Post-Eclipse – Items from the Sept 28, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda
It was a Super Moon in Total Eclipse on Sunday, but Monday brings us back to Earth. Here are some things of interest at this week’s City Council meeting:
Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following members of the Foundry Advisory Committee: Deborah Rue (3-year term), Folakemi Alalade (2-year term), Jamie Sabino (1-year term), Jason Slavick (3-year term), Mark Tang (2-year term), Mariam Bucheli (1-year term), Richard Thal (3-year term).
I recognize only one name in this group of appointees – and that’s probably a good thing.
Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2016.
Excerpts from the Manager’s letter: The actual FY16 property tax levy is $354,430,753, an increase of $12,985,298 or 3.8% from FY15. The 3.8% property tax levy increase is below the five-year average annual increase of 4.54%. With approval of these recommendations, the ten-year average annual increase will be 4.75%. Based on a property tax levy of $354.4 million, the FY16 residential tax rate will be $6.99 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.83, or -10.61% from FY15. The commercial tax rate will be $17.71, which is a decrease of $1.58, or – 8.19% from FY15. This will be the eleventh year in a row that a majority of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no change or an increase of less than $100 in their tax bill. In fact, in FY16, approximately 87% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100. As a result of market activity in calendar year 2014, which is the basis of the FY16 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 16.28%, which is the highest increase in the past decade. Total commercial property values increased by 13.18%. For FY16, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $34,680,060,680 a 15.1% increase over FY15 values. The actual FY16 total assessed values are significantly greater than the projections presented to the rating agencies in February 2015 due to continued strength in the Cambridge real estate market.
Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 14, 2015 to discuss proposed amendments to Section 11.200 entitled Incentive Zoning Provisions and Inclusionary Housing Provisions. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 24, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held July 21, 2015. Petition expires Oct 12, 2015.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 22, 2015 to further discuss the petition to amend the incentive zoning requirements that is currently under consideration by the City Council.
There’s a good chance the amendments to the incentive zoning requirements will be ordained at this meeting.
Order #2. That the City Clerk, in consultation with the City Solicitor, draft a response regarding the Open Meeting Law complaint filed by Ilan Levy for the City Council’s consideration. Mayor Maher
Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher transmitting an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Ilan Levy, 148 Spring Street.
Perhaps someone can explain to me how the reelection of councillors can somehow be interpreted as "business before the City Council" that might be subject to the Open Meeting Law. Will the councillors be voting on the question of their own reelection at an upcoming meeting? Without such a basis, this complaint could just as well have been raised about seeing more than 5 city councillors in a restaurant or at a baseball game. While the Open Meeting Law is a good idea in principle, it continues to amaze me how some individuals (and candidates) use it just to be a pain in the ass (PITA) without any constructive purpose. Perhaps there should be a PITA Slate in the November election.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to draft an ordinance extending Cambridge’s big bank retail storefront limitations to the rest of Porter, Harvard, Central, and Kendall Square. Councillor Cheung
My only suggestion is that there should also be an ordinance prohibiting retail stores from covering up their windows with advertisements and other clutter to the point that you can no loonger even see inside the building. For example, drop by the CVS and Walgreens stores in Central Square.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the ability to increase funding for affordable housing in a manner which would not adversely impact real estate taxes on existing housing units or cause a shift in taxes from commercial, industrial and personal property taxes to the residential class and given the limitation upon the tax classification, any recommendation must not jeopardize the current tax distribution by shifting a greater burden on the residential taxpayers which would result in making existing housing less affordable for current residents. Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Kelley
This seems like a shell game. How do you increase expenditures without increasing revenue from any available taxable properties? At some point this City Council will have to address a far more general notion of what constitutes "affordable housing" that goes beyond simply subsidizing housing for people who can satisfy certain income criteria on paper. Perhaps this may be an impossible dream but in a properly functioning economy there should be a sufficient supply and a broad range of housing options of varying size, quality, and location so that most people can at least find something acceptable within their means without a government subsidy.
Order #15. That a Home Rule Petition "AN ACT TO ADOPT PROTECTIONS FOR CAMBRIDGE’S GOVERNMENTALLY-INVOLVED HOUSING STOCK" be submitted to the General Court for a special law relating to the City of Cambridge to be filed with an attested copy of this order which is hereby approved under Clause 1 of Section 8 of Article II, as amended, of the Articles of Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to the end that legislation be adopted precisely as follows, except for clerical or editorial changes of form only. Councillor Mazen
Perhaps this is well-intentioned, but the language in this Order has all the markings of a back door re-introduction of rent control. Perhaps that’s the intention of whoever drafted this petition. As such, I suspect the state legislature will have some reservations.
Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Marc C. McGovern transmitting a report on the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Income Insecurity in Cambridge.
This report is a good read about a topic that many people in Cambridge don’t really think about. I do have some questions about some of the assertions in the report, e.g. the claim that "a family of 4 needs to earn $108,800 annually to meet their minimum needs." Perhaps if you focus only on averages and medians you might draw such a conclusion, but a better analysis would look at the entire distribution of housing options and services and not just at the averages and medians. – Robert Winters