conditioning, the size, and the lobby. The top dislikes were the poor A/C (although we didn’t have anyone who knew how to work it), the non-square room shape, the expected difficulty parking on a Thursday, the stage jutting out into the hall, the aesthetics, the location, the hard floor, and the size (not big enough).

    “Information not available to all dancers played a large part in our decision to remain at the Concord Scout House.

    “First, the hall rent in Cambridge would be $500 a night (vs. $300 at the Scout House). This would mean large losses unless we raised admission fees. Our survey indicated distinct price sensitivity on the part of people who found the Cambridge dance more convenient; enough dancers would dance less often if the price were raised that it would offset the additional income.

    “Secondly, the City of Cambridge would reserve the right to pre-empt the dance on a two-week notice up to three times a year. For a dance organizer, this is a nightmarish situation, with the genuine possibility of loss of dancer goodwill and loss of income for performers who very well may be depending on the income from our dance.

    “A surprisingly large number of dancers liked having a dance at that location, on that day of the week (Sunday). We will consider these suggestions and consider running a dance, perhaps a monthly Sunday dance, at that location while we get experience running events there.”

    Since that was published, we have had more experience with the hall. From a renter’s perspective, it is a difficult hall to run a dance in for a few reasons: Each time we rent the hall, we need to devote a half day to obtaining an entertainment license (for $35). (If we were a regular renter, we would get an annual license, at higher cost.) The built-in sound system is much too complex for untrained casual renters and the system is not complete (we need microphones, stands, monitors, etc.) which would need to be brought in each time. At the VFW, we left our piano on stage and allowed other renters to use it; storage of the piano was an issue in our initial discussions with the City. The air conditioning system is controlled by a computer at the DPW miles away; this is very difficult to cope with.

    Comment by Dan Pearl — November 16, 2010 @ 11:50 am

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