Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 27, 2014

From Evacuation Plans to Traffic Calming – Notable Items on the October 27 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:06 pm

From Evacuation Plans to Traffic Calming – Notable Items on the October 27 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Evacuation!Here’s a grab bag of interesting items.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-82, regarding a report on the feasibility of preparing a climate change checklist and evacuation plan for residents.

Everyone can appreciate the need to know how to "get out of Dodge" in the event of a serious emergency, but it’s interesting how the motivation has shifted over the years from "nuclear attack" to "climate change". It’s worth noting that the motivating City Council order was specifically about climate change but the Manager’s response wisely refers to general emergency preparedness "utilizing an all-hazards approach."

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-48, regarding the appointment of the Central Square Action Team strategies that will help Central Square capitalize on and enhance its designation as a Cultural District.

This is a good move for Central Square and its current "Cultural District" designation. Overdependence on one or two people from the Central Square Business Association was not sustainable. Now there will be a lot more stakeholders who can steer things in good directions and exercise greater creativity.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on Participatory Budgeting in Cambridge.

I am interested in this experiment but I’m also very skeptical. Putting cash ($500,000 to start) on the table when there are potentially competing interest groups can be risky business. Years have passed and people are still debating what should go into the Foundry building that was given to the City. I can easily imagine a scenario where one interest group packs a few meetings demanding that their pet project be funded. It’s also very problematic that few, if any, of the "neighborhood organizations" in Cambridge are especially representative of their respective neighborhoods. The devil will be in the details. The City will hold an information session on Tues, Oct 28 from 6:00-7:30pm at the Citywide Senior Center for community members who are interested in serving on the Steering Committee (SC) or learning how to otherwise get involved with PB in Cambridge. I hope that more than just the usual suspects attend this meeting.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-45, regarding the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance.

This communication gives revised language for a "Checkout Bag Ordinance." The key requirement would be that "Retail Establishments which provide Recyclable Paper Bags or Compostable Plastic Bags shall charge for each such bag provided not less than an amount established by Regulations promulgated by the (Public Works) Commissioner. This Checkout Bag charge shall be retained by the Retail Establishment." Note that the fee would be for any checkout bag that is not deemed "reusable" including paper bags. There are some provisions for short-term exemptions. The penalty would be "not more than $300 for each violation and each day a violation occurs shall constitute a separate offense."

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-84, regarding the Planning Board process.

There are a number of sensible improvements that can and should be made, but why on Earth must everything in Cambridge be turned into a process that takes anywhere from a half year to several years to complete? Does this really produce a better product in most cases?

Communication #3. A communication was received from Patrick W. Barrett III, 41A Pleasant Street, regarding the policy order on Lots #5 and #6 of Oct 20, 2014.

The main point I take from this letter is that a long planning process for Central Square took place a couple of years ago that led to numerous specific recommendations. Our new "activist" City Council has done nothing with that report other than to cherry-pick particular ideas that match the personal politics of specific councillors. In terms of the bigger picture, the City Council has shown great expertise in sitting on its hands.

Communication #4. A communication was received from Peter Valentine transmitting information on sitting.

See above remark.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to commission a study of Cambridge Youth Centers with a focus on use rates and underutilized space.   Councillor Mazen

Though I gladly welcome some correction on this, my observation over the years has been that some of the City’s youth centers have been created as much for political reasons as for practical need. We all hope that these centers are well utilized, but past reports have shown this to not always be the case. Now that people are talking about STEM, STEAM, the Foundry Building, pre-K and various other possible initiatives, it’s definitely time to honestly assess what already exists and to see how everything can be made to work effectively for everyone. This is a good Order.

Order #2. The City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Arts Council, and the Department of Public Works to determine the feasibility of creating and maintaining one or more street piano(s) in one or more parks and/or plazas in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

It was fun having the piano in Lafayette Square a few years ago and we could use more public pianos, miniature golf, and other good stuff. Often the best initiatives are the simplest ones.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Department, the Fire Department, and other appropriate City departments to review the negative impacts, if any, of street-narrowing initiatives.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor McGovern

This Order strikes at the heart of the zealotry exhibited by some City staff who are on a mission to make the landscape as hostile as possible toward motor vehicle operators. Calming traffic is a good thing, but when all flexibility in the roadway is eliminated all it can take is one vehicle to break down or a minor fender-bender and traffic can be brought to a standstill. The "road diet" advocates are, in my humble opinion, ignorant of the realities of actual road usage, especially in winter conditions.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the appropriate City departments to install a raised intersection and traffic-calming measures in front of Cadbury Commons on Sherman Street.   Councillor Cheung

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the status of the Masse Hardware Company sites located at 243 Walden Street and 253 Walden Street and, if available, consider acquiring one or both sites for mixed-income affordable housing of a suitable scale and report back to the Council regarding findings.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

These two Orders appear to directly respond to the housing development proposed for the Masse properties on two corners of the intersection of Walden and Sherman Streets. It is also worth noting that Orders such as #17 nowadays make reference to "middle-income affordable housing" rather than just "affordable housing." This seems to acknowledge the political reality that those who object to proposed housing developments may not be too keen about replacing those proposed high-priced condos with a low-income housing.

