Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 14, 2010

June 14, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:58 pm

June 14, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Tonight’s agenda is dominated by the disposition of several zoning-related matters. There’s also a potential time-sink in Councillor Cheung’s Order regarding the legislation recently passed by the Massachusetts House regarding illegal immigration. The Order does not just “disapprove” of the legislation, it “condemns” it. Here’s what we have, starting with the proposed amendment regarding conversion of buildings from Institutional to Residential use (which was initiated by the advertised sale of buildings by the Jesuits and the questionable suggestion by Councillor Toomey that these should be purchased in order to densely pack subsidized housing units onto the sites – Mar 22 Order #1, Apr 5 Mgr #11):

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the City Council Rezoning Petition to Modify Section 5.28.2 Related to Buildings Occupied by Institutional Uses. [The Planning Board does not recommend adoption of the Petition as filed.]

Committee Report #1. 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 6, 2010 to consider a proposed amendment to Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance to expand the applicability of Section 5.28 to structures that may have been built for residential use but have been in Institutional (religious, educational, governmental) use for at least ten years.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on June 9, 2010 to continue discussion of a proposed amendment to Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance to expand the applicability of section 5.28 Conversation of Non Residential Structures to Residential Use to include structures that may have been built for residential use but have been in Institutional Use for at least ten years.

There were significant issues raised at the committee hearings about this proposal and the Planning Board gave the idea a “thumbs down.” This proposal was primarily a reaction to the apparent sale of these buildings to Harvard University. The spirit of the proposal was similar to the rhetoric that accompanied the allocation of CPA funds toward historic preservation at Shady Hill Square, i.e. the insincere statement that subsidized housing should be built in the tonier parts of town as an act of class warfare against a perceived elite. There are also elements of resentment growing from the frequent siting of such projects in places like North and East Cambridge. In any case, zoning amendments should ideally not be proposed just because you’re pissed off.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a hearing held on June 9, 2010 to continue discussion of a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance in accord with the recommendations of the Green Building Task Force to encourage energy efficient buildings.

With a positive Planning Report and now an Ordinance Committee Report, this will presumably be passed to a 2nd Reading and ordained later this month. The zoning change would only affect new construction and large scale renovations.

Charter Right #2. Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Six of June 7, 2010 requesting the City Manager 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.

This matter was hotly debated at the previous meeting. There are numerous issues at play such as whether the proposal would effectively kill the possibility of new housing in the Kendall Square MXD district. Councillor Cheung’s Order #6 from last week was actually far more comprehensive than I had originally noticed and included a provision for what was arguably commercial rent control for “upstart local entrepreneurs”. Another significant issue was whether there was any guarantee of the long-term tenancy of the Broad Institute at this site, a new local institution with “favored nation” status. As is often the case, allegations of quid-pro-quo political contributions by the developer/owner have been made but not substantiated.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and report back to the University Relations Committee the feasibility of the City creating a “Welcoming Packet” for new students, distributed by the universities with information on public services, Cambridge history and culture, and a calendar of civic events.   Councillor Cheung

This brings back recollections of a similar Order in 2000 from former Councillor Jim Braude calling for a “welcome wagon” for new residents. (Order #6, April 24, 2000). Here’s an summary of the ensuing conversation a decade ago.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads on the feasibility of instituting a five cent per disposable bag fee, collected by the City that would in turn be put aside into a fund which purpose is to buy canvas bags wholesale and distribute them to Cambridge residents.   Councillor Cheung

Nanny government. Reusable canvas (or any other material) shopping bags are what everyone should use, but they’re plentiful and cheap and already distributed at all sorts of events. Cambridge residents don’t need to be taxed or subsidized for such trivialities, especially when they are already so freely available.

Order #3. Opposition to the amendment that was passed to the budget bill regarding immigrants.   Councillor Cheung

It’s interesting that the primary point made in opposition to this state legislation is that it is unnecessary because it adds little more than what is already required of those seeking to take advantage of taxpayer-funded services. Is so, why the strong condemnation? It’s worth noting that Councillor Cheung’s Order focuses on all the contributions of immigrants to this country, but the proposed legislation is not about immigrants. It’s about illegal immigrants, i.e. those who are residing in Massachusetts but have not adhered to existing laws. Councillor Cheung’s Order also correctly challenges the practice of creating policy through budget amendments, but the federal government does this routinely. The Order correctly points out that there may be substantial costs associated with enforcing the proposed legislation. In any case, be it Arizona or Cambridge, it’s ridiculous that the inability of the U.S. Congress to address these matters causes individual states to take such actions. Regardless of party affiliation, spines appear not to be part of anatomy of U.S. Congressmen and Senators. – Robert Winters

3 Comments

  1. It’s probably worth noting that a recent Suffolk University/WHDH poll found that 84% of Massachusetts voters support tougher restrictions on non-citizens, specifically that proof of citizenship be required to receive state benefits. Just 12 percent said no and 4 percent were undecided.

    The Cambridge City Council voted 8-1 on the Order “condemning” such a policy. Who knows what the result of the same poll of Cambridge voters would be, but it does make you wonder who eight of nine city councillors think they represent. Councillor Kelley was the only NO vote. He asked the rather pointed question of his Council colleagues: “Should there be any rules at all?”

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 14, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

  2. I disagree with the Arizona law and the recent push to strip citizenship from the children of illegal immigrants in that state. In many cases the illegal immigration problem is the result of many complicated issues that are far more nuanced than a black and white “they broke the law they gotta pay” approach. Rather than get into that debate though, I would argue that the City Council is not the proper forum to pass these kind of symbolic resolutions that do not do anything. If any of the councilors in their capacity as citizens want to lead protests, advocate, etc. than that is fine. In my view the ‘sanctuary city’ amendment, arguably an un-constitutional one, is about the only thing the city has done and really can do on immigration. It is called leading my example. These resolutions are ineffective and I really do not understand why this body tries to debate issues it has no jurisdiction over, it is a waste of time and mone especially when our city is facing so many pressing problems including the erosion of the middle class, resurrecting the school system, fixing our horrible roads, streamlining regulations to incentivize small businesses to stay and/or open in Cambridge, and reducing our high property taxes. Those should be the goals, not these pedantic exercises and amendments.

    Comment by James Conway — June 15, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

  3. I’m relatively neutral on the Arizona law simply because I don’t claim to understand all the pressures faced by residents and law enforcement officials in that state. (I actually lived in Flagstaff, AZ for a while a long time ago, but this hardly gives me any special insight.) It seems arrogant for residents in the northeast – far, far away from the US/Mexico border – to pass judgment on what goes on there. In any case, proponents of the Arizona law have been pretty clear that they took action primarily because of the inability of the federal government to address the issue. I haven’t heard anyone yet claim otherwise.

    There is some irony here in that the Cambridge City Council so often advocates acting locally in matters that should really be addressed at the national and international level. Isn’t this what the Arizona legislature did when they passed a law rather than wait forever for the US Congress to act?

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 15, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

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