Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 26, 2016

Taking a Break – Preview of June 27, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:51 pm

Taking a Break – Preview of June 27, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

This will be the last regular meeting of the City Council before the summer break. They won’t reconvene until the Special Midsummer Meeting on August 1. Here are a few items that I found at least somewhat interesting.

859 Mass. Ave.
859 Massachusetts Avenue

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to pay for design services for the building located at 859 Massachusetts Avenue and a feasibility study for municipal facilities. [The interesting part is the statement that "The renovation project at 859 Massachusetts Avenue is estimated to cost approximately $5 million."]

I am curious about the costs. I can perhaps understand the $750,000 price tag if this includes a feasibility study for a range of municipal facilities (as opposed to just for this one building). What I cannot grasp is the statement: "The renovation project at 859 Massachusetts Avenue is estimated to cost approximately $5 million." Sure, as a municipal facility it will have to be made fully handicap accessible, and a lot of reconfiguration will be necessary for its new use. That said, it seems as though you could knock it down and build an entirely new building for well under $5 million. This estimate works out to nearly $1000 per sq. ft. I do hope at least one city councillor asks for some explanation of this estimated cost.

UPDATE: City Manager Richard Rossi explained at the meeting that the facilities study as well as the $5 million renovation cost will cover three buildings – the newly acquired 859 Mass. Ave. building as well as 831 Mass. Ave. (the Lombardi Building) and 3 Bigelow St. (currently used for transitional housing). One possible outcome is that 859 Mass. Ave. would be used for housing and 3 Bigelow St. would be converted municipal uses and possibly joined to an expanded 831 Mass. Ave. This actually makes a lot of sense and would be well worth the cost of renovation.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item 16-29, regarding the implementation of the C2 non-zoning recommendations. [Report]

This update does include some timeframes for some of the more achievable and generally acceptable goals, but the involvement of the Central Square Advisory Committee (CSAC) in helping to shape this has been hampered by staff changes at CDD. Hopefully this will be resolved soon, and perhaps the CSAC may be useful in facilitating additional public dialogue. Lest the perfect become the enemy of the good, some of the more controversial and difficult-to-achieve stuff can probably wait. Meanwhile, a new zoning petition to implement some of the more universally acceptable C2 zoning recommendations is expected later this year.

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a communication from the Affordable Housing Trust relative to the Inclusionary Housing Study. [Report]

This is a great statement of support from the Affordable Housing Trust, but it’s still not so easy to see how the economics of the proposed changes would work without at least some adjustment of the density bonus to cover the additional costs associated with increasing the inclusionary housing requirement to a full 20% of a new residential building.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Healthy Pharms Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay district section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

You had to know this and other similar petitions were coming when the most recent borderline spot zoning change was made for the vicinity of Ellery St. and Mass. Ave. (Sage Cannabis). At some point the City Council will have to take a more comprehensive look at the Medical Marijuana Overlay district section of the Zoning Code instead of taking these one petition at a time. It may make more sense to just eliminate that section entirely and delegate the regulation of these facilities to the License Commission or other appropriate agency.

Resolutions #1-16. Congratulations to students elected for 2016-2017 to the CRLS student government and as representatives to the School Committee.

The CRLS student government voted earlier this year to use Ranked Choice Voting (and Proportional Representation) in their elections. I had the honor of tabulating the votes for them using the same software that the City of Cambridge uses in its municipal elections. Congratulations to all the winners!

Order #1. Declare that the five black marble slabs that comprise the perimeter of the Prince Hall Monument, which were mined in Africa and now are located upon the historic Cambridge Common, represent the more than 5,000 Black men who helped fight for this country’s independence during the Revolutionary War.   Mayor Simmons

This is one of the reasons I really love Mayor Simmons. She knows and cares about history – especially local history. It was Mayor Simmons who several years ago was responsible for bringing the Prince Hall Monument to the Cambridge Common.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the feasibility of the City of Cambridge filing its own home rule petition regarding reduced speed limits in thickly settled areas in conjunction with the City of Boston’s current efforts.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Boston and Cambridge filing Home Rule petitions to be able to adjust some speed limits is not the ideal way to do this. What is really needed is for the Massachusetts Legislature to amend the Massachusetts General Laws so that there are more distinctions than just "thickly settled areas" in determining local speed limits. For example, a one-way street that is parked on both sides with a relatively narrow travel lane (like many Cambridge streets) should be declared a "neighborhood street" (or something like that), and it should have a speed limit of no more than 20-25 mph. There are other streets that by their very geometry should also be put in this category without having to carry out a detailed traffic study to justify the reduced speed. This should be established statewide. The 30 mph standard is still perfectly fine for many streets. All of Cambridge is "thickly settled", but not all roads in Cambridge can safely accommodate the same speeds.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of implementing a truck ban on Prospect Street during certain times of the day, or to otherwise mitigate the impact of the trucks utilizing this street.   Mayor Simmons

Heavy truck traffic on Prospect Street (except for local deliveries) has been banned for a long time.

