Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 5, 2010

April 5, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:04 pm

April 5, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

The City Council returns tonight with a very full agenda. For starters, the City Manager provides 15 responses out of 25 pending City Council requests for information – a nice spring cleaning. These reports cover such topics as traffic, Google, the census, airplane noise, Lechmere, a proposed zoning amendment, Central Square, affordable housing, web video on the City website, bedbugs, telephone books as free speech, and weatherization. The Manager also reports that the new Election Commission Executive Director will be Tanya Ford who comes to us from Bethpage, Long Island. There’s still no word on the pending appointment for one of the Democrat seats on the Election Commission, but Alexandra Detjens has been appointed to the Police Review & Advisory Board. Recommendations from the Green Building/Zoning Task Force round out a very full agenda from the Manager.

Regarding the Council’s Agenda, there are these two related items:

Reconsideration #1. Councillor Kelley filed reconsideration on the adoption of Order Number Eight of Mar 22, 2010 as amended to place on the table and refer to the Government Operations and Rules Committee the 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.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chairs of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a meeting held on Mar 25, 2010 for the purpose of discussing dividing the Health and Environment Committee into two committees, one to focus on health issues and the other on environmental and sustainability issues.

Though really just a formality, the discussion of this modification to the City Council committees degenerated into accusations of political shenanigans at the previous meeting. The apparent cause of this kerfuffle seems to be that Mr. Reeves is peeved at not being appointed Chair of the Economic Development Committee (Councillor Cheung got that honor) and this led to some “acting out” over this apparently unrelated modification. In truth, the split into the Community Health Committee and the Environment Committee makes sense and all of the councillors seem to acknowledge this. Councillor Kelley still seems to think that all the committee need to be “rejiggered”, but this point of view does not extend beyond him.

The previous City Council meeting on March 22 ended with 8 Orders made subject to the Charter Right and carried over to the April 5 meeting. These include:

Charter Right #1. Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Order Number Twelve of Mar 22, 2010 requesting the City Manager 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.

This was an Order from Councillor Simmons that seems directed at the relevance and purpose of the PRAB in the wake of its relative irrelevance in last summer’s “Great Gatescapade”. Together with this week’s Order #6 calling for an Executive Session on the still-unresolved Monteiro case, the appointment of a 5th member to the PRAB, and some dissatisfaction with the Gatescapade-inspired Review Committee, there seems to be more than enough kindling to start a political fire.

Charter Right #5. Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Order Number Seventeen of Mar 22, 2010 requesting the City Manager to report back to the City Council on the feasibility of adopting a Pay-As-You-Throw program in Cambridge.

See comments from the last meeting. Basically, this is a good idea for promoting recycling and waste reduction in many communities, but any additional benefits may be limited in a city like Cambridge which is already doing reasonably well in these areas compared to many other cities and which may do better if the next contract includes single-stream collection and processing of recyclable materials.

Charter Right #6. Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Order Number Eighteen of Mar 22, 2010 requesting the City Manager 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.

This was introduced in advance of a planned sleep-out on the Cambridge Common a week ago. They came, they slept, and they marched the following day without incident. It seems unnecessary to change an ordinance when a little discretion in enforcement seems more than adequate.

Applications & Petitions #7. A zoning petition has been received from Boston Properties, requesting that City Council amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map relating to the Mixed Use Development District Section 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 located between Main Street and Broadway.

It’s unclear what this zoning amendment is really about except that it emphasizes the definition of a “Smart Growth/Underutilized Area” in the heart of Kendall Square. One can’t help but think this means that Boston Properties wants to more intensely develop within this area. Let’s hope the councillors do their homework and ask the appropriate questions when this goes to the Ordinance Committee.

The City Council Orders include a few potentially controversial or otherwise interesting items. For example:

Order #5. That this City Council go on record requesting that Harvard and MIT cease further layoffs and any cuts in hours, salary or benefits and engage in an open and transparent dialogue with all stakeholders including staff and the community.   Councillor Decker and Councillor Cheung

The impact of such an City Council Order is likely zero. It would be nice if the sponsors would provide tangible evidence that these personnel decisions of the universities are being made for any reason other than economic necessity.

