As Election Day draws near, the business of the City continues. Here are a few items of interest:
The City Manager’s Agenda features 10 responses to the 34 items on "Awaiting Report". I’m sure the city councillors will do their best to grow the list back again with what are often questionable requests that could be more easily answered in person.
Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-34, regarding appointing a task force to further examine the Connolly Petition.
It’s been entertaining to watch the spin associated with this whole matter. The bottom line is that few people disagree with the concept of encouraging highly energy efficient building construction, and the response from the City Manager reflects this. However, the Connolly Petition was, in fact, a zoning petition that would have mandated that any new development over a modest size not only meet energy efficiency standards (which many new buildings already do), but also that any energy needs that cannot be met on-site instead be purchased from a restricted list of suppliers and/or supplemented by the purchase of renewable energy credits (RECs). The petition also specifically mandated that this should apply to every tenant in the new buildings. [Note – I have repeatedly suggested that this goes well beyond what can be legally mandated via zoning.]
On the substance of the Connolly Petition, the majority of the City Council disagreed with the petition as drafted. This has been made clear in responses in candidate forums and in statements in the Cambridge Chronicle. Most challengers in this year’s election have also made clear that they could not support the petition as drafted. The Mayor and City Manager convened a forum of experts a few weeks ago at the Cambridge Public Library and these experts generally disagreed with the substance of the Connolly Petition. The establishment of this task force can only be viewed as a way to craft an alternative that could actually be supported – and not in any way as what Mr. Connolly is now calling "a huge win for the hundreds of residents who signed on to our online petition." This is delusional at best.
My sense is that this task force will likely focus not only on new construction (which, let’s face it, is what many of the petitioners wanted to block), but on developing policies and programs applicable to all Cambridge buildings. If this can "re-energize" some of the initial efforts of the Cambridge Energy Alliance and tap into grant money to help homeowners and other property owners to make their buildings more energy efficient, then this will be an outcome we can all support. The Connolly Petition was a lemon, but the City administration will make some lemonade.
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been filed by Christopher H. Lutz, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by rezoning an area on the northern border of Richdale Avenue from Upland Road to Walden Street from its C1-A designation to residential C-1.
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been filed by John Chun, et al. requesting the City Council amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge in the entire district currently zoned Residence B located in the Cambridge Highlands neighborhood, situated north of Concord Avenue, south of and adjacent to the Blair Pond Reservation, and east of and adjacent to the municipal boundary with the Town of Belmont by deleting the designation Residence B and substituting therefore a designation of Residence A-2.
Order #5. That the City Council go on record re-filing a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 17.20 to increase the setback requirement abutting Linear Park and to clarify form and density language with the residential neighborhood. Councillor Maher
That’s three more zoning petitions in the queue.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel, City partners, and the Governor’s Office to develop a contingency plan to ensure that Cambridge residents who see part or all of their rent subsidized by federal funding will not see their housing jeopardized in the event of a future shutdown of the federal government. Vice Mayor Simmons
Even though the shutdown of the federal government is over for the moment, this Order illustrates the dilemma that state and local officials face if and when we go through this again. Cambridge has long been supportive of public housing options within Cambridge, but much of this housing is funded by sources outside of Cambridge. If the flow of money is restricted, it cannot be easily replaced by local revenue sources. Vice Mayor Simmons’ order is specifically about the Section 8 program (rental vouchers), but the hard reality is that federal policies and Congressional dysfunction can quickly disrupt local housing options. The Order calls for a contingency plan, but the local options for response are limited.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Dec 7, 2012 to tour Harvard University.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Mar 5, 2013 to tour Lesley University.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the University Relations Committee, for a public meeting held on Apr 5, 2013 toured the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
I note these more for amusement than anything else. For a long time now I have noted on the City Council Committees page regarding the University Relations Committee: "No reports have been filed by this committee. Until such time as reports are filed, it will be assumed that this committee has not actually met." The committee has apparently met 8 times dating back 18 months (Apr 2012), but these are the first reports being filed. Perhaps we’ll see the other five reports on the eve of Election Day. – Robert Winters