Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

December 17, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 441-442: December 17, 2019

Episode 441 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 17, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: On Elections & Vacancies; The Departure of Councillors Craig Kelley & Jan Devereux; Karp Petition and East Cambridge development, Contract Zoning a.k.a. “Let’s Make A Deal”; Mall Tales and Mini-Retail. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 442 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 17, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 17, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Harvard Square Zoning Petition – how zoning might help retail.; Form-Based Zoning – Citywide Somerville Rezoning; Finding the “Sweet Spot” in zoning density. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

December 15, 2019

That’s All Folks! – Featured Items on the Dec 16, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

That’s All Folks! – Featured Items on the Dec 16, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

That's All Folks!The last meeting of the 2018-2019 Cambridge City Council takes place this Monday (thanks to the cancellation of the remaining two meetings). This will also mark the final meeting for both Vice Mayor Jan Devereux (served 2 terms, first elected 2015) and Councillor Craig Kelley (served 7 terms, first elected 2005). With the exit of two of the most reasonable members of the City Council we may well be heading toward the Wild Card Council for 2020-2021 where the only real question will be "how far left?"

Here are a few items on this final meeting agenda worthy of note:

Unfinished Business #5. A revised Petition has been received from Stephen R. Karp, Trustee of Cambridge Side Galeria Associates trust to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.100 to Article 13.00 of the Zoning Ordinance and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-8 District overlay that certain area (which includes parcels and portions of ways and streets) labeled as "PUD-8 district". [Passed to a 2nd Reading on Nov 26, 2019 to be Ordained on or after Dec 16, 2019]

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Anthony I. Wilson, Esq. transmitting a communication from John E. Twohig, Executive Vice President of New England Development, regarding the proposed CambridgeSide PUD-8 District. [Cover letter] [Redline_CambridgeSide 2.0 – PUD-8 Zoning Text (12.11.19 edits)] [CambridgeSide 2.0 – PUD-8 Zoning Text (12.11.19)]

I’ll say it one last time before the Council either ordains this on Monday or punts: I hope the City Council passes some form of this thing so that the area can get a shot in the arm, but I find this whole "Let’s Make a Deal" aspect of how zoning petitions are approved lately to be very problematic. Rezoning is becoming less about good planning and more about generating revenue and goodies.


Order #1. Zoning Amendment Articles 2.00 and 4.32 regarding opposition to permitting on-demand mobile fueling services to operate in Cambridge.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

This was introduced on Oct 21, 2019 and I can’t see any difference between that petition (which expires Mar 9, 2020) and this supposedly amended petition.

Order #3. That section 11.202(b) of Article 11.000, entitled SPECIAL REGULATIONS, of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge, be amended the table as follows: Jan 28, 2020 (Annual Adjustment) $19.10 per square foot.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone, Mayor McGovern

This was discussed at the Dec 9 meeting – an itsy bitsy zoning amendment that changes a dollar amount. Let the hearings begin!


Order #5. That all items pending before the City Council and not acted upon by the end of the 2018-2019 Legislative Session be placed in the files of the City Clerk, without prejudice provided that those proposed ordinances which have been passed to a second reading, advertised and listed on the Calendar under "Unfinished Business" during the 2018-2019 City Council term, along with any other pending matters on the Calendar listed as "Unfinished Business," shall be forwarded to the next City Council and further provided that any items pending in committee may, at the discretion of the committee, be forwarded to the next City Council.   Mayor McGovern

….. and, of course, 97 Items Awaiting Report. There are 6 responses, so we’ll apparently end the term at 91 items awaiting report. Some will be carried over to either languish in Managerial Purgatory or maybe see the light of day.

I repeat – let ’em all expire and start fresh. Perhaps for the next City Council term the City Council and City Manager should establish a cap on how many items are allowed to languish on the Awaiting Report pile.


Order #6. That the City Manager instruct the City Solicitor to provide and update on the previous two orders requesting draft legislation for a Real Estate Transfer Fee Home Rule petition   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Though this will likely only affect the relatively large real estate transactions, I expect the next City Council will have as a primary goal to separate as much money from property owners – large and small – as they can legally justify. And when that runs out they’ll just change the laws for more.


Order #7. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the CPSD Superintendent to ensure that the CPSD budget is enough to meet the educational needs of all children in Cambridge rather than a formulaic increase over past CPSD budgets.   Councillor Kelley

I would have thought the statement contained in this Order would have been the rule all along.

Order #8. Continued Anti-Bias Training in 2020 and beyond.   Councillor Simmons

Nevermind.

