Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 6, 2011

June 6, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:30 am

June 6, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

The City Council returns Monday to a relatively light agenda. I suspect there will also be some discussion of the major water main break that occurred Saturday night. While most people tend to focus on the inconvenience and losses due to flooded basements, the most serious aspect to the incident was the period of a few hours during which fire protection was seriously compromised due to the lack of any water pressure at fire hydrants in a large portion of the city. Thankfully, there was little or no damage to the Main Library and the Water Department workers did themselves proud by completing all the essential work within one day. A section of Broadway may remain closed for part of the work week as the Trowbridge/Broadway intersection is restored.

Here are a few items of interest on the Agenda:

City Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-33, regarding the feasibility of using City-installed and managed cameras in the Clifton Street area.

Though I suppose the ACLU whiners may show up to protest this perceived intrusion, hopefully sense will prevail this time and the City Council will give its blessing. On the heels of the City Council’s pinheaded disapproval a few years ago of cameras provided by the federal government (at no cost), one can understand why the City Manager states that "it is not my intention to purchase these cameras absent a City Council endorsement."

There is one annual item from the City Manager about balancing the books prior to the June 30 end of the fiscal year. More interesting, however, is a string of rescissions for money authorized by various loan orders which are no longer necessary. This is the content of City Manager’s Agenda items #20 through #26.

City Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order authorizing the City Manager to transfer appropriations of available balances prior to the close of the books for FY10-11.

City Manager’s Agenda #20-26. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to various loan orders requesting the rescission of the remaining amounts of the loan orders:

#20. $5,000 of $1,355,000 authorized by the City Council on May 12, 1997 for the first phase of the Fiber Optic Infrastructure Project. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $5,000 on the loan order is no longer required.

#21. $315,000 of $315,000 authorized by the City Council on May 11, 1998 for the second phase of the Fiber Optic Infrastructure Project. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $315,000 on the loan order is no longer required.

#22. $495 of $31,500,000 authorized by the City Council on Feb 23, 2004 for the construction of the new Main Library. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $495 on the loan order is no longer required.

#23. $1,555 of $157,405 authorized by the City Council on May 20, 2002 for the Public Works Department Sewer Division Infiltration/Inflow Project. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $1,555 on the loan order is no longer required.

#24. $205,000 of $305,000 authorized by the City Council on Feb 22, 1999 for the Public Works Department Sewer Division. This project has been successfully completed and the balance of $205,000 on the loan order is no longer required.

#25. $277,358 of $5,700,000 authorized by the City Council on June 4, 2007 for renovations to the War Memorial. The War Memorial renovation project has been successfully completed and the balance of $277,358 represents less than 1% of the total project cost including the State grant and other loan authorizations.

#26. $700,000 of $1,000,000 authorized by the City Council on May 18, 2009 for the remediation of soil contamination at Yerxa Road. The original estimate for the remediation of soil contamination and other environmental issues at Yerxa Road was $1,000,000. However, the bids received were considerably lower, thus creating a surplus of $700,000 in the loan authorization.

We tend to expect only requests for additional appropriations, so it’s noteworthy when the opposite is the case. Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that the Yerxa Road project cost only 30% of what was authorized. There’s also something charming about the $495 left over from the $31,500,000 loan authorization for the Main Library. The overall cost for the new Library and related projects was actually considerably more than $31.5 million.

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing on Apr 6, 2011 and a follow-up public meeting on May 17, 2011 to consider a petition to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance filed by Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research, joined by M.I.T. as land owner, to allow for the creation of a new Special District 15 along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue between Albany Street and Windsor Street opposite the location of the Novartis main campus at the former Necco Building. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 6, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires July 5, 2011.

This zoning petition could come to a final vote at this meeting. On the other hand, the MIT/Forest City petition affecting a nearby area expires July 13 and there may be some logic in deliberating and voting on these two petitions in some unified way rather than piecemeal.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor to provide the City Council with background information on the current ownership of the land that was transferred to Neighbors for a Better Community for the benefit of the Area Four community and whether it has been or is being sold and how the benefits will accrue to the community.   Councillor Simmons

This Order really should be amended to more appropriately reflect the possibly criminal aspects of what happened with the self-serving "Neighbors for a Better Community." The Council Order only says "ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor to provide the City Council with background information on the current ownership of the land, whether it has been or is being sold and how the benefits will accrue to the community."

There really should be additional language in this Order directing the City’s Law Department to investigate and potentially prosecute those who have misappropriated funds, though technically this arrangement was made only between the developer and this ad-hoc group during the negotiations prior to a zoning vote. In a related matter, a full accounting of the $195,000 payoff made a decade ago to 13 individuals who protested a project across the street from the Alewife T Station should be made public. That money was initially offered by Oaktree to the Affordable Housing Trust ($60,000) and the Mystic River Watershed Association ($135,000), but it was placed under the control of these 13 individuals instead after some legal conflicts. Where did the money go?

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to contact relevant City officials and the officials of Belmont, Arlington and appropriate State agencies and non-profit agencies such as the Trustees of Reservations to determine if the Silver Maple Forest could be purchased for preservation.   Councillor Kelley

If there’s any of that $135,000 left (see above) it might make a good down payment on the purchase. Perhaps Councillor Kelley can provide one or two thirteenths of the answer. – Robert Winters

June 7 Update: Order #1 was greatly amended before passing on an 8-0 vote.

Amended Order #1     June 6, 2011
COUNCILLOR SIMMONS
WHEREAS: Questions continue to be raised by members of the Area Four community regarding what benefits the community has received from monies and land at 131 Harvard Street, the corner of Clark and Harvard Streets, transferred to Neighbors for a Better Community (NBC) for the benefit of the Area Four community; and
WHEREAS: It has come to the attention of the City Council that this land has been sold by NBC for $100,000 after its rejection of an offer of $450,000, which would have resulted in the building of eight affordable homeownership units at 131 Harvard Street and the distribution of the proceeds to community groups for youth and family services; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide the City Council with background information and a chronology on the ownership of the land, including the establishment and purposes of the Neighbors for a Better Community 501(C)3, the $450,000 offer from CASCAP and the recent sale for $100,000; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to contact the Attorney General’s Office with a view toward freezing all monies from the sale of the property at 131 Harvard Street and insuring that all proceeds from the sale of the property will ultimately go to the benefit of the community; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to contact the Attorney General’s Office with the request that the Attorney General’s Office investigate whether NBC has violated the obligations conferred by its 501(C)3 status and the purposes set forth in its charter to use its resources for the benefit of the community and further how NBC can be required to fulfill these obligations; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council on this matter; and be it further
ORDERED: That the Mayor send a letter to Attorney General Martha Coakley on behalf of the City Council conveying its deep concern for the ability of a nonprofit agency to abuse the community trust and urging the Attorney General to take all possible steps to require the return to the community the benefits to which it is entitled.

1 Comment

  1. I am not a giant fan of eminent domain.

    However, with regards to the way the property to benefit the Area Four community was lost, there seems to be wide agreement that the $100,000 sale of the “Neighbors for a Better Community” property was not an arm’s length legitimate transaction.

    As a recent transaction, the sellers have established that $100,000 is the current market price. $100,000 is mighty affordable, so why not buy it under eminent domain?

    Comment by jchase — June 13, 2011 @ 10:08 am

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