Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

December 6, 2010

Dec 6, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:28 pm

Dec 6, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Of interest on this week’s relatively light agenda are these items:

City Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-169, regarding a report on Cambridge residents being labeled "inactive" during the most recent election and listed with wrong or misspelled addresses.

Election Commission Executive Director Tanya Ford reports that there were 14,931 "inactive" registered voters (as of Nov 2). There are now 63,153 registered voters with 48,270 listed as "active" and 14,883 listed as "inactive" (as of Dec 2). There are always some errors in the names and addresses – primarily due to transcription errors from voter registration forms, poor handwriting, etc. On a related topic, if there are any prospective candidates for the 2011 municipal election who need registered voter and voter history data, we’re all up-to-date here at CCJ Central and, as always, all data is provided at no cost to actual candidates.

City Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-56, regarding a report on prohibiting hotels from subcontracting housekeeping services.

This is a slippery slope if ever there was one. The City Solicitor correctly points out that because hotels are licensed, the City may impose certain conditions on such licenses and that this proposed prohibition may be legal (though this would likely be challenged). However, where do you draw the line? Should the City mandate that only righteously healthy food may be served at the continental breakfast for hotel guests?

On the Table #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-32, regarding a report on issues with the development of the former St. John’s property site. [Charter Right exercised on City Manager Agenda Item Number Eighteen of May 24, 2010. Placed on Table June 7, 2010.]

City Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-179, regarding a report on a review of Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance to determine whether any changes should be made to the current square footage calculation for the purpose of decreasing the density of converted buildings in already dense neighborhoods.

This item brought out many people at the previous City Council meeting. There do seem to be some unintended consequences in the current zoning law regarding the repurposing of buildings such as this one where the height and density of the building is well in excess of current zoning limits. The intent of past zoning amendments was to encourage that such buildings become housing, but this has sometimes been exploited in a manner that is very detrimental to existing neighborhoods. The Hobson’s Choice often given to neighbors is between an empty, derelict building or one that has overwhelming density.

Unfinished Business #5. 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. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Nov 1, 2010. Planning Board hearing held Sept 21, 2010. Petition expires Dec 13, 2010.

It is expected that this will pass either at this meeting or the next meeting. The issue seems not to be whether the zoning amendment is appropriate but what "mitigation" can be extracted from the developer. On this point, I’ll simply repeat my comments on a related Order at the Oct 25 meeting that seeks to regularize how mitigation is to be extracted:

"It’s interesting that we have now reached the point where the appropriateness of a development proposal is now regularly eclipsed by consideration of what kind of mitigation can be squeezed out of the developer or owner of the property. It makes you wonder if "Long Term Planning" plays any role at all any more or if it’s all about using zoning restrictions to determine the price of doing business. This somehow does not seem consistent with the original intent of the legislation (M.G.L. Chapter 40A) that enabled local zoning ordinances."

Unfinished Business #6. 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".) The question comes on adoption on or after Nov 29, 2010. [
9A Loan order passed to a second reading 9-0-0;
9B order adopted 8-1-0 Councillor Kelley recorded in the negative]

This will finalize the loan authorization and disposition of the property for the re-use of the old Police Station on Western Avenue for the Cambridge Housing Authority and for the City’s Community Learning Center.

Order #1. That the Government Operations Committee be and hereby is requested to hold a hearing on department-head level staff changes that are foreseeable in the next five years.   Councillor Kelley

The key statement in Councillor Kelley’s Order is the first: "A number of department heads, to include the City Clerk and both the City Manager and the Deputy City Manager, are approaching an age where retirement might be an attractive option…" The expressed concern by this relatively youthful councillor is that there might be some kind of "perfect storm" where much of the City Administration is swept away in a wave of simultaneous retirements. It is unclear what the purpose of such a Government Operations Committee meeting would be, except for the hint that Councillor Kelley would like various City leaders to divulge their future intentions now rather than later. Doing so, as should be obvious, could actually create more of a storm that it claims to want to prevent.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with relevant department staff and report back on the legal limits of the City Council’s involvement in non-budget School Department issues.   Councillor Kelley

This is a good point. Over the last several years there has been a greater focus among some city councillors on school-related matters. One has to wonder whether these councillors ran for the right office or if they just want to grow their authority using the City Budget as a convenient excuse. It’s true that the structure of the schools impacts things like after-school programs run by the Department of Human Services Programs, but when it comes to educational specifics, a city councillor should be no different than you or me when it comes to leaning on School Committee members or School Department officials to take specific actions.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Police Commissioner to create a program of bicycle education and to step up enforcement in order to protect pedestrians.   Vice Mayor Davis, Mayor Maher and Councillor Toomey

Needless to say, such an educational program would also protect cyclists. It’s also a whole lot better than the misguided plans to move cyclists onto the sidewalk on Western Avenue, Concord Avenue, and elsewhere. – Robert Winters

1 Comment

  1. Re: the Government Operations Committee–

    This strikes me as a sensible idea colliding with the reality of city politics. Any manager– and that’s what the City Council is; the city’s senior management– will tell you that staff turnover is one of the least welcome problems in the universe. If I had half my department heads nearing retirement age, I’d be panicked over succession planning to ensure continuity of the business. So I’m glad someone is addressing this in theory.

    In practice, however, if you get city department heads to start admitting when they’re outta here, I can see how that sets off all sorts of petty squabbles on who might succeed them. It’s stirring up a hornet’s nest.

    I don’t know what the right answer is. But Councillor Kelley does seem to be appreciating the problem.

    Comment by Matt — December 9, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

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