Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 24, 2013

Happy Trails – Agenda Highlights for Monday, June 24 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:03 am

Happy Trails – Agenda Highlights for Monday, June 24 Cambridge City Council meeting

This will be the last Cambridge City Council meeting with Robert Healy as City Manager.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-63, regarding a report on the progress on the non-zoning recommendations submitted by the Central Square Advisory Committee.

There is much to be said about these generally excellent recommendations. More later. Your homework assignment is to read them. There will be a quiz.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-71, regarding a report on how the structure of boards and commissions can be adjusted.

The key statement: "I will state, as the City Council is aware, that it is my long held belief that there is significant overlap and duplication of effort and expense in the current structure." The real question is whether this group of 9 city councillors or their successors have either the vision or the capacity to correct the status quo. Now is the best opportunity to initiate some changes.

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Foundry Building "Reuse Study" prepared by HFMH Architects.

The key recommendation: "The cost estimate of bringing this building ‘up to code,’ including an elevator for ADA accessibility, and meeting Silver LEEDS status is over $11,250,000. Funds for such a project are nowhere included in the Five Year Capital Investment Plan. It is my strong recommendation that the City Council authorize the sale of this building in accordance with all applicable laws and subject to all the existing zoning conditions. The requirement for 10,000 square feet of community use would be protected in the proposal."

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the current Awaiting Report list.

The Right Thing To Do: "I am hereby recommending that, as one means of allowing the City Manager, effective July 1, 2013, to commence his successful efforts, that all items on the current Awaiting Report list be ‘placed on file.’" A clean slate for incoming City Manager Richard Rossi is exactly the best course of action.

Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been received from Mike Connolly, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to ensure that all new construction or changes in use requiring Project Review Special Permits are built to avoid emission of greenhouse gases in daily operation and thereby mitigate the risks of extremely dangerous climate changes. A clear and enforceable definition of "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions is proposed. [HTML version of petition]

This will be surely be controversial, and that may well be the intention of this petition timed to coincide with the calendar of the municipal election. Most will agree that "net zero" is a great goal, but I do not believe it is permissible under state law for a local zoning ordinance to prescribe what vendors a property owner, developer, or tenant must use to purchase goods or services. This includes the purchase of electricity or other forms of energy. The proposed zoning amendment includes not only provisions for extensive reporting of energy use, but also requires that the property owners and all of their tenants must purchase electricity from a restricted list of suppliers OR pay an additional fee indefinitely into the future for "energy credits". This goes well beyond what zoning is legally allowed to do. It would be like requiring that all tenants in a building must buy only environmentally friendly products. We may all wish that they do so, but we cannot use the zoning ordinance to mandate such things.

It should also be noted that this proposed zoning amendment is being filed before MIT has submitted designs for future buildings that will eventually be built under a recently passed zoning amendment relating to the Kendall Square area. An 11th hour attempt to insert a "net zero" requirement in that zoning (or perhaps in the accompanying memorandum of understanding) almost derailed the overall vote. The people who are proposing the current zoning amendment are precisely the same people who were adamantly opposed to the MIT/Kendall zoning. There is good reason to believe that the underlying motivation is to again try to derail the MIT/Kendall proposal.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to Teddy Darling on his retirement from the Middlesex Superior Court.   Councillor Toomey

Best wishes in your retirement, Teddy.

Resolution #17. Congratulations to Owen O’Riordan on being named Acting Commissioner of the Department of Public Works.   Mayor Davis

Another excellent choice of leadership in one of the City’s most essential departments.

Resolution #18. Thanks to City Manager Robert W. Healy, Jr. for over three decades of dedicated service to the City of Cambridge and best wishes on his transition to the Kennedy School of Government.   Mayor Davis

I’m happy that Bob Healy achieved many of the long-term goals he wanted to achieve, including several major replacements in our water infrastructure, the new Library, new Police Station, renovated City Hall Annex, and more. He’s also shepherded the many changes on the environmental front beginning with the establishment of the recycling program through the broad arrange of programs now in place.

I personally have tremendous respect for Bob Healy, and I like him personally even though he sometimes seems gruff and hard to approach. I don’t think there’s another person alive who has cared as much about this city. I also look forward to the next phase of history in Cambridge. With a new city manager there will likely come new initiatives. It’s the perfect time to modify the things that have not worked so well and to build on those things that have worked well, and Richard Rossi is the kind of person who likes to get things done. This bodes well for Cambridge.

