Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 27, 2013

Everything from Zoning to Soda Pop – Jan 28, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:58 pm

Everything from Zoning to Soda Pop – Jan 28, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

One apparently overdue item not appearing on this week’s agenda is the text of the proposed contract between the City Council and City-Manager-To-Be Richard Rossi. Order #6 of Dec 3, 2012 stated: "That a contract which sets forth, inter alia, the provisions specified above, shall be provided by the Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee to the City Council for approval no later than Jan 7, 2013."

The Gov’t Operations Committee has since met in Executive Session on Dec 19, Jan 3, and Jan 23 on this matter, and it was expected that a proposed contract would be made available for public review by now. [Pursuant to Council Order #11 of May 2, 2011 and the City Council Rules, "The committee shall also be responsible for negotiating the City Manager’s contract of employment and shall ensure that the contract the committee recommends to the City Council for adoption is posted on the City Council website at least ninety-six (96) hours prior to adoption.] There’s no hurry since Bob Healy’s contract extends through June 30, 2013. Here are the last three contracts for reference:

2009-2013 contract   2006-2009 contract   2002-2006 contract

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Cambridge Historical Commission to approve the landmark designation for the Second Baptist/St. Francis of Assisi Church at 325 Cambridge Street.

We are fortunate to have the great staff of the Cambridge Historical Commission who produce reports like this one. You can always count on there being interesting information in these reports.

Manager’s Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the Forest City/Millennium Pharmaceuticals Zoning Petition.

The Planning Board unanimously recommends adoption of the petition. The proposed amendment and related development plan aligns well with recent recommendations of the Central Square Advisory Committee 2011/2012. It will dramatically improve the retail frontage of a block that has been an embarassment for decades. The new retail will focus on local businesses. The new development will provide office space (primarily) for Millennium – a locally spawned company that works primarily in oncology research and development, i.e. cures for cancer. The latest letter of commitment also promises the development of housing wherever a future Cambridge site can be located that will include a minimum of 25 "affordable" inclusionary housing units.

The Ordinance Committee held a public hearing on the petition on Jan 16 and forwarded it to the full City Council w/o recommendation while also keeping the matter in committee. It could be passed to a 2nd Reading at the Jan 28 Council meeting which would make it eligible for ordination as early as mid-February. There will be another Ordinance Committee meeting on the petition on Wed, Jan 30. The expiration date of the petition is Apr 17. (Zoning Petitions) It will be interesting to see how this petition is eventually voted – and if politics trumps reason.

Manager’s Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the City Council Petition to amend Section 13.59.33 Building and Site Requirements for Active Uses and Open Spaces, to delete requirement number 5 requiring public access in ground floor cafeterias.

Unfinished Business #10. 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 Jan 9, 2013 to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by amending Section 13.59.33 Building and Site Design Requirements for Active Uses and Open Spaces by deleting condition numbered (5) which reads: In order to promote pedestrian activity on adjacent public streets from tenants and employees within commercial buildings, any cafeteria serving such commercial space may be located only on the ground floor level of a building and must be opened to the public at lease twenty hours per week. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Jan 28, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Dec 18, 2012. Petition expires Apr 9, 2013.

This is relatively noncontroversial and reflects the evolution of the Kendall Square area over the last decade. There’s a good chance it will be ordained at this meeting.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to arrange publicity about Earth Hour 2013 including information on the city web site, calendar, emails, cable channel and in front of City Hall so that as many people as possible are encouraged to participate.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

I’ll just take this opportunity to once again say how little value I place on token events like this. I used to help organize Cambridge Earth Day events and eventually came to see such events as meaningless distractions (or opportunities to have bands play on the Esplanade sponsored by local radio stations). If you believe in good environmental practices, you should live those beliefs. Turning off your lights for an hour so that people can witness your righteousness accomplishes nothing.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work together with the appropriate city officials including the City Solicitor and report back to the City Council regarding modification of the ordinance (10.12.030) that links the awarding of a one yearlong Visitor Parking Permit per household to the purchase of a $25 Cambridge Resident Parking Permit.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

I guess nobody thought of this when they increased the Resident Parking Permit fee from $8 to $20 then $25. The intention of this Order is to allow residents who do not own a car to purchase an annual Visitor Pass for $10 instead of $25.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Public Health Department and report back to the City Council on the status of any health measure in effect in Cambridge which would ban tobacco sales in pharmacies and drug stores.   Councillor Cheung

My instinct was to make some snarky comment about how tobacco junkies would just drive further to feed their habits, and maybe this is the truth. However, the Order notes that "According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, 46 municipalities throughout Massachusetts, including Boston, Newton, Worcester, Somerville, Lowell, Brookline, Salem, Springfield, and Watertown have banned tobacco sales in pharmacies and drug stores." So the junkies will only have to drive to Arlington or buy it somewhere other than a drug store. It seems to me that this initiative will do little to convince people not to smoke and simply shift the sales to other outlets. Nothing solved.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Community Health Committee for a public meeting held on Dec 19, 2012 to discuss a ban on plastic bags.

