Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 26, 2012

To Halve and Halve Not – Feb 27, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,Kendall Square,MBTA — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:28 pm

To Halve and Halve Not – Feb 27, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Now that Cambridge has a Mayor, all things are now possible – world peace, affordable space travel, and eternal life – just to name a few. Regarding more mundane affairs, perhaps Mayor Davis will set a new standard by appointing the City Council committees in record time. I hope so – I have a rocket to catch.

The Really Big Item on the agenda this week seems to be City Manager’s Agenda #1 – a recommendation that the City Council approve a plan submitted by Boston Properties to cut in half the rooftop garden that exists in Kendall Square between Cambridge Center Buildings Four and Five. If you haven’t yet visited that garden, you should. You can get to it via the Marriott. It’s an unexpected oasis nestled among the taller buildings in Kendall Square perhaps 70 feet above ground. Apparently the playful folks at Google want to connect their rented spaces in two adjacent buildings by constructing a connector that will consume half of the rooftop garden – the sunnier half, by the way. And wouldn’t you know it – if they can’t do this they’ll have to move and Cambridge will lose the jobs, the prestige, the taxes, and the firstborn males of its residents. Search engines will cease to function and the Charles River will turn to blood.

The proposal asks that the Ancient Covenants mandating the rooftop park be modified in exchange for landscaping a narrow, triangular piece of land at the bend of Binney Street abutting the railroad tracks for use as a "Dog and People Park". Methinks there’s room to negotiate for something better. It’s also a bit strange to have proposals like this come forward while the K2C2 (Kendall Square/Central Square) planning process involving the Goody/Clancy firm is ongoing. The Manager’s recommendation calls for diminution of process and a quick decision. The Council shouldn’t needlessly delay, but it’s doubtful that a few more weeks of consideration will cause Google to move to Ashtabula. [Read the full proposal (9.5MB)]

It’s an interesting juxtaposition that Manager’s Agenda #8 is also on the agenda. This is an appropriation of $1,000,000 received from Alexandria Real Estate (ARE) that will be used to enable the City to plan and design improvements at the Rogers Street Park and the Triangle Park while ascertaining the appropriate open space needs of eastern Cambridge.

Elsewhere on the agenda, Councillor Kelley filed for Reconsideration of his failed Feb 13 Order that asks the City Manager "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." The Order failed with only Councillors Kelley, Decker, and vanBeuzekom supporting it. Or maybe approving it. Never mind. This is also the subject of Charter Right #2 that would refer the matter to the Gov’t Operations & Rules Committee which may or may not ultimately approve or support it or possibly not approve or not support it.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-23, regarding the continuation of the Longfellow Community School program and Longfellow Neighborhood Council.

The Manager proposes that starting this fall when the King/Amigos building closes for renovations that the Community School currently operating in the King/Amigos building will move to the Amigos Building (on Upton Street) where the majority of its program participants will attend school. The Community School operating in the Longfellow neighborhood will provide programming to the King School and neighborhood children in the Longfellow building. With the reopening of the Longfellow Building this summer, the program will be able to offer robust programming in the building for children who attend the King
School or come from the neighborhood. In addition, the Longfellow Community School will be able to continue to provide community programming for the Longfellow neighborhood. The City will contract with the Cambridge Community Center, located around the corner from the King School, to provide community support until the King School reopens. All in all, this seems like a good solution for each of the affected schools and neighborhoods.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to look into the feasibility of hiring an ombudsman to serve as a liaison and internal advocate for community members.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom

This brings to mind a time when the Cambridge Police Department had a separate Community Oriented Policing liasson. When Ronnie Watson took over as Police Commission one of the first things he did was to eliminate this position. His argument was that the entire department should be doing Community Oriented Policing as a matter of policy. This same argument can be made regarding the Community Development Department. Is the genesis of this Order the perception that CDD is not doing "community oriented" planning and development? Are existing staff not effectively mediating between the City’s need to grow the tax base, the needs of property owners/developers, and the needs of residents? If this is not the case, then hiring an additional "liaison and internal advocate for community members" will solve nothing. My personal experience with CDD has generally been very good, though I do sometimes feel that the economic development staff don’t understand the need to keep neighbors in the loop. Everyone at CDD should be acting as community liassons. Most of them already do.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a written annual report for the Parking and Transportation Demand Management (PTDM) Ordinance within four weeks time.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

