Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 22, 2017

Coming up this Monday – Jan 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:32 pm

Coming up this Monday – Jan 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council agenda [extra detail here or here (15.4MB PDF)]

Jan 23, 2017

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person to the position of Assistant City Manager for Finance, effective Mar 13, 2017:  David Kale.

It’s like that line from the Blues Brothers – "We’re putting the band back together." Welcome back, David.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-107, regarding the purchase of K9 Rumba by Officer Peter Neal.

There was no absolutely right resolution to this dilemma. In the end, four-year-old Rumba still has work to do for the City of Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $35,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Human Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account, to be used to expand the existing contract with Food for Free to support the Weekend Backpack Program.

This is not the first time the City has taken up the slack when the state or federal government discontinued funding for a useful program such as this. I expect it won’t be the last.


Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation regarding the Medical Marijuana Zoning Petition. [The Planning Board does NOT RECOMMEND adoption.]

Committee Report #2 and Committee Report #3 from the Ordinance Committee for public hearings held on Dec 21, 2016 and on Jan 3, 2017 relative to the City Council petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance to delete the existing Section 20.700 – Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts; create a new Section 11.800 – Medical Marijuana; and list Registered Marijuana Dispensary within Section 4.35 of the Table of Use Regulations, allowed only by Planning Board Special Permit within Business A, B, B-1, B-2, C, Industry A-1, B-1 and B-2 districts. These are the 2nd and 3rd hearings on this petition.

The basic issue here is that if there are to be medical marijuana dispensaries in Cambridge, the existing zones where it is allowed appear to be inadequate as evidenced by repeated zoning petitions to add new small zones tailored to specific sites. The alternative is to simply make this an allowed use in some or all of the existing business districts (as long as other constraints are met). One identified complication is that under the recently passed initiative petition to liberalize the use, possession, and sale of recreational marijuana, the dispensary sites could also become recreational marijuana outlets. One discussion I have not yet heard is the reality of where such facilities would actually end up being located if they become an allowed use in business districts. These are not the kind of facilities that would be dependent on foot traffic and they don’t need a site that commands high rent, so the most likely sites would be in the smaller business zones or on the outer periphery of the Squares. Wherever they locate, their particular clientele will be sure to find them.


Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Richard Harding, et al. to amend 20.800 titled the Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Sub district to reflect a more appropriate affordable housing contribution and height limitation for this zoning.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Massasoit Elk’s Lodge #129 Membership, 55 Bishop Allen Drive, transmitting opposition to the 19th floor height of the B-1 and B2 towers that are grossly out of scale for Central Square and Port neighborhoods, and far higher even than proposed by the C2 study.

I’m at something of a loss trying to understand out of which blue this petition came. The Normandy/Twining petition of a couple of years ago that has made possible the Mass & Main development that is now being permitted was a very public process with more than its share of controversy. That petition was ordained on a 7-2 vote on May 18, 2015 with significant concessions to produce affordable housing units as part of that development. A tremendous amount of planning and negotiation has occurred since then and many opportunities for the public to weigh in. This new petition is really the horse that left that barn 18 months ago. All of the relevant issues have already been debated. The communication from the Elk’s Lodge specifically references the petition. It’s difficult to guess what the real motivation is for this petition’s appearance at this time. It could be related to a potential City Council candidacy or maybe it’s a proxy petition promoted by an activist group, but it could also be based on fear of construction disruption when the Mass & Main development gets underway later this year. In any case, this petition is long past its freshness date.


Resolution #2. Congratulations to José Mateo for being named a 2017 Commonwealth Award honoree for Achievement by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.   Councillor Devereux

Resolution #14. Retirement of Greg Russ from the Cambridge Housing Authority.   Mayor Simmons

In their respective fields, both José Mateo and Greg Russ are local giants.


Order #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the License Commission, the Cambridge Arts Council, the Community Development Department, the Police Department, and any other appropriate City department to discuss the feasibility of allowing small businesses to host live acoustic music performances without a license.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

This seems like a great idea – certainly for occasional performances and particularly for those without amplification. There are, however, some factors that the City Council and the City administration may want to consider before making such a change, e.g. hours of operation, whether the business has "operable windows" that would project the sound outward, and if there might be some conflict with any residential abutters. Not all acoustic music is low volume, e.g. drums and horns. Acoustic doesn’t necessarily mean a folk singer gently strumming her guitar strings.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to hire an independent consultant who shall assess the efficiency and effectiveness of how all City Departments conduct their work, who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary, and who will report back to the City Manager and the City Council on his or her progress in regular monthly intervals.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Mazen

