Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 17, 2011

Highlights of the Oct 17, 2011 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:32 am

Highlights of the Oct 17, 2011 Cambridge City Council agenda

First of all, take note that due to an elevator malfunction at City Hall, the City Council will meet this week at the Fitzgerald Auditorium at CRLS, 459 Broadway. There are a few items this week that should bring out the public. City Manager’s Agenda #7 and City Manager’s Agenda #8 are appropriations of $500,000 and $1,190,000 received by Comcast as part of their 2011 Renewal License. I suppose cash is good even when it comes from the continued domination by the Evil Empire.

Resolution #1. Urge residents to participate in Food Day which will take place on Oct 24, 2011.   Vice Mayor Davis

It’s hard to say what exactly Food Day is and this resolution provides scant advice on how residents should participate other than to eat. Seems like I celebrate Food Day every day.

Resolution #23. Happy 80th Birthday wishes to a special Cantabrigian.   Councillor Decker

I’m guessing that this must be Robert Wolf, husband of Alice Wolf, but there are 30 other registered Cambridge voters who turn 80 this month. Happy birthday to all of you.

Order #3. That the Mayor is hereby requested to work with the City Council to schedule a date for a Roundtable meeting to review the census.   Councillor Reeves

In Cambridge, like anywhere else, there is Inside Baseball – the stuff that serious politicos talk about but which rarely makes it to the local press or into the conversations of most residents. When the census occurred a decade ago and was followed by legislative redistricting, Cambridge ended up being carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. My recollection is that in order to prevent two popular incumbents in Newton from having to face off against each other, several of the principally Cambridge State Rep. districts were sacrificed and made part of districts that were mainly in neighboring towns. We ended up with 6 districts – most of which were nearly impossible for a Cambridge candidate to win. Only the districts of Representatives Toomey and Wolf were held harmless.

Most consequential was the way that the district formerly held by Saundra Graham, Alvin Thompson, and then Jarrett Barrios was scattered. The Inside Baseball story has it that when it became known that Barrios was going to vacate the seat in order to run for State Senate, it was considered OK to not protect that district and that Barrios did nothing to prevent this. At some level, who cares? We end up with 6 state reps. who we can talk to about relevant Cambridge issues instead of, perhaps, 3 all-Cambridge districts. The bitter issue was that aspiring Cambridge political people who might have sought those state seats found their options limited. There are many insiders who are still angry 10 years later at Jarrett Barrios who they blame for the current configuration.

So now it’s census time again. Word has it that the proposed new districts will be revealed this Tuesday, Oct 18. Will the map be redrawn in a manner that benefits some councillors and others who might consider a career move? Stay tuned….

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a committee to explore the feasibility of establishing a Cambridge Museum that will serve as repository of Cambridge history.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Cheung and Mayor Maher

There is no doubt that the need exists and will always exist to have secure locations for the wealth of historical documents and artifacts of our very old and historic city. In addition to the Cambridge Historical Commission and the Cambridge Historical Society, we now also have a Cambridge Room at the new library and a staff archivist. This Order proposes to explore the possibility of creating a new Cambridge Museum in which the public may commune with the city’s history. This is unquestionably a good idea in the long term, but can we sustain all of these historical venues? Where would you locate such a new venue and who would be the target audience? In any case, the idea deserves a complete and critical evaluation – even if the end result is better support and enhancement of the existing venues.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare language for an ordinance to ban the use of brakeless bikes in Cambridge.   Vice Mayor Davis

See In particular:

"Every person operating a bicycle upon a way…shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the special regulations contained in this section, except that: …(3) bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks outside business districts when necessary in the interest of safety, unless otherwise directed by local ordinance." and "Every bicycle operated upon a way shall be equipped with a braking system."