Order #10. That the proposed addition to Title 6, entitled “Animals,” regarding the restriction on the sale of animals in pet shops be referred to the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Many people choose to seek pets from local shelters, but it’s really wrongheaded to unfairly restrict the ways a person can obtain a pet. The proposed ordinance would require that "A pet shop may offer for sale only those birds, mammals, or reptiles that the pet shop has obtained from or displays in cooperation with… an animal care facility… or… an animal rescue organization." A simpler ordinance would simply require that any such sales be accompanied by appropriate documentation of the source of the animal up for adoption/sale.

Not on the Agenda, but important:
This past Thursday (June 23), a Cambridge cyclist (Amanda Phillips) was killed on Cambridge Street near Inman Square. The indications are that the cyclist was riding close enough to parked cars that when a driver opened a car door into the path of the cyclist this caused her to fall to the street where she was then fatally struck by a motor vehicle. The incident was eerily similar to a incident in July 2001 when a woman (Dana Laird) was killed in Central Square. (My photos of that day were actually subpoenaed in the subsequent civil case.) Though there are some serious issues associated with traffic safety in Inman Square (especially for cyclists and pedestrians), this fatality is not directly related to those issues. This could just as well have happened elsewhere. Is there anything that can be done to prevent such an incident in the future?

There is no one right answer to this question. For starters, cyclists should never ride close to parked cars. Motor vehicle operators should always check and double-check before opening doors into a travel lane. Some will argue that the only solution is to move all cyclists off the roads so that they become the sole domain of motor vehicles. I disagree. There is a place for separate facilities, such as twisting roads and places where there is a great speed differential between bikes and motor vehicles (like along Memorial Drive or any DCR parkway), but in a local setting the best streets are still shared streets where all vehicles are clearly visible to each other. We have to do a much better job of educating cyclists and motor vehicle operators about how to safely operate their vehicles.

UPDATE: There was plenty of public comment at this meeting in response to the death of cyclist Amanda Phillips in the vicinity of Inman Square – much of it arguing for the need of "separated bike lanes" or "cycle tracks" that would remove cyclists from the regular travel lanes on Cambridge Street. However, the well-circulated description of what happened may not actually coincide with the facts. It has now been reported that this may not have been a simple case of a cyclist riding along a road when a door was opened into her path. It may actually be the case that Ms. Phillips was transitioning from the sidewalk into the street when she came around the parked car and either struck the door or swerved to avoid it. If this turns out to be the case, then the driver may well have checked for cyclists and saw none prior to opening the car door. We’ll have to wait to see the report of the investigation before knowing exactly what happened next. This is important because the primary objection to cycle tracks is that they may actually be more dangerous at intersections and driveways by obscuring cyclists from the field of view of motorists – and there are plenty of intersections and driveways along that stretch of Cambridge Street.

There was also another murder (Anthony Clay, 49) in The Port on Friday night/Saturday morning on Harvard Street across from Greene-Rose Park. This neighborhood, and especially the area on or near Windsor Street has been the site of several murders over the last few years. We’re all hoping for justice to be served in this latest murder, but at what point do we say "Enough is Enough"? We can "Envision Cambridge" from now until eternity, but it doesn’t really mean much when the most basic human right is denied. – Robert Winters


  1. Is there an explanation of the need for more office space for the city?

    Comment by John Gintell — June 27, 2016 @ 10:20 am

  2. I do know that the Historical Commission could use more space. One possibility that I’ve heard is that they could add another floor to the Lombardi Building (where they now are located). Information Technology may also need additional space.

    I also hear griping from some councillors who apparently are not satisfied with the great salary for limited working hours, reserved parking, personal assistants, etc. I’m sure they would all like private offices with personal secretaries, multiple aides (better known as political operatives), and everything else under the sun. Perhaps they should be given their own city block complete with a playground. Given the chance, I’m sure they would gladly quadruple their budget. Nonetheless, they would probably never want to be anywhere other than City Hall, so look for some other department to get evicted and sent up the street.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 27, 2016 @ 3:08 pm

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