Coming up at City Council on Monday, June 3
During a municipal election year, it is common that the content of City Council Orders is at least in part motivated by the need to identify or, in some cases, create issues that will distinguish the author of the Order. The same can be said of matters taken up by the City Council committees and more. Controversy and alarm are sure to draw more attention than more mundane matters. There’s now just four weeks to go before nomination papers become available for City Council candidates, and it’s a good time to look at the actions of our local elected officials through a campaign-tinted lens. With this in mind, here’s a list of some of the more interesting agenda items on this week’s agenda:
Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-38, regarding a report on measures the City can take to prevent the transport of ethanol. [Meeting Notice with response from Congressman Michael Capuano]
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a working group of up to eleven people charged with drafting a community response to the Mar 29, 2013 report issued by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as it relates to ethanol transport and the impact on the City of Cambridge. Councillor Maher and Councillor Decker
There’s no doubt that this is a significant issue that deserves a thoughtful response, but it’s true that an atmosphere of fear is something that can be nurtured and exploited for political gain. The state legislature has taken some steps to stop trains bearing this particular hazardous cargo, but the letter from Congressman Capuano makes clear that federal jurisdiction in interstate commerce may trump any such efforts, including actions targeting things other than the transportation of such cargo. It’s not surprising that residents may be fearful, especially with news stories from elsewhere about train derailments and their consequences.
Should this plan go through, the most likely route would follow the Fitchburg Line through North Cambridge and Porter Square and then through Somerville en route to the Chelsea destination. The Grand Junction branch passing through Cambridgeport and East Cambridge is a possible alternate route. Perhaps the most potentially dangerous locations for any route would be at-grade crossings. On the preferred route, this includes Sherman Street in North Cambridge and Park Street in Somerville.
Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-33, regarding a report on adding a RSS feed to all City web pages.
This item will be carefully scrutinized by Councillor Cheung, John Hawkinson and Saul Tannenbaum, but probably not by legions of other residents.
Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-78, regarding a report on expanding the number of parks/playing fields with public toilets; Awaiting Report Item Number 12-132, regarding a report on incorporating permanent bathroom facilities at the Cambridge Common, conducting a study for permanent bathroom facilities in all squares and providing a list of all locations were portable bathroom facilities are currently located; Awaiting Report Item Number 12-150, regarding convening a task force to look into the creation of providing permanent public restrooms at high volume locations; and Awaiting Report Item Number 13-55, regarding a report on efforts to develop a working group to review public bathroom issues.
As the text of the Manager’s report indicates, this responds to four separate Council orders. Though the idea of bathroom facilities may seem like a not-so-hot topic, it has actually brought out a lot of people during the Public Comment period of meetings over a span of quite a few years, and good answers are not so easy to come by. This is also not just about the Cambridge Common. In past years there was a lot of discussion about creating public toilets in the major squares, but nothing really happened for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, people still "have to go" and you can’t change that via legislation. It does seem clear that the City administration is taking the matter seriously and that some accommodation will follow.
Manager’s Agenda #28. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-60, regarding a report on the feasibility of donating old computers to non-profit agencies in lieu of recycling them.
This is clearly a good thing, but one has to wonder why sensible efficiencies like this should require City Council orders. The City of Cambridge is often seen as a leader in "sustainability" efforts, and one major part of this involves waste disposal and reuse options. It seems to this writer and long-time recycling advocate that all City departments should be ensuring that surplus equipment is disposed in the best possible way, and reuse certainly seems a better choice than other alternatives.
Unfinished Business #14. Report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 3, 2013 to discuss an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create a new Section 6.100 Bicycle Parking, and to create a new definition for Bicycle Parking in Article 2.000, modify the yard standards in Article 5.000 as they relate to bicycle parking and modifying various sections of Article 6.000 to remove references to bicycle parking. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 6, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Mar 19, 2013. Petition expires June 17, 2013. May 6, 2013 substituted language referred to Unfinished Business and remained on Unfinished Business.
