Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 30, 2018

Leaving April, Come What May – Spring Treats on the April 30, 2018 City Council Menu

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:32 am

Leaving April, Come What May – Spring Treats on the April 30, 2018 City Council Menu

First Sign of SpringOnce again, the much-heralded "Divest HP" matter is NOT on this week’s agenda, so if you want to get excited about this irrelevant initiative, come back in another week or so. Meanwhile, we close out April and look forward to the Lusty Month of May with the following featured treats:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $200,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the abatement and demolition of Vail Court.

Mister DePasquale, Tear Down These Walls!

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Blake & Knowles Foundry at 101 Rogers Street.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Cheney Read House at 135 Western Avenue.

These are highlighted because I really enjoy these histories and appreciate the work put in by the Historical Commission in producing them.

Charter Right #1. An application was received from the Harvard Square Business Association requesting permission for a temporary lighted banner across the Public Way located at 12 Palmer Street. [plus Communications #6,7,8,9,13]

Much Ado About Nothing. Objections from those who probably also disapprove of multi-colored Christmas lights as being too garish.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to the recipients of the Outstanding City Employee Awards.   Mayor McGovern

This awards event is one of my favorite City events. The attendees are almost entirely City employees and their families, but it’s an open event and really special.

Order #3. That the Ordinance Committee is requested to schedule a public hearing to consider the proposal put forward by the City Manager to amend Chapter 12.16, Section 12.16.170 of the Municipal Code, (the “Street Performers Ordinance”).   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

The proposed changes primarily involve easing up the fee structure for some street performers.

Order #4. Campaign Finance Reform.   Councillor Toomey

I haven’t yet seen a proposal for municipal election campaign reform that I can support and which is legal. I’m also not yet convinced that there’s a need for this at the local level.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide a report on the history of Constellation Charitable Foundation’s Parcel C in Kendall Square including tax status and other relevant information on the site.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon

This is a timely Order. The City Council may want to consider some changes to the zoning for this site as well as ways to leverage the original intentions formulated nearly 20 years ago when what was then the ComEnergy site was developed by David Clem and Lyme Properties as Cambridge Research Park. A performing arts center may still be a good use to be integrated into the site by the next owner if the finances and zoning can be made to work.

Order #6. That the City Council go on record supporting the Mass Senior Action Agenda.   Councillor Simmons

It’s good common-sense legislation.

Order #8. That the Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review and consider the proposed amendment to §10.17.070– “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers” for a hearing and report.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

As near as I can tell, Councillor Zondervan’s rationale behind his proposal to jack up the resident parking fee to $35 and then $40 is that Somerville charges $40. Some have argued that the fee should be nominal rather than either punitive (because motor vehicle operators are considered evil in Cambridge) or just another revenue generator. A $40 fee isn’t going to convince many people to give up their vehicle, but many of us don’t appreciate councillors raising fees simply because they can or because they get a rush out of the revenue paid by drivers being used to create obstructions to driving in the city.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to prioritize the installation of protected bike lanes and bicycle traffic signals in Porter Square.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

The proposed changes that were presented a couple of months ago were pretty good for all users, including cyclists.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Chair Councillor E. Denise Simmons, of the Civic Unity Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 27, 2018 to discuss whether the City’s Boards and Commissions adequately reflect the demographic makeup of the community.

Goals vs. Requirements – That is the question. I’ll stick with goals.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 to discuss topics related to the MBTA bus service.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 28, 2018 to discuss Retail Strategic Plan.

I could say more about any of these committee reports, but for now they are provided here only for your reading pleasure. – Robert Winters

1 Comment

  1. Mr. Winters:

    Thank you again for maintaining this helpful site. With regard to Order #8 above, anything that could be done to improve control over residential permits for street spaces and to increase their actual cost, as outlined below, would be a good thing because our current approach is to make these spaces essentially free with the consequence that our fellow citizens own far more cars than they otherwise would. What do I mean by essentially free? The value of a residential parking space provided with a home in Cambridge is between $25,000 and $50,000 according to most realtors. That’s the difference in home valuation between one that has an on-site space and one that doesn’t. Another test of the same principle: the value of residential land in Cambridge (buildable land) is at least $200 per square foot in almost all locations and an on-street parking space occupies about 200 square feet so on a competing use basis the parking space is worth $40,000.

    Because we give these spaces away to residents, they get very intensively used. But we actually have large numbers of parking spaces in most areas, compared to density. Consider a typical neighborhood which is a mix of single and multi-family (triple deckers) on 5,000 square foot lots. A 5,000 square foot lot in Cambridge often means 100 feet of depth and 50 feet of frontage. Sometimes there is an old concrete block garage in back yard and often there is a side drive allowing for two or three cars to be parked on site. The fifty feet of frontage allows for two cars to park on street out front so the combined spaces for, on average, a two family home is 4 to 5 cars (combined on and off street). That’s a standard of 2 spaces per unit which is very, very rich in spaces for an urban area. In fact, if one were to develop new large multi-family residential in Cambridge, the standard for providing spaces would 1 per unit. 2 per unit is the standard that would be applied in a Town like Wellesley, MA. No doubt, the older larger apartment buildings sprinkled around the City which generally do not have any on site parking reduce available spaces per unit somewhat.

    By observation, what use do we make of these street spaces in residential areas? They are largely used for second cars in a household–cars that are parked by younger people for use on weekends only or the occasional trip to supermarket since they ride the T or Uber at other times, for example, or second cars kept by older people so that they have another vehicle for a son or daughter to use occasionally or for the occasional time when mom and dad have to head some distance in opposite directions. If you mistrust my observation about these cars simply consider this when you look at your residential street next winter after a large snowstorm: many of the cars will not be shoveled out or moved for long periods of time. During the big spate of snowstorms in ’14, my short street, which has 40 available on-street spaces, was reduced to 5 available turnover spaces for a month. All of the other cars on our street sat steadfast for all February in that year.

    If we increased the fees on these stored cars, we would reduce a practice that is a very expensive convenience but a very wasteful use of valuable urban space. We could do this in a simple and fair way. We currently charge next-to-nothing for a residential parking permit. We could maintain that practice for exactly one car per residential unit (one household of whatever type). For the second permit for any residential unit, we could charge a lot of money–something heading in the direction of the actual value of the spaces which is $200 per month. We don’t need to do this overnight. We could phase in a program that increased the cost for the second permit over time so as to achieve the desired goal in five to ten years. What would we accomplish, if we did so? Let’s say we could eliminate 2,000 of these stored cars by increasing fees. That’s 2,000 times 200 square foot per street space or 400,000 square feet which we could re-use as green areas or as more productive shared community space. I actually believe that the number of reduced parkers would be higher but I think you can appreciate the idea that nearly 10 acres of extra land in Cambridge could be put to better use than parking given the value of real estate here.

    Finally, I should explain that I am a parking, transportation and traffic consultant. I look at issues like this for a living and have been, in one way or another, in the business of doing so for over fifty years. An observation: while markets are not perfect, they are helpful in guiding activity by creating a price for an action or for a need. In our handling of residential street permits, we have ignored the value of the actual street spaces and have doled out permits to park in them for nothing meaningful in relation to their value. If we actually charged reasonable sums for these spaces we would, I believe, free up many of them such that we would find more intelligent uses.


    Peter Dane
    Fairfield Street

    Comment by Peter Dane — May 2, 2018 @ 8:13 am

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