Professor Healy – I’d like to make an appointment for office hours when you arrive at the Kennedy School.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to commission a portrait of Robert W. Healy, Jr. to be hung in the newly named Robert W. Healy, Jr. Executive Suite.    Councillor Cheung

That’s a great gesture and appropriate for someone who has given so much of his life to the City of Cambridge. – Robert Winters

13 Comments

  1. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your thorough reporting! I didn’t find a way to comment directly on your net zero petition editorial comments so I’m commenting here. Please note that the net zero petition does not require indefinite payments to a third party for renewable energy credits (RECs) but rather allows the purchase of RECs when actual renewable energy is not used to supply the building. Of course the renewable energy itself may be coming from a third party but that is also the case with conventional energy 🙂 Thus the hope is that building operators would actually purchase renewable energy rather than RECs as much as possible.

    Best,

    Q

    Comment by Quinton Zondervan — June 22, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

  2. I don’t recall ever meeting Alice Wolfe, but over the years I have had a couple of direct interactions with Robert Healy. Each time I found him to be easy to communicate with and very helpful. I hope his replacement will be as helpful.

    The relocation of the police HQ gave the city the opportunity to name 2 important buildings. City leaders are handsomely compensated for their involvement with our government with paychecks, benefits, elite connections, and generous pensions. But what about less famous people in our city who also serve, and give, and sacrifice, but can never ever be handsomely compensated? When deciding the names given to the city’s most prominent structures, instead of having those who have already received the greatest enrichment lead the list, why not have soldiers with city affiliations who have had their limbs or faces burned off, disfigured to their last days, or the MIT officer killed in action, or military dead, who will never have the ability to spend a penny of any enrichment lead our list?

    Instead of making great shrines for those of us who are most able to build them on their own, why not save them for those unfortunate souls who have sacrificed more than they can ever be repaid?

    JC

    Comment by JChase — June 24, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

  3. The net zero petition is annoying. Connolly really wants to have the last word in Kendall. I just find it hard to take anything “No Money” puts out there at face value. Given the small amount of actual “net-zero” buildings in this country and an even smaller portion above 15000sqft (our new school will be in small company) I find it difficult to see how we could expect Kendall to build to this lofty spec. However, this proposed amendment would kill anything that could ever happen in Central Square; which is of course “no money’s” goal. Its this kind of extremism that turned me off to his run for council in the first place.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — June 25, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

  4. As I previously stated, I agree with most of the “net zero” goals, but I believe the petitioners are clueless regarding what zoning actually can regulate and, more to the point, what it cannot regulate. Unless I’m misreading state law, dictating from whom goods and services must be purchased and is not something that can be done via zoning. Individual developers and property owners can voluntarily agree to some things in a “memorandum of understanding”, but this is not part of the actual zoning code nor should it be.

    I have little doubt that Connolly and his new-found “No to Everything” friends are partnering up with the Greenies here as a tool to stop construction of new housing and other buildings not to their liking. Their first goal is to revisit what is anticipated to be built on the MIT side of Kendall Square. They will then try to block all but the most minimal changes to Central Square.

    What I found most disappointing at the June 24 Council meeting was how many new City Council candidates exhibited their complete ignorance of zoning. I’m finding the School Committee race far more interesting. Unless some as yet unidentified City Council candidates emerge, I’ll have to characterize the field in one word – WEAK.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 25, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

  5. It is strange to me that one of the most important functions of the council is handled with such disregard and a complete lack of interest or education.

    Comment by patrick barrett — June 25, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

  6. Robert,

    That we should all try and be better stewards of our environment is something that we can all, or most of us, can agree upon.

    I do agree with you that trying to require landlords and tenants, often overlooked in the discussion of this petition so far, to purchase certain forms of energy, offsets, etc. is not something that zoning is set out to do, in my opinion.

    I have many issues with this petition, which I will endeavor to spell out more in the coming weeks, but here is but a couple:

    1). The City and members of the K2C2 Committees just spent considerable time debating the benefits of smaller footprint buildings over the very large footprint buildings. Yet, this petition would encourage the development of larger footprint buildings as they have more surface area to try and generate electricity upon. Disappointing that this petition would want to revert us back to those very buildings against which there has been much opposition.