The PTDM Ordinance was developed as a replacement for the Interim Parking Freeze that was part of a settlement over alleged violations of earlier agreements relating to the Clean Air Act. Quite a few consequences grew out of that settlement and subsequent ordinances – dedicated bike lanes, required traffic impact studies, mandatory PTDM plans for new developments, unregulated parking spaces transformed to metered or otherwise regulated parking, etc. These things have become almost a matter of religion without periodically assessing their need or impact. Things do change. When the price of gasoline exceeds $5 or more, things will change even more and the City’s ordinances should not remain stuck in time. Periodic reports, assessments, and possible modifications should be the rule and not the exception. Good Order, Minka.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to appoint a local MBTA Advisory Council of CDD staff and residents to meet regularly and assess MBTA funding, programming and service cuts and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Decker

This is another good Order, though it brings to mind a curiosity in the way City departments are currently structured. The Transporation Planning staff is now part of the Community Development Department (CDD), though one might wonder why it’s not part of the Traffic, Parking, & Transportation Department (TPT). In other cities, you might expect to see parks and open space planning integrated into the public works department, but in Cambridge it’s part of CDD. Community Schoools are staffed through the Human Services and not by the School Department. MBTA services affect Cambridge residents in many ways and it’s appropriate that there should be more than just ad hoc gatherings when a crisis arises. Whether this should be staffed by CDD or by the Transportation, Traffic & Parking Dept. is worth considering. The fact that CDD produced a great document regarding the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts for last week’s Special Meeting is a point in their favor, but I can’t help but think that we’d all benefit from having the focus of TPT shift away from tickets and fundraising toward a broader view of all transportation.

It must also be noted that this will be the last City Council meeting for retiring City Clerk D. Margaret Drury. She has been an invaluable asset to every city councillor with whom she has served since her appointment in 1992. – Robert Winters


  1. ON CM #4. I think it would be more fruitful to have a council with representation from multiple departments (w.g. school department, community development, human services, traffic, as well as some residents to encourage more interdepartmental communication and cooperation on a subject area like this.

    Comment by John W Gintell — February 26, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

  2. With regard to the “really big item” it was my understanding that this park has an expiration date in roughly ten years at which time BP can remove, build on, and basically do whatever they want with it. 1) is that all correct? 2) If that is the case it would seem appropos to me that the city might try and bargain for a little bit more than a time share this go around. I think in New York they call them fractionals, but either way its a raw deal for the city. I know they’ve identified another parcel, oddly already established as open space, with a 50 year marker on it. Without being overly presumptuous is it too far fetched that the city could try to grit their teeth a little bit, toughen up, and instead of getting another time share we could actually get something permanent?

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — March 1, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

  3. Patrick – You are quite correct about the covenant requiring the rooftop park being set to expire in a decade, and I should have noted that the proposal would greatly extend the requirement for the park even if it is greatly reduced in size.

    As a business decision, I think Boston Properties would be making a big mistake if they significantly reduce the appeal of the rooftop park. Google is not their only tenant, and from what I’ve been hearing many of the other tenants are very unhappy about the prospect of that park being reduced, especially if the better portion is to be taken away. I don’t know how expensive it is to upkeep the rooftop park, but it seems like an amenity that the owner would WANT to preserve regardless on any covenants. Would the owners of Rockefeller Center choose to build an office building over their skating rink?

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 2, 2012 @ 11:54 am

  4. I’m not really concerned about the agitation this move may cause BP with their tenants and I do understand your logic. It just seems like a very weak vantage point for the city to grant development rights and receive only a fleeting benefit for it. The tenants may even have a cause against BP should they remove it as I’m sure, for some of them if not all, would have viewed that park in light of their leases and considered it an amenity in their agreements. I do not like they way they handled it, and I also don’t like how the city manager knows more about it than the council does, but I completely understand why it was handled that way, and I don’t mean that as a disparagement to BP.

    What happens between BP and their tenants has nothing to do with the local citizenry, however it may have an effect on the city relative to those companies remaining (though that effect wouldn’t be readiliy apparent and google’s expansion may trump that economically speaking) the next move I think the city would want to make is it secure some permanent open space and stop this nonsenscial giving up of the golden goose for nothing more than a sublease on a park.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — March 2, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

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