Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 4, 2018

First Look at the June 4, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,Inman Square — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 3:11 am

First Look at the June 4, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallThe City Council returns Monday for another crack at the Vellucci Park matter. The rhetoric will likely go something like this: (1) "You have to save the trees to save the planet" – even though you could define the word ‘negligible’ by this and many other Cambridge initiatives on that front; or (2) "You have to enthusiastically support the proposed reconfiguration because it removes bicycles from the roadway" (even though it was our 4th choice out of 4 proposed designs); or (3) "If you disagree with our position you support the murder of innocents." Cambridge rhetoric can be a bit overwhelming at times. I just think we could do better if the whole process wasn’t driven by the obsessive falsehoods that only motor vehicles should be allowed to safely use Cambridge roadways and that the only safe place for a bicycle is on the sidewalk.

Anyway, here are a few items that may be of interest at this meeting:

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a detailed accounting of locations, if any, where Cured-In-Place Plastic Pipe (CIPP) and other plastic pipes currently exists in Cambridge, when it was installed, and why there was no public process for such a potentially hazardous change in water policy.

I believe the City Manager gave a perfectly good response to this at the previous meeting, so I’ll be surprised if there’s anything else that needs to be said this week. My only curiosity lies with the question of whether the Water Board or the Water Department makes the decision if they disagree.

Charter Right #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for approval to submit the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge to include as part of the Inman Square Intersection Safety Improvements Project (“Project”) the planned reconfiguration of the intersection of Hampshire Street and Cambridge Street in the Inman Square area of the City (hereinafter, “Inman Square”) as well as a portion of the land that makes up Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci Community Plaza (“Vellucci Plaza”).

This requires 6 votes and it’s not at all clear that the votes are there. There are various reasons why some councillors might disapprove, and it’s not all about whether a few honey locusts get turned into mulch or if a roomy new Ganja Plaza is established adjacent to the new Cannabis Quickie Mart. At the very least, I’d like to see some more current statistics on traffic safety in Inman Square since the bike stripes appeared in the Square. It may be that $60 worth of paint makes for a better solution than $6 million and a year of disruption. The Public Comment should be entertaining, especially in counting all the permutations of the Talking Points sent out by the various advocacy groups who tutor people what to say and how to be as dramatic as possible.

Result: The Home Rule Petition was approved 6-3 (Carlone, Devereux, Mallon, Siddiqui, Zondervan, McGovern – YES; Kelley, Simmons, Toomey – NO)

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to create a structured commercial tax rate system for FY20 that prioritizes lowering the tax rate for small businesses.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Mayor McGovern, transmitting amendments to Policy Order #3 of May 21, 2018 regarding the creation of a structured tax rate system for FY20.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, any change will require a general change in state law or a Home Rule Petition, but there are some good reasons to crack open that Can of Worms. Some Cambridge retail is being driven into oblivion by the combination of rising rents (which include the real estate taxes) and shifting consumer habits. Tax changes may help, but there are other factors as well. Maybe we could consider exempting a portion of ground floor retail space like we do with the residential exemption.

Order #1. Issues to be resolved on the I-90 Interchange Project.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I have no dog in this race, but I’m eager to see the transformation of this area.

Order #3. Advancing Homelessness Issues Docket.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

This Order is almost like an Index of the good initiatives now being considered at the State Legislature.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the Community Development Department and any other relevant departments to explore starting a Citizens’ Academy in Cambridge.   Councillor Mallon

I like this idea! Remember – indoctrination is not the same as education and encouragement. Show people how things work and where the on ramps are located, and then let them define how they want to exercise their citizenship.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Cambridge Historical Commission, the Cambridge Women’s Commission, the Cambridge Arts Council, and the Community Development Department to commission a public art piece, statue, or memorial that would commemorate the dedication of women in Cambridge to passing the Nineteenth Amendment.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui

I agree 100%. We already have a lot of establishments celebrating the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment. – Robert Winters


  1. Since plastic drinking water pipe has reached public discussion, what do we know? What testing of emissions from the pipes?

    Most important, what transparent and full disclosure of the deliberation, decision, and, in our form of government, confirmation by the City Manager and review of the City Council, will make the decision for or against future use of plastic drinking water pipes effective?

    Comment by Arthur Strang — June 4, 2018 @ 9:48 am

  2. The current City Council order asks for precisely this disclosure – to the Water Board and, by extension, to the City Manager and the City Council. The City Council has the ultimate authority in establishing policy, though I would hope that they not go too far down the road of micromanagement into areas about which they may lack expertise. Based on the fact that some Water Board members have not been shy about calling people up about this issue, I’m pretty sure all the councillors will be hearing whatever the Water Board hears and deliberates.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 4, 2018 @ 10:37 am

  3. With regard to Communications & Reports from City Officers #1,

    (1). Carving out preferences or exemptions for individual classes or types of real estate by use is a slippery slope. If the biotech industry had a couple of bad years in markets, should they be noted for special help?

    (2). The commercial tax rate in Cambridge is essentially 1.5% of assessed value. For a store which has an assessed value of $500 per square foot and comprising 1,000 sq. ft., cutting the tax in half would cut effective rent (assuming 100% pass through) by $312.50 per month or $10 per day. That’s essentially coffee money and won’t make any difference to the average small business owner. It would, however, give a material tax break to the owners of a number of larger retail properties–the Cambridgeside Galleria, Porter Square Mall, etc. who probably don’t need such a break.

    (3). Note that my objections above have to do with special consideration for PARTICULAR property types. Let me say, in addition, something that is heretical. Our current system of taxing residential with both a lower rate 6/10 % or about 1/3 of commercial rates plus an owner-occupied exemption of nearly $300,000, worth $1700 per year, is not wise because it is too generous to those of us who own our own homes. Someone owning a $1 million home in Cambridge pays $4,300 in annual real estate taxes. On the same value home, our counterparts in Wellesley and Lynnfield pay $15,000 per year in taxes. The residential taxes that owners pay here do not cover costs of city services provided to us.

    (4). There are many adverse consequences of these low taxes to homeowners. (a). Home prices are more than $100 per square foot higher than they would be if we did not have the exemption. (b). we are economically dependent on tech and biotech (ask Rochesterians how they feel post-Kodak), (c). our tenant population, largely childless and not accessing our school system, pays significantly higher taxes per square foot than homeowners, and (d). we have considerable voter apathy on LOCAL political issues, I believe, because the average homeowner in Cambridge actually has little skin in the game–very little outgo related to living in the City.

    Thank you again for hosting this fine forum and for your reporting on Council matters.


    Peter Dane
    Fairfield Street

    Comment by Peter Dane — June 8, 2018 @ 7:49 am

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