Councillor Davis’ Order is already part of state law and is therefore moot. Whether or not it’s enforced and by whom it is enforced are open questions. Thanks to John Allen for the references.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and the Community Development Department to investigate how to make the Follen Street/Little Concord Avenue intersection safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.   Councillor Cheung

Here we go again. The City has made some good decisions regarding bicycle infrastructure and some horrible decisions. The Little Concord Avenue design is poor (see John Allen’s May 16, 2011 critique and his May 20 followup remarks), but not nearly as dreadful as the "cycle track" installed on Vassar Street. The City is now going full speed ahead to implement this same absurd design on Western Avenue (see John Allen’s Oct 27, 2010 remarks and Paul Schimek’s Aug 10, 2010 letter). Pedestrians and cyclists beware.

Order #23. City Council opposition to cuts to Medicare and Medicaid benefits and support of the American Jobs Act.   Councillor Decker

My guess is that two items will bring people out for Public Comment at this meeting. This one will likely bring a few visitors to talk about national politics. The following item (the Bishop Zoning Petition) will likely bring the lion’s share of comment even though it remains in committee and is not before the City Council for action at this meeting.

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 Sept 7, 2011 to consider a petition filed by Julia Bishop et al., to amend Section 17.20 of the Zoning Ordinance – Regulations for Special District 2, located in North Cambridge along Linear Park. Proposed amendments include: deletion of allowed non-residential uses; reduction in allowed Floor Area Ratio; increase in required lot area per dwelling unit; reduction in allowed height; new regulations for fences abutting Linear Park.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this petition is that the affected area was already rezoned within the past decade (actually Feb 14, 2000) from an industrial zone (due to it being adjacent to a former railroad line) to create Special District SD-2 primarily for the purpose of encouraging the transition toward residential use. Now that this residential use is part of an active proposal, this petition seeks to significantly reduce its density and the owner claims this will destroy its financial viability. Those advocating for this petition are trying very hard to convince the City Council to act on this petition before the November 8 municipal election. The agenda includes 18 Communications in support of the Bishop Petition.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee for a public meeting held on Oct 6, 2011 to discuss the Austin, Texas "Parking Benefit District Pilot Program" and any other city parking issues.

Contained within this report is a proposal that should infuriate Cambridge residents who own cars and who do not have private driveways or garages. A letter from Chris Summerfield (153 Lexington Ave., but he’s not listed in either the voter database or the 2011 street listing) requests a change to the Traffic, Parking and Transportation regulations that would strictly prohibit parking within 15 feet of the center line of any public or private driveway. This is currently only enforced where necessary and where the vicinity of the driveway is appropriately signed. Councillor Kelley commented that no one is supposed to park ten feet from either side of any driveway – something that may be the practice in Wellesley but one which would eliminate hundreds of parking spaces if enforced in Cambridge.

Though Traffic Director Susan Clippinger stated that you can park 3 feet from the edge of a driveway, everyone knows that this is only enforced where it makes sense to do so. Miraculously, we all seem to get along as long as people can navigate their way in and out of their driveways. Nonetheless Councillor Kelley proposes an Order that would wipe out hundreds of on-street parking opportunities by being overly and unnecessarily restrictive. It’s worth noting that the only people present at this hearing were Councillor Kelley, Sue Clippinger, Deputy City Clerk Donna Lopez, and Chris Summerfield. There were no other elected officials present. – Robert Winters, resident and on-street parker


  1. Tonight’s meeting is taking place at CRLS due to an elevator malfunction at City Hall. So far, all councillors are present except councillors Simmons and Toomey. The security guy at the door instructed two arriving city councillors that they could not bring food into the auditorium. This should be a short meeting without any free food. [Councillors Simmons and Toomey have arrived – all hands on deck.]

