Mayor David Maher has now appointed the City Council committees for this term. The appointments include a proposal to split the Health & Environment Committee into the Community Health Committee and the Environment & Sustainability Committee – also referred to as the Sustainable Environment Committee, though this seems overly specific. The previous committee has flipped back and forth between Councillors Davis and Decker, so the split seems as much an accommodation of these two individuals as anything else. Regardless, it’s a proposed rules change and the matter will have to “Lie on the Table” until the next regular meeting of the City Council in two weeks before it can be made official. It’s curious, to say the least, that with so much rhetoric about the importance of these committees during the delayed mayoral vote, a number of councillors didn’t even express their preferences until well after David Maher was elected mayor – now nearly a month ago – and there hadn’t been a single committee meeting scheduled until today when the required Budget Hearings of the Finance Committee appeared (May 5, May 12, May 13, and May 19).
There are several matters of interest on tonight’s agenda. Here are a few:
City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2010 and ending Mar 31, 2011.
The bottom line is that the water rate is increasing by 1.5%, primarily due to decreased consumption and relatively fixed costs. The sewer rate will increase by 7.9%, primarily to cover the increased MWRA assessment. The average combined increase for water/sewer will be 5.8%. It’s worth reading the whole document.
Communications #2. A communication was received from the Cambridge Climate Emergency Action Group, transmitting the recommendations of 2009-2010 Climate Congress for an all-city awareness and response campaign, and for city responses to the Climate Emergency.
This is really a topic for another day. The Cambridge Climate Congress is submitting its recommendations together with a very long list of ideas suggested at various brainstorming sessions. Some of them make a lot of sense. Some are easy to implement and some are difficult. Some are completely ridiculous, but this submission does make clear (for those who actually read it) that this list of ideas were neither voted nor approved and are provided simply to add to future conversations. The central theme is a stepped-up campaign of public awareness of available resources and the economic and environmental benefits of greater energy conservation.
Resolution #14. Resolution on the death of Clifford A. Truesdell, IV. Councillor Cheung, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Decker, Vice Mayor Davis
Order #7. Dedication of an appropriate site in the vicinity of Essex Street and Norfolk Street in honor of Clifford Truesdell IV. Councillor Decker
Clifford was a friend and a valuable, unique, and irreplaceable civic and political player in Cambridge. His memorial gathering on March 21 was memorable.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Assistant City Manager of Community Development to investigate the opportunity to partner with local non-profits in order to obtain and develop the properties currently held by the Jesuit Order that are being placed on the market into affordable housing opportunities for the City of Cambridge. Councillor Toomey
Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development in order to report back with draft language for an amendment to Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance to include a provision to facilitate the conversion of Institutional Property to Affordable Housing. Councillor Toomey
I suspect that both of these orders are related to a recent news story about the proposed sale of 7 very desirable properties in the vicinity of Harvard Square. It’s possible that there’s a connection here to the tendency of “affordable housing” projects to end up only in certain neighborhoods (East Cambridge, North Cambridge to name a couple). These Orders could be interpreted as an effort to drive home a point about this unwritten policy, albeit one that is primarily driven by the economics.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to take the necessary steps to prepare Cambridge to participate in Earth Hour again this year. Councillor Cheung
Knock yourself out, Cambridge. However, if you’re not aware of your own energy consumption every day, there’s really little to be gained by a one hour show. Personally, I never participate in these little statements.
Order #5. Public notification process and plans relating to the Blair Pond and the Alewife Reservation. Councillor Simmons
Word has it that the “Silver Maple Forest people” will be making their presence known at Public Comment on this matter. I’m still waiting to see the elves.
Order #8. That the City Council place on the table the attached proposal to amend the City Council rules to replace the Health and Environment Committee with two committees, the Community Health Committee and the Sustainable Environment Committee. Mayor Maher
Communications and Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher, transmitting the 2010-2011 City Council Committee Assignments.
See comments above. Otherwise, I’d say that David Maher did a commendable job with his committee assignments.
Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to direct the new Executive Director of the Police Review Advisory Board to submit a report to the City Council detailing what are perceived to be the issues of greatest importance that the Police Review Advisory Board must focus on, and that this report should be submitted to the City Council no later than 90 days from the adoption of this order. Councillor Simmons
Though this Order refers to a report of the Police Review Advisory Board (as opposed to the Cambridge Review Committee formed in response to the Great Gates Affair), it seems probable that there is a connection here. Regarding the Review Commission, anyone expressing a contrarian point on this whole matter shall hereby be exiled from the ranks of the politically correct, but here goes: This was a ridiculous committee to form in the first place – driven by a trivial episode last summer on Ware Street. However, since the money’s been spent we should at least get a few recommendations out of this. Then move on. Let the Police Review Advisory Board return to its ordinary business.
Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the feasibility of adopting a Pay-As-You-Throw program in Cambridge. Councillor Reeves
A Pay-As-You-Throw program for rubbish collection in Cambridge (recycling would remain without any fees) is an intriguing idea and could translate into higher recycling rates and some potential economic benefits. However, Cambridge is already doing relatively well in their recycling rates and would not likely see nearly the benefits that some laggard cities and towns (like Boston) would see if they got serious about their rubbish and recycling. There are some potential downsides to such a program in a relatively dense city like Cambridge – including the fact that it’s very difficult to know exactly which apartment or condo is responsible for which rubbish and recycling. This could become a bureaucratic and enforcement nightmare. Compared to other cities, Cambridge might choose to stay with their current system (with the possible switch to a simpler single-stream recycling collection) and maintain domestic tranquility while still increasing their recycling rates. A little more education would go a long way.
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to report back to the City Council with options for amending the city ordinance to allow for the Manager to permit civic organizations to use public space after hours. Councillor Cheung
At first I thought this Order was asking about access to public buildings in which case I would have taken the opportunity to remind everyone about the original intent of the community schools concept. However, this is specifically about allowing one group to sleep out on the Cambridge Common as part of a planned march to Beacon Hill. If ever there was a situation that was best handled by “selective enforcement”, this is it. It’s best to look the other way on certain municipal ordinances in a case like this rather than amending the ordinances and opening the door to unintended consequences. If you say it’s legal for a “civic group” to camp out on the common, why wouldn’t a few ne-er-do-wells just claim civic group status and camp out out every night while calling it a protest against capitalism or some other silliness? Give the “Leadership Campaign” a one-night permit and leave the ordinances alone. — Robert Winters
Mark Levy’s take on the meeting (Mar 24, 2010)
FYI – Current Rules and Goals: Cambridge City Council & Cambridge School Committee
City Council Rules 2010-2011 (adopted January 4, 2010)
City Council Goals – FY2010-2011 (approved February 2, 2009)
City Council Committees (newly appointed for the 2010-2010 term)
Note: The City Council Rules will have to be amended to permit the splitting of the old Health & Environment Committee into the Community Health Committee and the Environment & Sustainability Committee.
School Committee Rules (adopted January 7, 2008)
School Committee Goals (adopted October 7, 2008)