If you’ve ever taken the tour of the Charlestown recycling facility where Cambridge recyclables are processed you’ll know how much difficulty plastic grocery bags can create in the process. They should never be included among curbside recyclables. You certainly don’t need them for buying groceries. Bringing your own reusable bags or boxes is a better option. However, the recommended Order says, "That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare a draft ordinance that will ban the use of plastic bags in the city." This appears to extend beyond grocery bags. What about plastic trash bags?

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Community Health Committee for a public meeting held on Jan 9, 2013 to discuss limiting the size of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages sold.

Initiatives like this are evidence that we’ve given up on education in favor of legislation. Rather than convince people to not swill down 2-liter bottles of Coke, we pass laws limiting what you can consume and/or how much you can consume. A more intelligent approach would be to require that drinks be sold on a strict per-volume basis so that there’s no advantage associated with super-sized drinks. In other words, if 60¢ buys you 12 ounces, $1 will buy you 20 ounces – the same 5¢ per ounce regardless of size. This won’t work with free refills, of course. Councillor Decker’s view: "She stated that while no one wants their choice to be taken away, as a larger society we need to ask what the tradeoffs are for the larger good." Yeah, that’s exactly who I want determining what’s good for me.

Finally, a few reports:

Miscellaneous #1. Transmitting notification of the 2012 Town Gown Reports.

Miscellaneous #2. Transmitting notification of the 2012 Public Health Annual Report.



  1. That Decker quote strikes me as the sort of thing that might once have been said in defense of a law against sodomy. However, the mention of “tradeoffs” makes me wonder – was there any attempt to portray this bill as preventing externalities (e.g., under PPACA, health choices besides smoking aren’t reflected in insurance premiums, so the health choices I make could affect your insurance rates) or is the motivation purely paternalistic (“if you are in Cambridge and you think you want a 20 oz soda, you clearly know less about your preferences than I do, even though I know nothing else about you”)?

    Comment by Steven — January 28, 2013 @ 1:44 am

  2. Public health practice and research shows that environmental strategies that reduce access results in a reduction of use. Be it increasing the price with minimum pricing, like alcohol, or taxes, like alcohol, cigaretts and gasoline. Be it controlling where it is sold. Like controls on alcohol outlet density.
    Additionally community norms can effect people’s perception and can be an effective environmental strategy. So prohibiting the sale of cigaretts in vending machines nor drug stores does work. Having to drive further is a deterrent especially to a young person who is more price sensitive.
    Same for soda. In and of itself it is not THE answer. But done in conjunction with multiple other strategies it adds up.
    Education in and of itself is not the answer.

    Comment by Frank Connelly — January 28, 2013 @ 8:06 am

  3. 1) I’d be more in favor of banning single serving alcoholic beverages, like nips and “40’s.” This is really nothing short of embarrassing in light of the important things going on in the city.

    2) What about plastic dog waste bags? I rather like these little guys and without them I’d be living next to a crap farm rather than a park.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — January 28, 2013 @ 8:17 am

  4. It’s easy to say that “Public health practice and research shows…”, but this provides no quantification for what restrictions have what effects. I will readily agree that eliminating cigarette machines will have a measurable positive effect. I will also agree that eliminating advertising that glorifies smoking has had a measurable positive effect. Ditto for taxing the hell out of tobacco. I’m just not convinced that disallowing tobacco sales at the CVS while allowing it at the convenience store down the street will have any more than a negligible effect.

    Regarding the limitation on serving size for sugary beverages, perhaps a better approach would be to price beverages on the actual sugar content rather than volume. This might create an enhanced market for less sugary beverages. We could start with water at $0.00 – all you can drink.

    I personally don’t like the argument that limitations must be imposed because “otherwise we all have to pay for the consequences.” By that logic, we should ban rich foods and fast women, prohibit rock climbing and skiing, and certainly place limits on how much television people can watch per day. Freedom is a rather precious thing, and this includes the freedom to sometimes do risky things without being accused of trying to harm society.

    Comment by Robert Winters — January 28, 2013 @ 9:14 am

  5. If some members of the Council cared more about the city as a whole and less about securing votes, this Forest City/Millennium deal would have been over and done with already. The upcoming election is going to spiral into a completely unnecessary “us vs. them” argument about development.

    As for the “soda ban” – I agree with Patrick. I’d rather see a ban on nips and 40s instead of Big Gulps. It’s not like we have a bunch of people walking around Central or Harvard that are buzzed on sugary drinks…

    Comment by Joseph "Slugs" Aiello — January 28, 2013 @ 11:31 am

  6. Slight correction on the progress to complete Rich Rossi’s contract. Yes, its been slow process however, the January 23rd Gov Rules & Opps Committee was not held because of one of attorneys involved was knocked out by flu. It hasn’t been rescheduled yet.

    Comment by Minka — January 28, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

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