Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 13, 2013

On the Jan 14, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:53 pm

On the Jan 14, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are the items that caught my attention:

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-145, regarding a report on how the City might provide a reduced rate Hubway bike-share membership to its limited income residents.

The communication from Brian Murphy (CDD) makes abundantly clear just how affordable and heavily subsidized Hubway already is. Perhaps Councillor vanBeuzekom’s Order needs an additional clause calling on the City to assign staff to pedal the bikes and ring their little bells for the helpless citizens of Cambridge.

City Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Council Order Number 7 of 9/10/12 and Council Order Number 3 of 1/7/2013, regarding funding for Upward Bound.

It should surprise no one that our ever-generous City is coming forward with short-term funding to allow this academic year’s program to continue to its conclusion. However, this federally-supported program is not ripe for indefinite City funding far into the future. Note especially the Manager’s advice: "I will continue to strive to identify other funding sources for future years. However, unless, and until that goal is achieved, I would advise the program leaders to not commence enrollment for the 2013-2014 Academic term."

Resolution #9. Congratulating Nancy Glowa on her appointment as City Solicitor.   Mayor Davis

Yes, congratulations indeed.

Order #1. That the City Council move to Executive Session at the City Council meeting of Jan 14, 2013 to obtain legal advice and to discuss strategy with the City Solicitor regarding threatened litigation with respect to the Open Meeting Law complaint filed with the Attorney General by Tom Stohlman.   Mayor Davis

Those of us who have served on City boards and commissions have become aware of some of the unintended consequences of recent revisions and interpretations of the state’s Open Meeting Law. For example, it has been suggested that members of advisory committees with no regulatory function should refrain from ordinary or e-mail conversation outside of the setting of a public meeting. I would like to respectfully suggest that the State Legislature review the current law in regard to boards with no regulatory functions. There are good reasons for open meeting protocols for elected bodies and regulatory bodies. On the other hand, Mr. Stohlman’s complaint regarding the City Council’s adherence to the Open Meeting Law serves no useful purpose and focuses on the trees rather than the forest.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development and any other appropriate City personnel, Renae Gray from the Area 4 neighborhood, and any other appropriate group or individuals from that neighborhood to initiate the process of renaming Area 4 to a more appropriate name.   Vice Mayor Simmons

The intent of this Order has been around for a while. However, I believe there’s a misunderstanding expressed in the Order regarding the origin of the "Area 4" name. Vice Mayor Simmons says, "Area 4 is one of only two neighborhoods in the City of Cambridge that is known by its police district number, as opposed to a formal name." In fact, the name "Area 4" is not a police district number. Its origin dates to a 1953 report by the Cambridge Planning Board called "Thirteen Neighborhoods: One City". Mark Fortune was the planning director at that time. The report states that, "The thirteen neighborhoods of Cambridge were defined by the Planning Board staff and approved by the Planning Board in 1952 after years of study." [Original Map]

Some of the more invented neighborhoods (like Area 6) later adopted more acceptable names (like Mid-Cambridge). Much of "Area Four" today was historically known as Cambridgeport, though the people of Area 5 have successfully appropriated that name. The truth is that people in any neighborhood can use whatever name they wish. If it sticks, and if the political people choose to use that name, it will eventually become the "official" name. It’s not so clear that having City staff meet with a few selected individuals in a neighborhood is the right way to assign a name to any neighborhood. The bottom line about Cambridge is that no person or group of people speaks for any neighborhood in this city. Only neighborhood-wide consensus about the name of a given area can define the name of that area.

This applies emphatically to those who are now referring to Central Square simply as "Central," and doubly for the recent reference to the stretch of lower Mass. Ave. between Lafayette Square and MIT as "LoMa". I almost wretched when I heard that.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the possibility of a gun buy-back program in Cambridge.   Mayor Davis

You knew that one was coming.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to initiate a plan of action setting up a procedure for future projects and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

I’m not sure what exactly Councillor Cheung is getting at with this Order. The text of the Order refers to "debris removal, including but not limited to hazardous waste," but one would think there must already be standards for dealing with these materials. It seems pretty certain that this is spelled out in state regulations.

Order #11. That the City Manager confer with the License Commission, Community Development Department, Planning Board and Board of Zoning Appeals on the logistic of deliveries of trash removal from business issue and report back with relevant information and ideas for improvement to the Cambridge City Council.   Councillor Cheung

Though much of this is probably already addressed in building codes, the subject of this Order has some value. There are many instances where the provision of recycling services and waste disposal have been compromised by building design and, quite significantly, by renovation. In the neverending quest to produce more rentable space, basements, alleys, rear yards, etc. are often designed in a way that makes these basic services unnecessarily difficult. The Planning Board currently is studying a similar issue regarding the provision of bicycle parking.

