School is back in session for our intrepid Cambridge city councillors. After 6 weeks of vacation they return to a predictably long agenda with few controversial items. Here are some highlights (additional comments to follow):
Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-15, regarding creating a short term task force that will consider drafting a municipal ordinance related to outdoor lighting.
This task force comes about as a result of the ill-fated Teague petition that would have prohibited some types of outdoor lighting in new buildings only. The task force has a goal of finalizing its recommendations by early 2014.
Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Popper-Keizer, et al Zoning Petition.
Manager’s Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Craig Kelley Petition as proposed (Flat Roofs/Rainwater Separation).
No comment here on these two zoning petitions receiving negative recommendations from the Planning Board. Links are provided to the PDF reports.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to set up a $20,000 one-year Build Neighborhoods Fund from Community Benefits funds. [was: Order #16 of July 29, 2013]
However well-intentioned this Order from Councillor vanBeuzekom may be, there are some inherent risks associated with the distribution of public money to neighborhood groups. It’s reassuring that the Order included the following: "ORDERED: That distribution of the Build Neighborhoods Fund use a system similar to the former Police Community grants – in that grant recipients use requirements and grant spending reporting is clearly communicated." With appropriate safeguards, small grants like this (up to $500) can be enormously helpful for graffiti removal initiatives, neighborhood cleanups, block parties and other "wholesome" activities.
Charter Right #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the rationale and thought process of the License Commission on the proposed increase of liquor license fees prior to the change taking effect. [was: Order #20 of July 29, 2013]
The License Commission recently jacked up the annual fees licensees are required to pay to cover enforcement and other costs. I have heard that there is some resentment from the proprietors of well-behaved restaurants that they have to bear the cost of misbehaved bars and nightclubs.
Resolution #89. Congratulating Jane Kenworthy Lewis on being appointed Acting Clerk of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Vice Mayor Simmons
Congratulations to Jane Lewis on this significant appointment. Jane was one of our original band of recycling advocates over 24 years ago and one of our hardest working volunteers. She also played a major role in the drafting of the City’s Municipal Recycling Ordinance.
Resolution #132. Congratulations to Iram Farooq on being appointed Acting Deputy Director of the Community Development Department. Mayor Davis
If appointments like this are based on earning your stripes through great work, then Iram has more than earned her stripes during the recent planning processes for Kendall Square and Central Square. This really is a great appointment.
Resolution #141. Thanks to the Masse family and the FX Masse Hardware Co. staff for their many years of exemplary service and assistance to Cambridge residents. Mayor Davis
Some multi-generational institutions like Masse Hardware deserve their own chapters in the history of Cambridge. Though I understand that new housing will appear at Masse’s Corner, I mourn the passing of the essential retail it provided for so many years. I am constantly aware of the steady slide from essential retail toward restaurants, cafes, and similar uses. We all love our restaurants and cafes, but now we often have to go to Somerville and elsewhere to buy our groceries, clothing, and other supplies. If there was one act of magic I wish the City could perform, it would be to invent a way that we can attract and retain essential retail in Cambridge. A classic diner or two would also be welcome.
Resolution #148. Thanks to Sergeant Kathleen Murphy, Cambridge Police Department, for her many years of service to the City of Cambridge and best wishes in her retirement. Mayor Davis
Yes, indeed. Sergeant Murphy has been a regular presence at the semi-annual rides organized by the Cambridge Bike Committee. I hope she’ll continue to ride with us (without the uniform) for many years to come.
Resolution #149. Congratulations to City Councillor Leland Cheung and his wife Yin Zhou on the birth of their daughter Lela Marie Zhou. Councillor vanBeuzekom
If Councillor Cheung seems tired at the meeting, we’ll give him a pass. Congratulations Leland, Yin, and Lela Marie!
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner as to whether the City of Cambridge currently reports crime gun information to the E-Trace system and, if not, explore the feasibility of doing so. Councillor Cheung
If we add some high-resolution security cameras on a few key streets, we may do a lot to assist Cambridge Police in solving serious crimes involving deadly weapons. Any word yet on the June 2012 murder of Charlene Holmes?
