Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

July 27, 2014

Midsummer Night’s Distraction – July 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 3:37 pm

Midsummer Night’s Distraction – July 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City SealThe City Council returns briefly on Monday for its only meeting of the summer. Due to renovations to the Sullivan Chamber, this meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway, CRLS. Here is a sampler of items of interest:

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $133,437.51 funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to the Grant Fund Police Salary and Wages account ($97,423.51) and to the Grant Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance Account ($36,014) which is a reimbursement of expenditures related to the 2013 Marathon Bombing during the week of Apr 15, 2013 through Apr 24, 2013 and will be used to offset overtime costs and to purchase a Morphotrak system used for identifying latent finger prints.

Though there isn’t really anything controversial in this, I’m reminded of an appropriation a few months ago to cover costs associated with bomb-sniffing dogs that led to concerns about excessive police presence. In the end, most of us just got to pet Kevin, a very nice and very talented police dog.

Manager’s Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to zoning text prepared by the Community Development Department in regard to a request made by the Ordinance Committee at its June 9 public hearing on the Chun, et al. Zoning Petition, which proposes amending the zoning in the Cambridge Highlands neighborhood.

Nothing special to say here – just that maybe third time’s the charm. This is the Chun III Petition.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-71, regarding a report on the feasibility of streamlining the permitting process for one-day permits for food trucks visiting Cambridge for special events.

I suppose some steps have to be taken to ensure public safety, but I remember being a youngster in New York when all you needed was a low-cost vendor’s permit and you could just park a cart along a road and sell hot dogs and other tasty stuff. I did that for a part of a summer and never once had to deal with regulators, inspectors, the fire department, or anyone else for that matter. When did eveything get so damn complicated?

Manager’s Agenda #35. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-52, regarding a report on New Street improvements.

Not long ago, a City Council proposal to improve New Street was assailed by those who felt that improvements would facilitate the approval of new housing on that street – even though their original complaint was about the dreadful state of the street. Solution = Problem (to some). I hear that some paint has been applied to the street to better guide the traffic. The proposed improvements will be better still. The horror!

Manager’s Agenda #37. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, request support from the City Council of my intention to submit an application for funding under the Commonwealth’s Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (referred to as the "I-Cubed" program).

The report provides some explanation. "The I-Cubed program provides a mechanism for funding public infrastructure associated with economic development projects. It relies on new state tax revenues derived primarily from new jobs associated with the project to pay debt service on the bonds which are issued by the Commonwealth to fund the infrastructure." The application is for future development in the NorthPoint area.

Manager’s Agenda #38. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Cambridge Conversations: Preliminary Summary of Process and Input.

The report covers only the initial "conversations" phase of the larger "Master Plan" process and mainly consists of a compilation of impressions expressed by residents. Some have suggested that the whole process may take several years.

Manager’s Agenda #39. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to actions I am taking in light of the July 16, 2014 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the case of Merit Construction Alliance v. City of Quincy as it relates to the Responsible Employer Ordinance.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to determine if there are other options for requiring apprenticeship programs and to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on how to proceed in ensuring these programs remain part of the Cambridge Employment Plan.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

The Order is in response to the fact that the court decision renders some of the City’s legally mandated apprentice programs unenforceable. Ideally, voluntary compliance with the intent of that law could still provide the same benefits.

Manager’s Agenda #41. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendment to Chapter 6.04 of the Cambridge Municipal Code (the "Animal Control Regulations").

Those who fail to scoop the poop may soon have to pick up or pay more. Other proposed changes include giving Ranger Jean at Fresh Pond the authority to enforce all aspects of the Animal Control Regulations. Does this include speeding, lane violations, or failure to yield to smaller dogs?

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on June 24, 2014 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code entitled "Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance." The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 14, 2014.

This matter was passed to a 2nd Resolution at the June 30 meeting and is now in the queue for ordination. As this is not an especially onerous regulation, it could well be voted and approved at this meeting.

Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Seth Teller.   Councillor Toomey

I knew Seth primarily via email and only met him briefly a few times. In addition to being a popular professor at MIT, he was recently very involved in organizing opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike Street (which will have its next hearing at the Planning Board on Tues, July 29). People who involve themselves in Cambridge civic affairs may often line up on opposite sides of an issue, but they are all players on the same field. When someone dies so unexpectedly, it leaves a void that crosses all lines.

Resolution #36. Resolution on the death of Kensley David.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to devise and implement a system that will require the City to publicize and convene a community meeting within 72 hours of any catastrophic event – including but not limited to murders, shootings, or other similar episodes – that could impact public safety or the perception of public safety.   Councillor Simmons

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Police Commissioner and report back to the City Council and the community on the specific number of additional police officers that will be assigned to patrol Area IV neighborhoods, whether this increased police presence will be in place through the winter months, and what other additional measures will be undertaken by the Police Department in Area IV.   Councillor Simmons

Kensley David was the young man who was recently murdered on Windsor Street. The two Orders are in response to this tragedy.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to resume negotiations with Mr. Fawcett regarding the Whittemore Avenue Community Garden and to explore the possibility of securing this space by eminent domain.   Councillor Carlone

Many of us would love to see this community garden restored and made a permanent part of the city’s inventory of community gardens. It’s worth mentioning, however, that over the years there have been a number of such community gardens on private property that were voluntarily made available to residents thanks to the generosity of the property owners. One such garden on Putnam Ave. some years ago was at the center of a controversy when new housing was proposed for that lot. Would that property owner have ever made the lot available for a community garden if he knew that one day it would prevent other uses on that lot? Let’s hope that in the present case some mutually acceptable agreement can be reached.

Order #4. That the City Council go on record affirming its support for the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest.   Councillor Carlone

Yeah, sure, let’s have another resolution. Many of us would like to see open space like this preserved, but these orders are getting tiresome. It’s interesting that the language of the Order is directed toward the property owner "sending him our warmest regards" but also calling for taking "any and all legal steps necessary to prevent the City from providing any water or sewer connections to the proposed Silver Maple Forest development site". That’s something of a mixed message. The "Silver Maple Forest" is the 15.6 acre site of a controversial development project along Acorn Park Drive in the Alewife area located at the intersection of Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments regarding the loss of on-street parking spaces as well as the loss of a handicap parking space in Municipal Lot #8 as a result of the reconstruction/reconfiguration of Western Avenue.   Councillor Toomey

My greatest concern about the Western Avenue reconfiguration has been that in order to accommodate bicycles on the sidewalk it would lead to dangerously narrowed lanes in the roadway that would endanger those of us who prefer to cycle on the roadway rather than on the sidewalk. There is still much work to be done before the road is completed, but recent visits have only confirmed my fears. This roadway will be worse for both motor vehicles and bicycles, and I fully expect less safety for pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with community experts, local universities and the Cambridge Water Department to produce a research study determining the possible harmfully effects of continuing to fluoridate the city’s water supply.   Councillor Mazen

I don’t really know that fluoride is needed in the water supply in this day and age when every toothpaste has all the fluoride needed to provide any necessary dental health benefits. That said, I do love the alarmist language in the order like "adding industrial-grade fluoride chemicals to the public water supply". The Order calls for a research study but already contains the conclusions that "Fluoride is classified by the FDA as a drug, not a nutrient, with many side effects and known neurotoxicity and therefore it is not appropriate to add to a city’s water supply" and "More than 33 studies have reported an association between fluoride drinking water concentration and reduced IQ." Having consumed lots and lots of fluoridated water over the last 59 years, I can only imagine how brilliant I might have been had I only abstained from consuming this toxic beverage known as water.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process while also determining ways to make the special permit process more understandable and transparent to the public and look for opportunities to provide greater public involvement and engagement.   Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

This is, in my opinion, the real centerpiece of this meeting’s agenda. The Carlone Petition introduced at the June 30 meeting would politicize all Special Permit development projects over a certain size. It’s a dreadful proposal. There is, however, a perception in some quarters that the current Planning Board procedures for hearings and decisions on Special Permits do not permit adequate public review and input. Whether true or not, this Order proposes that the City Manager form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process. One simple revision that would make a lot of sense would simply be to have a proponent first bring in a concept and solicit public input prior to coming in with a fully-designed development proposal. Subsequent meetings would then benefit from this early feedback from the public.

