Midsummer Meeting – Monday, July 29, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights
The City Councillors take a break from their reelection campaigns to take care of a few business items in this first meeting with City Manager Richard Rossi. As is usually the case after 5 weeks without a meeting, there’s a boatload of City Manager Agenda items (27), Council Resolutions (87), Council Orders (25), and Committee Reports (9). There are also 6 Charter Right items left over from June 24, and an imperfect Zoning Petition (Teague) that needs to be voted or re-filed in some form. Here’s a sampler of some of the more notable items (with a few minor comments):
Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $375,000 to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used to conduct a feasibility study for a bicycle and pedestrian bridge linking the Alewife Triangle and the Alewife Quadrangle.
This was originally envisioned in "The Fishbook" (a.k.a. the 1979 Alewife Revitalization Study by the CDD) as a bridge for all traffic that would connect the western end of Cambridgepark Drive to Smith Place connecting to Concord Ave. Priorities have changed radically since then and perhaps the most significant changes in the forseeable might be a bike/pedestrian bridge over the RR tracks (could happen) or a new commuter rail station (probably won’t happen).
Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the Phillips et al, Zoning Petition, which proposes new requirements for Special District 2 (SD-2). SD-2 was created in 2000 to regulate predominantly commercial areas abutting Linear Park, which runs through the center of the district.
The recommendation says: "It is the Board’s view that the proposed changes do not serve the City’s planning goal of encouraging the transition of outdated commercial and industrial sites at neighborhood edges into housing. Moreover, the zoning for this district has recently been the subject of significant consideration by the City and the public, culminating in the City Council’s adoption of the Bishop, et al. Zoning Petition in 2012. Development that conforms to the recently adopted zoning was approved by the Planning Board this year. Making such a substantial change to the zoning at this time risks undermining the integrity of that prior public discussion and outcome."
Unfinished Business #16. 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 hearing held on May 16, 2013 to discuss a zoning petition from Charles D. Teague, et al, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances to clarify the existing law so that said law can be enforced by inserting text after Section 7.20 Illumination, with the existing test to be retained and labeled as Section 7.23 Lighting Restrictions for Residential Districts. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 17, 2013. Planning Board hearing held May 21, 2013. Petition expires Aug 19, 2013.
Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board recommendation on the Teague et al, Zoning Petition, which proposes new zoning standards regarding lighting.
Honestly, the whole premise of this petition is questionable. If indeed the problem of light intrusion onto residential properties is such a nuisance (and a case can be made that it is), the right approach would be to yank this out of the Zoning Ordinance and put it on a similar footing as the City’s Noise Ordinance. The Planning Board advises that the City Council direct the creation of a comprehensive lighting ordinance that would be incorporated into the Municipal Code separate from zoning.
Manager’s Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Council Order #10 of Nov 19, 2012, regarding a draft Polystyrene Food Container Ordinance, and input from the Recycling Advisory Committee (RAC).
Polystyrene here refers to expanded polystyrene (EPS) which is commonly referred to as Styrofoam. Though you might think this a slam dunk in terms of environmental desirability, the Recycling Advisory Committee had a long discussion on the pros and cons of the proposed ban of EPS in food establishments. It is true that there are potential health effects of hot beverages in EPS containers, but alternative containers do not necessarily provide a net environmental benefit. On balance, however, an EPS ban is both workable and likely to be well-received by most consumers.
Manager’s Agenda #25. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a response from City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa to Council Orders Number 10, 11 and 12 of June 3, 2013 regarding a legal opinion on the following issues: 1) the expiration date on the Phillips Petition and whether if the petition is re-filed would the extension take the special permit decision of the Planning Board out of jeopardy; 2) how many times a petition can be filed on the same zoning petition (serial filings); and 3) whether it is legal to close Cottage Park Avenue and open Brookford Street.
Manager’s Agenda #26. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a response from City Solicitor Nancy E. Glowa to Council to Order O-4 of 4/29/13, regarding a report on clarifying the expiration date for Zoning Petitions filed in the City.
