Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 10, 2012

End of Summer – The City Council Returns – Sept 10 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:41 am

End of Summer – The City Council Returns – Sept 10 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

The first agenda item is the culmination of the annual faux process of allocation of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. The outcome is always determined before the CPA Committee even meets. In fact, the outcomes every year were determined ten years ago, but feel free to peruse the details:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:
1A. 80% of the FY2013 CPA Local Fund revenues ($5,600,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;
1B. 10% of FY2013 CPA Local Fund revenues ($700,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;
1C. 10% of FY2013 CPA Local Fund revenues ($700,000) allocated to Open Space;
2A. 80% of FY2012 State Match revenues ($1,320,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;
2B. 10% of FY2012 State Match revenues ($165,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;
2C. 10% of FY2012 State Match revenues ($165,000) 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;
4A. Appropriate ($1,035,000) from the Open Space Reserve to the Public Investment Budget; and
5A. Appropriate ($7,500) from the Fund Balance the cost for the Community Preservation Coalition Membership Dues.

Though it’s hard to discern what progress the Cambridge Police and the District Attorney’s Office have made in the Willow St. murder case, at least there is a report on the agenda (and in the Cambridge Chronicle – thanks).

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 12-76 and 12-77, regarding discussion on violence and the youth perspective in reaction to the Willow Street shooting.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner to determine a format that will accommodate the City Council and the victim’s family for an update on the status of the Willow Street shooting in May.   Councillor Reeves

One of my neighbors was a classmate of murder victim Charlene Moore, and she and many people have been mystified by the seeming lack of progress in this case. We’re all hoping that law enforcement is now "making the case" and not just hoping for clues.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-93, regarding a report on the feasibility of supporting the concept of human-powered bicycle cabs.

I mention this item only to raise the issue of how these wider human-powered vehicles will navigate Western Ave. after the travel lanes are narrowed and cyclists are pushed onto the sidewalk. Same goes for the Metro Pedal vehicles making pickups and deliveries around town.

Manager’s Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-100, regarding a report on whether emails to Councillors either through the City email or to their personal accounts may be shared with the general public.

The city councillors may want to ask for a second opinion on this one. This legal opinion seems to suggest that e-mail messages sent to city councillors’ private e-mail accounts are to be considered public records. Who shall be the first to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for these private e-mail messages?

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to expand enforcement of the prohibition on Cambridge pick-ups by non-Cambridge cabs not specifically called to Cambridge.

I’ll say it again: We’d all be better off if the entire taxicab industry was deregulated and taxi owners and drivers were required only to prove that they meet basic safety standards. It’s a cab cartel now – plain and simple.

Unfinished Business #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $81,500,000 to provide funds for architectural design, construction and other associated costs of the King School project. The question comes on adoption on or after Aug 13, 2012.

This is just the formality of a final vote on the appropriation which will allow the project to proceed.

Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Charles L. Stead, Sr.   Councillor Maher, Mayor Davis, Vice Mayor Simmons

Resolution #49. Resolution on the death of Henrietta S. Attles, Ed.D.   Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Simmons, Mayor Davis

These resolutions mark the passing of two very important players in the Cambridge schools. Many of the city councillors will likely make statements about one or both of these very significant Cantabrigians. Charles Stead was a Cambridge school principal who was hated by some and beloved by many. Henrietta S. Attles first ran and was elected to the Cambridge School Committee in 1979. She was reelected in 1981 but was defeated in the 1983 election. She served from 1980-1983. The meeting room of the Cambridge School Committee is named for her.

Resolution #26. Retirement of David Holland from the Budget Department.   Mayor Davis

Resolution #118. Retirement of Eileen Ginnetty from the Council on Aging.   Councillor Maher

Dave Holland and Eileen Ginnetty are two of the more familiar faces in their respective departments. Best wishes to both of them in their retirement.

Order #6. That the City Ordinance Committee resume discussing the outlines of a formal Community Benefits & Mitigation Plan for projects within the city with the goal of making a recommendation on a policy that the City Council can vote on by year’s end.   Vice Mayor Simmons

Order #8. That the Housing Committee review the City’s inclusionary zoning policy, to explore the possibility and feasibility of increasing the percentage of affordable housing that must be included in any new development.   Vice Mayor Simmons

These interrelated Orders concern the unresolved matter begun several years ago about updating and standardizing the way developers are asked to contribute to the city – either when seeking changes in zoning or when building projects as-of-right. The Inclusionary Zoning law was crafted at the time of its passage to be relatively cost neutral for housing developers, i.e. in exchange for providing affordable units they would be given a density bonus to allow for additional market-rate units. Any proposed update would likely demand even more affordable units and would likely then have to grant even greater density bonuses. This should spur some serious debate, especially in light of the highly divergent views of high density advocates and downzoning advocates spawned by discussions over the last two years about the future of Kendall Square, Central Square, and the transition area between these centers.

Order #11. That the Government Operations and Rules Committee publish a schedule of meetings devoted to the City Manager selection process and issue periodic statements so that the public may be informed as to the chosen selection process and timeline for the upcoming appointment.   Councillor Reeves

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 meeting held on June 22, 2012 to have an initial discussion with the City Manager to develop a comprehensive short and long term succession plan.

Who could argue with this Order? What’s really striking is the silence surrounding what is arguably the single most important responsibility of the City Council. There is another meeting of the Government Operations & Rules Committee scheduled for Wed, Sept 19 at 9:00am in the Ackermann Room "to continue discussion to develop a hiring process for the position of City Manager."

Order #12. That the City Council suggest that the Cambridge Housing Authority study and consider the feasibility and reasonableness of placing long-term affordable housing deed restrictions on developments such as Newtowne Court and Washington Elms so that these developments will always be dedicated long-term affordability housing areas.   Councillor Reeves

Part of the genesis of this Order is the strategic misstep in the series of meetings on Central Square when Goody/Clancy showed an image indicating some of this public housing being potentially replaced with new housing built at greater density. There was never any actual plan to do this – just a concept – but it has served as an alarm for organizing public housing tenants. It does seem, however, that placing deed restrictions to lock in place what is there now might be a poor policy – unless the flexibility to redevelop with no net loss of housing units is written into any such deed restrictions. It can also be reasonably argued that concentrating this much public housing into one area is a rather outdated and unenlightened public policy.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council on how the City is facilitating affordable housing opportunities for middle class families.   Councillor Toomey

Despite some of the sentiments expressed in recent years about providing middle-inclome housing in the Central Square area, the question of how this can be done remains largely unanswered. Is the plan to ultimately have the Cambridge Housing Authority become the intake mechanism for all of the lower-income and middle-income housing in Cambridge?

Order #15. That the City Council go on record agreeing that a minimum of 80% of mitigation funds should be distributed within the neighborhoods that are impacted by these projects.   Councillor Toomey

This is really a recurring Order that will likely go nowhere. Most of the new development in Cambridge is concentrated into just a few areas and most of the city councillors ultimately vote for spreading the loot.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to create an inventory of the vacant lots and derelict buildings throughout Cambridge that the City could potentially purchase to add to the city’s open space inventory for other city uses.   Mayor Davis

This reminds me of an initiative pressed years ago by City Councillor Ed Cyr to set up a "Land Bank" of City-owned parcels that would be used for building affordable housing. It didn’t go over well, but rent control was still in place in those days. This predated the creation of the Affordable Housing Trust (which looks for housing opportunities) and the Open Space Acquisition Fund (which looks for open space opportunities).

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with information on the new parking arrangements in the vicinity of the former Longfellow School on Broadway as they relate to the operation at the school building and to work with the School Department and the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to minimize the impact on the neighborhood.   Councillor Toomey

I recently wrote a letter of support to the BZA for a local business to have its parking requirement waived due to the availability of on-street parking, but I also warned that much of this parking would likely disappear with the reactivation of the old Longfellow School building. I also recommended to the BZA that the Traffic & Parking Department should be dissuaded from using the metered spaces that are supposed to be there for patrons of the local businesses. At times like this I become cynically convinced that City departments never talk to each other.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department to conduct a preliminary exploration of an east west bike path alongside the commuter rail line or along the old haul route.   Councillor Cheung

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for a public meeting held on Aug 6, 2012 to receive an overview from the Community Development Department of the Grand Junction Rail with the Trail (RWT) Feasibility Study of 2006 and to discuss actions the City can make towards its construction.

