Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 11, 2011

Back to School – Highlights of the Sept 12, 2011 City Council agenda

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:26 pm

Back to School – Highlights of the Sept 12, 2011 City Council agenda

The Cambridge City Council returns from summer vacation this week. Among the 32 items on the City Manager’s Agenda, 83 Resolutions, and 42 Orders on the agenda for this Monday’s meeting, a few items stand out:

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:

1A. 80% of FY2012 CPA Local Fund revenues ($5,400,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;
1B. 10% of FY2012 CPA Local Fund revenues ($675,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;
1C. 10% of FY2012 CPA Local Fund revenues ($675,000) allocated to Open Space;
2A. 80% of FY2011 State Match revenues ($1,480,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;
2B. 10% of FY2011 State Match revenues ($185,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;
2C. 10% of FY2011 State Match revenues ($185,000) allocated to Open Space;
3A. 80% of the Fund Balance ($800,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Affordable Housing Trust;
3B. 10% of the Fund Balance ($100,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;
3C. 10% of the Fund Balance ($100,000) allocated to Open Space; and
4A. Appropriate ($7,500) from the Fund Balance the cost for the Community Preservation Coalition Membership Dues.

http://www2.cambridgema.gov/cityClerk/cmLetter.cfm?item_id=20017

This item is noteworthy every year only because the allocation NEVER changes and will NEVER change. Most people who have in the past advocated for a change in the allocation percentages don’t even bother attending the hearings any more. The die was cast in 2001 and it will NEVER change even if all of the city councillors were not around back then. There may be good reasons for maintaining the 80-10-10% allocation, but there’s nothing democratic about it. By the way, if you read the detailed report you’ll see that a sizable portion of the historic preservation allocation also goes toward "affordable housing".

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the feasibility of giving residents the option to "go paperless" with their City bills including water, real estate, excise and any other notice or communication the City regularly sends residents.   Councillor Cheung

Another good initiative from Councillor Cheung. I’d be just as happy with an e-mail alert. Where do I sign up?

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant departments to explore the possibility of placing a city-owned shelter at the bus stop at the corner of Brookline Street and Erie Street, and other bus stops next to senior apartment buildings, which do not currently have shelter.   Councillor Simmons

This one’s notable only in that I believe this request from Councillor Simmons has gone in many, many times before. The street corner mentioned in the Order is across the street from Councillor Simmons’ insurance office. It’s nice to know that at least one of the councillors has a job outside of politics. Oh yeah, there’s that oft-stated myth of the "full time city councillor." Slackers.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City departments to identify expedient and cost-effective ways to inform Cambridge residents, especially Cambridge seniors, of the city’s shift to single stream recycling.   Councillor Simmons

There are a few things worth saying here. First, as a member of the City’s Recycling Advisory Committee and, in particular, its Outreach Subcommittee, I bear some responsibility for this. The greatest difficulty, however, is the same as with educating voters about the upcoming municipal election. How do you reach the majority of Cambridge residents when there’s an important story to tell? The reality is that it’s easier to inform residents in a distant suburb than it is a large city (Cambridge) on the edge of a bigger city (Boston). Out in the suburbs, there’s a good chance that many residents actually read the local news.

Where do Cantabrigians get their news? Once upon a time, it may have been from the Cambridge Chronicle, but today it’s much more likely that if a resident even bothers to read the news, it’s probably from the Boston Globe or the New York Times or from one of the major news networks. It is highly likely that most Cambridge residents don’t know who the current mayor is or what form of municipal government we have. The only reason that they might know the rules about recycling is because they have to take out the garbage once per week and the City was kind enough to deliver a big blue recycling toter last year.

Unless there’s some kind of Lazarus-like uplifting of the local news (either print or online), I guess we’ll all just have to tweet, tweet, tweet about what’s happening locally. Mailings won’t do it. Perhaps one day all of the local neighborhood groups will get their acts together and grow widely subscribed listservs or similar tools and that they’ll carry much of the burden of civic education. Unfortunately, they’re just as likely to turn into shallow forums for what Al Vellucci used to call the self-annointed, self appointed. In the meantime, just go visit your neighbor and show them the ropes about single stream recycling. It’s not rocket science. While you’re there, tell them there’s an election coming up.

Order #20. That the City Council vote to file a Zoning Petition amending Section 20.300 Central Square Overlay District of the Zoning Ordinance by deleting Section 20.304.5.3 b.   Councillor Reeves

O-20     Sept 12, 2011
COUNCILLOR REEVES
WHEREAS: Central Square is widely regarded as a thriving entertainment and cultural district; and
WHEREAS: Many successful restaurants and nightclubs contribute to its vibrancy; and
WHEREAS: Opportunities to further enhance the vibrancy of Central Square are limited by a provision in the zoning language for the Central Square Overlay which requires that the principal public entrance be on Massachusetts Avenue; and
WHEREAS: That restriction has the effect of rendering what is a square into a linear strip and preventing active ground floor uses along such principal locations as Prospect Street; and
WHEREAS: In all other areas of the City such uses are permitted in the other Business B Zoning Districts; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Council vote to file a Zoning Petition amending Section 20.300 Central Square Overlay District of the Zoning Ordinance by deleting Section 20.304.5.3 b. which reads as follows:

b. Bar or establishment where alcoholic beverages are consumed and where dancing and entertainment is provided, dance hall or similar places of entertainment; Section 4.35 g shall be permitted only if the principal public entrance or entrances are directly from Massachusetts Avenue or Main Street.

