Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 26, 2018

Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:33 pm

Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City Hall postcardHere’s my take on what looks interesting this week.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as new members of the Planning Board for a term of three years, effective Apr 2, 2018: Nikolas Bowie and Corinne Espinoza

Though it doesn’t say it in the communication, both of these appointments are as Associate Members of the Planning Board replacing Ahmed Nur and Thacher Tiffany.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-18, regarding a report on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance.

Two notes:
(1) As Commissioner O’Riordan states: "We have heard from businesses concerning the cost of alternative products. For example; at a Harvard Square establishment, one service item increased in cost from $0.03/unit to $0.50/unit. In North Cambridge another retailer indicated that their new containers cost three times more after the ordinance went into effect."
(2) Plasticware that is marketed as "compostable" is, for all intents and purposes, not actually compostable (except under very specialized conditions).

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-19, regarding Central Square pedestrian signals.

The proposed modification seems like a good plan that will not unnecessarily add to traffic congestion while providing a degree of additional safety and clarity.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2018 and ending Mar 31, 2019.

The water rates are again held constant as the sewer rates continue to soar. The projections indicate that in the coming years the water rates will start to rise slightly and the sewer rates will moderate somewhat. It’s worth reminding everyone that most of these costs are fixed costs, so as people do a better job at conservation the rates inevitably have to rise to cover the fixed costs.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to explore the possibility of accepting the City of Boston’s invitation to join their intergenerational housing pilot program.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

People have been doing this since the dawn of time – renting rooms to younger people who can lend a hand as they benefit from decent rents, but it’s definitely an idea that deserves promotion.

Order #2. That the City Manager conduct, compile, and publish an inventory of all City-owned vacant buildings and lots with the City’s plans for them, if any.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Devereux

Two words – Land Bank. This same concept was floated by then City Councillor Ed Cyr (and possibly others) about 25 years or so ago using the term "Land Bank". It inevitably led to a conflict among different priorities, esp. open space vs. "affordable housing", though there was at least one case in which a proposed site provided parking (and a turnaround) for a very congested dead end street. I’m sure there are some sites that should be made available for housing (whether "affordable" or just plain housing), but I’d hate to see the perception of "crisis" lead to the stifling of all other alternatives.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to appoint an appropriate City representative to work with the Historical Commission, the Veterans Services Department, representatives of the Cambridge African American Heritage Trail, Cambridge Historian Jon Hill, and any other appropriate parties in an effort to place markers on the graves of Mr. Cato Freeman and Mr. Neptune Frost at the Old Harvard Square Burial Ground, a marker for Mr. Agrippa Hull on the Cambridge Common, and markers for any other early unsung patriots of color that we may yet determine have been hidden in the shadows of history for far too long.   Councillor Simmons

This is a great idea. It’s probably also a good time to review and refurbish some of the historical markers all around Cambridge. We could also use an updated guide book for walking tours in both the Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Cambridge Cemetery highlighting the many significant people buried in these cemeteries.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development, the Executive Director of the Cambridge Arts Council, and the City Solicitor with a view in mind of drafting of an Arts Overlay District ordinance that would achieve the goals of creating and preserving spaces for the arts in the Central Square Cultural District.   Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

While I think this is a good idea, I hasten to add that there are a lot of people who need or would want "live/work space" who you might not necessarily label as "artists".

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to compile a list of single family homes which could be purchased by the Affordable Housing Trust and converted to Single Room Occupancies or Housing Cooperatives.   Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

I think that the concept of Rooming Houses or Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residences is something that fell out of favor over the years but which might again make some sense in this age of micro-units, short-term rentals, and people choosing to live with relatively few possessions. That said, I’d hate to see this used as a pretext for the City to relentlessly buy up the city’s housing stock. The fact that this Order specifically asks to "compile a list of single-family homes available on the market in Residential A1, A2, and B zones" seems rather politically motivated. Wouldn’t it be better to simply provide some financial and other incentives to property owners to configure their properties so as to address current needs?

Order #9. City Council opposition to any legislation that would remove or limit the options of municipalities to pass local ordinances regulating short-term rentals to include accessing tax revenue similar to what is done with hotels and motels.   Councillor Kelley

This was at the center of the discussion at last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting on the subject of the City’s regulation of short-term rentals. Briefly, the industry people (AirBnB) wanted to influence legislation now on Beacon Hill to permit taxation on short-term rentals by amending it to remove local regulatory controls as a precondition for accepting the potential revenue. This crooked attempt was apparently thwarted in the House, though the bill is now before the Senate and will likely have to go through a conference committee prior to its final passage and, presumably, the Governor’s signature. – Robert Winters

Extra: Summary of what the House did last week on the AirBnB bill.
AirBnB is in favor of being taxed, but came out in opposition to the state registry where their hosts would have to share their personal information. The amendment referenced above in regard to Order #9 and referred to as amendment #11 in the House bill) was directed at the proposed (and now on hold) City of Boston regulations on short term rentals which would regulate them according to how many days a host rented out units. This amendment was apparently never seriously considered and will likely not have much support in the Senate either. It came from an industry lobbyist (possibly representing a short term rental group called StayAlfred).

Much of the work up to this point on other short term rental bills has been to tax them like hotels. This bill introduces a whole new tax structure for short term rentals and the Senate may return to that structure.

Summary of the current bill

  • The bill would require the Department of Revenue to maintain a short-term rental registry, record the name of each host and the address of each unit they offer, and give the department the authority to charge a "reasonable fee" for registration. An "easily searchable and regularly updated" list of unit addresses — without the host’s name — would be published online.
  • Rentals would be taxed at levels ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how many units a host offers. Residential hosts renting two or fewer units would be taxed at 4 percent, investor hosts with three to five units would have a 5.7 percent tax, and professionally managed hosts renting six or more units would face an 8 percent tax per rental, under the bill.
  • Cities and towns would have the option to impose local excise taxes of up to 5 percent for residential hosts, 6 percent for investors, and 10 percent for professionally managed hosts. Communities that opt for the local tax would need to adopt ordinances or bylaws requiring any residential units offered as short-term rentals first undergo a safety inspection, the costs of which would be charged to the host.
  • Half of the local tax collected from professionally managed hosts would need to be dedicated to "programs addressing either local infrastructure needs or low- and moderate-income housing programs," according to the bill. A Rep. Kevin Honan amendment adopted Thurs, Mar 22 would require that at least 25 percent of that tax money be distributed to low- and moderate-income housing programs.
  • The taxes in the bill would kick in a year after the bill’s effective date and would not apply to units that rent for less than $15 a day.

Also, an amendment was adopted that provides:
“Any city or town that has a safety inspection program in place as of the effective date of this act may deem any previously completed inspections of residential units to be in compliance with this requirement.”

This should avoid the need for duplicative inspections for hosts who register with Cambridge and then must also register to comply with state law.

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