Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 6, 2019

Kicking Off the New Year – Jan 7, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:42 pm

Kicking Off the New Year – Jan 7, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Jan 7, 2019 Cambridge City Council meetingThe beginning of a municipal election year often features some table-setting, i.e. framing some of the issues that are bound to play out as we work our way to the November election. If bike lanes were the AOC of 2017, then trees, battles over density, and the next round of challenges to property ownership are taking the early lead in the 2019 rhetorical derby. Here are some of the agenda items that drew my attention this week.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Bob Richards.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

Bob passed away on December 19. He has been a long-time friend and neighbor, one of the founders of the Antrim Street Block Party – the longest in the city, a CRLS teacher, and a dependable ally on the Ward 6 Democratic Committee. The phrase "he will be missed" is often said, but I will really miss the frequent conversations Bob and I have had over many years – and not all about politics.

Order #1. Creating Gender X on Cambridge Birth Certificates.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

I have lived in Cambridge now for over 40 years and can honestly say that I identify as a True Cantabrigian. I have even been accepted by many native Cantabrigians as something more than a carpetbagger. That said, my birth certificate identifies me as a New Yorker. I would like the option to have my birth certificate revised to better reflect my current identity.

Order #4. Accessing revenue generated from new short-term rental legislation.   Mayor McGovern

This is a timely Order now that the Commonwealth passed short-term rental legislation late in the previous session.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes of the 3rd meeting of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force.

Order #5. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council and Department of Finance to allocate a percentage of hotel/motel tax revenue and adult use cannabis tax revenue to the arts in the FY20 budget.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

Order #6. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council, Traffic and Parking Department, Community Development Department, and Central Square Advisory Committee to establish the Central Square Improvement Fund and allocate no less than 25% of funds generated to the arts.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

Order #7. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council and Community Development Department to make the appropriate updates to the City’s 1% for arts ordinance.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

As a long-time booster for Central Square, I suppose I should be thrilled with these Orders – and I am, but with reservations. I dislike the whole idea of earmarking revenues generated from specific activities for the exclusive use of very specific purposes – even if these purposes are things I support. Why should revenue generated by the cannabis industry be dedicated for arts purposes rather than early childhood education (just to give one example)? Why should 25% or more of a proposed Central Square Improvement Fund be dedicated toward arts projects? This is reminiscent of the whole Foundry Kerfuffle where some councillors felt that this building should be dedicated toward very specific arts-related purposes but other councillors had different priorities.

There is something of a "cutting the line" in all this – proposing specific earmarking before other priorities have been considered. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this, e.g. there have been and continue to be proposals to earmark revenue for the purpose of buying up residential buildings and properties solely for use as subsidized housing. Priorities do change from year to year.

As for the One Percent for the Arts Ordinance, some revision may be in order, especially in regard to the rather harsh division between the commissioning of outside artists and the artistic talents of some of the people actually building publicly-funded projects. However, the rather simple math is that because a fixed percentage of the project funding is to be dedicated toward artistic components of a project, then as projects become more expensive the money dedicated for art rises proportionately.

Order #8. Support Green New Deal.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui

Translation: This Order proposes to reject the plans proposed by the new House Democratic Leadership (Nancy Pelosi and Co.) in favor of a proposal from a newly elected member of Congress (AOC-NY). The Order also suggests corruption among Ms. Pelosi’s leadership team ("will include legislators who have accepted contributions from or who have themselves made significant investments in the fossil fuel industry"). Please, councillors, edit out some of the WHEREAS’s before voting on this symbolic Order.

Order #9. Water Mains Age and Maintenance Update.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

The requested report is one I will definitely look forward to reading. Yes, I am an Infrastructure Geek. It says so on my birth certificate.

Order #10. City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare a draft Home Rule petition for a Real Estate Transfer fee.   Councillor Carlone, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

Insofar as this might cool down speculative investment in Cambridge real estate, I might be supportive. I do not, however, agree that any revenue generated should be dedicated exclusively toward the acquisition of property to be turned into subsidized housing. [See above remarks re: earmarking.] There is, however, a larger issue. Last year opened with a "Right of First Refusal" proposal to lay a heavy hand on who would have first preference in purchasing residential property put up for sale. Last year ended with the non-support of a state initiative re: housing growth and changes in the threshold for certain zoning changes based on concerns that there should be greater tenant protections (which often translates into greater restrictions on property owners). Councillor Siddiqui at one meeting referred to about 150 additional measures that could be considered in this vein. It is not at all surprising that property owners become concerned about all this – including many landlords who might otherwise be supportive of some of these proposals.

