Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 22, 2010

Nov 22, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:48 pm

Nov 22, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Here are the items that jumped out this week to this Council-watcher:

City Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-152, regarding a report on language in the Noise Ordinance as it relates to enforcement of loud car radios.

The Order that led to this response was about noise coming from cars with sounds systems so loud that the drivers often choose to wear earplugs as their vehicles pollute the sound environment of others. The report states that "the Cambridge Police Department, if made aware by citizens, will respond and evaluate the noise complaint and enforce any violations" which may lead to a fine of $300. This fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the problem. These are not stationary objects and the police are already well aware of the problem. The only way to address this problem is for Cambridge Police and the License Commission to continuously monitor selected streets and catch the bad guys as the problem occurs.

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-120, regarding a report on the feasibility and enforceability of implementing the provisions of House Bill 3371 which increases certain motor vehicle fines to improve driving.

According to this report, the fines for a variety of offenses are about to jump substantially. Specifically, the fine for violation of bicycle laws will jump from $20 to $75. The fine for a moving violation of traffic signs, signals, or devices will jump from $150 to $250. The fine for failing to yield to pedestrians in a cross walk wil go from $200 to $250. There is also a new $75 fine for pedestrians (does this include cyclists?) who provide a false name or refuse to provide a name and address to a police officer upon a violation of roadway regulations.

City Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Study Report for St. James’s Episcopal Church at 1991 Massachusetts Avenue.

This has been the center of some controversy in the Porter Square/North Cambridge area. The adjacent car wash and property around the church are slated for a new housing development (Oaktree) and the garden adjacent to the church is part of the leverage being used by neighbors to affect the size and configuraion of the development. The Landmark designation could be approved at this meeting, but there’s a possibility that it could be referred to the Ordinance Committee. The Cambridge Historical Commission voted 7-0 to approve the landmark study report and its findings with a recommendation that the City Council approve the landmark designation. As is always the case, the Historical Commission report is well-researched and filled with interesting facts about this site and the surrounding area.

City Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-118, regarding a report on issues related to scooters and any changes to ordinances or regulations on scooter use and parking.

Yet another report relating to roads and vehicles. This report details the distinctions between what is allowed for motorized bikes and mopeds (max. speed 25mph) vs. scooters and other limited use vehicles with speeds up to 40mph. For example, the slower motorized bikes can use bike lanes and legally pass on the right (like a bicycle might do), but they may not use off-street bicycle facilities. The faster scooters must adhere to the same laws as automobiles and other motor vehicles. Parking regulations for all scooters are the responsibility of each municipality. The report notes that Cambridge currently allows mopeds (max. speed 25mph) to park on sidewalks. No changes to the current regulations are recommended.

Charter Right #1. 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.

What makes this item noteworthy is the usual tension between the City Council (always mindful of how their actions may affect their reelection chances) and the City Manager (the "appointing authority" under state law). Exactly what constitutes a "balanced panel" is, of course, highly subjective and always in the crosshairs of those whose motivations are primarily political. I don’t envy the City Manager’s position on this one – damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Unfinished Business #7. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on Sept 14, 2010 to consider a petition filed by Richard McKinnon, et al. to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map in the North Point PUD-6 District.

To the best of my knowledge, this zoning petition is not controversial. It was passed to a 2nd Reading on Oct 18, has gone through the whole process and is ready to be ordained.

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Marc Levin, Director of Development, Chestnut Hill Realty Company, on behalf of Chauncy Court LLC, Wendell Terrace LLC and John Harvard LLC, requesting the City Council to enact new sections of the Zoning Ordinance to permit the creation of workforce housing.

This promises to be very controversial and it should be. The proponents (Chestnut Hill Realty) have a reputation for lavishing some city councillors with extraordinarily large campaign donations by having all members of their extended families write $500 checks to these councillors. With such "generosity," it is inevitable that some residents will look for evidence of a "quid pro quo" among the recipients of this political generosity. Even more than the apparent effort to buy support, this petition contains language that elevates dishonesty to new all-time highs. Specifically, they propose to modify the Zoning Ordinance to allow basements in large (30+ units) multifamily buildings to be converted to 1-bedroom apartments, and they characterize this as "Workforce Housing." This is reminiscent of the recent Kendall Square zoning petition that would allow the construction of a new high-rise building. It referred to the affected area as the "Smart Growth Underutilized Area."

It seems pretty apparent that Chestnut Hill Realty is simply trying to add value to their existing rental properties (within 1200 feet of Mass. Ave. according to the petition). That they would cast this self-enrichment as altruism leaves me (and I’m sure others) speechless.

Communications #5. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, regarding the printed phrase on his fence.

Just in case you think that Cambridge is getting too boring, Peter’s letter to the City Council states simply: "Be it known to this City Council of Cambridge, MA USA that Peter Valentine printed the phrase ‘cat’s cut loose so it ain’t no use’ on the center of his fence on the Franklin St. side on November 18, 2010 at 8:45 AM."

