Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 12, 2012

The Nine Mayor Problem – Feb 13, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:29 pm

The Nine Mayor Problem – Feb 13, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

The City Council took its 7th Mayoral Ballot last week even though one of the councillors (Kelley) was absent. It’s really getting ridiculous at this point, and maybe the councillors will soon realize that the choice has nothing to do with substance or leadership and everything to do with personal ego and aspiration. If common sense miraculously prevails, perhaps they’ll settle on a compromise [Hey, weren’t all of you satisfied with how David Maher handled the job last term?] and move on to the appointment of City Council committees, the business of representing the citizens, and just doing their job. Now there’s a concept! In the meantime, let’s refer to all nine of them as "Mayor" just to neutralize the false sense of importance.

It’s pretty much certain that there will be one or more mayoral ballots taken at this meeting. Hopefully they’ll settle this early in the meeting and we’ll have Council committees in place by the time of the following meeting (Feb 27). If not, their pay should be docked. Any mayoral votes taken at this meeting will be posted at

There are a few agenda items for this meeting, starting with the Big Ticket Items:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the rescission of $14,881,482 which is the balance of the loan order approved by the City Council on Nov 17, 2008 for renovations to the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS).

City Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation of an additional $6,515,000 to cover unanticipated costs related to renovations to the old police station at Five Western Avenue in Central Square. This appropriation will be financed through a loan order for $5,770,000 and a transfer of $745,000 in bond proceeds from the Radio Replacement project.

Unfinished Business #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the authorization to borrow an amount not to exceed $36,800,000 for the purpose of refinancing existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid. The question comes on adoption on or after Feb 13, 2012.

The first of these is good news – the CRLS renovations cost less than anticipated, but it was still a lot of money. The second is the reverse – the renovations of the old Police Station will cost another $6.5 million on top of the $14.5 million loan already authorized. The third is the refinancing Order passed two weeks earlier which is now up for final adoption.

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts.

There has been a lot of public reaction to the proposed substantial MBTA fare increases and service reductions. The theme running through much of this is that the debt loaded onto the MBTA by the state legislature is the main cause of its structural deficit: "The financial problem is compounded by the MBTA’s approximately $5 billion in debt, the majority of which is from the Central Artery/Tunnel project (CA/T). Transit expansion projects were included in the CA/T project to mitigate the traffic growth and environmental impacts caused by the greater capacity of the tunnel, as compared with the former elevated expressway. One third of current MBTA operating expenses pay for this debt service, meaning investments that would keep the system in a state of good repair and running reliably are repeatedly postponed." Without that debt, the current fares would cover most of the operations. The MBTA will hold a public meeting in Cambridge on February 29, 2012 from 6-8pm at the Cambridge Senior Center.

On the Table #1. The Wyman Street curb cut.

Regardless of the merits, this whole matter has become very tiresome. There must be some form of Solomonic wisdom that will satisfy the concerns of all parties. It’s a curb cut – not an international peace treaty.

Unfinished Business #2. Election of the Mayor and Vice Mayor

See comments above. Please end this absurdity.

Resolution #12. Retirement of D. Margaret Drury from the City Clerk’s Office.   Mayor Reeves

It would be nice to read the text of this Resolution online. Ironically, it is the policy of the City Clerk that only the Policy Orders are viewable online – not the ceremonial Resolutions. I’m sure there are many nice things expressed in the Resolution, but we can only guess.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct City staff to replace the words "approve" and "disapprove" with the words "support" and "do not support" or, as appropriate, by some other terms that will help clarify where relevant authority rests when considering curb cuts.   Mayor Kelley

This is the biggest load of semantic crap I’ve seen in the City Council in ages. Perhaps Mayor Kelley also feels that when a pollster calls asking if he approves of the President’s handling of the economy, this will automatically establish or extend federal economic policy.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the ownership status of the Cambridge Street overpass plaza and any relevant conditions of that ownership, to include responsibilities for maintenance, the ability to close off areas of the plaza to the general public and the power to grant location rights to food trucks.   Mayor Kelley