I will comment only on the last of these. The ambiguity between zoning petition expiration dates can be simply resolved via a minor change in the Zoning Ordinance. It’s baffling why no city councillor has yet proposed this solution.
Manager’s Agenda #27. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a response from Sam Lipson, Director of Environmental Health, to City Council Order O-9 from 10/4/10, regarding a review of the status of smoking in public parks and the efforts of the Smoking in Parks working group.
If I’m reading the proposed ordinance changes correctly, it is recommended that smoking be banned in a variety of places that are currently listed as exceptions in Chapter 8.28 of the Municipal Code. The additional prohibition would apply to any public place, municipal facility, municipal vehicle, public park, hotel, and to any outdoor sidewalk seating areas associated with a restaurant.
Charter Right #2. 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.
Charter Right #3. 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.
Charter Right #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Foundry Building "Reuse Study" prepared by HFMH Architects.
See the notes of the previous (June 24, 2013) City Council meeting for these items.
Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been re-filed by John Walker, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to the Special District 2 (SD-2) zoning district in North Cambridge.
This appears to be a resubmission of the Phillips et al, Zoning Petition. As such the legal response in Manager’s Agenda #25 is relevant.
Resolution #57. Congratulating Patrick Barrett III and Norma Jean Bopp on the birth of their son, Jedidiah Shelby Barrett. Councillor Cheung
I will add my congratulations to my good friend Patrick and his wife Norma Jean on our new Cambridge resident, Jedidiah – a native Cantabrigian.
Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works to explore the potential for a community composting initiative. Councillor Cheung
I really don’t know what Councillor Cheung has in mind here. As a local composting guru, my advice is that any resident who can accommodate backyard composting should do this as their own "community composting initiative." If you want more community, invite your neighbors to contribute and help maintain your compost (and make use of the finished product). A pilot City-operated curbside composting program is also now being developed. What perchance does our good councillor propose in addition? It’s essential that there be people responsible for any composting operation including those in community gardens, and it is often the case that people do not take appropriate responsibility – even in active community gardens.
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments as to the feasibility of installing side guards on all City-owned trucks to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety and to the feasibility of utilizing pylons as a means through which to separate cyclists from motor vehicles. Councillor Cheung
I get worried whenever I see proposals like this. As a daily cyclist who prefers sharing the roadway with other vehicles, my first reaction to this proposal is that obstructions would now be in the roadway that could limit my mobility and lead to greater traffic congestion by constricting the roadway. As I have said repeatedly here and elsewhere, bicycles are vehicles just like motor vehicles, and the roadway is to be shared by all vehicles. Cyclists need to make the same turning movements as motor vehicles and the segregation of bicycles into narrow spaces conflicts with this. It also leads motor vehicle operators to not respect the right of cyclists to share the road. The only exception where separated facilities makes sense is on higher-speed roadways where the differential between typical bicycle speeds and motor vehicle speeds is very significant.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Information Technology Department and any other relevant departments to evaluate the feasibility of ensuring all city-sponsored committee meeting minutes are available online. Councillor Cheung
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department as to the feasibility of making videos of City Council general and committee meetings downloadable by the general public. Councillor Cheung
I frankly don’t believe there’s a lot of demand for this public information (except to occasionally create YouTube videos to embarass public officials). That said, if it’s simple and cheap enough to produce this form of public information, there’s no good reason why it shouldn’t be made available.
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of Traffic Parking and Transportation and the Police Commissioner and report back to the City Council on the City’s efforts to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of current detours and traffic plans currently in place and our ability to adjust them if problems arise in relation to construction projects. Councillor Toomey
This must surely be in response to the astonishing amount of bridge and tunnel rehabilitation work that is now occurring primarily in the eastern half of the city – most notably the Western Ave. project, the Longfellow Bridge traffic restrictions, and other planned work on the Charles River bridges. My prediction is that many people will bitch and moan and then find ways to live with it. Many will permanently change the way they commute for the better. All of this work is long overdue and necessary, and we should all be celebrating the fact that this neglect is finally being addressed.
Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to set up a $20,000 one-year Build Neighborhoods Fund from Community Benefits funds. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I recall when you could request up to a $500 grant through the Community Oriented Policing (COP) program. If these funds were to support grafitti-removal, cleanup initiatives, or block parties, I don’t think anybody would object to the proposed program. On the other hand, I could easily see a politically-motivated group asking for support claiming they needed the money for "community purposes". If such a Fund is established, the rules for receiving grants should be made abundantly clear and all money should go to clearly charitable purposes.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to develop cost benefit analyses for at least five scenarios related to the Foundry Building. Mayor Davis
If this interests you, there are upcoming City Council committee meetings on this matter on July 31 [Finance (Decker)], Aug 5 [Neighborhood and Long Term Planning (Cheung), and Economic Development, Training, and Employment (Toomey), and Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations (Reeves)], and on Sept 24 [Finance (Decker)].
Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to work together with the City of Cambridge Law Department to explore the establishment of an enforced open door while air condition prohibition for Cambridge, and when this prohibition is put in place, precede it’s installation with an awareness campaign through the Cambridge Energy Alliance and the new Community Compact for a Sustainable Future. Councillor vanBeuzekom
Perhaps we should just have a single Anti-Stupidity Ordinance that includes a prohibition against spending absurd amounts of money on wasted heating and air conditioning. I can think of plenty of other clauses to add to the Anti-Stupidity Ordinance. Perhaps we can all pitch in with the drafting of the ordinance.
Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the rationale and thought process of the License Commission on the proposed increase of liquor license fees prior to the change taking effect. Councillor Cheung
This is a good request. I expect there are some significant costs associated with all the new pouring licenses, and it would be good to hear an accounting of the additional staff requirements for the License Commission, Police Dept., and Fire Dept.
Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to set up a committee to work with the MBTA to ensure that the MBTA will continue to use all of the stops along the #1 Route and not eliminate any stops. Councillor Reeves
The evaluation by the MBTA of the #1 Bus stops has been going on for the last couple of years and includes a number of sensible changes including the removal of some unnecessary bus stops. It’s a bit bewildering to see a City Council order arriving at this late date calling for all proposed efficiencies to be abandoned.
Order #22. That the City Manager is requested to set up a committee including the president of the tenant’s union, the chairperson of the Housing Committee, the chairperson of the University Relations Committee, and a representative of the City Manager to open up truthful communication with Harvard on their intentions of selling this building (2 Mt. Auburn St.). Councillor Reeves
There has to be a back story behind this. The Order states that "Harvard University has blocked all meaningful communication between the University and the tenants union and blocked all meaningful communication with elected city officials and administrators of the city of Cambridge." That’s quite an accusation and we’re all eager to hear what it’s about and if there’s any truth to it.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on June 18, 2013 to discuss the Monteiro case only as it pertains to any lessons learned.
Committee Report #9. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Civic Unity Committee for a public meeting held on July 17, 2013 to continue discussions of lessons learned as it pertains to the Monteiro case.
I attended the latter of these two meetings and, after reading a summary of "lessons learned" stated in the former meeting, I offered a comment on one important "lesson learned" that had not previously been stated – namely that the City has to do whatever it can to protect itself against similar complaints and lawsuits in the future. More robust performance evaluations would be a good start. Though this seemed like a pretty obvious suggestion and one that I don’t believe had been mentioned previously, I was heckled by a well-known Brookford St. resident for speaking at all. So much for civic unity as preached by the "Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods."
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis transmitting a letter from Jeffrey M. Young, Superintendent of Schools regarding responses to City Council Budget Questions.
Considering the fact that the questions posed to Superintendent Young were far longer than the answers provided, it’s a good bet that the disagreements between the City Council and School Committee during the recent Budget Hearings will continue into the planned Roundtable meetings in September and October and during next year’s budget cycle and beyond. – Robert Winters