Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 5, 2018

On Deck for the Nov 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:03 am

On Deck for the Nov 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here’s my first pass at the interesting stuff:City Hall

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $92,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Police Extraordinary Expenditures account for the fit out of a new Police Reporting Station at 628 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square.

The new substation will be a welcome addition to this part of Central Square.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $200,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expense Account to fund a Bicycle Plan Update with Feasibility Analysis and Implementation Plan.

As the Manager’s communication says, "The 2015 Cambridge Bicycle Plan created a bicycle network vision, an aspirational plan for creating a high-quality bicycle infrastructure network on streets and paths in the city. The Plan did not include technical studies to evaluate space and operational constraints for each street segment to determine the feasibility of creating separated facilities in the short term." It’s important to highlight the fact that the Plan was never carved in stone and immutable. It was an aspiration, i.e. a Big Wish intended to address the general issue of bicycle safety and "comfort". Where much of this went wrong was in the decision to rush through a number of half-baked "quick build" projects. This latest expenditure could yield balanced, sensible (and probably more expensive) plans or just more of the same – depending, at least in part, on whether City staff proceed with open minds or pre-baked conclusions.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $150,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Finance Extraordinary Expenditures account to support a 12-month digital equity research initiative.

While the expressed purpose of this initiative is "to study and analyze gaps affecting the City’s low-income or otherwise disadvantaged population in use of the broadband internet", it also formally ends the Broadband Task Force. What the communication does not emphasize is that some proposals for a full municipal broadband system that could have had a very significant price tag and financial exposure for the City grew out of that Task Force – something that was not well-received by the City Manager. On the flip side, there may be ways in which such a system could pay for itself. That conversation will likely continue outside the confines of City boards.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,000,000 from the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund to the Grant Fund Human Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used: (1) for grant agreements with nonprofit organizations to address the City’s most pressing service needs, and (2) to enter into a contract with a Project Evaluator to work with the grant recipients as well as the Community Benefits Advisory Committee (CBAC), which is overseeing this effort.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, requesting the City Council authorize the City Manager to enter into a contract with a consultant service agency to provide evaluation services for 5 years from the date of the execution of the contract pursuant to G.L. c. 30B, §12b for the purpose of obtaining independent evaluation services to assess the use of community benefits funding by City-based nonprofit organizations in accordance with the Community Benefits Ordinance and the Guiding Principles of Community Benefits Funding.

While I claim no great understanding of this ordinance and its funding mechanisms, there are a few points worth making here. First, this was spawned by concerns about prior community benefits agreements associated with zoning proposals – generally upzoning – in which a property owner offered some benefit (such as the donation of the Foundry building or contributions to scholarship funds, community centers, etc.) to secure the necessary votes for the proposed zoning change. I believe the intention was to regularize this process so that it was not conducted as part of some relatively private understanding that yielded benefits to organizations favored by individual councillors. There is also the notion that agreements like this are a bit like purchasing zoning relief by sweetening the pot with cash. Zoning should be primarily driven by good planning rather than the extraction of financial benefits. Another concern that I have is that the universe of recipients of these "community benefits" now seems to be limited to subsidized housing and various social service agencies. One of the more significant things that grew out of the K2C2 deliberations several years ago was the understanding that "community beneifit" should also include things like placemaking and an improved retail environment. It would be a shame if those priorities were forgotten.

Order #2. That the City Manager work with the Fire Department to evaluate the existing capacity of fire stations in the Kendall Square area and whether a new fire station is needed, and if so, determining the feasibility of locating a plot of land for this use.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

It’s worth noting that there used to be a fire station in Kendall Square at the intersection of Dock Street and Main Street. That station was sold by the City around 1999-2000 to be repurposed as a Bed & Breakfast/restaurant (now "The Kendall").

Order #3. Further Study Needed on First Street Garage.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

This is sure to be a Big Deal in the months ahead with a lot of activism brewing in East Cambridge. It is worth again emphasizing that even if you have a 50-year brooding resentment about the Sullivan Courthouse being built in the first place, the First Street Garage was built, at least in part, to support the traffic associated with that building. The legal machinations over the development rights at the Courthouse site appear to all be over, but the preliminary plans were based on the ability to lease space in the First Street Garage or, if that was blocked politically, in the Galleria garage. What complicates this now is the possibility that the Cambridgeside Galleria complex may undergo significant re-envisioning which might involve a reduction in parking capacity. There are lots of moving parts in all of this.

Order #4. Rethink Approach to Envision Cambridge.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

This is sure to be a point of contention at the meeting. The Order seems to focus primarily on the public relations error of leading with just three recommendations which have not all been received with love and kisses. One could also argue that there were some underlying flaws in the Envision process itself – primarily its focus on a long list of ideas growing out of working committees rather than a unified vision for the future.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 16, 2018 to discuss CMA 2018 #196 and any other matter related to Jerry’s Pond.

One pet peeve that I harbor is the notion that hazardous sites should just be fenced off or otherwise sealed off for eternity rather than cured. This applies to the asbestos-laden Sullivan Courthouse building as well as Jerry’s Pond. I expressed much the same point of view years ago in suggesting that water from the Stony Brook system should be directed to the Muddy River in order to increase the flow. The response was that this might disturb toxins in the river bottom. A little disturbance may not be such a bad thing if one day those materials are removed. Sealing off a problem is not the ideal way to address a problem. – Robert Winters

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