Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 8, 2014

Back in Session – Notable Items on the Sept 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:25 pm

Back in Session – Notable Items on the Sept 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

SeptemberSummer’s over. Here are a few agenda items that caught my eye.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-72, regarding a report on evaluating parking around the Sullivan Courthouse.

There is little doubt that issues of traffic and parking will continue to be part of the discussion of the future use of the Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. A proper comparison should be between the previous active use as a courthouse/prison vs. the proposed uses for office/housing/retail. The availability of on-street resident parking and an analysis of the existing structured parking in the area are part of this discussion. This report addresses the former.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-80, regarding a report on fluoride in the City’s water supply.

Read Saul Tannenbaum’s take on this: https://www.cctvcambridge.org/WaterFluoridation

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-75, regarding a report on possible options for preserving the Silver Maple Forest. [Letters from DPW Commissioner Owen O’Riordan and DCR Commissioner John Murray]

Most people, including the City Manager, feel that this area would be preferably preserved as open space but, as the report and the attached letters indicate, "it’s complicated" and there are plenty of competing priorities when it comes to land acquisition.

Applications & Petitions #8. A zoning petition has been received from CJUF III Northpoint LLC to amend certain provision of the City of Cambridge Zoning Ordinance that govern the Planned Unit Development in the North Point Residence District to allow limited amounts of off-street retail parking.

This appears to address the need for sufficient parking to support retail uses planned for the North Point area. This is completely in line with the nearly universal desire for mixed use development in this area and elsewhere in the city.

Communications #7. A communication was received from Gerald Bergman, 82 Elm Street, regarding the ongoing debate about the Carlone Petition.

Most communications sent to the City Council in recent years have been boring repetitions of talking points pushed by various advocacy groups. Gerry Bergman’s letter, in contrast, is a substantial appeal that greater attention be paid to the affordability of housing. Whether you agree or disagree with the points he makes, Gerry’s letter offers detailed suggestions and is worth reading. Even if the affordability of housing is an issue that can only be meaningfully addressed regionally, it’s important that Cambridge continue to hold up its part of that conversation.

Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Peter A. Vellucci.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Mayor Emeritus Walter J. Sullivan.   Mayor Maher, Councillor Toomey and Councillor Simmons

I note these resolutions simply to once again note the loss of these two major Cambridge political figures on the same day in early August.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that details how many City jobs have been outsourced to outside vendors since 2010, how the decision is made to consider outsourcing a job that was originally an internal hire, how the outside vendors are chosen, what the benefits to the City are of outsourcing these jobs to outside vendors, and whether individuals working in these positions have the same job benefits and protections as those who work directly for the City have.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that outlines what the City’s hiring process is, whether Cambridge residents are given preference when applying for jobs, whether internal candidates are given preference over external candidates, and what the City’s procedure is for encouraging employee advancement and professional development for current employees.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

Both of these Orders seem like reasonable requests for clarification of policies regarding the hiring and advancement of City employees. They provide an interesting contrast with the discussions and resulting ordinance of 20 years ago that mandated residency for many City jobs. Whether or not you agreed with that short-lived ordinance (it was repealed a few months after ordination when a new City Council took office), the simple fact is that the high cost of housing in Cambridge creates a significant dilemma if the ideal is to have people who work in (and for) Cambridge also live in Cambridge.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Community Development Department and report back to the City Council with a summary of previous recommendations for the Volpe Center site included in planning studies such as but not limited to, ECAPS, Neighborhood Planning Studies, K2, and efforts by the East Cambridge Planning Team and that the report summarize zoning and zoning overlays, and outline the development potential and limitation of this area.   Councillor Toomey

The future of the Volpe Transportation Center site in Kendall Square may well prove to be one of the major planning opportunities for the next few years if it does become available for redevelopment. Much of the housing recommendations in the K2 study were focused on the Volpe site and there have been indications that the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and the Community Development Department are eager to realize those recommendations in some form or another.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and any other appropriate City or State Departments to create a pedestrian stairway leading from the sidewalk on Alewife Brook Parkway to the Fresh Pond Mall parking lot.   Councillor McGovern

Though this seems like a perfectly reasonable idea that builds upon what people are already doing today, I expect that ADA requirements will drive up the cost and complexity of such an accommodation to the point where nothing happens.

Order #10. The City Manager report back to the City Council with an update on work underway to recommend changes to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, next steps to be taken by staff and the City Council toward the goal of amending the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to increase the ratio of required affordable units, and implications of such an increase so that the City Council can be prepared to take up changes to this important Ordinance.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is a timely Order that acknowledges the fact that there will be trade-offs associated with any change in the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, e.g. the need to permit additional height and density in order to deliver the desired affordable housing units.

Order #12. The City Manager is requested to work with the City Clerk and the IT Department to create a searchable, sortable public online resource which clearly displays all policy orders that have come before the City Council, including also: each City Council member’s voting record, information on the City Manager’s progress on each order, any departmental notes related to any given order, and an estimated timeline related to any given order.   Councillor Mazen

For any consequential City Council Order, this is usually achieved by the inclusion of language in the Order requiring a report back from the City Manager. The inclusion of each councillor’s voting record seems more politically motivated than anything else and, besides, most Orders pass unanimously. It is perhaps better to let the City Manager and the various City departments do their job of prioritizing and acting on City Council orders without unnecessary bookkeeping of every action taken and when. Then again, if micromanagement is your thing, then this Order is for you. For the most part, the City administration has been very responsive to City Council requests over the last few years even when juggling many such requests.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 14, 2014 to review expenditures/allotments in reference to the City Council Travel and City Council Resolutions with possible amendments, the position of Deputy City Clerk and any other items that may properly come before the Committee.