The possibility of sharing the Grand Junction right-of-way has been under discussion for years, including the recent subcommittee meeting chaired by Councillor Toomey. Those of us who served on the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee were advocating for this goal last century.

Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to itemize all mitigation commitments throughout the city to be compiled into a single document.   Councillor Cheung

Perhaps a small, sad chapter can reserved at the end of the document on mitigation for the disgraceful privately negotiated and publicly accepted "mitigation" that created "Neighbors for a Better Community" (NBC) in order to receive a parcel land and cash that have been used for no other purpose than the personal enrichment of members of one family.

Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to report back to the City Council on what strategies other cities have used to dissuade land-banking and what may be applicable in Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

The problem is not land-banking so much as nonproductive very-long-term land-banking. Assembling parcels as part of a greater plan is normal. Indeed, that was a primary role of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority during its active years. This Order could use a little more detail and refinement. It never makes much sense for a property owner or developer to sink a lot of money into the preservation of properties that are destined to soon be redeveloped.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from … Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, Chair of the Environment Committee for a public meeting held on Aug 8, 2012 to discuss implementation of a plan for separate trash or recycling curbside pickup for small businesses along existing curbside routes.

I spoke at this meeting against the idea of the City taking on the cost of business recycling. However, based on the discussion at this meeting I have become much more aware of how some businesses in mixed-use buildings in my own neighborhood routinely put all their rubbish and recycling out along with the residential rubbish and recycling – at no cost to the businesses. I still don’t believe the City should be taking on these costs, but there is a fairness issue that needs to be resolved when some businesses are paying for these services and others are getting a free ride. – Robert Winters


  1. Tim Toomey lists his email address on the City Council web site as an AOL address. He’d be hard pressed to argue that email to that address wasn’t, at least in some cases, a public record.

    Comment by Saul Tannenbaum — September 10, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

  2. Saul – Even Healy said that if it’s sent to the email address of a public official, its automatically public record and could be published (unless it contained personal info such as SS number)

    Comment by Joe Aiello — September 11, 2012 @ 11:54 pm

  3. I pay three times the tax rate, why shouldn’t I be able to use city recycling for my general office spaces?

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — September 13, 2012 @ 10:48 am

  4. I think that businesses could make a case for receiving City-funded rubbish and recycling services, but that’s not currently the rule. I think it might be OK for businesses up to a certain scale, especially in buildings that are a mix of residential and commercial, but you could run into trouble if you take on the large businesses.

    I think this makes for an interesting public policy discussion and I wouldn’t necessarily stop at rubbish and recycling. I think a good case can be made for the City managing snow removal along the sidewalks of commercial areas in acknowledgement of the higher taxes that they pay. Then again, since I live on such a street, people might accuse me of trying to get DPW to shovel my walk for me.

    Comment by Robert Winters — September 13, 2012 @ 11:13 am

  5. I think it is at least worth a discussion, as I firmly believe that one of the real cultural issues with the dialogue in Cambridge is the lack of understanding of how things are paid for; and what part commercial real estate really plays.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — September 13, 2012 @ 11:18 am

  6. It makes sense to me to continue the discussion about picking up small business recycling. (details to be worked out but the general idea is good)

    BTW, Patrick – for FY12 residential rate is $8.48/1000 and the commercial is $20.76/1000. Commercial is almost 2.5 times higher than residential. Also keep in mind the CPA funds are also more heavily contributed by commercial entities since the 3% surcharge applies to all tax bills. And commercial entities are also charged for their other property like equipment. The Assessing Department has expertise in valuing the specialized equipment in the biotech & pharma industries. All told commercial properties do pay the maximum allowed per state law.

    The nuances of who pays for what and why is becoming clearer to me but it takes real study to understand it thoroughly.

    Comment by minka vanBeuzekom — September 13, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

  7. Thanks for chiming in Minka, I don’t really have a probelm with paying more. However it does seem unfair that certain properties aren’t allowed to use the city services that really should be able to. The CPA’s current distribution schedule of funds however is, in my opinion, a glaringly short sighted mistake. Cambridge depends on the commercial interests in the city and its a narrative very few on the council either understand or talk about openly.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — September 13, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

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