Order #6. That the Mayor be and hereby is requested to convene the City Council in Executive Session with relevant City and support staff at the earliest opportunity to discuss ongoing litigation, to include the Monteiro and Idenix cases.   Councillor Kelley

It’s certainly good for the City Council to get periodic updates regarding ongoing litigation, but it’s never clear whether Councillor Kelley’s motivation is illumination or just acting out. In any case, I’m always interested in whether Ms. Monteiro will ultimately prevail in “milking Mother Cambridge” or whether the taxpayers will be relieved of this burden. Too bad the Executive Session is closed to the public.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the possibility of structuring the City’s parking ticket system in a way that would increase parking tickets as people stayed longer at expired meters or general no-parking spots.   Councillor Kelley

Order #10. That the City Council’s committee on Transportation, Traffic and Parking be and hereby is requested to hold the appropriate hearings to determine if the price for a residential sticker in Cambridge is appropriately set and if visitor passes are appropriately priced and available.   Councillor Kelley

Order #11. That the City Council’s committee on Transportation, Traffic and Parking be and hereby is requested to hold the appropriate hearings to determine if the amount of parking required for multi-unit residential units is appropriate.   Councillor Kelley

It’s hard to say whether Councillor Kelley is morphing into chief fundraiser for the Traffic Department or just committing political suicide by leading the charge toward higher prices for residential parking permits. Few would argue that the $8 annual charge is excessive and most would be happy to pay somewhat more, yet it seems unwise for an elected official to agitate for an increase rather than merely accede to such a proposal from the City Manager. That said, if the Cambridge Climate Congress had its way, I suppose we’d all be in ZipCars or paying $1000 per year for resident stickers for a vanishing-by-design supply of on-street parking spaces.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the City’s policy towards on-street public spaces being used by workers of large construction projects and what impact the workers’ “feeding” relevant meters has on the City’s ticketing efforts.   Councillor Kelley

Here’s another radical proposal that I hope a councillor considers for introduction: Let’s have the Traffic Department review areas with metered parking in mixed residential/commercial zones to determine when it would be appropriate to – a) allow resident parking without a fee at metered spots during morning hours; and b) eliminating the fee during hours when there is little or no demand. For example, on Broadway (near my house), the greatest demand for metered spots is by people going to the City Hall Annex. That building is closed after noon on Fridays and on Saturdays, so why are all the meters in effect when there is essentially no demand other than among area residents?

Order #14. That the City Council is requested to discuss additional use of the Sullivan Chamber by the School Committee in the immediate future and come to a formal decision on whether to support this additional use or not at the next City Council meeting.   Councillor Kelley

This is apparently related to an effort by School Committee member Patty Nolan and others to ensure continued School Committee access to the Sullivan Chamber during construction at the high school. The issue seems to be potential conflict with City Council committee meetings, yet the evidence shows there to be little or no conflict.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on the status of Vail Court and any activities related to the property.   Councillor Seidel

This is noteworthy only as evidence of an era now passed. It was not so long ago that hordes of Eviction Free Zone protesters would descend on City Hall over real or perceived violations against tenants at Vail Court on Bishop Allen Drive. That parcel now consists primarily of boarded-up buildings and may as well have sagebrush blowing through it. Where have all the activists gone – long time passing?

Order #16. That the Council supports adoption of a regulation by the License Commission to prohibit licensed hotels from subcontracting housekeeping services such as guestroom service.   Councillor Decker, Councillor Cheung, Mayor Maher, Councillor Toomey and Councillor Reeves

There are more than a few questions of obstruction of commerce in this Order. The fact that a license is required to run a hotel does not give license to elected officials or City administration to micromanage these businesses. What’s next? Should the fact that a driver’s license is required to operate a motor vehicle allow the government to dictate where someone can drive for shopping or recreation?

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate departments and community agencies and report back to the City Council detailing the processes and procedures by which the City plans for, selects, and enacts its affordable housing commitment.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Toomey

This Order is potentially the most controversial item on the entire evening’s agenda in that it questions the “logic and process of site selection for affordable housing.” The Order requests a report on how these projects are distributed throughout the city, suggests that there be more balance in how and where projects are sited, and asks what future plans the City and its related agencies may have for “affordable housing” in Cambridge. Good questions all. — Robert Winters

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