One of the joys of sticking around for a few years is that you can better appreciate the recurrence of events. I still have fond memories of Councillor Al Vellucci filing a virtually identical Order more than two decades ago. None of the sitting councillors have the flair of good old Al Vellucci. In applying pressure on Harvard University for some issue of the day, Al took to the Council floor telling of his vision of families from East Cambridge setting up victory gardens on the overpass where they could grow basil and other garden delights. I don’t recall if this led to any definitive statements about who was responsible for what, but my recollection is that the land is City-owned and that Harvard is responsible for maintaining it. Whether this extends to permitting food trucks to operate there (a very good thing, in my opinion) may be in that grey area that I’m glad still exists.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to ascertain the date or approximate date on which the shelter at Brookline and Erie Streets will be installed and report back to the City Council.   Mayor Simmons

Speaking of the recurrence of events spread over the years, this proposed bus shelter across the street from Mayor Simmons’ insurance company office has been the subject of so many Council Orders that I’ve lost count.

Order #8. That the City Council urges the Community Development Department to work with the Floating Rock and their landlord Just Mass LLC toward finding an equitable compromise that would be fair to both parties, and that would allow the Floating Rock to remain in operation in Central Square.   Mayor Simmons

This is an interesting new role for CDD – negotiating leases for commercial tenants. Better get in line, folks. As the gentrification of Central Square continues, there may be the need for many more such Council Orders and CDD intervention as familiar haunts are squeezed out in favor of more upscale venues.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the Council on the continuation of the Longfellow Community School Program and its companion program, the Longfellow Neighborhood Council.   Mayor vanBeuzekom

We were down this road before when the Longfellow Elementary School was relocated/merged with the Kennedy School in East Cambridge about ten years ago. The Community School Program was originally designed to more fully utilize public school buildings to provide additional community benefit, so in that sense it was somewhat logical to end the Longfellow Community School when the school was closed. However, over time each community school and its associated community council does assume a life of its own – independent of the physical building – and an argument could be made for its preservation even if the building closed. The Longfellow program was temporarily relocated and was preserved.

In the case of the Longfellow School, the building never went away. It was simply re-purposed for other school uses as well as for the temporary location of the Main Library during its renovation/expansion. It’s quite justifiable for the associated community school and the Longfellow Neighborhood Council to be preserved. It is, however, a fact that the identity of these community schools is often tied to the person who is in charge of the program – in this case, Penny Kleespies who recently retired. This is a natural time for the City and the City Manager to evaluate the future of the program.

I personally believe there is value in maintaining this community school and its neighborhood council with the understanding that it must identify what its future mission is to be. Mid-Cambridge is the most populous neighborhood in the city and this program has the potential to be a great benefit. The Longfellow building is currently moth-balled, and the Community School is not able to remain in the building (I’m not sure exactly where it is now operating). Next year (presumably) the King School will be temporarily moved into the Longfellow building while its current building is demolished and reconstructed. I assume that the King School’s community school program may come with it for the duration. This will then be repeated with two other schools later in the decade.

This does not bode well for the existing Longfellow Community School Program if the other programs move with their respective schools. If a community school program is to serve the local neighborhood, it seems to me that simply cycling several other community school programs through the Longfellow building does nothing for Mid-Cambridge. On the other hand, our brilliant School Committee saw fit to eliminate all elementary schools from the city’s most populous neighborhood when it closed the Longfellow School a decade ago.

