Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 22, 2012

Culture, Rats, and Parking: Oct 22, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:02 pm

October 22, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights: Culture, Rats, and Parking

Tonight’s City Council agenda is short but contains a few interesting items:

Resolution #4. Congratulations to the newly state-designated Central Square Cultural District.   Councillor Reeves

This is yet another signal of the ongoing revival of Central Square and the need to maintain the positive momentum. The next steps should involve some additional housing construction and "filling the gaps" where inappropriate one-story buildings now occupy parcels that once had more appropriate scale buildings – on the order of perhaps 4 or 5 stories at the sidewalk. There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel regarding the eventual report of Goody/Clancy and the associated short-term advisory committee for Central Square. One of the greatest problems over the years is that interest in Central Square is cyclical – a push for some flavor of improvements and then the excitement dies down for another decade or so. It is certainly the case that Central Square is not Kendall Square and that the appropriate densities for these respective areas are not the same, but the right balance has to be created in Central Square so that the residents, businesses, and cultural attractions can all thrive – and we’re not there yet.

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 Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Oct 3, 2012 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Susan Yanow, et al to rezone from the existing Business A to Business A-1 the areas bounded by Windsor, Main Streets, Bishop Allen Drive, Columbia, Prospect and Norfolk Streets; rezone from the existing Bus. B and CRDD to a proposed new district Bus. B-3 in the area bounded by Green, Landsdowne, Magazine and Prospect Streets and Mass. Ave. define as a protected neighborhood zone the area zoned Res. C-1 and bounded by Portland, Main and Windsor Streets and a line 120 feet north of and parallel to Main Street; rezone the areas currently identified as Municipal Parking Lots along Bishop Allen Drive to a proposed new Municipal Parking District (MP).

There is word going around today that the petitioners have withdrawn their petition. It’s not really clear that a petition that has been filed with 36 signatures can be "withdrawn" simply on the word of one or several of its proponents. There seems to be a suggestion that this withdrawal is being done strategically with the intent of revising and re-filing the petition. This would be a mistake. Such an absurd petition should be voted and defeated. Zoning petitions should not be filed simply as expressions of unhappiness. That’s what "letters to the editor" and the public comment period during City Council meetings are for.

Order #1. That the Mayor and the Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee are requested to provide updates every other week on the status of the City Manager search process to the City Council and to work with the City’s Information Technology staff to have those updates posted on the City Council website under a separate tab on the City Council’s page on the City’s website.   Councillor Kelley

All sentiments like this are in order. The choice of city manager is the single most important decision to be made by the City Council, and residents and other interested parties have a right to know what’s going on so that they can express themselves to their elected representatives – the only 9 people who will actually make the decision. My main reservation in this matter is that this might turn into some kind of "process carnival" in which every aspect of life in Cambridge is discussed with minimal focus on the only thing that really matters – the capacity to competently manage this city. I also have some concern that with this City Council, the tail might wag the dog and we could end up with a hopelessly wrong choice for the next city manager.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work together with Inspectional Services Department, the Department of Public Works, the Law Department, the Public Information Department, the Public Health Department and a group of concerned residents and property owners to explore action on suggestions for controlling the rodent population.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

This is one area in which her City Council colleagues should definitely heed the advice of Councillor vanBeuzekom. Prior to her election, Minka was an expert member of the Cambridge Rodent Task Force. Rodents quake in fear at the mention of her name.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City officials to explore the possibility of completing an on-street parking census and the impacts of a plan for the gradual reduction of on-street parking spaces over the next decades.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

Here’s where I part company with Councillor vanBeuzekom. Though some of my climate change friends may believe otherwise, on-street parking spaces are an essential resource for those who live in this "streetcar suburb" and who do not have access to off-street parking. I cannot respect the desire of an elected official who has off-street parking dictating to the rest of us that we should lose our parking in order to produce a negligible effect on world climate. – Robert Winters


  1. Order #4.

    Instead of putting the squeeze on the little people of Cambridge in the name of fighting global climate change, why not first have the city clean up its own back yard?

    Few vehicles come close to producing as much choking blue-black smoke as Cambridge fire trucks. The fleets of professional ambulances and police contracted tow-trucks belong in the very same club. Living across the street from an old folks building, I walk by many city authorized emergency vehicles with engines running for long periods of time during close-calls and false alarms of every stripe. The giant orange Works trucks are no fun either. Their diesel engines are great except for people wanting to breath.

