Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 9, 2019

Items of Interest on the June 10, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Items of Interest on the June 10, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City Hall 2019This is something of a table-setting month – clearing out some lingering business and refocusing on some matters that are sure to be wedge issues in the municipal election – housing, bikes, campaign contributions, neighborhood flash-points. Resolving the details of the "Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance" will apparently continue at least through July and perhaps longer.

Perhaps the most significant piece of business is this 6:30pm hearing:
6:30pm   The City Council will conduct a public hearing to discuss the petition filed by Kenneth S. Barron, 614 Massachusetts Avenue, et al property owners, pursuant to MGL Chapter 40 section O petitioning that a Business Improvement District (BID) be established for the Central Square Business Improvement District.

It is likely that a vote will be taken at this meeting to establish the Business Improvement District. It seems to have broad support and may even get a unanimous vote.

Here are a few other notable items for this week:

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Future of Mobility Implementation Blueprint Technical Advisory Group. The Advisory Group is expected to meet up to six times between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020: Yonah Freemark, David Keith, Steven Miller, Kathryn Carlson, Melissa Chan, Christopher Tassone, Roy Russell, Raymond Hayhurst, Ruth Allen, Jane Gould, David Block-Schachter, Zef Vataj, Will Dickson, Stephen Russell, James Cater, Bruce Kaplan, Megan Aki, Ilya Sinelnikov, Cambridge Housing Authority Rep (TBD). [Future of Mobility RFP]

This process is worth watching in that it is both necessary and potentially over-reaching. For some years now the City has been carrying out the goals of the Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance by promoting transportation modes (and infrastructure) as alternatives to motor vehicles. Independently, things like ride-hail services (like Uber and Lyft) and electric scooters have appeared and grown in popularity. Also, there are a lot more electric vehicles now on the road and how to charge them is a growing concern, especially for those without parking on premises. Autonomous (driverless) vehicles may be the next wave. This "Future of Mobility" process is apparently supposed to gaze into the crystal ball and make predictions and plans for how all these pieces can fit coherently together. Recommendations growing from this process might not all be about how to accommodate these new modes – they might also lead to restrictions on existing modes. In recent years there has been a trend of City plans being developed, blessed by compliant advisory committees, and then waved through by a City Council which rarely spends time considering any potential negative consequences of the latest "progressive" policy. Indeed, the RFP makes quite clear that this is not to be a "visioning exercise" by the advisory group, but rather a source of feedback for a process in which City staff has already stated very specifically in the RFP the models from which the hired consultant must work. The end product is likely to be at least as much about regulation and restriction as it will be about accommodation.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-15, regarding a report on who is purchasing buildings in Cambridge.

This is interesting information – though it’s not so easy to peer behind the curtain and identify what parties make up some of the LLCs (limited liability corporations), e.g. Invesco for several properties in the Alewife Quadrangle, or what the plans are for some of these properties. It’s also not clear what the City Council will do or even could do with this information.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $50,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account to support the cable television license renewal process.

Here we go again. The United States Congress thoroughly gutted the ability of municipalities to negotiate much of anything in local Cable TV franchises. We will once again be hearing about PEG (public access, educational, and governmental) since these are the only things that can be discussed. What really makes this whole process rather pathetic is that much of the revenue generated by these franchises now comes from Internet access and there is no legal requirement that any of that revenue should support the PEG needs.


Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to work with the local taxi industry and other interested parties to prepare a Home Rule Petition for the City Council to submit to the State Legislature that would address Cambridge-specific issues and give the City Council the ability to ensure TNCs operate in a safe and responsible manner.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Community Development Department, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and other regional partners such as the Central Transportation Planning Staff to explore the feasibility of partnering with a local research institution to conduct a study that determines how many ride-hail vehicles are on the roads during both on and off-peak times and their impacts on congestion and safety.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

Perhaps the "Future of Mobility" consultants will have something to say about this, but my sense is that the proposal for a Home Rule Petition is likely more about protection of taxi medallion owners than it is about safety. As for the Order asking to bring in an army of traffic counters, I encourage anyone standing on a street corner or waiting for a bus to count the percentage of Uber/Lyft vehicles passing by at various times throughout the day. [Hint: It’s a lot.]


Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to establish a working committee to review the monuments, memorials, and markers throughout Cambridge to determine whether any of these commemorate those who were linked to the slave trade or engaged in other similarly shameful acts and to determine which individuals should be newly recognized with a monument, memorial, or marker.   Councillor Simmons

I just hope that there is a distinction made between those whose sole claim to fame was infamous (like rebel generals) vs. those who did great things but who engaged in bad practices that happened to be legal at the time. Erasing history is not the same as learning from it.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to meet with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and the property owners and management of the Fresh Pond Mall to identify additional traffic-calming and safety features and to discuss with the mall owner the potential for creating a formal street connection between Terminal Road and New Street.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

This is a long overdue conversation. Greater connectivity with enhanced safety would be a good thing in this entire area (especially if only those of us who live here know the secret connections).


Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the appropriate departments to televise and record the City Clerk interview meeting on June 17, 2019, starting at 2:30pm in the Sullivan Chamber.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Interim City Clerk Paula M. Crane, transmitting memorandum from Vice Mayor Devereux regarding a special public meeting for the City Clerk interviews.

The City Clerk position is one of only three for which the City Council is the appointing authority under the Plan E Charter. The other two are the City Manager and the City Auditor. I have no idea who has applied for the position or who the four finalists are, but I really hope the person hired is someone who really understands the city deeply and who can also be an asset to the City Council. The truth is that the City Clerk prepares City Council agendas very much like a playwright where the actors (the councillors) can freely improvise within the script. Also, the Council-related duties are only a fraction of the many essential responsibilities of the City Clerk’s Office.


Order #8. That the proposed Special Permit Criteria amendments to Article 19 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance (as attached) be referred to the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board for hearing and report.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

Committee Reports #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, former City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation & Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on May 22, 2019 to discuss with Eversource any plans it has for meeting the anticipated electricity needs of Cambridge businesses and residents by expanding capacity on land it owns throughout the City, with a focus on sites in East Cambridge (Kendall Square and Fulkerson Street).

It would appear that this zoning proposal and the Eversource matter on Fulkerson Street are inextricably linked. It’s a bit disturbing when zoning is used as a reactionary tool. Perhaps a better approach would be to require (with appropriate enabling legislation, if necessary) that all major utilities provide short- and long-term infrastructure improvement plans that address such things as capacity, maintenance of the existing infrastructure, and planning for emerging needs such as local solar generation and charging locations for electric vehicles (just to name a few). Conflating this with zoning seems a bit wrong-headed. It’s reminiscent of how the Parking Freeze was used to block commercial development – even environmentally sound commercial development – under the guise of environmental protection.


Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to draft for discussion several ordinances to reduce or prohibit campaign donations from donors seeking to enter into a contract, seeking approval for a special permit or up-zoning, seeking to acquire real estate from the city, or seeking financial assistance from the city.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

It’s an election year. Some version of this proposal happens like clockwork every two years. The only thing that makes it interesting this year is how much money is now coming from people with a financial interest in the "100% Affordable Housing" Overlay proposal that would potentially deliver properties to various "non-profit" housing developers by allowing them to do things that others can only dream of. Any candidate-endorsing organization that receives contributions from these sources (and yes, I do mean ABC specifically) should be subject to the same restrictions as individual candidates. All of this is likely academic since the November election will likely be a memory by the time any action is taken on this proposal, if ever – so it’s really just posturing at this point.

Committee Reports #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, former 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 May 1, 2019 to discuss a petition to amend the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.16 entitled “Noise Control” by deleting sections 8.16.081-8.16.087 to prohibit the use of leaf blowers.

My proposal: Enact a Total Ban on Leaf Blowers only after loud sound systems in motor vehicles are banned. But seriously, don’t you think we put far too much effort into banning things? When did Cambridge give up on making an effort to convince people to use better practices? Sometimes we really do seem to be The Village of Control Freaks.

Committee Reports #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, former City Clerk transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Co-Chair and Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on May 21, 2019 to discuss the “City of Cambridge getting to Net Zero Action Plan: Fiscal year 2018 progress report” and to receive a general update on the Net Zero Action Plan.

I really hope that "Getting to Net Zero" doesn’t translate into a $3,000 repair in a residential building costing $30,000 or more in order to meet any new requirements. – Robert Winters

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