Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 24, 2019

Turkey Trot – Nov 25, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Turkey Trot – Nov 25, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Turkey TrotPerhaps we should call this the Lame Turkey Session and give the ducks a break. Here are a few agenda items that caught my eye:

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,924,594.18, associated with Education First’s EF 3 Building, SP#328) from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Public Works Extraordinary Expenditure account which will be used to support utility work associated with the Port Project and were paid by Education First to fulfill their Inflow and Infiltration requirement.

This is what "mitigation money" is supposed to be all about – actual mitigation and infrastructure improvement. Contrast this with the current practice of granting upzoning not for the sake of good planning but for cash and prizes – and, of course, subsidized housing units. At least the proposal to glue subsidized housing units onto a self-storage facility didn’t fly. Mark my words – this is only going to get weirder in the next City Council term.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-140, regarding Harvard Square plaza area safety improvements.

During my four decades in Cambridge I have seen the Harvard Square pedestrian environment reconfigured several times – each time under the belief that nirvana had been achieved. The last iteration was the "Super Crosswalk" that apparently was never all that super. The next iteration is coming. No matter the outcome, we will be assured that congestion and delay is not a negative consequence but is instead good for us and we should shut up and be grateful – and all parties involved will continue to bend the traffic laws as they see fit.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $107,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance Other Ordinary Maintenance account as initial support of the recommendations of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force regarding the Central Square Cultural District.

Yippee! Money for Central Square! Now if we could only categorize sidewalk repair and improvements to the T station as "art" we’ll be all set.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-122, which requested a legal opinion on the License Commissions authority.

This is by far the most important item on this agenda. Though this legal opinion merely states what many of us have known and understood all along, it should put to rest some of the outrageous misunderstandings that have been circulating. That said, I read an opinion today that it was somehow problematic that a quasi-judicial body like the Cambridge License Commission can act without micromanagement by the City Manager – even though any decision of the License Commission can be appealed. Imagine how outraged people would feel if it was suggested that the Planning Board should not issue or deny a Special Permit without the approval of the City Manager. Ultimately the City Manager is "the appointing authority" and could appoint only yes-men (and yes-women) to all the City’s Boards and Commissions as well as the Police Commissioner and Fire Chief, but that practice would likely head south pretty quickly. City Solicitor Glowa’s legal opinion is both impressive and timely, and I hope it puts to rest some of the falsehoods from the Lower Port to the Upper West.

Committee Report #1 & Committee Report #2. A report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 26, 2019 and Nov 14, 2019 to discuss the petition by Stephen R. Karp, Trustee of Cambridgeside Galleria Associates Trust, to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a Section 13.100 that creates a new PUD-8 District and to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge by adding the new PUD-8 District, which District would include the property located at 100 Cambridgeside Place (currently zoned in the Business A and PUD-4 Districts).

I do hope that the City Council passes some version of this zoning amendment solely because I think we could a lot do better in that corner of the city than what exists now, and some reconfiguration of the Cambridgeside Galleria should be part of that. However, I find aspects of the committee report to be problematic, e.g. "the Petitioner will pay the City $50 million dollars in mitigation funding" and "what would happen to the proposed community benefits if the Petitioner decided to proceed under their current zoning" and "she felt that the height and massing could be appropriate depending on the community benefits." In short, approving changes in zoning should be primarily about good planning and not about any "quid pro quo". Unfortunately, this brand of zoning negotiation as commodity trading is not exceptional in Cambridge these days – and it may only grow worse. – Robert Winters

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