Assessing the effectiveness of City departments and making necessary improvements should, of course, be standard practice. In that spirit, this Order seems perfectly great. However, the phrase "who will begin implementing whatever necessary adjustments are deemed to be necessary" in regard to a hired independent consultant is more than a little problematic. If read literally, this would imply that the City Manager would hire a consultant who would not merely advise the City Manager and the City Council but actually independently make changes in the management of City departments. At the very least, the City Council should amend this order to make clear that any recommendations are strictly advisory.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community.   Councillor Toomey

Lately I have begun to think that the entire process regarding the Foundry building has become one large circular discussion that has brought of back to pretty much the same place we were at four years ago.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report on the current status of the Broadband Task Force, including a schedule for ongoing discussion and final decision and recommendation.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung

I still have not heard a convincing argument for why the City should invest a huge sum of money on a speculative initiative like this.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the Council with an explanation of how the success of these “pop up” lanes will be measured and what lessens we expect to learn from them to help implement safer bicycling facilities throughout the City as soon as possible.   Councillor Kelley

This is an incredibly perceptive Order from Councillor Kelley. I have already seen at least one advocacy group running surveys designed to "prove" the desirability of these changes. I cannot speak for the one near the Harvard Law School, but it’s hard to imagine that the obstacle course that was installed in Lafayette Square would pass muster in any objective analysis. There are plenty of trouble spots that can be identified for improved bicycle safety in Cambridge, but these don’t especially coincide with those promoted politically.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 13, 2016 to discuss recent and anticipated development projects and commercial and institutional leasing in Harvard Square and how such changes may affect the future of Harvard Square.

This was an interesting hearing, but it’s not at all clear what the action items are or where this discussion may be headed.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 4, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend provision of the Zoning Ordinance related to Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions into Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text of sections 11.200 through 11.206.

There is a noticeable urgency to pass these changes regardless of what the effect may be on new housing construction. The proposed mandatory percentage of "affordable units" is almost double what has been in effect since the 1998 ordinance was adopted. It may be economically sustainable, but this is not a sure thing. The only sure thing is that the adoption of these changes to Inclusionary Zoning will be prominently featured on a lot of campaign literature this fall. – Robert Winters

4 Comments

  1. What exactly is meant by a pop-up lane?
    Can you describe it?

    -Fred Baker

    Comment by FRED BAKER — January 23, 2017 @ 9:44 am

  2. A pop-up lane is, I believe, simply a corridor for cyclists that is segregated from the rest of traffic via either a row of cars parked out in the street or (and often in conjunction with) upright plastic posts. There are some locations where this treatment may be useful but, in my opinion, they are counterproductive in most Cambridge locations, especially where there are driveways, loading zones, handicapped parking, cross-streets, commercial activity, bus stops, etc. In other words – most of Cambridge. They are apparently the current fad among the more political of cycling advocates.

    I believe we would do better to focus on only those locations that are actually hazardous rather than straight sections of road where the hazards are minimal. Bends in roads would be better if parking was removed since motor vehicle operators often drift into the turn and pinch the right-of-way for cyclists. Moving vehicles out into the roadway in order that cyclists will ride to the right of the parked cars has MANY associated problems. For example, at every intersection motor vehicle operators who now pause over crosswalks in order to view cross-traffic before entering or crossing a roadway will now pause directly in this “cycle track”. This will cause cyclists to have to break for them or go around them.

    Most of the politically-motivated proposals I have seen to date essentially “pedestrianize” cyclists. Their preferred manner of cycling is not really so different than riding on a sidewalk – significantly lower speeds, increased conflicts with pedestrians, loading and unloading activities, and motor vehicles entering and exiting cross streets.

    Segregating cyclists from the rest of traffic really only makes sense on higher-speed arterial roadways or on twisty rural roads where the combination of high speeds and low visibility is a serious hazard. On most Cambridge streets where some have proposed these kinds of “solutions”, the only way they can be implemented is to remove all parking from one or both sides of the street. That will, in turn, lead to higher traffic speeds and more of a highway feel. I feel pretty strongly that most of these Cambridge streets function very well right now.

    Some streets that may warrant the segregation treatment might be North Mass. Ave. from Porter Square to the Arlington line where it already has a highway feel, all of the DCR roads, and especially the McGrath/O’Brien Highway – though I would prefer to see that turned into an “urban boulevard” before any other changes are considered.

    Comment by Robert Winters — January 23, 2017 @ 10:49 am

  3. Thanks Robert. It’s been a while so may I ask: is “DCR” what we used to call the MDC?

    -Fred Baker

    Comment by FRED BAKER — January 23, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

  4. Yup. The MDC (Metropolitan District Commission) was consolidated with the State’s DEM (Department of Environmental Management) some years ago to form the DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation). Other MDC functions were transferred to other agencies. Responsibility for MDC roads (now DCR roads) went to MassHighway, but only curb to curb. The greenways through which they pass are still under DCR jurisdiction. I think I got this right.

    Comment by Robert Winters — January 23, 2017 @ 1:34 pm

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