    The city should place a rule on itself that its own truck emissions can be no worse than a FedEx or UPS vehicle.

    Comment by JChase — October 22, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  2. I never expected that this issue of whether Susan Yanow could withdraw the petition that bears her name “on behalf of the petitioners” would lead to such a long conversation. That said, I’m glad that the conversation is taking place. The simple fact is that this is NOT Susan Yanow’s petition and she cannot unilaterally withdraw it or withdraw it on behalf of a handful of the 36 people who signed the petition. One option would be to just let the petition expire, but that would be offensive. This was an idiotic petition and it should be voted and defeated and all nine of the city councillors should be put on the record either voting for this idiocy or rejecting it. Any other option is cowardice, but if that’s what happens no one will be surprised.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 22, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

  3. So the Yanow petition has been referred to Unfinished Business with the intention being to let it die a lonely death without the city councillors ever having to vote on it. This is a real shame. There is so little on the record to distinguish the incumbent councillors and future challengers on matters of substance. This petition would have forced city councillors to vote up or down on whether they believe, in principle, in appropriate density in the vicinity of public transit. Apparently, they prefer to hide under a rock and avoid any such vote.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 22, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

  4. Seven months ago the City Manager said he would retire and the date would be the end of June 2013. That is eight months from now. Filling this position is the most important thing that the City Council has to do. Thus far I believe that almost nothing has been accomplished in this effort. Almost half the time interval has been used up. Yes, there is a good (or perhaps several) current employees who can be interim managers so if no decision is made it isn’t a disaster. But why not make the real hire? There is talk about using an outside agency (there are many with good experience, and this is what for-profit companies usually do) to help define and manage process, help conduct a search, and help evaluate the candidates but I don’t see a commitment to go that route and consequent action. I think the worst situation would be to have what appears to be a back-room deal that gets 5 votes to select the next manager. A credible process with outside help will help assure the public, the current employees, and the many outside organizations that have to deal with the city that an excellent choice was made.

    Comment by John Gintell — October 22, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

  5. Robert,
    Regarding the Yanow petition – you’re missing the point. You can rant about idiocy but it’s you that’s missing the point. The discussion around development is an embarrassment. This council rolls over at the slightest whiff of development cash (or flimsy promise of affordable housing/open space/free pizza) that comes their way. The statistics about traffic and T capacity are simply absurd on their face. And, the Redevelopment Authority is going to end up being dissolved once the indictments start rolling in. So please – tell me where the idiocy is.

    [This was an anonymously posted comment. The rules of the forum generally do not allow anonymous comments unless there is some compelling reason to make an exception. – Editor]

    Comment by J. (did not provide name) — October 23, 2012 @ 8:56 pm

  6. Taking a census of on-street parking spots is the first step in a gathering data for a conversation about using the public space called “on-street” parking for its highest and best use. In some neighborhoods or business districts it may be car parking in other places, it may be widened sidewalks, bike parking, bike lanes, storm water management infrastructure, etc. etc. What’s wrong with having the conversation with good data at hand?

    Comment by minka vanBeuzekom — October 24, 2012 @ 11:45 am

  7. The problem is that you begin with the conclusion “plan for the gradual reduction of on-street parking spaces over the next decades” prior to gathering any data. Why must it necessarily be the case that reduction of on-street parking spaces is warranted?

    I have a great concern with the “bait and switch” aspect of this. Once upon a time there were relatively small garages spread throughout the city (often in locations that had previously been stables) that made possible the development of multi-family residential buildings without driveways. At some point the City permitted overnight on-street parking and the need for those garages went away. Many of those garages are now condominium complexes. The new standard became that occupants of many buildings became reliant on those on-street spaces , and in many cases there is no alternative. I am one such person. Every on-street space that is removed in my neighborhood directly impacts me and my neighbors.

    What is your goal, Councillor? Does your zealotry about climate change give you license to make life more difficult for residents? What is the cost for this negligible benefit that you imagine? Nobody is suggesting that there are not places where there is excess on-street parking (or where the benefit might outweigh the cost) but we both know that those places where excess parking exists are not the places where the parking will disappear. The removal of parking spaces most often occurs in those places where people are most in need of it.

    If you want to have an impact, try starting with the removal of some of the parking lots in Central Square. That loss will have the least impact on residential neighbors who don’t have off-street parking. Leave the on-street parking alone.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 24, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

  8. Robert,
    You summed up my feelings exactly about Councillor Van Bouzekom’s ideas on parking. Maybe she should seek guidance from Senator Kerry on parking.
    Peter Sheinfeld

    Comment by Peter Sheinfeld — October 24, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  9. This is a test.

    Comment by Test name — October 31, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

  10. 1) I am baffled by the decision of the council to let this petition simply flutter away. Further I think the damage imposed on property owners and developers via a defacto moratorium is simply irresponsible. We are in a booming market and yet these people would sit on the sidelines and let the citizenry battle it out dangling the property rights of owners with the carelessness of a child. 37 signatures have effectively stopped development in Central Square until 2013 (I’m not counting the ones removed as I’m uncertain this was done correctly or legally). Bravo! I would have preferred a vote, either way, to add stability in this area, to give the business community some guidance and to let developers know whether they are welcome or not. I’m in a great position as I win either way. (Take that!)However, this boom will not last, and our arrogance seems to be unraveling; as I watch history repeat itself I wonder if the council is up to the task of guiding us through it. I’m starting to think not. Mayor Menino can smell weakness from across the river and he is acting. He has every Cambridge Bio-tech on speed dial and when they seem to waiver or run aground in Cambridge he is always there with an offer and the ability to do far more than any councilor has the courage to muster. They used to say that manufacturing in Cambridge would never die. What is it they make at that Necco factory again? Surely it isn’t candy. So the council essentially tells the business community that their voices don’t matter, that the 300+ citizens who signed a petition against don’t matter, and that 37 people stuck in a time warp with a desire to memorialize the destruction of the great depression now have the keys to the city. The only conclusion I can come up with is that the entire council (with the exception of Sir Tim Toomey) are simply cowards. I don’t care which side of the fence you’re on, pick a side, stick with it, and vote. We need leadership in this city and we’ve none. So they are going to rely on recommendations from the C2 board before they make a move. That would seem prudent but for the baker’s dozen or so other reports over the past few decades sitting in city hall that say the same damn thing the C2 board is going to say. In my opinion, mirroring that of Mr. Barry Bluestone, we need to go up and we need to add density. Maybe not 20 stories, but I don’t think 14 was so crazy that we aught to simply close the door without qualification. The revelation of the Fennell properties being up for sale will have all developers asking themselves where this council stands. Will they let a minority rule the majority for fear of … (I honestly do not know what they fear). All this wastes time, and allows Central Square yet again to stagnate. What I find genuinely horrifying (no exaggeration) is that this isn’t even an election year!!! What will they do when votes are on the line? I don’t see how the business community has a friend in this council, and were I not new to this farce I’d be equally angered if I were a generational property owner in the affected area where my property rights have been repeatedly handled with such irreverence. So we wait for C2, and when the recommendations come people with rally again to either side of the fence and will the council again just sit back and let us kill each other? People already don’t believe the studies we’ve offered (as one poster here illustrates); lay-people even challenged Bluestone head on suggesting that his expertise mattered not in the face of what we as Cantabridgians “believe.” Let the politicians in Washington do as they’ve always done; however this is a city government where the opportunity for integrity and courage abounds. If they need the $72k they shouldn’t be sitting on the council…period. If only there were less inept competition for seats on the council my words might actually have teeth. I honestly fear the level of arrogance, ineptitude, and cowardice that has put development in the crosshairs of a moratorium…in the onset of what will be the biggest boom in economic development Cambridge has seen in decades. Fear not though, as I type there is a man across the river that actually has a plan and the will to commit.

    2) The rats rule, period. I’ve often speculated that we sit on tectonic plates consisting of rats, and that quake a few weeks back was merely the shifting towards east Cambridge for a spec of cheese. If Minka has a solution, implement it, and do it now. I service my properties twice a month regardless of whether it is commercial or residential, but my efforts are often thwarted by others that to not share my desire for all out war against vermin. Much like the drug addicts that are attempting adverse possession of Jill Brown Rhone park, I cannot fight them alone. Bueno Suerte Minka Bueno Suerte.

    3) The parking suggestion sounds a little like solving a problem in reverse. Fix the single level parking structures, get that damn green st. lot up about eight more stories and then start removing parking from the street. Either dig down, go up, or mandate that we all drive fiats; of course you’ll have to float the bill…take it from the housing trust đŸ˜‰

    Dr. Winters without this board I’d simply drive my wife nuts. Thank you sir.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — October 31, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

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