    2). The requirement for tenants and this includes residents, to be net zero is unreasonable and a very regressive form of environmental taxation. Asking residents in larger buildings, including those in inclusionary units, to acquire energy at a higher price just because of where they live strikes me as counter to what Cambridge professes to be all about.

    3). Members of the public have worked hard to encourage developers to include local, independently owned businesses in their retail locations. This petition would put an end to that for all but the highest margin businesses, if any. The additional costs to the developer and the additional costs to keep their own space at net zero would drive their costs higher. Tis would result in higher prices for their goods and services. More likely than not their customers would seek to shop elsewhere to obtain the same r simi,ar product at a lower price be it at a shop in Somerville or on the Internet. The resulting demise of retail storefronts would either be filled with more banks or chains which, again, is counter to what the people of Cambridge have been trying to achieve.

    Again, being better shards of our environment is an important goal and one which we should all strive to accomplish, but this petition does not accomplish that goal, it only drives development, residents and small businesses out of business or out of Cambridge most likely resulting in a ore negative impact on the environment than having today.

    Comment by Charlie Marquardt — June 25, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

  7. Thanks for your comments on our net zero petition. I appreciate an informed debate. However, please do not cast aspersions that stray from the facts:

    1. The petitioners are not opposed to development, we are opposed to climate destroying pollution. Being better stewards of our environment isn’t some “goal we can all agree on” but an immediate and urgent necessity in the face of rapidly accelerating climate change. Continuing to build buildings that add to pollution is nonsensical and has to stop. You heard the President say the same thing yesterday.

    2. I’m no zoning laws expert and we are not changing the general zoning laws here. This petition would only impact large developments that require a special permit. Developers who don’t like those extra provisions can stick to the existing zoning provisions and would not be bothered by our net zero requirement. So arguments about the validity of regulating net zero via zoning are not directly relevant to this petition. This petition spells out that in its bargaining with developers requesting special permits, the city should demand that those buildings be net zero. Nothing unreasonable about that.

    We are fully aware that this petition does not solve climate change, any more than Obama’s declarations yesterday will do so. However, it is extremely important that we have this conversation and that is the primary intent of this petition. Therefore I would greatly appreciate it if we could stick to the relevant facts and not waste time on casting aspersions. I helped initiate this petition not because I want to single out MIT or drive development out of the city but because I have a responsibility to my children to safeguard their future. Right now we are destroying their future and that is unacceptable. This petition is only a tiny step in the direction of addressing that fact. I’m happy to entertain ideas for how we can do even better. I’m not happy to entertain ideas for how we can continue to ignore the problem.

    Comment by Quinton Zondervan — June 26, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

  8. Quinton,

    “No Money” is definitely opposed to development. He has shown up at just about every hearing protesting developments throughout the city. This was when he was running for council, and decided to pander to the residential groups that instinctively oppose just about everything. Naturally don’t trust a petition however well intended when I see his name attached. I also think that approaching climate issues with a “sky is falling” shotgun solution mentality isn’t very helpful. Why not propose a more tenable solution like achieving net zero buildings by 2030 (see: California) or LEED Platnium status by 2020 … which for all purposes would be net zero? Instead you have chosen to help author a mandate, forcing developers and tenants to buy energy from certain providers and substantially increased the cost of building. You say for the environment, but I say you’re just trying to stop Kendall and eventually Central Square from being developed and have chosen a backdoor method of doing it. Your glib remarks about development and those pesky developers who seek to build beyond our holy zoning laws really highlights your underlying contempt and makes it easy to see where you’re really coming from.

    I do not believe you can use zoning is this way, and really this should come out as a legislative initiative; not the blatant abuse of police power. Further, President Obama says a lot of things, and I rarely take them at face value, so using him as a reference to reinforce your position doesn’t really help. Forcing net zero won’t save your children anymore than it will save mine, nor will the lack of it condemn them to living in some bleak dystopian eco-nightmare. The problem isn’t being ignored, and taking the “either you do what I say or you’re wrong!” approach isn’t going to get you very far, 1) Because its simply not how you get things done, 2) You’re dead wrong, and 3) because the path to net zero buildings on the scale of places like Kendall need to be incrementally adopted so we can protect our environment without destroying the necessary growth this city needs to survive.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — June 27, 2013 @ 12:34 am

  9. Thanks Patrick, I appreciate you actually putting a counter proposal on the table. That is the intent of this petition: to have this conversation! Unfortunately the sky really is falling this time, and that really does trump all other considerations. Sorry for the bad news. The time to act is now. I look forward to your proposal to city council that they adopt LEED Platinum as the minimum standard for all large construction by 2020. That would indeed go a long way towards providing a solution. Thanks again for being in the conversation. All the best.