Order #12. That the City Council go on record urging Harvard University to give serious consideration to Homeowner’s Rehab’s bid to purchase Putnam Square Apartments and to work closely and cooperatively with the City, Homeowner’s Rehab, Inc., tenants and others to ensure a successful sale of the property to Homeowner’s Rehab, Inc. so that Putnam Square Apartments may continue to provide affordable housing for current and future elderly and disabled tenants.   Councillor Decker

Knock ’em dead, Marjorie. The key statement in the Order is "The City of Cambridge believes the affordability of this building is legally bound into perpetuity in exchange for the agreements and variances Harvard was granted prior to the development of 2 Mt. Auburn committing it as an affordable building to Cambridge seniors." That said, it seems a bit over the top to demand that Harvard donate "100% of the profits from the sale of the building to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund." Sometimes I wonder if our City’s elected officials would move to carry out the City equivalent of "nationalizing the housing industry" if they could find a legal way to pull it off. Isn’t that what rent control was all about?

Committee Report #3. 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 Jan 3, 2013 to continue discussion with Attorney Elizabeth Valerio, representing the City Council in negotiations with the next City Manager, Richard Rossi.

Not if Tom Stohlman can help it! – RW


  1. I’m not sure how citizen advisory committees or reports from City Council subcommittees have ended up in your discussion of my Open Meeting Law Complaint, but so be it. I’ve sent the following comments to the City Council regarding (the ironic) Policy Order #1 at tonight’s meeting:

    To the City Council and City Clerk,

    I am (yet again) unable to make tonight’s meeting because of a regular tutoring appointment with a CRLS senior. I would like to comment on tonight’s Policy Order #1, wherein you will be going into Executive Session to discuss the Open Meeting Law.

    From my letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General:
    “If the Attorney General’s Office agrees with my complaint, I am open to remedies other than a re-vote or fines for the violation (and then, many violations in the past). I do not believe a re-vote will change the results of the original order and as a Cambridge taxpayer, I have no interest in my money being used for anything but a symbolic fine.

    I would still ask that the Cambridge City Council acknowledge their procedure is a violation. I would also ask that they consult with your office on how to improve their procedure and change it to avoid the violation in the future.”

    I am following the standard, recommended Open Meeting Law (OML) complaint process. We disagree and I’m going to the AG to get clarification.

    The “threatened litigation” in the proposed order sounds so, well, threatening. And since my name is attached to the phrase, I just want to make it clear:

    I am not suing the City of Cambridge, I’m just trying to make the public process more transparent and open. And that is not a threat to anyone.


    Tom Stohlman

    Comment by Tom Stohlman — January 14, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

  2. Stohlman is running for office, so I think he needs to keep his hat in the fire so to speak. A wise man once told me that, “Cambridge is a city of experts.” What is the basis for the suit? As an eventual lawyer I suppose I should appreciate the call to litigation, but in this city it seems more like chest thumping and sour grapes.

    The changing of Area IV is an equally empty notion. Why? Does this mean that the restaurant on Main will also have to follow suit? Or will our children’s children have to ponder the origin of the name?

    Lastly, Decker’s order is precisely why property owners will be ignoring Order #5. It is no mystery, but astounding all the same, that these people so entrenched in tax payer money, forever on the dole, continue to undermine and demand more from those institutions that make their existence possible.

    When I run for city council, I won’t take a salary and I sure as hell won’t waste anyone’s time with nonsense like this. Of course this won’t take place until the year 2085 so until then you’re stuck with this riff raff.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — January 14, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

  3. A few points Robert, most kids who grew up in Cambridge refer to Central Square as ‘Central’, its a slang just like ‘Port’ for Cambridgeport (and we always said Area 4 was ‘port’) and ‘NC’ for North Cambridge and ‘West’ for West Cambridge. I’d agree with you to be wary of realtor designations though. LoMa is inexcusable, sort of like the rebranding of East Boston as EaBo. They also suck at local geography too. I’ve seen houses on Sherman Street advertised by Caldwell Banker as ‘West’ Cambridge when everyone knows if you’ve gone past Masse’s on Sherman you’re in North Cambridge.

    Comment by James Conway — January 25, 2013 @ 10:55 am

  4. You and I are both good at eye rolling the usual PC lefty stuff the Council produces (peace commissions and foreign policy orders) but this one actually is a proven public policy that has worked in Australia and worked in Chicago. Again as I said elsewhere a balanced approach is needed. Shutting down Roche Brothers (though I’m sure the landlord wanted more condo’s or trendier stores) is one extreme, but keeping guns on the streets is another. We lost a CRLS student this past year to gun violence and this carrot coupled with the stick of more neighborhood policing can disarm the gangs.

    Comment by James Conway — January 25, 2013 @ 10:57 am

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