Order #9. Removing Sackler family name from Harvard University Museum.   Mayor McGovern

I pass by a portrait of David Koch every day at MIT. It has never bothered me. Should we obliterate the family name of everyone whose business interests include some things we don’t like even if they have contributed tremendously toward other things that we do appreciate? Cancel Culture is insanity.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Councillor E. Denise Simmons regarding an "End of Term Report from the Housing Committee".

That little matter of tearing the civic fabric to shreds didn’t appear in this report.

Communications & Reports #3. A communication was received from Vice Mayor Devereux.

A classy exit message from a classy lady (even on those occasions when we have disagreed). – Robert Winters

December 10, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 439-440: December 10, 2019

Episode 439 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 10, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 10, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Impeachment; recycling. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 440 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 10, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 10, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Surveillance Ordinance and Surveillance Use Policy; Karp Petition up next week; Incentive Zoning and the latest Nexus Report and recommendations; Inclusionary Zoning. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

December 9, 2019

Ordaining the Remnants of the 2018-2019 Council – Bits ‘n Pieces from the Dec 9, 2019 City Council Agenda

Ordaining the Remnants of the 2018-2019 Council – Bits ‘n Pieces from the Dec 9, 2019 City Council Agenda

Puzzle PiecesWe’re down to the last few meetings before the new Council is inaugurated on January 6 ["The city council, elected as aforesaid, shall meet at ten o’clock in the forenoon of the first Monday of January following the regular municipal election, and the members of the city council shall severally make oath, before the city clerk … to perform faithfully the duties of their respective offices…. Thereupon the city council shall, by a majority vote of all the members elected, elect a mayor and a vice-chairman from its own members…."]

Until that little bit of biennial drama occurs, here are some things that are either interesting or up for discussion and/or action this week:

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the EMF and Metropolitan Ice Co. buildings at 116 Brookline and 112 Pacific Streets. [Cover letter] [Landmark Report] [Landmark Order]

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the George E. Bridges House at 74 Oxford Street/43 Wendell Street. [Cover letter] [Landmark Report] [Landmark Order]

Though I think we’re starting to get to the point where some pretty ordinary buildings are seen as historical, I always love reading the well-researched landmark studies from the Cambridge Historical Commission. These are no exception.


Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Surveillance Use Policy and related documents.

Committee Report #4. A report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 3, 2019 to discuss an amendment to the Surveillance Ordinance.

No comment. I fear I’m being watched by the Fusion Center ghoulies.


Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Alexandria Grand Junction Overlay District Zoning Petition.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt with modifications, the Harvard Square Overlay District Zoning Petition.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a communication from the Planning Board with no recommendation on the Shared Mobility Zoning Petition.

The Council could pass all three to a 2nd Reading, or two to a 3rd Reading, or one to a 6th Reading. Or something.


Manager’s Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to zoning language as requested by the Ordinance committee in connection with the CambridgeSide PUD-8 Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #6. A revised Petition has been received from Stephen R. Karp, Trustee of Cambridge Side Galeria Associates trust to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.100 to Article 13.00 of the Zoning Ordinance and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-8 District overlay that certain area (which includes parcels and portions of ways and streets) labeled as "PUD-8 district". [PASSED TO SECOND READING ON NOV 26, 2019, TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER DEC 16, 2019]

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk Anthony I. Wilson, transmitting a communication from John Twohig, Representative for Cambridgeside Galleria Associates Trust regarding the revised Commitment Letter for Proposed PUD-8 District. [Commitment Letter] [red-lined version]

Communications & Reports #3. A communication was received from City Clerk Anthony I. Wilson, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley regarding Cambridgeside.

As I’ve said before, I hope the City Council passes some form of this thing so that the area can get a shot in the arm, but I find this whole "Let’s Make a Deal" aspect of how zoning petitions are approved lately to be very problematic. Rezoning is becoming less about good planning and more about generating revenue and goodies.


Manager’s Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to supplemental information in response to an Ordinance Committee request on the Green Buildings Requirements Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a petition to amend provisions in Section 22.20, which governs Green Building Requirements, and also applicable definitions contained in Article 2.000. [PASSED TO SECOND READING ON NOV 18, 2019, TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER DEC 9, 2019]

This should breeze through unanimously.


Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-21, regarding a report on Affordable Homeownership Programs.

Manager’s Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from City Manager Louis A. DePasquale and Assistant City Manager Community Development Iram Farooq, relative to the Incentive Zoning Nexus and Jobs Linkage Study.

Interesting reading.