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant staff and report back to the City Council with a plan to review and adjust news box placement to ensure the general public’s access to the sidewalk is not unreasonably hindered. Councillor Kelley
This was the subject of much deliberation in the City Council during the months prior to the enactment of the Newsbox Ordinance in February 1999. Two things are worth noting. First, there were probably more newsboxes in 1999 than there are now as printed material has given way to electronic Spam, social media, and online shopping. Second, fenced-in outdoor dining and Hubway stations now consume (and sometimes obstruct) at least as much sidewalk space as any newsboxes.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff about the possibilities of starting street cleaning at a later time in the morning. Councillor Kelley
The 7:00am blaring of the announcement from the DPW sound car can be a bit annoying, but the tagging and towing doesn’t start until a perfectly reasonable 8:00am and everyone knows that you can park after the street cleaning is complete. If you push back the start time, you also push back the time at which it’s safe to park again. It’s probably best to leave well enough alone. If you want to do something more meaningful, allow people with resident stickers to park free at metered spaces until 9:00am or 10:00am. Any councillors care to submit such an Order?
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City and CPS staff about the usefulness of an "Open Right" campaign to prevent "dooring" to cyclists and how such a public awareness campaign might be implemented. Councillor Kelley
Anything that can be done to better educate the public about this hazard is a good thing. Then again, they may forget while they’re texting and juggling their coffee. Another Order I would suggest is to ask the Traffic & Parking Officers to strictly enforce the requirement that vehicles park within a foot (hopefully less) of the curb. It’s incredible how many lazy drivers park several feet from the curb – and this can be a serious hazard for cyclists in the roadway.
Order #20. That the City Council go on record urging the President of Cambridge College to assent to a meeting with representatives of the Cambridge College security officers and with members of SEIU Local 615 to discuss labor issues and that the City Council refuse to attend any events at Cambridge College until such time that a meeting has been scheduled. Vice Mayor Simmons
Will this apply to the City Council Candidates Forum sponsored by the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association at Cambridge College on October 2?
Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate the use of green colored pavement within bike lanes along major roadways and at key intersections, especially considering Massachusetts Avenue, Hampshire Street, Broadway, Huron Avenue, and Concord Avenue. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I recall that this was done in the past in Central Square and elsewhere (with blue paint), but it didn’t take too long for the paint to wear away. This would be a waste of paint along roadways, but there are some applications in and around intersections that might make sense.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on July 23, 2013 to review recommendations for the best practices in supporting neighborhood groups and to determine best strategies going forward.
As stated above, there are inherent risks associated with the distribution of public money to neighborhood groups. It is a fact that some neighborhood groups (and associations of neighborhood groups) are de facto political action committees. The City should support helpful initiatives from residents, but not politicized neighborhood groups.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on July 30, 2013 to discuss assessing the current status of Central Square following the Central Square Advisory Committee’s non-zoning recommendations and exploring potential options to make the neighborhood a safer and more family-friendly area.
This meeting featured a significant amount of input from residents about problematic behavior in and around Central Square. Other significant non-zoning elements include the design and maintenance of public space, retail, cultural and non-profit diversity, connecting people to the Square, environmental issues, the status of the municipal parking lots, monitoring public benefits, and traffic and transportation issues. It’s a full plate.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 31, 2013 to examine the finances of various proposals for the future of the Foundry Building.
Deciding on the disposition of this building is the subject of four City Council committees. The Foundry building was transferred to the City as a result of the Alexandria rezoning process with the intention that it would be used for municipal or community uses. Ten thousand square feet (10,000) would be used for community purposes. There are, however, significant costs in preparing the building for public use. This is a hotly debated topic that we will certainly be hearing more about during the current municipal election season.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 21, 2013 to discuss new meeting protocols as they relate to resolutions and policy orders and record keeping of the City Council Minutes.
Some of the revised procedures are good and useful, but some of the unintended consequences of recent revisions to the Open Meeting Law have been problematic. Perhaps the Mass. State Legislature should revisit this law to address some of these more problematic consequences – especially those aspects that thwart collaboration in order prevent collusion.
Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 7, 2013 to receive a brief update on community benefits from the nonprofit summit.
Much of this discussion grows out of the recent trend during rezoning negotiations to encourage "community benefits" donations – a somewhat suspicious trend in that it has the appearance of essentially purchasing increased height and density in proposed development projects. As the saying goes, "money changes everything." Now that some funds have been accumulating, the elected officials and City administration are haggling over how these funds can be legally spent. My primary thoughts on this are that things worked much better when Cambridge businesses and institutions focused on charitable giving to support the people of Cambridge through a variety of programs independent of local government. The trend toward City-controlled "community benefit funds" is a road that we perhaps should have avoided entirely. – Robert Winters