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 17, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

  2. Councillor Kelley has moved to suspend the rules to take up Committee Report #1 (the Bishop Petition). The report indicates that the matter is still in committee so, as a procedural matter, it is not before the Council. Councillor Kelley has introduced a motion to discharge it from committee so that the Council could act on it, possibly tonight. The expiration date is Dec 6. The City Clerk states that the matter would still have to be passed to a 2nd reading and advertised before it could come to a vote. It is obvious that Kelley wants this to come up before the municipal election.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 17, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

  3. Credit goes to Councillors Reeves and Decker for calling this tactic for what it is – pure election politics. The rush to pass the Bishop Petition quickly is entirely political and not in the best interest of the neighborhood. Further deliberation is important and valuable in this case.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 17, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

  4. On the vote to discharge the petition from the Ordinance Committee and pass to a 2nd reading, Councillor Davis moves to amend to not move to a 2nd Reading. Kelley objects because he clearly wants to have this be part of his reelection strategy. LC, HD, MD, KR, SS, DS, TT, DM agree with Davis (8-1). Most of the councillors want to give the Planning Board a chance to deliberate and report on this petition. Councillor Decker, in particular, is calling this a cynical move on the part of one councillor.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 17, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

  5. On Kelley’s motion to discharge, passes unanimously. The matter is moved to Unfinished Business, but is NOT moved to a 2nd Reading. We now move to report on early childhood education presented by Marjorie Decker, Marc McGovern, and Betty Bardige. Beyond the merits of the report, it’s worth noting that this is an issue on which Councillor Seidel has focused in his political campaigns and he is playing no role in this. The timing of the release of this report immediately before the election does not seem accidental. In the same vein, next week we’ll receive a report on Central Square that will place Councillor Reeves on center stage – again, not accidental.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 17, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  6. Thanks to Councillor Toomey for focusing on the consequences of Kelley’s proposed changes to traffic regulations that would wipe out hundreds of spaces for no apparent reason. Councillor Davis amended to ask for a report rather than change the regulations. Thanks to her as well for her awareness. I will never understand the roots of Kelley’s animosity toward anyone and everyone who owns an automobile. He also is advocating that residents of some new buildings should not be issued resident parking stickers.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 17, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  7. Regarding Bishop petition: By allowing for the possibility of a vote before the election, having a second reading would have put pressure on the developer to come up with a better plan for negotiation rather than risk losing a lot more if the election circus brought the petition to a vote then it was subsequently passed due to intransigence on the part of the developer. We have a cynical view of the *developer*; it was amusing that Decker turned things back to being all about her, again. As Reeves alluded, Kelley’s motion was brought forth at the request of quite a number of the neighbors, such as the ones who showed up at the meeting.

    The motion did have the effect of having councilors voice support of the petition in a public forum, which might still have the effect of putting pressure on the developer. Note that the Bishop Petition still allows much more than neighbors really would be comfortable, but it was brought forth to put some cap on development that had a chance of passing without a protracted process. It may not be the very best for the neighborhood, but it is better than the proposed development, and it would shorten the time spent away from our families dealing with this issue.

    Regarding non-issue of resident parking permits for new developments: This comes from the games the city plays in the effort to reduce cars. They require developers to have fewer parking spaces on the property than would be desired to discourage project residents from owning more than one car. However, in the case of large projects adjacent to residential areas, many tenants will not want to give up the second car, and will park the second car on the surrounding city streets instead, to the dismay of the current residents on those streets who do not have the opportunity to create their own off-street parking. If the city wants to play games to get cars off the city streets by restricting on-site parking, then make sure the potential cars are off the streets, such as by not allowing the new project’s cars to park on the neighboring streets (i.e. do not issue resident stickers).

    Kelley does not have animosity toward all car owners as you suggest, but since he is car-less and gets around by bike, he probably hears from a higher percentage of constituents who have such views, and is the only one to represent them. Furthermore, it is frustrating for those who park off-street to be unable to easily get in and out of driveways because of cars that park too close. If the off-street parkers all stopped using their off-street spaces because of the inconvenience of being stuck, that would be even worse for those who have no choice but to park on-street.

    Comment by Mike — October 18, 2011 @ 11:14 am

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