Resolution #9. Resolution on the death of Henry Lewis III.   Councillor Reeves, Councillor Simmons

This shockingly premature death (Henry was not yet 48 years old) still resounds among all who knew him. There will be a memorial "Bike Ride Honoring Henry Lewis" on Saturday, Dec 4 starting at 9:00am at a point yet to be determined. A gathering at the Elks Lodge at 55 Bishop Allen Drive will follow. You can call 617-665-3677 for more details which will be posted here as they become known.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation and report back to the University Relations Committee on all recent changes to parking meters that affect the City’s universities.   Councillor Cheung

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation regarding the feasibility of converting the Inman Square parking meters to two hours along Hampshire Street.   Councillor Cheung

No particular comment on the substance of these orders, but I will again remind everyone that according to state law, Cambridge is required to have an appointed Traffic Board with the power to overrule (upon the petition of 50 residents) regulations promulgated by of Traffic & Parking Czarina Susan Clippinger. There is currently no means of redress other than to beg for mercy from the Czarina.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Community Development Department and report back to the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee on the feasibility of instituting a moratorium on particular industries, such as banks, that are already well represented in the city’s squares.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor Cheung

This is a nice sentiment that is guaranteed to be Dead On Arrival. It’s quite true that the major squares have an overrepresentation of banks and cell phone stores, but such is the nature of free enterprise. If the City Council could somehow gain moratorium power over banks, does anyone seriously think it would stop there? Anyone remember the Starbucks Wars of a decade ago in Central Square where protesters supported by the 1369 Coffee House argued that there should be no more coffee places?

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to inform the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee on its options with regards to the means and the manner by which it may hold a meeting with the Boston City Council at the Museum of Science.   Councillor Cheung

This is a very interesting thought. In feudal New England where every city and town stands alone (with or without a moat), the concept of a joint meeting of the Cambridge City Council and the Boston City Council on a matter of mutual interest borders on revolutionary. Next thing you know the councilors of Boston will be asking the advice of the councillors of Cambridge on what to do with convicted felon/councilor Chuck Turner.

Order #7. That the City Manager and the Mayor of Cambridge meet directly with the presidents of MIT, Harvard, Leslie and Cambridge College and work out a guarantee proposal that these colleges will pay the tuition and fees of students graduating from Cambridge public high schools.   Councillor Reeves

This is also a nice sentiment. I could see a few more scholarships coming from this, but a guarantee that all tuition and fees would be paid for any Cambridge resident gaining entry to these schools? I know we think we’re special in Cambridge, but are we really that special?

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council the progress of search for experimental music venues and spaces in Central Square.   Councillor Reeves

The efforts of Councillor Reeves of late to get Central Square moving are appreciated, but the last gathering of his "Red Ribbon Commission" had far too much of the councillor’s pontification of his personal vision of what should and shouldn’t be. This included a tirade against Forest City (who was hosting the event) because they had not included Cambridge officials in the loop regarding possible plans for the stretch of Mass. Ave. between Blanche St. and Lansdsdowne St. as well as the proposed Novartis expansion across the street from their current facility in the old Necco building. At that same meeting, we also heard a proposal to pack hundreds of new housing units into the block bounded by Mass. Ave., Essex Street, Bishop Allen Drive, and Norfolk Street plus a plaza fronting onto Mass. Ave. on the site owned by the Naggar family. Most of the people at the meeting were polite but unimpressed.

This Red Ribbon Commission may yet produce some good outcomes including, perhaps, some new music venues as suggested in Reeves’ Order. There’s also the very real possibility that the whole process may be little more than Reeves’ own proposals hoisted up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes. Councillor Reeves did help in the revitalization of Central Square about 15 years ago (though most of the effort was done later by others). Now, just as then, what is needed is cooperation of the property owners, business owners, and the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. It might also be argued that economic forces may solve most of the problems around Central Square without any need of government intervention. — Robert Winters


  1. Sitting in the Council chambers right now and it seems that the future proposed use of the old North Cambridge High School building (Manager’s Agenda #4) is the item that brought out the most people and is now producing most of the statements by the councillors. It’s a good discussion, especially in that the councillors seem to finally be understanding that not all development, especially dense development, is a good thing.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 22, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

  2. Regarding City Manager’s Agenda #5 about loud car radios, what police should do is to periodically set up sound monitoring equipment and an unmarked police car at a location on a main thoroughfare and catch the idiots as they pass. If you do this enough, even idiots will learn.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 22, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

  3. The City Manager now says there’s an error in Agenda Item #6 and that the proposed changes in state law have not yet been passed by the state legislature. If they do pass it, the City Manager could put the regulations into place (and he most likely would), but the City Council referred the matter to the Traffic & Parking Committee for further discussion.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 22, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

  4. Immediately after reading Robert’s comments on Chestnut Hill Realty and their contributions to Cambridge City Council candidates during the 2009 municipal election campaign, I received the following NY Times email alert:

    A Texas jury Wednesday found Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader and Texas political powerhouse, guilty in a money-laundering trial involving contributions to political campaigns. The verdict was the latest chapter in a long legalbattle that forced Mr. DeLay to step down. The trial also opened a window on the world of campaign financing in Washington, as jurors heard testimony about large
    contributions flowing to Mr. DeLay from corporations seeking to influence him and junkets to posh resorts where the congressman would rub shoulders with lobbyists in return for donations.

    Are Councillors Decker and Reeves in so deep with Chestnut Hill Realty that they cannot get out of the bed that they have made with them? Let’s keep a close eye on their actions and explanations for their actions. My bet is that Chestnut Hill Realty gets what they want!!!

    Comment by Jim Cusack — November 24, 2010 @ 11:09 pm

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