The central recommendations of this report are that (a) individual councillors should get an increase in their annual allotments for job-related travel; (b) councillors should restrain themselves from submitting excessive numbers of resolutions; and (c) Paula Crane should be appointed as Deputy City Clerk. These are all good proposals. There was some discussion of placing a strict quota on how many resolutions each councillor could file, but it does seem that voluntary compliance is the better way to go with public shaming of any councillor who goes overboard.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 30, 2014 to discuss a zoning petition 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.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 27, 2014 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.

These are the reports of the two Ordinance Committee hearings concerning the Carlone Petition which will hopefully be euthanized in short order. Even Councillor Carlone acknowledged that this was really about putting the brakes on at most three projects currently in the pipeline (Courthouse redevelopment, New Street housing, and Alewife Triangle housing). It will be in everyone’s best interest if this petition is put to sleep and attention redirected toward the proposed citywide planning process. That said, the intense focus by some advocates on the Courthouse and other projects could lead to other zoning petitions in the coming weeks that are more site-specific.

One thing I’ll say specifically about the second Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic was how effectively some of the more specious claims by some advocates (regarding the Alewife area and New Street) were refuted. Specifically, requirements for any new development in the Alewife area would produce greater flood storage capacity than now exists, and any "brownfield" aspects of proposed housing sites on New Street are subject to full review and required remediation. In short, redevelopment would yield cleaner sites and greater flood protection than doing nothing – in addition to any new housing that is provided. Then again, perhaps this is really all about traffic in the final analysis, and the fact that residential housing has minimal traffic impact is something people just don’t want to hear.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor David P. Maher announcing the formation of a Special Mayor’s Commission to explore the issues surrounding poverty and its effects on our community and Councillor McGovern will chair this Commission.

Good idea, Mr. Mayor, and you chose the right Chair.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting copies of two Acts of 2014 signed by the Governor, An Act Authorizing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to Lease Certain Parkland in the City of Cambridge; and An Act Authorizing the Commissioner of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to Convey a certain parcel of land in the City of Cambridge.

I look forward to hearing a little more detail about the second of the two documents having to do with land conveyed in the North Point area (possibly for the proposed skate park). The first of these concerns the lease of the Powder House at Magazine Beach to the City of Cambridge. This opens up the possibility of an active use of this structure in conjunction with the great restoration work now underway. – Robert Winters

7 Comments

  1. >”create a pedestrian stairway leading from the sidewalk on Alewife Brook
    >Parkway to the Fresh Pond Mall parking lot.”

    For decades I have wondered why there is no stairway there.
    I’ve seen people sliding down the high end of the hill near
    the bridge, sometimes perilously so.
    You’re right about ADA, though. Won’t forgive elder Bush
    for signing that. It’s created an entire new aspect of the
    legal profession that preys upon otherwise innocent businesses,
    shakes them down, and ultimately puts them out of business
    altogether.
    But there’s no getting rid of it at this point.

    Comment by FRED BAKER — September 8, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

  2. Robert, more specifically why do you believe that “Communications & Reports from
    City Officers #1” is such a great idea?

    Comment by FRED BAKER — September 8, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

  3. I’m generally in agreement with most aspects of the ADA. In addition to helping those with documented disabilities it has also helped others, including elderly people, by making things more accessible. Even ordinary things like ramps at crosswalks make things a lot easier for everyone.

    In the case of the proposed stairs, it’s possible that it can be built at reasonable cost by simply making the case that the existing sidewalk of the bridge, though longer, is the reasonable accommodation required under ADA.

    Comment by Robert Winters — September 8, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  4. Regarding the creation of a “Special Mayor’s Commission to explore the issues surrounding poverty and its effects on our community”, this is consistent with the practice over the last few City Council terms of having one or more topic-specific ad-hoc committees that meets with the intention of eventually producing a report with recommendations. Because the topic transcends several City Council committees and City departments, it seems reasonable to address the topic in this manner.

    Comment by Robert Winters — September 8, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

  5. Given that government has never put a dent in poverty — nay, their efforts
    have only increased it, especially under the auspices of the so-called
    “War on Poverty” — why would the city want to so much as study it?

    As for the ADA, tell the shop-owner who had to install $40,000 worth of
    ADA-compliant changes to a small storefront, just to have the lawyers
    bring in an accomplice in a wheelchair to nick an edge or corner of a room
    during a turn, forcing the owner to essentially do it all over again or
    close up shop of the wonders of the ADA. There are thousands of stories like that
    nationwide, just google for cases. Another realm where government doesn’t
    belong.
    Your justification of the staircase may make sense to some (even me), but the right
    judge and the worst lawyers will make an instant payday of it.

    Comment by FRED BAKER — September 8, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

  6. For someone who just generally seems pissed off, Gerald’s communication is pretty damn good. I agree with 80%-ish of it.

    Comment by patrick barrett — September 8, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

  7. UPDATE: The Carlone Petition was euthanized at the Sept 8 meeting. A motion to pass it to a 2nd Reading failed on a 3-5-1 vote with Councillors Carlone, Mazen, and Simmons voting YES; and Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillors Kelley, McGovern, Toomey, and Mayor Maher voting NO. Councillor Cheung was ABSENT.

    Comment by Robert Winters — September 9, 2014 @ 8:51 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: