Nov 19, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights
Here are some items that jump out as worthy of comment:
City Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Council Order Number 10, dated 5/23/2011, regarding Biogen return to Cambridge.
Biogen Idec Inc. intends to soon relocate its headquarters to Cambridge where it now has a substantial presence. As the Manager’s letter states, "The remaining outstanding barrier is the zoning requirement that a cafeteria be located on the ground floor of the building and open to the public at least 20 hours per week." This seems like a completely reasonable accommodation, especially if the local business association makes a parallel effort to create affordable food options in the immediate area. Most people would likely choose to eat in a restaurant than in the cafeteria of a life sciences building anyway. Perhaps that existing provision in the zoning code is a vestige of the days when Kendall Square had vanishing dining options. That’s no longer the case, though the provision of affordable dining options could still use some attention.
Resolution #15. Resolution on the death of William M. Hogan, Jr. Councillor Maher
William Hogan was a former Cambridge City Councillor and first Vice Mayor under the Plan E Charter. He was the last surviving councillor elected in 1941 in Cambridge’s first PR election under the Plan E Charter adopted the previous year. He died at the age of 100. He would have been about 27 when he was elected (in 1939) and 31 when he left office. He ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 1943. He was among the last elected councillors-at-large in 1939 under the previous charter and the first under the new Plan E charter.
Resolution #25. Thanks to City staff for their work on Election Day. Mayor Davis
Order #16. That the City Manager confer with the Election Commission to make information publicly available on wait times throughout Election Day and the number of booths at each precinct. Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom
Though I had to wait over 40 minutes in line to vote this year, when I got to the front of the line I saw only efficiency and courtesy from the the poll workers at the City Hall Annex. Though things may have run faster with more booths, the real slowdown was caused by the presence of several additional nonbinding ballot questions that most people did not have an opportunity to read prior to voting. If it were my call, I would allow voters the option to vote outside of the booths if they don’t mind doing so. The checking in, checking out, and inserting of ballots into the scanner go very quickly. The limiting factor is the number of booths. One of the great advantages of scannable paper ballots is that there is no strict limit on how many voters can simultaneously if there is some flexibility in where you can fill out your ballot. Mayor Davis’ appreciation of election workers stands in marked contrast to the recent bellyaching of one of her colleagues.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to investigate creating a pilot program for installing mini exercise stations on major walking routes throughout the city, perhaps at bus stops, subway stations and public parks. Mayor Davis
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to look into the installation of public drinking fountains at additional locations in the city – possibly working with the Cambridge Arts Council on interesting designs. Mayor Davis
These are interesting and creative suggestions. Every such installation, however, will have to be maintained and that could be problematic. I’m inclined to believe that public parks and plazas would be a lot more appropriate than bus stops and subway stations.
Order #4. That the Cambridge City Council go on record urging the members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to pass MA Senate Bill 2314, "An Act Relative to Plastic Bag Reduction." Councillor vanBeuzekom
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Law Department to prepare language for an amendment to the Municipal Code to ban the use of polystyrene-based disposable food containers and to provide a waiver provision similar to the by-law of the Town of Brookline. Councillor Cheung and Mayor Davis
I’m glad that there is attention being given to some of these more annoying aspects of waste management, especially the reduction of materials for which there are limited recycling options. It should be noted that consumers have always been able to avoid plastic bags simply by providing their own reusable bags when shopping. Regarding the banning of polystyrene food containers, don’t be surprised if some food vendors replace them by even more wasteful containers made of other plastics that rarely make it into the recycling stream.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate city officials to explore the possibility of completing and submitting the Bicycle Friendly Community application by Feb 26, 2013 so that the City of Cambridge may be included in the next review cycle and join together with other communities in participating in the Bicycle Friendly Community program. Councillor vanBeuzekom
As a daily cyclist, I continue to scrutinize the City’s decisions regarding safe accommodation for cyclists and transportation policies that often seem more rooted in hostility toward motor vehicle operators than in the promotion of good alternatives. The City does seem to be doing a better job in their design of on-street bike lanes, though they routinely err in their treatment of these lanes at intersections. State law requires that right-turning vehicles move as far right as possible before making their turn, yet the City often stripes bike lanes with a solid line right up to intersections. Unless a motor vehicle operator drives in the bike lane immediately before turning, there will be a greater risk of turning into a cyclist passing on the right – and many cyclists are oblivious to this danger. The City is also installing "cycle tracks" on some streets that will create significant conflicts at driveways and intersections and will most likely narrow travel lanes to the point where on-street cyclists wishing to maintain more than casual recreational speeds are endangered. I don’t expect these realities to be reflected in the City’s application, and City planners have been unresponsive in their cycle track juggernaut.
Order #9. Special Permit process pursuant to MGL 40A as it relates to the impact of re-filing a zoning petition on pending special permits or special permits that have been granted. Councillor Kelley
Though I won’t speak to the merits of this Order, the confusion by city councillors over the recent "move to withdraw" the Yanow Petition indicated that a little more schooling on zoning regulations and procedures may be in order.
Order #11. That the Cambridge City Council go on record urging the members of the Massachusetts Committee on House Steering, Policy and Scheduling to pass MA House Bill 4165, "An Act Relative to Speed Limits." Councillor vanBeuzekom
This legislation would reduce the speed limit within "thickly settled areas" and business districts from the current level of 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. As a "thickly settled area", all of Cambridge would likely be covered by this reduced speed limit. While this would make sense in many Cambridge locations, especially on narrow streets with many parked cars, there are plenty of other streets where the existing 30mph speed limit makes more sense. This proposal is introduced every few years and is usually not supported by transportation engineers who argue that, in the absence of other factors, speed limits should be set according to prevailing speeds in order to minimize conflicts.
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate city officials to explore the possibility of communicating appropriate storm preparedness through the website and text messages sent by the city. Councillor vanBeuzekom
This is a good suggestion and consistent with the City’s long-standing practice of encouraging residents to help keep storm drains clear during and after winter storms. Having braved Sandy’s wrath on several occasions to clear the storm drains in my neighborhood, I think it would be very helpful if people were more aware of keeping these drains unobstructed. That means not only parking clear of the drains, but also picking up a rake and getting out there to help keep the drains clear.
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 Oct 19, 2012 to discuss Community Benefits.
The report suggests that the City Council has a long way to go before really coming to terms with this issue. In simple terms, a community benefit is the money paid or benefit provided by a developer for up-zoning property. However, when city councillors are closely involved in deciding how these funds should be spent, the funds often go toward pet projects or priorities of individual councillors. The default option is often affordable housing. One of the more refreshing aspects of the Goody Clancy process for Kendall Square and Central Square has been the expanded definition of community benefits to include things like the exclusion of ground floor retail in the calculation of building densities, financial support for retail in the form of either reduced rent or outfitting the space, and the creation of public spaces for markets and other purposes. These and other ideas are welcome additions to the discussion of what community benefits might flow from permitting additional density in appropriate locations. This committee report only refers to housing and human services, and that’s far too limiting. The Government Operations Committee and Ordinance Committee would be well-advised to absorb the forthcoming recommendations regarding Kendall Square and Central Square before redefining what constitute community benefits and how any related funds should be disbursed. It should also be stated that when community benefits are tied to up-zoning proposals, there is the very real possibility that every such proposal will be granted as long as enough cash is put on the table – regardless if the proposal makes good planning sense. – Robert Winters