Unfinished Business #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to proposed amendments to the following ordinance: and proposed amendments to Chapter 14.04 of the Cambridge Municipal Code (the “Fair Housing Ordinance”). Fair Housing (passed to a 2nd reading) [HOME RULE LEGISLATION – RECEIVED PROPOSAL TO BE ORDAINED]

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Anthony Wilson transmitting Chapter 118 of the Acts of 2019; "AN ACT FURTHER REGULATING THE FAIR HOUSING ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE".

Alas, one of the lingering Home Rule petitions actually came home for ordination.


Unfinished Business #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a petition to amend provisions in Article 5.000 and Article 22.000 pertaining to setback requirements and exterior building insulation. [PASSED TO SECOND READING ON NOV 18, 2019, TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER DEC 9, 2019]

This should also breeze through unanimously.


Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide updated data on enforcement of the city’s short term rental regulations, including (but not limited to) the number of units that have registered with the city, the number of applications that have been rejected, the number of inspections that have been undertaken by the Inspectional Services Department, and the total number of units listed on various short term rental websites including Airbnb.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux

Committee Report #1. A report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair and Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Nov 12, 2019 at 5pm to discuss the findings of the Urban Forest Master Plan task force.

Now can I manage the problematic trees on my property without a court order or a punitive fine? I promise I’ll plant more and let the others flourish.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 23, 2019 to discuss tracking of the City’s emissions and identifying key indicators that would give a sense of where the City is going.

Committee Report #3. A report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 26, 2019 to discuss an amendment to article 19 of the zoning ordinance.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 13, 2019 to discuss the final Envision Report.

Communications & Reports #4. A communication was received from City Clerk, Anthony I. Wilson, transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Mallon, regarding the Tobin Montessori/VLUS building proposals.

These are interesting, but I’ll withhold comment on these last few items.

….. and, of course, 99 Items Awaiting Report.

Let ’em all expire and start fresh. Perhaps for the next City Council term the City Council and City Manager should establish a cap on how many items are allowed to languish on the Awaiting Report pile.

December 4, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 437-438: December 3, 2019

Episode 437 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 3, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 3, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Analysis of voters by age, turnout, possible causes; cost of a campaign, effectiveness. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 438 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 3, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 3, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Karp Petition ordination pending; Universal Pre-K, Tobin School renovation/relocation; participatory budgeting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

November 28, 2019

Demographic Mixed Bag – November 2019 Cambridge municipal election

Filed under: 2019 election,elections — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:59 pm

Demographic Mixed Bag – November 2019 Cambridge municipal election

I have been curious since the recent election whether there were any patterns in voter turnout that might be discerned when the information about who voted became available. That data became available recently and it’s kind of a mixed bag. There are still a lot more younger voters than there were before 2017, but not as many as in 2017. There was a modest increase in the youngest range (up to about age 26 – credit for that probably goes to the supporters of Burhan Azeem and Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler), but the numbers actually disproportionately dropped for most age ranges from about 27 through the middle age years. Interestingly, the number of voters increased for those in the 70-80 range. We can all speculate about why those numbers would be up when overall turnout was down.

Overall the number of registered voters increased from 66,354 in 2017 to 68,839 in 2019 (including those with listed birthdates) – a 3.7% increase. The number of people who actually voted decreased 4.8% from 22,407 to 21,329. Voter turnout in 2017 was 33.8% of all registered voters. That dropped to 31.0% in 2019, but that’s still relatively high for a municipal election (it was 28.2% in 2015 and 25.2% in 2013).

Here are some graphics to illustrate this, starting with the distribution of voters by age (in 3-year intervals, 18-20, 21-23, etc.) in the Nov 2019 election.

Voted 2019

Compare this to the 2017 distribution – especially the peak at 27-29:

Voted 2017

Notice that in 2015 there were far fewer people in their 20s and 30s voting with a clear dominance in the 65-70 range.

Voted 2015

When we look at 2017 and 2019 side-by-side you can more easily how some age ranges saw significant decreases (more than the ~5% overall drop) and other age ranges actually saw increases.

Voted 2017 vs. 2019

Here’s an annotated graph highlighting some of the more interesting changes.

Voted 2017 vs. 2019 - highlighted

November 27, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 435-436: November 26, 2019

Episode 435 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 26, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 26, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Karp Petition; Planning vs. “Let’s Make A Deal”; how high is high, how dense is dense?; the YIMBY-NIMBY War to Nowhere. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 436 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 26, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 26, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Harvard Square zoning petition, “super crosswalk”; zoning change vs. cultural change; riding the latest bandwagon; License Commission authority. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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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