    Comment by Quinton Zondervan — June 27, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

  10. Regarding the statement: “Unfortunately the sky really is falling this time, and that really does trump all other considerations.”

    NOTHING trumps ALL other considerations. Everything involves multiple considerations. People choosing to live more densely is a net benefit in terms of energy consumption – even if their housing is not built to impossibly high Gold, Platinum, or Uranium LEED standards. If a lab building is going to be built somewhere, it’s probably best that it be located where people don’t have to travel far to get there. If a policy is so onerous as to scatter jobs across the countryside and send people packing to live in places that require long commutes because of the unaffordability of housing, that does more harm than good. Personally, I’m growing very tired of the zealotry.

    Let’s also be clear that filing a zoning petition is not an appropriate way “to have a conversation.” It’s an attempt to change an ordinance. It can force projects to be delayed and cause significant cost increases. That’s a lot more than just “having a conversation.”

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 27, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

  11. Well that is a tired old argument that no longer applies. We cannot afford complacency. Apparently just saying the sky is falling isn’t enough to get the action we need, so now we have to resort to zoning petitions. For all the complaining someone might think you guys are doing all the hard work here 🙂

    Comment by Quinton Zondervan — June 27, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

  12. QZ – I’m curious about which “tired old argument” is being referenced.

    Was it the assertion that multiple considerations must be weighed in considering public policy?

    Perhaps it was the suggestion that “If a policy is so onerous as to scatter jobs across the countryside and send people packing to live in places that require long commutes because of the unaffordability of housing, that does more harm than good.” Yeah, that’s pretty tired.

    Or perhaps it was the suggestion that zoning petitions, even those doomed to fail, can drive up costs.

    I am reminded of a zoning petition in North Cambridge a number of years ago that tried to stop a cohousing development from being built. The net effect of that “conversation” was that the costs soared for all the people who were investing their money in order to build and live in that cohousing. Thankfully, the housing was eventually built.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 27, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

  13. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for asking, sorry for not being more specific. I was referring to the “scattering people” argument. That argument makes sense in a world where other places can afford to be less environmentally friendly than Cambridge and therefore we have a trade off situation. But that is no longer the case. Cambridge’s “leadership” on this issue will have to be very temporary if we are to survive. Inefficiency and pollution are simply not an option anywhere. The cost of polluting has to rise rapidly everywhere if we are to put a halt to it.

    Supply and demand are presumably the primary drivers of housing costs; property owners have a lot of pricing power in Cambridge. I don’t know of any way to measurable impact that. We simply can’t build fast enough to make living here cheaper at the moment. Building denser makes perfect sense to me, and it has to be done with net zero. Any building that adds to our greenhouse emissions is simply a non-starter at this point. Any resulting cost increase is temporary; over the lifetime of the building it will be cheaper to operate as a net zero building because fossil fuel derived energy will get more expensive, and will have to do so quickly if we are to survive.

    Of course we always have to weigh multiple considerations but when you are fighting for your life, survival trumps all others. That doesn’t mean you don’t consider other things, it just means that in a conflict between different considerations, the one more likely to lead to survival beats the ones that are merely an inconvenience by comparison. There is no doubt that adapting to and mitigating climate change will cost money. The alternative however is far more expensive and far more devastating.

    As for this particular petition driving up costs, again, if it does, that is a price we will have to pay for our folly in not addressing this issue sooner in a more effective manner. Cost is not an acceptable reason for inaction. What has gotten us to this point is precisely the fact that for most of history, atmospheric pollution has been “free”. That was a great bargain while it lasted, but now the game is up. We simply can’t afford that anymore. I sympathize with the negative emotions this reality triggers. I don’t like it either, but we are adults and must face the facts. We simply cannot continue dumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and expect to survive as a civilization. It has to stop. We have to start now.

    Comment by Quinton Zondervan — June 27, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

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