Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 18, 2012

Ready for Summer Break – June 18 City Council Agenda Highlights

Ready for Summer Break – June 18 City Council Agenda Highlights

Tonight’s meeting is the last regular meeting before the City Council takes its summer vacation. There will be a Roundtable meeting next week (June 25) with the School Committee and the Superintendent of Schools on how the City’s Five Year Financial Plan will impact the School District’s building renovation plan. The next voting meetings will be the Midsummer Meeting on July 30 and the Regular Meeting on Sept 10. There are also two potentially consequential committee meetings coming up – (1) Government Operations & Rules this Friday, June 22 at 10:00am "to have an initial discussion with the City Manager to develop a comprehensive short and long term succession plan." (Ackermann Room); and (2) Ordinance Committee on Wed, June 27 at 4:00pm "to continue discussion on the petition of Forest City/MIT…" (Sullivan Chamber). [There’s also a Tues, June 19, 8:00pm Planning Board hearing on the Forest City/MIT petition.]

The Gov’t Operations Committee meeting will be the initial meeting on how things may proceed as we look ahead to Bob Healy’s retirement a year from now. There have been no public indications to date about the process or of the inclinations of any individual councillors (though it’s likely that some are already plotting to call the shots).

The Ordinance Committee meeting could bring some excitement as activists respond to real and perceived threats to the "livability" of the greater Central Square area. At least one new ad hoc organization (Cambridge Residents Alliance) has already sprouted in response to the proposed 165 ft. residential tower that had been proposed adjacent to the Central Square fire house. There is a somewhat delicious irony to housing activists being agreeable to the commercial construction and opposed to the housing construction, but I suppose the devil is in the details. The provisions in the proposed zoning amendment that would have permitted the residential tower were taken out at last week’s meeting, but the general alarm has already been rung and the reaction will continue. Perhaps the most significant aspect to the public reaction is the perception that the Forest City/MIT proposal is just the first of a wave of "upzoning" proposals that will steamroll their way from Kendall Square up Main Street and through all of Central Square. The activists are saying that nothing should be approved until the ongoing Goody/Clancy study is completed, but most indications are that the central recommendations from that study will be for density, density, and more density. The activists are also calling for a one-year moratorium on all upzoning petions. Perhaps the activism would be better spent on formulating alternative proposals instead of simply saying NO in every imaginable form.

We learned at last week’s meeting that our Budget Director, David Kale, will be leaving to become Town Manager of Belmont. Not only will Belmont be gaining a great fiscal manager, they’ll also be gaining a great baseball man – one of many on the City Manager’s team. Perhaps Belmont should be required to send us a "player to be named later" to complete the deal.

Another big news item in Central Square was the announcement that the Korean grocery chain H Mart will be opening an 18,000 sq. ft. grocery market in Central Square in the space previously occupied by The Harvest (14,500 sq. ft.) plus an additional 3,500 sq. ft. next door. I’ve been advocating for a Super 88 store for this location, so this is a very good move, in my opinion. It is probable that this will be a relatively affordable grocery store in contrast to the Whole Foods trend of overpriced food which has sent many a Cantabrigian over the Somerville line to Market Basket. The property owner (Morris Naggar and 3MJ Realty) may have earned some serious good will with this lease. The new grocery store is expected to open early next year after extensive renovations.

For tonight’s City Council meeting, here are a few items of interest:

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the City Council Petition to Modify Zoning Requirements for Municipal K-8 School Sites (Proposed Section 5.54).

This zoning change will facilitate the renovation/reconstruction of the proposed middle schools (grades 6-8) that are at the center of the "Innovation Agenda". The Planning Board recommends the zoning change with the caveat that language be inserted to ensure the retention of publicly enjoyable open space. The zoning petition will presumably be moved to a 2nd Reading and be eligible for Ordination at the July 30 Midsummer meeting (when several zoning petitions may come to a vote).

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the CJUF III Northpoint LLC Zoning Petition to Amend Section 13.700.

The Planning Board recommends adoption as proposed, saying "the proposed changes have been carefully crafted and developed in close consultation with neighbors and City officials, and the Board believes that these changes will only further improve the final development from what was previously proposed." The North Point development may actually start to take shape in the next few years.

Lincoln watershed landCharter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the purchase of 53.6 acres of watershed land in Lincoln, MA, for $1,152,247 from Community Preservation Act Open Space Reserve Fund, for the purposes of drinking water supply protection and land conservation.

The land in question is a combination of wetland and buildable land along Route 2 in proximity with the Hobbs Brook – a principal water source for Cambridge. The brook flows into the Hobbs Brook Reservoir (near the intersection of Route 2 and Route 128) which then joins the Stony Brook before flowing into the Stony Brook Basin not far from Brandeis University. The water supply then travels via aqueduct to Fresh Pond. The argument is made annualy that Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds should only be used for open space acquisition within Cambridge city limits, but if watershed protection is not part of the preservation of community then I don’t know what is. The money can come either from CPA funds or from the water ratepayers, but these are just two different pockets. Nothing prevents the City from acquiring other open space as part of the regular budget process.