I will not rally around the preservation of any program simply because it exists or because there is some sentiment to preserve somebody’s job. That’s the kind of patronage attitude that has corrupted the state and this city for years. I do, however, believe that if the whole purpose of community school programs is to "foster community" and provide a space and programming for local neighborhoods, then the city’s most populous neighborhood should not be denied this service.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department about developing a process which would require developers seeking zoning relief to build a model of the area impacted by the proposed developments prior to coming before the City Council for voting purposes.   Mayor Decker

This is already done with many, perhaps most, major proposed developments when they come before the Planning Board. Whether this should be required by the City Council is questionable. The architectural expertise is at the Planning Board, and if they feel the need for cardboard or styrofoam models (or pop-up books) for projects, that should be their call. City councillors are not elected to serve as architects. They always have the option of attending Planning Board meetings if they feel the need for a more enriched architectural perspective.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 15, 2011 to discuss bike parking, enforcement, bike sharing and facilities.

There are a few odd topics from this meeting held 5 months ago and only now reported. For example:

"Ms. Seiderman noted that Cambridge parking meters do not, contrary to Mayor Kelley’s statement, have bike rings attached to them as City staff and drivers needing to access the meter heads can find attached bicycles difficult to get around." – This is a statement that needs to be challenged. Cyclists have been locking the bikes to parking meters for as long as there have been locks and parking meters. The possibility that someone cannot access the meter head due to a parked bicycle seems extraordinarily unlikely.

"Mayor Kelley stated that he is not a cycle track advocate." – On this we agree. With all the rhetoric about conflicts caused by bicyclists riding on sidewalks, it seems wrong-headed to set up "cycle tracks" on sidewalks that are guaranteed to significantly increase conflicts with pedestrians. This is what I see nearly every day on Vassar Street where those tracks are installed. It’s one thing to build separate facilities to parallel Memorial Drive or another highway, but they make little sense elsewhere where vehicular speeds are moderate. Children can and do ride on the sidewalk, but this is not the place for adults. – Robert Winters


  1. Order #2 is a real thing and not just something you accidentally picked up from the Onion?

    Comment by Joe Aiello — February 12, 2012 @ 11:48 pm

  2. Yup – it’s real (except for the Mayor part):
    O-2 Feb 13, 2012
    WHEREAS: The current use of the words “approve” and “disapprove” on the Curb Cut Application form lead to confusion about how much control over the Curb Cut Application and approval process anyone or any agency has besides the City Council; now therefore be it
    ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct City staff to replace the words “approve” and “disapprove” with the words “support” and “do not support” or, as appropriate, by some other terms that will help clarify where relevant authority rests when considering curb cuts; and be it further
    ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council on this issue.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 13, 2012 @ 12:06 am

  3. This issue with the curb cuts seems to have just gotten completely out of hand. The again, so has the vote for Mayor.

    Comment by Joe Aiello — February 13, 2012 @ 12:48 am

  4. “Refer to all nine of them as “Mayor” just to neutralize the false sense of importance.”


    A technical note: as the main Cambridge Civic Journal page is being read, every minute or so it scrolls up to the top. If attempting to read the page offline, the page goes blank. There seems to be an auto refresh in play frustrating the reading process.


    Comment by JChase — February 13, 2012 @ 2:10 am

  5. Jeff – I had a “Refresh” tag on the CCJ because in some browsers the page was displaying outdated content from the cache. Thanks for letting me know that it was a problem. I removed it, so now you may have to manually refresh the page occasionally.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 13, 2012 @ 9:13 am

  6. Main items during Public Comment — Wyman Street curb cut, Longfellow Neighborhood Council/Community Council, MBTA funding. Just waiting for this to wind down and hoping to settle this mayoral thing tonight. No family members of councillors in the audience – a bad sign. When the votes are there, you can usually tell by the presence of friends and family.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 13, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

  7. 5 councillors so far offering praise for Cambridge having again received AAA bond ratings from all the rating agencies. It’s all true and well-deserved, but it’s like watching a rerun. The councillors say the same things every year.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 13, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

  8. Cambridge Mayoral Ballot #8: Cheung 3, Decker 2, Kelley 2, Davis 1, Maher 1

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 13, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

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