Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 22, 2018

Choice Bits from the Jan 22, 2018 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:34 pm

Choice Bits from the Jan 22, 2018 Cambridge City Council agenda

Peoples Republic of CambridgeHere’s my first pass at what seems interesting (at least to me):

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $23,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Elections Commission Other Ordinary Maintenance Account to reimburse funds used for the 2017 voter guide printing and mailing. The reimbursement is necessary to cover other election related expenses.

Voter turnout went up in the 2017 municipal election by about 26% from 17,959 to 22,581. There were many factors – reaction to the 2016 presidential election, multiple vacancies and a large field of interesting new candidates, several issues whose flames were fanned by activists, increased use of social media and related tools to target voters, and the citywide mailing of the voter guide. It’s hard to say which factors had the greatest effect. I’ll add that the most well-funded campaign was unsuccessful while a new candidate soared over quota with relatively little campaign funding. Perhaps money is no longer, as Tip O’Neill used to say, "the mother’s milk of politics".

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5 million from Fund Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures account, for the City’s first contribution to the GLX project.

This expenditure has me thinking about the Mass Pike (I-90) realignment project now being planned for the Allston-Brighton area across the river, and the current omission of the proposed West Station that was to be part of it. I have been reading about suggestions that since the concurrent new development in that area would primarily be by Harvard University, then perhaps Harvard should be providing the funds for the new station. Could this be the new normal, i.e. that developers and host cities who would benefit by new transit should pay for the transit? The realization of the Green Line Extension seems to have been made possible, at least in part, by the promise of financial contributions from Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, and the developer of the NorthPoint area.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt parts of the Kroon, et al, Harvard Square Zoning Petition and to further study some parts.
[Original Petition Text][CDD Memo – Nov 8, 2017][Revised Petition Text][Planning Board Recommendation]

There is wisdom in the Planning Board recommendations (as usual). It is especially interesting to see the Board agreeing that the "formula business" regulations adopted not long ago for Central Square would also be appropriate for Harvard Square (and presumably elsewhere). The Board makes a special point regarding the review of signage which might be subject to review by both the Historical Commission and the Planning Board. [Frankly, I think the issue of signage is overstated. Some business districts, e.g. Central Square, would benefit from some additional "gawdy" and "spectacular" signage.] Despite some legal risk in moving toward "formula business" regulations, it is far preferable to some previous regulation such as the regulation of "fast food". One other positive recommendation from the Planning Board is for the exemption of below-grade space from floor-area limitations. This is consistent with the Barrett Petition of a couple of years ago. The Planning Board also cites the City’s recently completed Retail Strategy. Indeed, the whole matter of the table of uses in the City’s various zoning districts needs some attention.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding efforts to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations, the feasibility of appropriately placing electric vehicle chargers on residential streets where there is need, the status of possible City fleet replacement to electric vehicles, expanded outreach and education on available rebates and incentive programs, and the feasibility of requiring developers to include a greater number of electric vehicle charging stations in new or substantially renovated multi-unit buildings.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

It’s worth noting that Eversource doesn’t exactly have the best track record for proactive electric utility planning in Cambridge. They generally upgrade service only when new development requires it or if the service fails. If electric vehicle charging locations are installed on some Cambridge streets it seems likely that increased capacity will be needed and aging and failed service will have to be upgraded – like on my street where the underground service failed several years ago and where numerous "temporary" quick fixes are now the norm.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Public Works to publicize and enforce a “zero tolerance” policy on space savers, working to remove them as quickly as possible following snow events.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Is this really a widespread problem in Cambridge? The only places where I have seen this are on streets near public housing. A better solution would be to selectively have even/odd side parking restrictions during which all snow is pushed back all the way to the curb and/or consolidated – assuming there are no plastic "flexi-posts" there to prevent it.

Order #4. City Council support of the New York City climate lawsuit.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

I’m starting to get the sense that every City Council meeting agenda is going to have several climate change-related Orders, and that this will become the universal public policy litmus test – even for things that have little or nothing to do with climate change.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to explore mechanisms for achieving greater levels of snow clearing by the city and increase the public response during major snow events or heavy snow winters.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

See above.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Chief Information Officer for the City and report back with information regarding electronic device usage and current processes regarding the same.   Councillor Toomey

Did the exiting three councillors run off with their City-issued computers and phones?

Order #8. That the Mayor is requested to work with the appropriate City staff to establish a method of effectively communicating the new rules for the 2018-2019 City Council term with the members of the public.   Councillor Simmons

I’m on it.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee, for a public hearing held on Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018 to discuss and suggest changes to the City Council Rules and transmitting recommended changes to the City Council Rules.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux regarding the outcome of the Ad-Hoc Rules Committee hearing.

There were some good ideas and some not-so-good ideas expressed at this meeting. It doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing any realignment of the Council committees. At some level it doesn’t really matter. The real question is whether or not the councillors actually show up for the committee meetings and if they decide to take up matters of substance. – Robert Winters


  1. Robert, could you describe the “Mass Pike (I-90) realignment project” in a bit of detail for us please?
    Thank you.


    Comment by FRED BAKER — January 22, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

  2. The Mass Pike (I-90) realignment project is actually a pretty big deal. The main things are the reconstruction or reconfiguration of the viaduct that parallels Storrow Drive (the “throat”) and the realignment of the Pike through the former Beacon RR Yards. This realignment creates an enormous opportunity for redevelopment of that entire area as well as a more rational system of roadways, including the Pike entries and exits. One of the more interesting possibilities would be a more direct connection to the “turn in Commonwealth Avenue”, but there are some who want this only to be for bikes and pedestrians (and buses), but I would love to see it available for all vehicles. The plan has the possibility of a new rail station where this crossing of the Pike would be located, but there is currently a controversial delay in when this might actually be realized.

    More info at:

    Comment by Robert Winters — January 22, 2018 @ 2:11 pm

  3. Thanks Robert. So the “West Station” you referred to would be for commuter rail?


    Comment by FRED BAKER — January 23, 2018 @ 5:04 pm

  4. Yes – commuter rail. That’s not really transit like I would like, but that’s a whole other conversation. We’d be a lot better off if some commuter rail lines were converted to (at least somewhat more rapid) transit, but I’m sure the suburban residents would blow a gasket at the suggestion.

    Comment by Robert Winters — January 24, 2018 @ 12:31 am

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