Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 8, 2019

Politics, Posturing, Preaching, or Practical Solutions? – Sept 9, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 8:04 pm

Politics, Posturing, Preaching, or Practical Solutions? – Sept 9, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

The City Council returns from vacation this week with a loaded agenda and more than a few hidden agendas. Perhaps the biggest deal is the hearing and presumably the vote on disposition of a portion of the parking spaces in the First Street Garage to support the proposed rehabilitation and reuse of the Courthouse Building on Thorndike Street. This has recently become politically superheated by State Misrepresentative Connolly and his Revolutionary Guard who, in Bernie-esque fashion, have promised the moon with no means to fulfill those promises. On the other hand, perhaps the necessary six votes may materialize to begin the asbestos remediation and reactivation of this building as well as revitalization of the First Street Garage and its retail corridor. Hope springs eternal.

MachiavelliThe other big items are the reports from the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board on the "Affordable Housing Overlay" proposal, a.k.a. the "Abominable Hubris Overlay", to replace privately-owned residential property with higher density public housing, i.e. housing accessible only to people who apply through the City for this benefit. Any notion that this would be a temporary "emergency" policy was put to rest when proposals for a "sunset clause" were eliminated in the Ordinance Committee. So this would effectively become a policy to permanently prioritize higher density government-regulated housing over ordinary residential development at prevailing heights and densities.

Mayor Machiavelli has done all that he can to ram this through while attempting to seal off any means via which residents of the city can challenge plans by unelected bodies to inflict whatever they wish whenever and wherever they wish. There are already apparently three NO votes on this matter so it may all come down to whether one other councillor can be purchased by The Prince. The action item for this meeting would be to pass the matter to a 2nd Reading and put it in the queue for possible ordination on Sept 23, and there appears to be 5 votes to do that. Ordination will require 6 votes. One other possibility, should it be unclear whether the necessary two-thirds majority exists, is to allow the matter to expire and be re-filed so that it can be voted after the municipal election when there are fewer political asses on the line. A more appropriate course of action would be to take a huge step back and reconsider housing policy regionally and rationally, but I seriously doubt if this group of nine is up to that task. Regardless of the ultimate outcome it’s fair to say that this one issue has served to realign civic and political lines in a way that will continue for years to come.

UPDATE: The vote was to table the Overlay so that it could expire without a negative vote. This will allow it to be "re-filed so that it can be voted after the municipal election when there are fewer political asses on the line."

They also punted on the the vote on disposition of a portion of the parking spaces in the First Street Garage. That discussion (and presumably the vote) will reconvene on Sept 18 at 3:00pm, but since the hearing was recessed there will be presumably no additional public comment. Hasn’t it all been said by now anyway?

So here’s the usual selection of featured items of interest:

Manager’s Agenda #1-3. Appointments to the Foundry Advisory Committee (2), Pedestrian Committee (22), and Bicycle Committee (21).

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board report with no positive or negative recommendations on the Alexandria Grand Junction Overlay District Zoning Petition.


Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Affordable Housing Overlay Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Anthony I. Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting Part 1 of the report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 1, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create an Affordable Housing Overlay District.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Anthony I. Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting Part 2 of the report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a reconvened public hearing held on Aug 8, 2019 to continue discussions on a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create an Affordable Housing Overlay District.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Anthony I. Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting Part 3 of the report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a reconvened public hearing held on Aug 13, 2019 to continue discussions on a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create an Affordable Housing Overlay District.

Committee Report #8. A communication was received from Anthony I. Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting Part 4 of the report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a reconvened public hearing held on Sept 3, 2019 to continue discussions on a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create an Affordable Housing Overlay District.

These are the items associated with the Abominable Overlay.


Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board to approve the disposition of a leasehold interest in 420 parking spaces and approximately 9,000 square feet of ground floor retail in the First Street Garage.

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the proposed disposition of a leasehold interest in the First Street Garage.

These are the items associated with the 6:30pm hearing: The City Council will hold a public hearing on the disposition of a leasehold interest in 420 parking spaces and approximately 9,000 square feet of ground floor retail (together the “Leasehold Interest”) in the First Street Garage, located at 55 First Street and owned by the City of Cambridge, to the developer Leggat McCall Properties, which was conditionally awarded the bid pursuant to G.L. Chapter 30B subject to the review and approval of the disposition of the Leasehold Interest by the City Council pursuant to the City’s Municipal Disposition Ordinance, Chapter 2.110 of the Cambridge Municipal Code (the “disposition Ordinance”). This hearing will be held pursuant to the Disposition Ordinance As part of the legal requirements for disposing of the Leasehold Interest.


Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the License Commission and City Solicitor’s office to drop all charges against UpperWest and its owners, to reconsider UpperWest’s package store application, and to issue a public apology to UpperWest and its owners.

As I said when this was introduced, "There is apparently no accounting for taste. If the City Council supports this Order, they belong in an asylum."

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to obtain a legal opinion from the City Solicitor regarding the License Commission’s authority with regard to the issuance, denial, suspension or revocation of liquor licenses in the City of Cambridge.

The City Solicitor has answered this on multiple occasions. Pay attention, kids.

Applications & Petitions #1. A Zoning Petition has been received from Ben LoVemere regarding that the City Council ordain the Zoning language set forth relative the Alewife Quadrangle Northwest Overlay District.

Communications #1-193. That’s a whole lotta letters – dominated by First Street Garage and the Abominable Overlay.

Order #5. That the City Manager, without delay to the current First Street Garage lease process, is requested to confer with all relevant City departments and public health officials to conduct City directed environmental testing on the Sullivan Courthouse building and water in basement, to determine the risk posed to the public, and provide a timeline of completion.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon

Synopsis: County/State abandons building; long time passes; state offers site up for sale; Leggat McCall wins bid; long times passes while lawsuits play out; building decays; citizen takes it upon himself to gather and test a sample of loose asbestos; state misrepresentative tries to put himself center-stage as the mover and shaker that he so clearly is not; political supporters circle the wagons; nobody wins.

Order #10. That the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations Committee is requested to hold a public hearing to review the Envision Cambridge plan and recommendations.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Envision Cambridge….. yeah, I remember hearing about that once upon a time. Then the Community Development abandoned its purpose and rebranded itself as the AHO Sales Force.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City staff on the feasibility of allowing taxicabs to use dedicated bus lanes throughout the City while executing service for fare-paying passengers.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons

Wow, a practical suggestion. Will wonders never cease?


Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Anthony I. Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation & Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on June 24, 2019 to discuss the future electricity needs of the Kendall Square area and progress toward identifying an alternate, viable location for a new substation other than the proposed site on Fulkerson Street.

Committee Report #9. A communication was received from Anthony Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation & Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 21, 2019 to discuss the future electricity needs of the Kendall Square area and progress toward identifying an alternate, viable location for a new substation other than the proposed site on Fulkerson Street.

I really hope some good resolution comes of this soon because it’s becoming very boring and we are not about to turn off all the power just yet. – Robert Winters

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