I suspect this will be ordained at this meeting. The proposed ordinance could be made better by including a requirement for secure bicycle parking for all redevelopments. At the very least, there should be a requirement that there be no net loss of potential bike parking below an established minimum for both residential and commercial buildings.
Resolution #17. Thanks and best wishes to Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray for his service to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Councillor Decker
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Tim. I’ll never forget the evasive answers you gave me at a City Council committee meeting back when you were still the Mayor of Worcester. You haven’t changed a bit.
Resolution #30. Congratulations to City Manager Robert W. Healy on his fellowship at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mayor Davis [Press Release]
How do I schedule an appointment with Professor Healy during office hours later this year?
Order #1. That the Executive Assistant to the City Council confer with the Dedication Committee to consider the request from Wayne Ishikawa for a street corner dedication in honor of Michael Shinagel. Councillor Toomey
I tip my hat to my former boss, Harvard Extension School Dean Michael Shinagel. The Extension School has been providing affordable educational opportunities for residents for a century and Michael Shinagel served as Dean of the Division of Continuing Education for 38 years from 1975 through 2013. [Harvard Magazine article, Sept 2012]
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff, City of Boston, state transportation officials and Longfellow Bridge construction project managers to determine if it would be possible for pedicabs to transfer passengers from the general MGH/Charles Street area of Boston to the general Kendall Square area of Cambridge and back again. Councillor Kelley
This is an excellent idea. Still unresolved, however, is the question of where pedicabs should ride on streets where the City wants install so-called "cycle tracks." The pedicabs often consume the entire width of these bike lanes, and in order to accommodate the sidewalk "cycle tracks" roadway widths are often narrowed to the point where motor vehicles and cyclists can no longer safely share a travel lane in the road. It’s even worse for pedicab drivers who will have no option other than to "take the lane" or ride the sidewalk. This conflict will likely not be an issue on the Longfellow Bridge.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the State Auditor’s Office to determine if the state of Massachusetts will fund the costs incurred by the city when it assesses and establishes full and fair cash value for tax-exempt properties within the City of Cambridge even though the city cannot collect taxes from said properties. Councillor vanBeuzekom
As the Order states, the City cannot collect taxes from said properties, so how the assessment takes place is unimportant to the City. The simplest solution is to simply ask that the owners of tax-exempt properties submit estimates of their "full and fair cash value." There will be no tax collected anyway, so there’s no practical need for more than a good estimate. This also applies to the valuation of City, State, and Federal properties within the city.
Committee Report #4. 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 May 22, 2013 to review the status of positions reporting directly to the City Council.
The purpose of this meeting was to take up the issue of the appointment of the City Clerk and the City Auditor. It’s about time that the word "Interim" should be removed from "Interim City Clerk Donna P. Lopez." Jim Monagle is also expected to be reappointed as City Auditor.
Unfinished Business #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-90, regarding a report on Executive Session to discuss lawsuits. [City Manager Agenda Number Seven of Feb 25, 2013 Placed on Table on motion of Councillor Kelley on Feb 25, 2013.]
Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig Kelley notifying the City Manager and City Council of his intention to move to take Calendar Item #10 from the table to enable discussion of various lawsuits against the City.
Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom alerting her colleagues of her intention to pull Awaiting Report Item Number 12-90 (Unfinished Business #10) to discuss pending lawsuits.
My speculation is that these fundamentally identical communications originated on Brookford Street and that Public Comment will once again feature bitter commentary from one of its residents. City Manager Robert Healy will retire four weeks from today. The City will move on without skipping a beat, but some multiple-decade critics may never move on. – Robert Winters
Addendum: At this meeting the City Council accepted a late committee report from the Government Operations & Rules Committee and passed the following Order:
ORDERED: That the former site of the Cambridge Police Department which is now the new location for the Cambridge Community Learning Center, the Cambridge Housing Authority and the Multi-Service Center be named the “Alice K. Wolf Center” and that a suitable dedication ceremony be planned by the Executive Assistant to the City Council and the staff, and be it further
ORDERED: That the Deputy City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council with a plan for either a suitable plaque or a sign for the “Alice K. Wolf Center“.