I’m sure this is very well-intentioned and may even solve a problem here or there. On the other hand, one should be mindful of unintended consequences, especially when it comes to those areas where commercial activity (and especially alcohol-fueled commercial activity) operates close to residential areas. Does everyone remember what a zoo it was on Brookline Street when the Man Ray club would let out at the end of the night. That was pure torture of the residents in that area. Now imagine opening clubs on Essex Street or Norfolk Street or Pearl Street or Temple Street. Is that really what we want to encourage?

It seems likely that the impetus of this Order was a particular business owner who wanted an exception. If the proposed location was, for example, Prospect Street, then it seems as though a variance would be in order. Would a blanket right to open potentially noisy and rowdy clubs on the side streets of Central Square make for good public policy? That’s debatable.

Order #23. That the School Committee is requested to direct the Superintendent to confer with the City Manager and relevant members of the City and School Department staffs to determine what changes need to be made to playgrounds and playing fields associated with Cambridge Public Schools in order to best support the Innovation Agenda.   Councillor Kelley

Order #30. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and the School Committee to see that the request for a new playground for the Amigos School be placed high on the list for playground renovations.   Councillor Cheung

Order #33. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and the School Committee to look into the budgetary impact of implementing the Intel 1:1 eLearning program and report back to the Council on this matter in advance of the next budgetary cycle.   Councillor Cheung

I’ve grouped these three Orders together because they all involve the City Council apparently intervening in what would appear to be the responsibilities of the elected School Committee. Should the School Committee start advising the City Council on zoning matters? The content of each of these three Orders seems like perfectly good suggestions. Perhaps Citizens Kelley and Cheung should present their ideas at the next School Committee meeting. I’m sure they’d get a fair hearing.

Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council at its Sept 19th meeting on the status of any cases for which the recently concluded Monteiro case might be relevant. To the extent that public discussion on some aspects of these cases may be detrimental to the City’s legal position, the City Council may go into Executive Session, but Executive Session would be as limited as possible.   Councillor Kelley

Does anyone actually believe that Councillor Kelley has kept the proceedings of these Executive Sessions confidential? Not content to undermine the City’s position via private conversation, this Order seems mainly like a request to do so publicly.

Order #26. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Cambridge Public Library to reconsider the protocol of having wireless internet access on only the first floor of the public library.   Councillor Decker

My Ipad seems to work just fine on the 2nd floor of the Main Library. In fact, it seems to work fine for everyone else who was surfing the Internet the last time I was there. In fact, the only annoyance on the 2nd floor was the Libary staff person who could not keep his voice down while on the phone. I felt like going over to him to say, "Sshhh. This is a library."

Order #29. That the City Manager is requested to increase enforcement against bikers that endanger pedestrians and report back to the City Council with a plan of action on these two orders.   Councillor Cheung

Knock yourself out going after the bikers who are fewer and far less dangerous that the motor vehicle drivers. Meanwhile, the City is going full steam ahead with its plan to move bicycles off the street on Western Avenue and onto the sidewalk. Go figure.

Order #36. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads to implement stricter laws and increase police presence on Broadway to decrease the number of abnormally noisy trucks and unmuffled motorcycles during the night hours.   Councillor Cheung

As a resident of Broadway, I can testify to this complaint. The worst is when the high school lets out and the nitwits cruise Broadway in loud cars and mufflerless motorbikes to show off their empty skulls. They’re worse than the trucks. A few well-positioned police officers could solve this problem quickly, but the police are nowhere to be seen. The heavy trucks are most likely a temporary problem associated with the construction at the high school and at the Fogg Museum. Councillor Cheung’s watch must be off because the problem is far greater during the daytime hours than at night.

Order #37. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the racial makeup of the City’s workforce by level and department.   Councillor Cheung

Are we going back to racial quotas? If so, is the goal to have the City’s workforce match the demographics of the most recent US Census? Is there an intent here that every individual department and every level should meet predetermined racial quotas?

Committee Report #1. 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 meeting held on July 13, 2011 to consider a petition for a zoning amendment filed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to create a new Section 13.80 entitled PUD-5 District and amend the Zoning Map accordingly. The petition would rezone a 26-acre parcel in the Kendall Square area.

This zoning petition remains in committee. The expiration date of this petition is October 11. There are still a lot of unresolved matters about the proposed zoning. There has been compelling testimony questioning whether MIT should be developing commercial frontage or non-student housing in Kendall Square at all. Much of the testimony seems to be asking MIT to dedicate most of its Kendall Square development to non-academic purposes. Neither of these extremes seems likely. Unless some kind of Solomonic wisdom prevails during the next month, there’s a good chance that this petition will end up getting re-filed. – Robert Winters

1 Comment

  1. It seems likely that the impetus of this Order was a particular business owner who wanted an exception. If the proposed location was, for example, Prospect Street, then it seems as though a variance would be in order. Would a blanket right to open potentially noisy and rowdy clubs on the side streets of Central Square make for good public policy? That’s debatable.

    What you’re saying, I believe, is that Valhalla wanted a variance to open in the old CCTV space on Prospect Street, and so Councilor Reeves is deleting the provision entirely.

    I actually think there was a sensible middle ground here. If Prospect Street (or, say, Western Ave) now seems an appropriate place for nightlife, then we should amend the original ordinance to add them in, along with Mass Ave and Main Street. I prefer that to granting variances, a system that places a premium on political influence and makes development time-consuming and uncertain. Amending the ordinance would make the same ground rules clear for all comers.

    Simply deleting the restrictions makes very little sense. If this passes, in a year or two, the council will be reviewing resolutions on excessive noise, lax enforcement, and an array of other complaints. Nightclubs belong on major thoroughfares, not residential streets. Prospect should probably have been included to begin with – the presence of a comedy club and a bar across the street from the new Valhalla site have already made it a function extension of the nightlife scene along Mass Ave. So let’s fix the original problem, not create new ones.

    Comment by Anon — September 12, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

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