Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 7, 2010

June 7, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:20 pm

June 7, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

It’s primarily routine stuff this week, though I suppose we could be treated to another “International Night” as part of Councillor Decker’s El Salvador Order #8. Meanwhile, back in Cambridge, we have the following, starting with two Planning Board reports on pending zoning amendments:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the green building zoning petition. [The Planning Board recommends adoption of the petition as proposed.]

This matter will presumably be passed to a 2nd Reading with expected ordination later this month. Not quite ready for ordination (and still in committee) is the zoning petition affecting a portion of Kendall Square. An interesting aspect of this is the never-ending effort to reinvent Kendall Square in the wake of unenlightened urban planning/renewal that depopulated the area. The petition primarily sets out to permit the Broad Institute to build another life science building instead of the housing previously permitted by the Planning Board. The height limit of the district is 230 feet – the highest in Cambridge.

The Committee Report indicates the City Council’s desire to repopulate the area, i.e. build housing in addition to tax-generating commercial buildings, yet no direction is provided. A proposed Order in the report asks the Community Development Department to identify housing sites in the MXD district, yet it seems likely that housing may never be built in this district. If it were to be built, Councillor Kelley wants to ban future residents from owning cars. Why stop there? Why not go for broke and dictate their diets as well? Sometimes it seems as though Cambridge elected officials will never be satisfied until they can control everything right down to the jokes you’re permitted to laugh at.

City Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Boston Properties Petition to amend the MXD District. [The Planning Board “enthusiastically” supports this zoning change which would facilitate the Broad Institute’s interest in expanding near its headquarters in Cambridge.]

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on May 11, 2010 to consider proposed amendments to the Zoning Map and Zoning Ordinance in Article 14 Mixed Use Development Cambridge Center to create a “Smart Growth Underutilized Area” in the vicinity of Broadway, Main and Ames Streets and the site of the West parking garage on Ames Street.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and Boston Properties to report back to the Ordinance Committee of the City Council on June 9th, 2010, on whether the ground floor retail proposed by Boston Properties would be of the size and nature suitable for a grocery store, convenience store, or small foodstuffs boutique.   Councillor Cheung

Councillor Cheung’s Order is well-intentioned, but it seems like the most that will come out of it would be a convenience store for the IPad crowd. Let’s not forget that there used to be an actual neighborhood in Kendall Square, including a school (and I don’t mean MIT).

Kendall Square 1903

City Manager’s Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the acceptance and approval of the layout of portions of certain street in the North Point area of Cambridge.

It will be interesting to see how North Point actually develops after the recession passes and the Green Line is relocated and extended. In spite of the seemingly nice landscaping, most plans I’ve seen suggest a sterile, isolated environment. The best thing, in my opinion, would be to create direct roadway connections through North Point to East Somerville, the Inner Basin area, and Charlestown, but the isolationist planners would never permit such a thing. It might cause people to actually cut through this new North Point neighborhood en route to other places – like almost all other non-gated neighborhoods.

Resolution #14. Best wishes to the Cambridge Consumers’ Council on their upcoming event to recognize Shredding Day and declare July 31, 2010 as “Shredding Day in the City of Cambridge.”   Mayor Maher

The full text of City Council Orders is provided, but not so for resolutions. It makes you wonder what exactly Shredding Day is. Then again, we just celebrated Laser Day on May 16 as a result of a recent resolution from Councillor Cheung.

Resolution #24. Congratulations to Beth Rubenstein on her new position as Director of Campus Planning and Development at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and thank her for her thirteen years to the City of Cambridge.   Mayor Maher, Councillor Decker

This came as a bit of a surprise. Best wishes to Beth as she heads off to her next challenge. This is reminiscent of when Kathy Spiegelman made a similar move from the Community Development Department to Harvard University. Between these two heads of CDD, there was Michael Rosenberg (with whom I biked the route of the old Middlesex Canal last fall) and Susan Schlesinger (who still serves on the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Board and the Community Preservation Act Committee). It will be interesting to see who succeeds Beth Rubenstein as head of the Community Development Department – a position of considerable influence in determining the City’s prioritization of commercial development, housing, open space, transportation, and more.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to investigate establishing a Cambridge Carbon Offset Fund to receive contributions that may be used for the purpose of reducing Cambridge greenhouse gas emissions, including the possibility of using these funds for building retrofits, planting trees, or other relevant activities.   Vice Mayor Davis

I’m only barely beginning to understand things like “cap and trade” and a possible “carbon tax” on businesses/industries, but if it’s appropriate to view such things as a kind of currency, then maybe it’s not such a good idea to create local currency. Things could get complicated enough if and when the U.S. Congress gets around to enacting something. As a side note, I recently attended a meeting organized by GreenPort of a panel of experts discussing various aspects of some proposed regulations growing out of concerns about climate change. It was interesting to see what are essentially capitalist solutions being presented to an audience that included some Marxist-leaning Cambridge activists who might well prefer to just nationalize every industry or regulate them into oblivion.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update on the City’s tree inventory and establishment of a “volunteer corps” of citizens interested in helping maintain and update the City’s tree inventory.   Councillor Seidel

It’s a great idea to try to marshal volunteer labor to help the City in a number of areas. However, it is easy to imagine a situation where activists of one sort or another would use the opportunity to create conflict rather than cooperation. If that potential problem can be ironed out, there would be great benefit in having an unpaid army of residents acting cooperatively with City workers for the benefit of all.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update as to the status of the tents currently set up in Flagstaff Park, including the number of such structures allowed on the site, who is residing in them, and the length of time these structures are allowed to remain on the site.   Councillor Seidel

The phrasing of this Order is curious. It asks about the number of structures allowed on the site and related matters, but one would surmise that the answer to that question is zero. The real issue is whether the City will ever take action to clear out the site – not the identity of its squatters or their residential tenure at that location. — Robert Winters

1 Comment

  1. Gotta agree with you on your commentary Robert. While we do disagree over PR, in my view it creates the very clowns on the council you lampoon by forcing idiots like Decker to cater to their radical constituencies while depressing voter turnout for mainstream candidates, I must agree with how moronic many of this orders are and how the City Council from banning driving with cell phones to banning trans fats to banning cars in certain neighborhoods acts like a nanny state. The best way to revitalize Kendall is to make it easier to get beer and liquor licenses and to build bars, nightclubs, and restaurants in the area while also building residential areas to suit them. My mom remembers when Kendall was vital, but to me it was always this dead neighborhood you walked through on the way to the movie theatre or the Garment District and most of my friends would agree. I feel especially bad for the MIT students who are essentially isolated from the real potential that is Cambridge since MIT has essentially cordoned them off into their own campus using bad urban planning in the 1960s.

    As for your concerns about activists taking over in that newly proposed volunteer corps it has already happened with the Nuclear Disarmament Commission and the Peace Commission. Both are simply ways for councilors to put activist friends on city payrolls espousing partisan causes. I am more of a liberal than you are I suspect, yet even I do not want my city government to be advocating partisan positions with its tax dollars. I am suspect that this new volunteer corps will gradually become paid and gradually become another entrenched bureaucracy with the city culture. I honestly believe that Cambridge will someday have a Ministry of Silly Walks and all the councilors will pat themselves on the back for funding it with our money.

    Comment by James Conway — June 7, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

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