Here’s a suggestion: How about the City Council make a Declaration to the effect that "The City Council shall pass no law infringing on the rights of small property owners to engage in the ordinary business of renting their property in accordance with general laws." If small property owners were not (justifiably) fearful that their local City Council was planning to make their lives especially difficult, they might be a lot more supportive of proposals floated by the Council.

Order #12. Amendment to the Municipal Code to create a new Chapter entitled "Cycling Safety Ordinance".   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

Translation: This Order proposes to mandate via Ordinance that whatever the aspirational Cambridge Bicycle Plan (or any plan superseding it) says, then the City must implement those plans on any City-owned street under the City’s Five-Year Sidewalk and Street Reconstruction Plan unless there are extraordinary reasons for not doing so. It’s amazing how wish lists becoming mandates [see Envision] has become the foundation for How We Do Planning in Cambridge.

Order #13. Volpe Project Updates.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I will look forward to hearing more about this. As the Order points out: "As a federal facility, the new Volpe Center will not be subject to the zoning or special permit requirements set out in the PUD-7 Zoning District that the City Council created in October 2017."

Order #14. Major Public Building Projects Selection Committee Representation.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

We are once again nibbling away at the edges of the Plan E Charter. This Order proposes that there be "at least one City Councillor on the Selection Committee for any major public building project." In short, the Order wants to have an elected councillor involved in the awarding of City contracts. Red Flag.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Zondervan and Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Co-Chairs of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 4, 2018 to discuss reviewing the preliminary LiDAR-based canopy study results from Apr 1, 2018 and to discuss potential reasons for the precipitous decline in our tree canopy and any other related matter.

There is a related campaign being floated to declare a Moratorium on the cutting of any tree on private property above a relatively low caliper except for reasons of safety. I actually do have very good reasons to cut down a significant tree in my yard, so give me at least a week’s warning before you declare any Moratorium so I can take care of things. – Robert Winters, Native Cantabrigian


  1. Dear Mr. Winters,

    Thanks again for hosting this valuable site. On the idea of being a Cantab, my observation would be a caution that principles espoused by Marx (Groucho), Schrodinger and Heisenberg all apply. Isn’t it a better idea in this day and age to seek something rather than to resemble it?

    In that same vein, with regard to public endorsement of the arts, as in #7, is it possible that that ship sailed off a very long time ago? Prior to 1860 or so, the fairly public French institution, L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, produced notable Prix de Rome winners like Delacroix, for example. After 1860 the list of Prix de Rome winners became a public embarrassment.. in May of 1940 as the German army approached Paris, Matisse asked Picasso what just happened. Picasso said: “ C’est L’Ecole des Beaux Arts”, which might have been his way of saying another club that you shouldn’t want to join.

    Isn’t what defines CAMBRIDGE at large the simple idea of creativity coupled, perhaps, with a bit of disruptiveness? When last, on the other hand, did you hear a truly creative thought from our government? One hates to say it, but my suspicion is that the arts in Cambridge would currently benefit from benign neglect.



    Comment by Peter Dane — January 7, 2019 @ 6:06 pm

  2. Order #10. Real Estate Transfer fee. While taxation of property transfers may have a sound basis (reducing the gambling element in the supply of shelter, a basic need), earmarking the resulting revenue stream is not necessarily appropriate for the earmark, and prevents political debate over what IS appropriate. If the tax be a means of raising revenue for a pet project, how high a tax would be determined by the needs of the project, not the need to discipline naughty developers. If it proved ineffective for the latter purpose, supporters of the former would attempt to keep it in place. That is, earmarking reduces the sovereign powers of government, in particular, control over the budget. This is a well known problem at the federal level where entitlement programmes leave little room for allocating resources differently.

    Comment by Dominick Jones — January 13, 2019 @ 5:10 pm

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