If the City Council has any wisdom at all, they will pass this Order and ask that the City Manager move quickly to form this advisory committee and propose useful procedural changes at the Planning Board (which may soon see one or more new members). This could make things better for both residents and Planning Board members. This would be far better than disempowering the Planning Board and turning every development proposal into political theater before the City Council.

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and reach out to the principals at Vecna to work with them and assist the company with its plan to create new retail and open space opportunities which could significantly add to the vitality of this growing area of Cambridgepark Drive.   Mayor Maher

One of the most positive trends I’ve noticed over the last year or two is that ground-floor retail is being regularly characterized as a community benefit. It wasn’t all that long ago that only open space and "affordable housing" were seen as community benefits. Nowadays there is a lot of emphasis put on "place making" and that’s a very good development.

Order #20. That the City of Cambridge joins with our fellow citizens, municipalities and elected officials across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in calling for a boycott of Market Basket stores in the spirit of unity with current and former employees of Market Basket   Mayor Maher

As a regular Market Basket shopper, I do hope there’s some kind of resolution soon. However, I don’t think it’s good that elected officials or elected bodies are calling for boycotts. That’s a decision best left to individuals.

Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate departments and explore the feasibility of creating a Cambridge City Youth Council that will represent the youth population of the city and serve as an advisory board to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

I thought we already had such an advisory board – the Kids’ Council. Their charge may be to coordinate services relevant to Cambridge youth, but advising the City Council could be added to that charge. Having a new, separate group seems a bit redundant. Modifying the existing Kids’ Council seems like a simpler and more effective idea.

Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Community Development Department on the feasibility of producing a Cambridge Sustainability Plan with stated priority goals to complement Cambridge’s Master Plan.   Councillor Cheung

I’m inclined to say that the policy goals contained in the Growth Policy Document (1992) coupled with the 2006 update is the Cambridge Sustainability Plan and it’s a pretty good one. I would expect a few revisions to grow out of the next process but it’s not like we have to revert to Square One.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing held on June 11, 2014 to explore the way forward for a shared use with a rail and trail path along the Grand Junction Corridor.

All good ideas, so let’s get things moving. I would especially like to see some fresh ideas on how best to connect to the Somerville Community Path.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on July 2, 2014 to discuss the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge to expand the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, MMD-1 to encompass 61 Mooney Street.

No comment – just the observation that Planning Board report has been received and with the Ordinance Committee report this matter could now be moved to a 2nd Reading putting it in the queue for ordination in September.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Leland Cheung transmitting information on The Rush to Build Walkable Urban Grocery Stores.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. regarding his appeal of a public records denial with the Division of Capital and Asset Management and Maintenance regarding the sale price of the Sullivan Courthouse.

Both of these communication have a relationship to the Legatt McCall proposal to redevelop the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. One of the benefits touted by the developer would be a new neighborhood grocery store to be located on the ground level of the First Street Garage. Regarding the sale price of the Courthouse property, I doubt whether that will be made known until the final transfer of title has taken place. As of this past Tuesday, no papers had been passed. It was anticipated that the transaction would be completed soon after the prisoners were evacuated from the jail and that took place last month. Perhaps we’ll learn more at the July 29 Planning Board hearing. – Robert Winters

6 Comments

  1. I appreciate what I think order #17 is attempting to achieve, however those currently dissatisfied with the planning board not only wrongly vilify an educated group of volunteers they also wrongly credit this board with seemingly questionable results and not the broken zoning that guides them. Thus I fear such an advisory board will fall flat in the expectation that once we understand the process that this will somehow result in more equitable decisions. Or maybe we all just love committees and advisory boards more than actually going from point A to B?