Charter Right #2. That a Task Force be formed to review Cambridge’s current program to creatively encourage and maximize participation in PILOT agreements with the City, and to evaluate the possibilities of implementing SILOT (Services In Lieu of Payment) and/or GILOT (Grants In Lieu of Payment) programs.

This matter was discussed briefly last week. There are certainly some possibilities here, but efforts to compel tax-exempt property owners to contribute additional money and/or services to the City opens a rather large can of worms. Should churches be compelled to contribute the "the state"? The intended target may be hospitals and other technically nonprofit institutions such as Mount Auburn Hospital, but ultimately this is something that might best be accomplished via good will rather than ordinance.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an explanation of what processes and procedures have been instituted to help ensure that discrimination and wrongful termination complaints do not arise in the future.   Councillor Kelley

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 11, 2012 to discuss an appropriation of $11,917,462 from Free Cash to the General Fund Law Department Travel and Training (Judgment and Damages) account which appeared as Agenda Item Number Fifteen of Apr 23, 2012.

This is an example of the worst kind of "faux righteousness." For better or worse, the Monteiro case and other claims have been settled and the litigants have received their ransoms – significantly more than their continued employment would have generated. The City administration has repeatedly made clear that policies are now in place to prevent the kinds of problems alleged in those lawsuits. Councillor Kelley wishes that the City Council and the City administration should now profusely apologize for infractions real or imagined in addition to the settlements – even though most settlements like these include provisions that both parties do not acknowledge wrongdoing. It’s difficult to understand what exactly Kelley is trying to accomplish. The matter has been settled and little is to be gained from continuing to stir the pot.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff, to include the City Clerk’s Office, to determine how best to put direct communications to the City Council on the City Council’s website to make the information contained in them readily available to the public even though it does not become part of a particular City Council agenda.   Councillor Kelley

This specifically refers to communications from the City administration in response to City Council requests for information. Other than simple informal requests, one might have been led to believe that this information is always part of the City Manager’s Agenda, but apparently this is not the case. It seems that any request for information passed by majority vote at a public meeting should have a response that is also included in the proceedings of a public meeting of the same body, or at least be available for public inspection at the City Clerk’s Office. There are many communications that don’t properly belong in the public arena, but this should not include a response to a request voted at a public meeting as long as it is practicable to do so.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to refer the matter of a ban on soda and sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants to the Cambridge Public Health Department for a recommendation.   Mayor Davis

Nanny government at its very worst. Note that our good Mayor is proposing a BAN, not just a limitation. Does the Mayor know that chocolate cake also contains sugar? Shall we ban chocolate cake? Will Mayor Davis lead a march on Toscannini’s to demand that ice cream be driven out of Cambridge with the same zeal that St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland?

Note: This Order was amended at the meeting to better reflect Mayor Davis’ intention:
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to refer the matter of a ban on to limit the size of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants to the Cambridge Public Health Department for a recommendation.   Mayor Davis
Amended; Referred to Community Health Committee – Decker

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to have a 3-D model created of all potential development projects resulting from zoning petitions.   Councillor Decker

Isn’t this the same as Councillor Decker’s Feb 13 Order #12 that received this very reasonable response last week? Pay attention, kids.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on June 5, 2012 to review the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority’s (CRA) relationship with the city, how the CRA was set up and who is the CRA’s governing body.

This was an informative meeting with plenty of history and perspective. The newly reconstituted CRA Board is a great group with a skilled executive director and legal counsel. It will be interesting to see what role the CRA plays in future plans in and around Kendall Square. Still unknown is whether the CRA will settle solely into a maintenance role and eventually phase itself out, or possibly find a new role to play either in the Kendall Square area or elsewhere in the city. – Robert Winters

7 Comments

  1. You are 100% correct – Order #4 is nanny government at its worst. We have all seen the backlash in NYC, but now we want that here? We are all adults. We can look after ourselves. I’m about as progressive as the next guy, but this is just getting silly. Isn’t there anything better the Mayor could be doing with her time?

    And as for Order #1, Councillor Kelley seriously needs to get over himself. The lawsuit is over and done with. He won’t be happy until Healy is on his knees begging for forgiveness. Remind me again how he even gets elected….

    Comment by Joe Aiello — June 18, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

  2. Order #4, the soda ban, connects with the hoped for success of the new Korean grocery H Mart store opening in Central Sq. We shop at the Super 88 for Asian foods, and Market Basket for other foods, knowing we can obtain free Code Brown diaper odor control sacs (a/k/a: evil plastic shopping bags). If the city bans the new grocery store from offering plastic, our shopping habits will not change. We are not alone. On a rainy day visit the stores at the Porter Square shopping center. In the doorway of CVS, and at the registers of Star Market, one cannot help but notice the soggy Tags Hardware paper bags abandoned on the floor by shoppers taking plastic bags. Tags Hardware has no plastic option regardless of sudden downpours popping up.

