Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 24, 2010

May 24, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:27 pm

May 24, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Tonight is Budget Adoption Night at City Hall. The related Finance Committee reports are these:

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 5, 2010, May 13, 2010 and May 19, 2010 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2011 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $426,629,125.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 13, 2010 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2011 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $16,416,120.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 13, 2010 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2011 and recommending adoption of the budget in the amount of $9,935,015.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a meeting held on May 12, 2010 for the purpose of providing a summary to community leaders of the city’s current and proposed budget and an explanation of how state and federal budget cuts have impacted the city’s budget.

This year’s budget hearings were not controversial except perhaps for the School Department budget which eliminates several clerical positions. That matter still lies “On the Table” though apparently some resolution must be in the works as indicated by the lack of rancor reported at the May 19 School Department budget hearing. Perhaps some contractual guarantees prevailed or maybe positions elsewhere in Cambridge government were found in response to lobbying by city councillors and school committee members.

City Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-64, regarding the sale of the Sullivan Courthouse. [“In light of the courthouse’s great size (460,000 square feet), lack of parking associated with the building, and its out-of-date architectural style, I do not see any public reuse for the structure.” … “Should the property be sold to and redeveloped by a private entity local zoning would apply. We have expressed our willingness to work closely with any owner to develop a project of more moderate height and scale; with active ground floor uses; including some portion of residential use, in keeping with the neighborhood context; and with appropriate parking supply based on building uses.”]

The referenced courthouse building really is out of place and out of time – the product of a misplaced sense of progress decades ago. A modest-scale private mixed residential/commercial/office redevelopment is probably the best reuse for the site. Any proposals that have been floated for a public marketplace in the Lechmere area should happen in and around the existing commercial corridors along Cambridge Street and the O’Brien Highway (the former Bridge Street). There must surely also be a way to integrate the court functions that were previously in the Sullivan Courthouse into existing and new buildings adjacent to the historic court buildings in the Lechmere area.

City Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-77, regarding a report on a review of investments and business practices engaged in by the City to determine what activities are conducted with the State of Arizona. [“Following a review of the City’s current listing of CD’s purchased through Morgan Stanley, it was determined that a $100,000 CD was purchased on Apr 9, 2009 from the Asian Bank located in Phoenix, Arizona. The CD has a maturity date of July 9, 2010, and will not be renewed after reaching maturity. Our representative at Morgan Stanley has been instructed to refrain from purchasing any further investments in the State of Arizona.”]

Not unexpectedly, the City’s Arizona investments amounted to pocket change. The City Council has (thankfully) not yet voted on a meaningless policy position on the recent Arizona law regarding suspected illegal immigrants.

Resolution #22. Happy Birthday wishes to a special Cantabrigian.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Decker, Councillor Kelley, Mayor Maher, Councillor Reeves, Councillor Seidel and Councillor Toomey

Hmmm….. Henrietta Davis had a birthday on May 18 and she’s the only city councillor not listed as a sponsor. Could she be that “special Cantabrigian?” Had this been Councillor Reeves’ birthday, he would have been the lead sponsor.

Resolution #36. Congratulations to Littane Bien-Aime on being selected a 2010 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow following a nationwide contest.   Councillor Cheung

We hope that the Rangel award is not in recognition of ethical violations such as using political connections to evade New York City housing laws or accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean.

Order #7. That the City Council Committee on Transportation, Traffic and Parking schedule a public meeting on the City’s traffic calming and bike facility programs.   Councillor Kelley

It’s likely nothing will come of this, but Councillor Kelley is to be commended for directing some attention toward the generally unquestioned and arbitrary decisions of City transportation planners.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the property known as the Norton Woods that has been reopened after being closed due to flooding with a newly instituted no dogs policy.   Councillor Decker

The bottom line is that this area is not public property and the owners (American Academy of Arts and Sciences) can institute any rules they wish. They’ve been great in allowing public access to the property and though it may be worth politely asking a question or two about their policy on dogs, ultimately it’s their call.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to inform the City Council on how the Cambridge Historical Commission, the Cambridge Room of the Cambridge Public Library, the Cambridge Historical Society, and Cambridge Community Television might work together to digitize the various Cambridge historical collections and determine how these various entities will work together to preserve Cambridge history of the past, current happenings, social history, architectural history and preservation, and other matters of historical significance to Cambridge.   Councillor Reeves

This is a timely and useful Order from Councillor Reeves. Though it’s unclear why CCTV is included in the mix, the fact is that we now have a proper Cambridge Room at the new Main Library and there’s a clear need to preserve and archive material and to make much of it digitally available. A professional archivist was reportedly to be hired, but it’s not clear from the FY2011 budget whether this has actually taken place or what the job responsibilities would be for this person and for others already working in the Historical Commission who might play a role in such a project. This is an area where volunteer assistance and a cooperative arrangement with the Cambridge Historical Society (which is already engaged in digital archiving) may be worth considering.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a delineation of the boundaries of Joan Lorentz Park.   Councillor Seidel

Normally this might be just a formality, but with the new Library, reconstruction at the high school, and pedestrian connections being reconfigured around these tightly integrated uses, it’s worth clarifying who’s responsible for maintaining which pieces of this jigsaw puzzle. In some respects, everything outside of the buildings has the feel of a single contiguous park, but clarity today may be helpful 20 or 30 years from now should there be future plans to reconfigure the space.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a hearing held on May 6, 2010 to consider a petition filed by the City Council on behalf of the Green Building/Zoning Task Force to amend the zoning ordinance to encourage green building practices in Cambridge.

Normally, a committee report like this doesn’t really stand out, but there is one notable record of public testimony in the report worth highlighting:

Guy Asaph, 29 Oakdale Street, said there is no reason for anyone to invest $30,000 in a solar system. A $25,000 investment would produce $25 in electricity. There is no incentive. He said that if we want to make energy issues seriously, there have to be real incentives. The proposals are nice, but they do not go far enough. The greenest buildings are big buildings, so up-zoning and providing incentives are the best ways to make Cambridge buildings more energy efficient.

Though the units of measurement are clearly misstated here (an investment of $25,000 is a one-time cost, but it’s unclear whether the $25 in electricity is per month, per year, or over the useful life of the investment), it is useful to be clear about whether there is much bang for the buck in some proposed energy projects like solar panels and wind turbines. I have heard credible testimony suggesting that the payback for energy generation projects like these are very minimal in a Cambridge context, while energy conservation measures (such as insulation and higher efficiency) usually have clear economic and environmental benefits. Where should the investment money be concentrated? Insulation and efficiency seem to be the smart choices much more than on-site power generation. Cambridge is not the same as Hull or Oklahoma (“where the wind comes sweeping down the plain”).

Mr. Aseph doesn’t stop at questioning the economics of solar installations. He also makes the case for packing more and more higher density buildings into the City. Considering the fact that he develops real estate for a living, this is a rather self-serving vision (to say the least) even if there may be a grain of truth in his wish to upzone the city ever higher. — Robert Winters

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