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — July 28, 2014 @ 11:53 am

  2. I completely agree regarding the Planning Board. We are very fortunate to have such a qualified group of people serving in this capacity. Their decisions are generally fair and thoughtful. In my view, those who feel otherwise simply don’t like the outcomes – even when those outcomes are completely in line with all policies established by the City Council and the professional staff.

    I don’t really see the need to appoint an advisory committee to recommend changes. It would be better if the City Council simply made their own recommendation to have a proponent first bring in a concept and solicit public input prior to coming in with a fully-designed development proposal. That would address 90% of the perception problems and maybe even yield better outcomes.

    NOTHING will satisfy the self-serving characters associated with the Cambridge Residents Alliance, so it’s really a waste of effort trying to achieve the impossible. A little leadership from the majority of city councillors who see things more clearly would be appreciated. Stop letting the tail wag the dog.

    Comment by Robert Winters — July 28, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

  3. Patrick, Order #17 was penned by the Councillors who Robert believes “see things more clearly”, in reaction to the Carlone petition. The good news is that everyone appears to think something is broken. You (Patrick) think it is the Zoning law. Part of Council thinks it is the Planning Board process. Part of the Council thinks it is the Planning Board Membership.

    Robert’s suggestion is a good one and it already exists in the path to the Special Permit. Developers always consult with the CDD before proceeding. The smart Developers always consult with the East Cambridge Planning Team before applying for special permits in East Cambridge.

    So which method will be “discovered” and embraced?

    More of the latter, I hope. An ECPT meeting is more of a discussion and less of a lecture, and that’s the key.

    Comment by Tom Stohlman — July 29, 2014 @ 10:13 am

  4. Tom,

    I think any alternative path to handing over site review to the city council is definitely in the realm of seeing things more clearly. However order #17 I fear will provide yet another target to scrutinize when opinion differs. I would think that as part of section 19 review it would be optimal for developers to bring their cases to the neighborhoods directly affected allowing for city-wide participation. I appreciate that the Mayor and others have chosen to stick up for the planning board, it is something that ought to be applauded in my opinion. Further, the zoning in this town is broken, ask anyone with a hammer, and unless substantive changes are made the planning board’s hands will always be tied behind their backs. As the olde saying goes, “Don’t h8 the playa, h8 the game.”

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — July 29, 2014 @ 10:28 am

  5. Tom – I don’t accept your statement that “everyone appears to think something is broken.” What is, I believe, more accurate is that most of the city councillors are tiring of the complaints of some organized residents who are making such claims. This is more of a public relations problem than anything else, and the suggestion to modify some procedures might not only address those perceptual problems but maybe even produce some better results. I know of at least one councillor who feels that some Special Permit criteria could stand to be modified, but that’s just a zoning idea and hardly a statement that “something is broken.”

    I’m curious about your statement that “Part of the Council thinks it is the Planning Board Membership.” Care to be more specific? I understand that Carlone would simply like to dictate all the decisions himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mazen wanted to turn over all decisions to Occupy supporters or maybe have all decisions conducted via some Uber-like app. But who else has expressed dissatisfaction with the Planning Board membership?

    Comment by Robert Winters — July 29, 2014 @ 10:49 am

  6. Robert,

    The wording of Order #17 is pretty clear. Why “make the special permit process more understandable and transparent to the public and look for opportunities to provide greater public involvement and engagement” if it ain’t broken?

    The everyone I’m referring to is the City Council, the motion passed unanimously.

    And yes, the Carlone petition addresses the membership being broken.

    Massachusetts state law permits either the Planning Board or the City Council to decide special permits. The Council already decides Zoning Law.

    Should the deciders be directly elected by the voters?

    Or should the deciders be appointed by the City Manager who serves at the pleasure of the City Council, which is elected by the voters?

    It really has nothing to do with the individual membership, but rather who decides the individual membership.

    Comment by Tom Stohlman — July 29, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

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