Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 25, 2016

Decisions, Decisions…. Notable items on the Sept 26, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:57 pm

Decisions, Decisions…. Notable items on the Sept 26, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

Barring any unexpected turns of events, this will be the last regular City Council meeting with City Manager Richard Rossi.

Decisions, Decisions....Here are the items that seem most interesting:

Appointments by the Manager
Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Affordable Housing Trust: Reappointments: Peter Daly (2-year term), Florrie Darwin (1-year term), Gwendolen Noyes (1-year term), Susan Schlesinger (3-year term), James Stockard, Jr. (3-year term), William Tibbs (2-year term). New Appointment: Elaine Thorne (3-year term)

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Water Board for a term of 5-years, effective Sept 26, 2016: Kathleen Kelly, Jason Marshall

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following persons as members of the Planning Board for a term of five years, effective Sept 26, 2016: Steven Cohen, Hugh Russell and Tom Sieniewicz

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the Steering Committee for the City’s Birth to Grade Three Partnership.

Manager’s Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Cambridge Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of 3 years effective Oct 1, 2016: Christine Lamas Weinberg, Katherine Shozawa and Olufolakemi Alalade

I have come to look upon those who choose to serve on City boards and commissions as possessing a sort of nobility. Regardless of their age, these public-spirited people are like the Village Elders. They serve without compensation and, in some cases, most notably the Planning Board, they devote a significant amount of time in this voluntary capacity. Perhaps we should form a congress of all those who serve or who have served at one time – The League of Extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen.


Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Outdoor Lighting Zoning recommendations.

These are the zoning amendments that would go along with the proposed Outdoor Lighting Ordinance. It has been interesting, and at least somewhat entertaining, watching how this reasonable proposal to regulate intrusive lighting has led to some people wanting to expand it to deal with all lighting, including advertising signage that shine into the bedrooms of no one. This seems like a particularly Cambridge sort of thing – a proposal to regulate something turning into a proposal to regulate everything. I like the idea of establishing some standards for outdoor lighting, particularly in residential areas, as a courtesy to those who would like to get a good night’s sleep. What this has to do with decorative lighting, especially garish and aesthetically questionable lighting in places like North Point, escapes me. Perhaps that’s the real point of these zoning recommendations – to grant the Planning Board some regulatory authority for this other stuff while the Municipal Lighting Ordinance remains focused on ensuring that spotlights don’t shine into people’s bedroom windows or darken the night sky.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted 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 FY2017:
A. Authorize the use of Free Cash of $10,180,000 to reduce the FY17 tax rate;
B. Authorize $2,000,000 in overlay surplus/reserves to be used for reducing the FY17 tax rate;
C. Authorize $1,700,000 from the City Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;
D. Authorize $517,970 from the School Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget;
E. Appropriate $8,000,000 from Free Cash to the City Debt Stabilization Fund;
F. Classify property into five classes;
G. Adopt the minimum residential factor of 55.9103%;
H. Approve the residential exemption factor of 30% for owner-occupied homes;
I. Vote to double the normal value of the statutory exemption;
J. Vote the FY17 exemption of $309.00 allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17D;
K. Vote the FY17 asset limits of $61,298.00 allowed Under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17E;
L. Vote the FY17 income and asset limits allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 41D as follows: income and assets limits for elderly persons from income limits of $25,346 for those who are single and $38,019 for those who are married, asset limits of $50,689 for those who are single and $69,698 for those who are married;
M. Vote the income limit for deferral of real estate taxes by elderly persons as determined by the Commissioner of Revenue for the purposes of MGL Chapter 62, Section 6, subsection (k) for a single person ($57,000) and for married ($85,000).

As Bob Healy would always say, the City doesn’t set the property tax rates. The Department of Revenue does. He would also add that once these votes are taken these rates are virtually guaranteed to be the same as those given in the communication: "Based on a property tax levy of $372.7 million, the FY17 residential tax rate will be $6.49 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.50, or -7.2% from FY16. The commercial tax rate will be $16.12, which is a decrease of $1.59, or -9.0% from FY16." Don’t jump for joy just yet. Property values have been escalating so rapidly (average of 13.5% in one year for residential properties) that you should expect to pay a bit more, especially in Riverside and Cambridgeport.

Manager’s Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Broadband Task Force recommendations and Tilson Report.

Boondoggle alert. One estimate is that it would cost $187 million dollars to build such a network, and there’s no guarantee that customers would leave Comcast or another Internet service provider in favor of such a new network, especially if Comcast adjusts its pricing structure a little. That’s a lot of public money expended for a discount. Anyway, this report just calls for a Feasibility Study.

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to City accomplishments during City Manager 2013-2016.

Read Rich Rossi’s memo. It has been a busy few years. Then think for a while about all of the major capital projects Richie has played a lead role in over the last few decades. It will make you feel pretty good about City government in Cambridge – even on the evening when votes are being taken to determine how much property tax you’ll be paying this year.

Manager’s Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-16, regarding the plan to take Vail Court by eminent domain.

Hallelujah! The City takes this step only when absolutely necessary, and this is long overdue.

Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City’s Agreement with MassDOT and MBTA regarding funding contribution agreement for Green Line Extension Project.

These are the details associated with the announced agreement that was made several months ago.


Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to refer the attached short-term rental draft ordinance to the City Solicitor, Inspectional Services Department and any other relevant department for comment and review as components of a potential short-term rental ordinance and be referred to a joint hearing of the Housing and Public Safety Committees scheduled on Oct 26, 2016, at 5:30pm for discussion, and to hear back from the City on the proposed policies.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

The Statement of Purpose says it best: "The purpose of this ordinance shall be to make the operation of short-term rentals legal for Cambridge residents, protect the safety of renters, owners, visitors, and neighbors, and ensure that short-term rentals will not be a detriment to the character and livability of the surrounding residential neighborhood."

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 30, 2016 to continue public discussion regarding the recent completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Draft Recommendations of the Community Development Department.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 8, 2016 to continue the public discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and Draft Recommendations of the Community Development Department.

The Housing Committee has now voted that the Community Development Department’s recommendations for Inclusionary Zoning be forwarded to the full City Council with a favorable recommendation. Primarily this will set the Inclusionary Housing required percentage for new construction over a minimum size at 20% net, though the City Council could still modify this proposed percentage. There will apparently still be some discussion about whether this will be phased in and, if so, over what period. I still remain skeptical whether this requirement will be economically feasible beyond the short term. I also have some misgivings about a future in which only wealthy people will be able to afford market housing with everyone else having to apply to a government agency to access housing that is affordable to them. The biggest mistake made over the last 20+ years was in allowing most of the housing stock of two- and three-family houses to be converted into now-unaffordable condominiums. That had previously been one of the most significant sources of affordable housing for both owners and renters.

Thurs, Sept 29
5:30pm   Special City Council Meeting to vote on extending an offer to a finalist for the position of City Manager. Additionally, the City Council may meet in Executive Session to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with the prospective City Manager or to conduct contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.  (Sullivan Chamber)

Later this week the City Council will vote on whether Jay Ash, Paul Fetherston, or Louis DePasquale will be the next City Manager of Cambridge. As I stated at the microphone last Monday – I wish the City Council good wisdom and good luck. – Robert Winters

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