Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 18, 2010

Oct 18, 2010 City Council Agenda – Meanwhile, back in the Sullivan Chamber….

Filed under: City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 12:48 am

Oct 18, 2010 City Council Agenda – Meanwhile, back in the Sullivan Chamber….

The items that jump out are as follows:

Unfinished Business #5. Reconsideration filed by Councillor Toomey on the affirmative vote taken on Sept 13, 2010 to refer to the Ordinance Committee and to pass to a second reading a proposed amendment to the Municipal code that would increase the residential parking sticker fee. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Item Number Thirty-Six of Aug 2, 2010. On Sept 13, 2010 motion of Vice Mayor Davis to refer to Ordinance Committee and Passage to a second reading on roll call 7-1-1. Sept 27, 2010 no action taken on reconsideration. Affirmative vote taken Sept 13, 2010 to refer to Ordinance Committee and to pass to a second reading on proposed amendment to the Municipal Code that would increase the residential parking sticker fee effective as of Sept 13, 2010.] The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 11, 2010.

Regardless whether this passes or not or if its implementation is delayed a year, there is little doubt that this has become politicized, and the rumblings of the 2011 municipal election are already being felt. The proposed increase from $8 to $20/year followed by an increase to $25/year two years later isn’t much considering that it has not been raised in 18 years. It will, however, ultimately be an increase of over 200% and that’s good grist for the political mill. The more significant issue is that the additional revenue is slated to be dedicated toward "other actions addressing climate change," and some have questioned whether this is being done in order to deliver a revenue stream to satisfy the wishes of a particular activist lobby.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to communicate with relevant department heads to formulate a policy for the timely dissemination of accurate information during high-profile incidents.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Seidel and Councillor Simmons

The boring Gates-Crowley garbage continues. Apparently the greatest offense in the whole matter was that elected city councillors had their feelings hurt by not being in the loop. The loss of a good political opportunity is a tragic thing.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on whether there was an agreement by the Museum of Science to build a walkway behind the museum for pedestrians to use to traverse along the Charles River towards the Craigie Dam and if there was such an agreement, what is the current status of both the agreement and any relevant project.   Councillor Kelley

Yes, councillor, there were plans and even a nice green and silver brochure that described the plans. The Museum was not, however, going to build the walkway. The path was to follow the course that existed before the Museum was built atop the dam. Their parking garage is what blocked the way and plans were made for a connecting boardwalk to be suspended from the garage out over the river. It seemed like a very good plan, but it’s been on the shelf for quite a few years now.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Acting Assistant City Manager for the Community Development Department to identify a well-qualified consultant to assist with determining the desired future course of overall development in Kendall Square.   Councillor Reeves

Just what we need – another "well-qualified consultant" to assist the 44 full-time staff within the Community Development Department in taking a good, hard look at Kendall Square. Surely there must be sufficient expertise among existing staff for this. However, the really interesting part of this order is this: "WHEREAS: Kendall Square has also been discussed by local developers as an area that should be twice as dense as it currently is." Perhaps this is where the campaign contributions are coming from, but I doubt whether there are many residents who feel that a 100% increase in density in what is already one of the most densely developed parts of Cambridge is such a desirable thing.

Order #9. That the Roundtable meeting scheduled for Oct 25, 2010 be canceled and that a regular City Council meeting be held in its place.   Councillor Seidel and Councillor Toomey

Great idea. The previous one was insufferable (see below). — Robert Winters


Sept 20 – What’s the difference between the Cambridge City Council and a 4th grade classroom? Well, tonight it was hard to tell the difference. This was the first of two Roundtable meetings supposedly to get the City’s biennial goal-setting process going. At the August 16 meeting of the City Council’s Government Operations Committee, I was genuinely hopeful that this would be an interesting and productive process that might, in conjunction with the various City Council committees, lead to substantive initiatives for the next two years.

The first of these two meetings was to focus specifically on the (1) Human Services; (2) Neighborhood & Long Term Planning; (3) Health; (4) University Relations; and (5) Housing Committees. The next meeting (in mid-October) was to focus on the (1) Environment; (2) Public Safety; (3) Cable TV, Telecommunications, & Public Utilities; (4) Traffic, Transportation, and Parking; and (5) Economic Development, Training, & Employment Committees. This seemed like a real get-down-to-business approach. Now I’m not so hopeful. Indeed, upon re-reading the committee report, I see that all the specificity that was laid out at the meeting has been purged. Instead, the report states that these Roundtable meetings will consist of "reflection on the past year, consideration of which goals were met or not, what new issues and circumstances should the City Council consider in setting its goals for the upcoming budget year."

Tonight’s Roundtable opened up with a facilitator explaining in the vaguest possible terms what she had planned for the evening. Speaking as though everyone in the room was no older than about 9 years of age, she asked the city councillors "what the meaning of a goal" was. I cringed. The flipchart (yes, this was one of those flipchart and marker meetings) indicated that tonight they would be discussing the strengths of the city, how great we are, and other folderol. Pardon my severe cynicism, but talk like this makes me want to upchuck.

When I vote every two years, I want very much to believe that we are electing adults – people who are not always starting on page one. When I go to a Roundtable meeting where elected officials and City administration are addressed like children (and some willingly respond like children), it makes me wonder about who we have elected. I would dearly love to see at least one of them speak up and throw a monkeywrench into the whole insipid process and demand that they act like adults and get down to business without the need to sing Kumbaya or get in touch with their feelings.

The entire goal-setting process will consist of the two Roundtable meetings plus a "world café" where councillors and other City officials invite various participants, and end with a "retreat" where the assembled councillors will presumably settle on their goals for the next two years. Perhaps I’ll partake of the "world café" when it comes around (tentatively in early November), but tonight I was only able to stomach about ten minutes of the process.

 Robert Winters, Council watcher and eternal cynic

Harvard Crimson story on the Roundtable (Sept 21, by Rediet Abede)

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