Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 30, 2014

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:29 am

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The curtain falls tonight on the FY2014 Fiscal Year as the City Council enters its Summer Recess – but not without a little controversy. Councillor Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone is the first signer of a new zoning petition that is almost guaranteed to bring some fireworks in advance of the July 4 holiday. The petition has near zero chance of ultimately passing but stands out prominently in its disrespect for the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, and previous Cambridge City Councils who have passed a variety of zoning petitions with detailed Special Permit criteria spelled out to guide the Planning Board in the granting of Special Permits under the Zoning Ordinance.

Monkey WrenchApplications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

The intent of this petition appears to be to enact an effective 30-month moratorium on all larger proposed developments in Cambridge by turning each project into a political football. Except for Councillors Carlone and Mazen (first and last signers), the signers of the petition consist almost entirely of principal players of the Cambridge Residents Alliance who have made no secret of their desire to enact such a moratorium. The essential component of the petition is the transfer of Project Review Special Permit authority from the Planning Board (where there is substantial professional expertise) to the City Council. Anyone who has ever witnessed the Planning Board working together to devise detailed conditions on the granting of a Special Permit should now imagine what this process might look like if conducted by the City Council as they play to the favor of their various political supporters. I shudder to think of it.

Fortunately, it appears that this misguided proposal has the support of only the two city councillors who signed it. Ideally, the City Council would just vote it down and declare it Dead On Arrival, but it’s possible that it may be formally referred to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee (co-chaired by Carlone) so that it can receive a proper funeral. As a zoning petition, it would require 6 of 9 city councillors to support it and that’s pretty much an impossibility unless they start lacing the Kool-Aid with hallucinogens.

Meanwhile the initial phase (Cambridge Conversations) of the upcoming review and possible revision of the City’s existing master plans has been met with expressions of satisfaction from most members of the public. Perhaps this is why Carlone and Company have chosen to toss a monkey wrench into the process. Political organizing thrives so much more when wrapped in controversy.

Communications #6. A communication was received from Rick Snedeker, 107 Clifton Street regarding a request for a Special Act Charter for Cambridge that does not include Proportional Representation.

This is included primarily for comic relief. This Snedeker fellow has now written a series of letters to the Cambridge Chronicle detailing his hostility regarding the structure of Cambridge city government and the way municipal elections are conducted. He believes that having 90% of ballots count toward the election of city councillors is more disenfranchising than a winner-take-all election where often fewer than 50% of ballots count toward the election of a candidate. That’s interesting math. He would have elections of ward councillors by simple plurality vote with no runoffs or primary elections. This installment from Snedeker also calls for the Mayor and City Council to be able to dismiss any City department head by a simple majority vote. I can only imagine the thrilling City Council meetings when a department head says something not to the liking of the elected councillors.

Communications #11. Sundry communications were received regarding the East Cambridge Courthouse.

There are 38 individual signed letters plus an additional 74 petition signatures in support of the proposed redevelopment of the Courthouse building. The prisoners are now out of the East Cambridge Courthouse and the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Legatt McCall, the chosen developer, is imminent. While there is clear opposition to the proposed redevelopment from many residents, it’s pretty clear that this is not a unanimously held position. The Planning Board is expected to make a decision on the Special Permit for the 40 Thorndike Street proposal at its July 29 meeting (to be held in East Cambridge, most likely at the Kennedy-Longfellow School). Regardless what the Planning Board decides, it is very likely that lawsuits will follow.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on June 25, 2014 to discuss the ongoing out of school/STEAM working group research.

I’m sure the participants at this meeting meant well and I think we all want to see some good programs developed in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). The report, however, is remarkable in some of its convoluted quotes. Some of my favorites are these: "Councillor Mazen explained that it’s important for one subgroup to track other subgroup. People in this subgroup should ask other subgroups: Are we talking around the subject or are we addressing it?" and "Councillor Mazen confessed he isn’t opposed to having another subgroup but he feels that this can fall into other subgroups and can also be discussed by each subgroup." and "Councillor Mazen said he hoped next time will be an opportunity for everybody to work more circularly about a coordinator position".

Exactly how does one "work more circularly?" Does it involve beating around the bush? I’ll have to consult with my subgroup about this. – Robert Winters

Note: Due to construction in the Sullivan Chamber, this City Council meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at 459 Broadway (CRLS).

2 Comments

  1. This “Carlone Petition” needs to be shut down as soon as possible. I hope the Council votes in favor of process tonight and not politics. These types of power grabs should really start to worry Cambridge voters. First it was trying to move the master plan conversation to very specific Council committees (led by Carlone & Mazen) and now this.

    Maybe we ware looking at this whole “Pearl Harbor” reference the wrong way….

    Comment by Joseph Aiello — June 30, 2014 @ 10:22 am

  2. Dear Mr. Winters,

    Crimes have been committed against Cambridge voters since the first PR election in 1941, and since 1965 they have been federal crimes. Not only is “exhausting” 10% of the votes in a council election (14% for school committee) a blatant disenfranchisement under section 14 (c) (1), but because the right to cast an effective vote has been subordinated to an elaborate set of rules, the entire PR apparatus probably violates the Voting Rights Act.

    Your 90% vs. 50% comparison is of the apples-to-oranges variety as it compares electing 9 councilors in a multi-member district to electing ward councilors in single-member districts. Under PR each councilor is elected with a measly 10%, in most cases not earned outright but with hand-me-down votes from other candidates. Ward elections, besides representing a neighborhood, are usually won with multiples of 10% even if there are more than two candidates. And whereas you seem to think an appeal to math can justify disenfranchising 10% for the sake of the 90%, I want nobody to be disenfranchised.

    I don’t understand your objection to removing department heads in an accountable manner. In plan E the city manager can unilaterally dismiss an officer that the council has deemed necessary, and tell the council afterwards. My plan introduces a check on power by requiring approval by the elected council of the elected mayor’s action to dismiss a head both had previously agreed to appoint.

    –Rick Snedeker

    Comment by Rick Snedeker — June 30, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

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