Committee Reports #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on Oct 8, 2014 to review the City Council’s most recent goals and to make recommendations for the FY16 Goals; said goals to include a goal relating to City-wide planning.

I could say much about this meeting that was supposed to be about all of the City Council’s major goals. One city councillor used this meeting to repeatedly press for the single, overly specific goal of hiring a "STEAM coordinator." That seemed to entirely miss the point of the meeting. One of the more positive goals expressed was for the re-invigoration of philanthropy as a means of funding various initiatives. With some of the big companies locating especially in Kendall Square, that goal could potentially be very consequential. – Robert Winters

8 Comments

  1. Its “III” not “II” Dr. Winters, like when Rocky fought Mr. T. That being said, it just bakes my bread to see C2 picked apart. There is an entire section in the doc entitled: “Recommendations for Municipal Parking Lots” My guess is that section suggests what aught to be considered for the parking lots…

    Comment by patrick barrett — October 27, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

  2. Robert,

    Just a quick point: order 17 calls for “mixed-income affordable housing” not “middle-income affordable housing”. We are acknowledging that in addition to needing more low income housing, we also need middle and moderate income housing.

    Comment by Marc McGovern — October 27, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

  3. Marc – This is true, and the goal of most of us would be MIXED income. That’s really the whole point of Inclusionary Zoning. People of different incomes get to live within the same housing development. Unfortunately, when the Affordable Housing Trust builds new housing it generally has to rely on funding sources such as federal grant money that comes with serious strings attached, i.e. incomes have to be below a certain threshold. So even if the stated goal is “mixed income,” it’s not guaranteed in any way that this can be done except via Inclusionary Zoning where all of the funding flows from the housing developer.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 27, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

  4. I would love having a “stated goal” when it comes to “affordable housing” be it moderate, low income, or whatever. How can the city measure any kind of success or reflect on progress without a means to measure it? It seems like at this point to suggest that you’d like market rate units is blasphemy. Without a threshold by which you can gauge your progress you’ll never be able to report back to your constituents that you’ve actually done something substantive. I would also like some acknowledgement that “demand” will always be there so the quest to sate it should be part of a regional strategy and not one we can hope to achieve exclusively in Cambridge. I will not hold my breath.

    Comment by patrick barrett — October 28, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

  5. For some time now I have been wanting to write an essay on a “Freakonomics” aspect to affordable housing. The Cambridge Housing Authority and others often give numbers for the number of people on the waiting list for CHA housing units. Rarely do they explain whether those thousands of applicants are only seeking Cambridge housing of if they are, in fact, on every public housing waiting list in the Greater Boston area. I suspect the latter. The Freakonomics fact is that if Cambridge aggressively develops affordable housing units and other cities and towns don’t match it, then all eyes turn to Cambridge and the demand actually goes up in response to the increase in supply. In other words, the more you try to solve the problem, the worse the problem appears to become.

    I am in no way trying to suggest that Cambridge curtail the provision of new affordable housing, but trying to set and achieve goals may be a losing proposition. The only thing that’s really important is that ALL cities and towns do their proportional share to create a sufficient supply of housing to alleviate the growing demand, and this is not just about “affordable” housing. This is simply about housing. Only then will there be any hope of restoring some kind of reasonable housing market governed by more traditional rules of supply and demand.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 28, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

  6. Why would setting goals be a “losing proposition?”

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — October 29, 2014 @ 9:11 am

  7. Goals are good, but if the hope is that the number of people seeking affordable housing in Cambridge will somehow go down, my belief is that (in the absence of comparable efforts by our neighboring cities and towns) the numbers will likely go up if we do this unilaterally.

    Comment by Robert Winters — October 29, 2014 @ 11:27 am

  8. Absolutely. My desire to have a “goal” is simply to offer our Council and the City a means to advertise unto the sayers-of-nay that they are actually doing their jobs. If we shoot for 20% affordable city-wide and maintain that, and 20% is our stated mission goal, then we can affirmatively state, “Yes, we are doing our part.” You will never sate demand…its impossible.

    Comment by patrick barrett — October 29, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

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