Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 24, 2019

Not So Great Expectations – Feb 25, 2019 City Council Agenda

Filed under: 2019 election,Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:57 pm

Not So Great Expectations – Feb 25, 2019 City Council Agenda

Great ExpectationsPerhaps the biggest draw for this meeting will be the anticipated vote on a proposed moratorium on property owners removing any tree above a certain diameter without City permission and an onerous fine. Though I understand there may be some amendments, the current proposal would allow the removal of only "dead, diseased, or dangerous" trees. The background motivation is that some Big Developers removed some trees, so therefore every small property owner must be penalized or prevented from making difficult choices about how to manage their property. I’m still hoping that some wisdom may emerge from this hopelessly politicized travesty, but I expect to be disappointed. I suppose I should start getting used to it because this group of nine city councillors may continue to disappoint as the year progresses as they set the stage for the November municipal election. The script is basically to declare an emergency and then use it to justify loss of freedom and flexibility. Sound familiar? Here are the relevant items:

Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 9, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection” to amend section 8.66.40 entitled “Applicability” and by adding a new section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for other projects.” THE QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER FEB 18, 2019.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 14, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal code to amend Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection”: in section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for Other Significant Tree Removals”.


Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-105, regarding the feasibility of placing a condition in the public bidding documents prohibiting municipal contractors from displaying any signage other than company makers and contact information on vehicles. [City Solicitor’s Response]

If you recall, this requested legal analysis stems from that rather shallow reaction by some city councillors some months ago to a construction vehicle that carried a political message not to their liking. The City Solicitor’s response confirms what everyone surely must have known when this Order was filed. Free speech may not always be what you want to hear, but it is protected. That’s what has long been Great about America.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $600,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures, to be used for shoreline and landscape improvements at Magazine Beach.

This continues to be one of the most refreshing collaborations in recent memory between local residents, their City and State government, and the Mass. Dept. of Conservation & Recreation (DCR). There will, of course, be hundreds of pages of gibberish filed by our local "Goose Guy" accusing all parties of every sort of malfeasance. Free speech, you know.

Applications & Petitions #4. A Zoning Petition has been received from the residents of the City of Cambridge requesting that the City Council amend Chapter 8.16 "Noise Control" of the Cambridge Municipal Code. [They are proposing an outright ban on leaf blowers.]

I suppose regulating leaf blowers just wasn’t enough for some people. It’s got to be a ban. There is a Cambridge subculture that really must be modeling their behavior on Boston’s old Watch & Ward Society. Will books be next on the list of Things to be Banned? I’m already expecting to have the future Climate Police one day impound by gas-fired boiler and the internal combustion engine from my VW Bus. Please don’t tell them that I also eat meat.

Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Paula Sharaga.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

I knew Paula and considered her one of the most likable politically active people I have met in years. I don’t have the words to say just how much of a tragedy this was and how much of a shock it was to hear the news of her death while she was bicycling in the Fenway area.

Resolution #7. Appreciation for Red Mitchell.   Councillor Simmons

I want to join with Councillor Simmons in this appreciation. Red is a wonderful guy and a scholar of history. He and I will have to one day soon take a trip down to the Adams Homestead in Quincy, MA to indulge our shared interests.

Order #1. City Council opposition to MBTA Fare Increase Proposal.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon

I was looking for the clause in this Order with suggestions for other funding mechanisms for the MBTA. I’ll keep looking. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department on a process for establishing a formal, thorough review of the City’s Affordable Home Ownership programs, incorporating a plan for obtaining and analyzing substantial quantitative data inclusive of all types of units.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

I suppose the requested information may prove interesting, but the whole concept strikes me as somewhat artificial. If you don’t really have the freedom to do with your property as you see fit (within the bounds of applicable zoning), is it really yours?

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City department to discuss the feasibility of allowing small businesses to host live acoustic music performances without a license, and if feasible, present the City Council with a proposal to allow such performances.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

The requirement of a license simply gives the City (and abutters) some recourse in the event that problems or abuses arise. Perhaps a better idea would be to establish a very simple and very inexpensive (maybe even free) licensing procedure for acoustic music performances. Maybe even have it be an over-the-counter transaction where you simply pick up the list of expectations with the license and we simply trust that they’ll be followed.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City departments to amend the Zoning Ordinance “Table of Uses” to allow for lodging houses in Residential A1, A2, and B Zoning Districts and to determine what tax incentives could be utilized to assist in the conversion of single-family/multi-family houses into lodging houses.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern

I think this could be a good thing that might provide some housing opportunities. The truth is that some people in these districts have been taking in boarders for ages. No whistle, no foul. I don’t see the harm even if the whole building is given over to such a use – as long as a resident manager is required to live in the building and keep an eye on things. This idea is a lot better than some other proposals currently being considered, e.g. the "Affordable Housing Overlay".

Order #9. City Council support of retirement fund fossil fuel divestment bill.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

There is something unsettling about city councillors dictating conditions on how public employees’ pension money should be invested. I can certainly understand the City Council appealing to a retirement board to factor in the potentially negative consequences of their investment choices, but instructing them where they can and cannot invest those funds is a bit of an overreach. How would the City Council feel if the Retirement Board made recommendations about City Council salary and benefits?

Order #10. That the City Manager provide the City Council with information that is offered to limited equity condominium owners regarding the ability to recoup extraordinary repair and maintenance costs, the procedure that is in place to inform purchasers of existing or possible construction and maintenance issues that may result in higher-than expected condo fees, and the possibility of allowing roommates to cover unexpected expenses.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

In an ideal world, limited equity condominium arrangements should be independent of City agencies. The fact that this Order is being filed only highlights the shortcomings of having the City play an oversized role in the affairs of such buildings. If questions of "the ability of owners of limited equity condominiums to recoup extraordinary repair and maintenance costs" even have to be asked, then maybe the real question should be about the sustainability of this kind of housing model. The order also asks about "the possibility of allowing limited equity owners to have roommates to allow them to cover these sorts of unexpected expenses". If you don’t have the right to take in roommates to help cover your expenses, then you don’t really own anything. This is more like "pretend ownership".

Order #13. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Economic Development Department on expediting zoning based on the 2015 Commercial Land Use Classification Study and exploring the feasibility of hiring more zoning planners.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I still fail to see why this has taken so long. When we reach the point where a City Council order is filed suggesting how a City department should be managed and how many people should be hired, then something has gone terribly wrong. I haven’t seen any City Council orders lately offering managerial advice to the Department of Public Works or the Department of Human Service Programs.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with information regarding accessory dwelling units.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Siddiqui

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 5, 2019 to discuss the petition filed by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinances in Section 4.22 to allow for a special permit for the alteration of a single, two-family or accessory structure in existence as of January 2019.

I think there are definitely more opportunities out there for accessory dwelling units as a good way to provide housing and flexibility. The recent hearing on this topic seemed to produce more questions than answers. This Order is an attempt to address some of the questions raised. – Robert Winters

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