    Manager’s Agenda #11 makes it appear that the renovation/reconstruction plans are moving forward in an orderly process. However, many parents tonight are less than happy at what is said to be a last minute reduction with what was promised. The final days of the school year — time to pull the chair out from under. Hopefully few people will notice.

    Comment by JChase — June 18, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

  3. A new zoning petition has apparently been filed at the 11th hour that would downzone the entire Central Square area (though I have not yet seen a detailed map). This seems a bit extreme, but I guess all’s fair in love and war and this is shaping up to become a war.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 18, 2012 @ 7:41 pm

  4. It’s official. Councillor Reeves hates dogs.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 18, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

  5. Like I said on twitter last night: “People are throwing around ‘down-zoning’ & ‘moratorium’ like they are play things. These petitions & ideas could cripple this city.”

    It’s the basic laws of supply and demand – there is a demand for top notch real estate and infrastructure here in this city and we are going to supply it so Cambridge can continue well on into the future.

    Comment by Joe Aiello — June 19, 2012 @ 9:11 am

  6. I think you have to look at last night’s hastily written proposals for downzoning and a moratorium on new zoning petitions not so much as actual ideas but as reactions to events over which people feel they have no control. Many people feel that neither the Red Ribbon thing nor the Goody/Clancy advisory committees were especially representative of the residents of the respective areas. I can’t speak for the Kendall Square part, but I personally feel that the Red Ribbon thing was formed around a select group of friends and supporters of one city councillor, and the Goody/Clancy Central Square committee excluded many voices. Some of us feel that the only chance we have had for any input is during the closing 5-10 minutes of the Goody/Clancy meetings after all has been said and done.

    There is also a widely held perception that the Goody/Clancy consultants came into the process with an overriding belief that “density cures all” and that their recommendations are virtually guaranteed to reflect this belief. Some of us have tried our best to interject other principles, e.g. the need for “retail diversity.” (That was my phrase, by the way, and I really hope it stays in the Central Square recommendations.) I don’t know of too many people who have tried to have a voice in the Central Square process who are opposed to density. The questions are “where?” and “how much?”.

    I disagree that this is only about Economics 101 and supply and demand. People do have an established right – legally and ethically – to influence what can and should be built in their cities. That’s why we have zoning laws. Sure, they can be abused, but it’s not the case that just because there is demand for real estate, zoning ordinances should be modified to accommodate any and all development proposals. Cambridge will continue to be attractive and economically robust even if the current zoning ordinances stand as is. It’s not necessary that all new pharmaceutical companies locate in Cambridge, nor is it necessarily a wise strategy to turn Cambridge into an economic monoculture.

    Regarding housing, why is it so essential that Cambridge provide all the new housing in the urban core? Don’t you think there should also be robust commercial development and housing development elsewhere? Why is it mandatory that all of this should happen in Cambridge? I don’t personally want Cambridge to morph into downtown Boston just because people and businesses say they want to be here. At least part of that demand is driven by the negative side of the equation. Because of crime, bad schools, even more restrictive zoning or other problems, many neighborhoods of Boston and other surrounding communities are not even considered for housing or business development.

    I disagree with the notion that there’s some kind of economic state of war with neighboring communities that requires us to act quickly to prevent any business from deciding to locate elsewhere. I think it was wise to make an effort to accommodate Google in Kendall Square, but this does not extend to every company that says they want to be here if only height and density limits are lifted. I look at Kendall Square as Cambridge’s designated sky-high district, and I’m relatively agreeable to most of the proposed density there. I also think there will be people – mainly the trendy, entrepreneurial 20-somethings – who will also want to live in tall buildings there while they develop their pharmaceuticals and iPhone gadgets. I doubt very much if many families will actually choose to live there (at least not for long).

    Central Square is not Kendall Square, and many of us who do favor some additional density in Central Square (possibly within the existing zoning limits or with strategic modifications) do not want to see the area overrun. That said, I can’t say that I support the zoning petition that was unveiled last night nor do I think that a moratorium is needed. That strategy seems to me to be more of a political organizing tool than a strategy for thoughtful planning. It’s also an inevitable reaction to a widely held perception that residents have had little influence in the unfolding events. Please note what I said in the article: “Perhaps the most significant aspect to the public reaction is the perception that the Forest City/MIT proposal is just the first of a wave of ‘upzoning’ proposals that will steamroll their way from Kendall Square up Main Street and through all of Central Square.”

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 19, 2012 @ 11:00 am

  7. You may want to modify this post, or make a new post, reflecting the amended order that was actually passed regarding soda and sugary beverages. The poor wording of the original order, reported here and elsewhere, has led to much confusion. See for instance http://davis-square.livejournal.com/2933108.html

    Comment by Ron Newman — June 20, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

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