Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 15, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 395-396: May 14, 2019

Episode 395 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 14, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 14, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Devereux announcement to not seek reelection; election-related matters, modifying the ballot, new candidates; candy and cannabis and Central Square. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 396 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 14, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 14, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: School Committee controversies and dysfunction; wrapping up the budget; Transportation planning vs. “quick build” for Mass. Ave.; controversy for political gain; State seal controversy; civic opportunities. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

May 7, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 393-394: May 7, 2019

Episode 393 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 7, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 7, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Jane Jacobs and the virtue of standing in the way of “progress”; reconsidering the roadways; Cambridgeport churches; Outstanding City Employees. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters. [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 394 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 7, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 7, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Budget hearings; new candidates; new, old, good, bad, and dreadful zoning petitions. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

April 24, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 389-390: April 23, 2019

Episode 389 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 23, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 23, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: FY2020 Budget; Central Square Business Improvement District (BID) petition filed; cities reshaping themselves. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 390 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 23, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 23, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Webster Ave. bike alternatives; Eversource substation and misperceptions of risk; Courthouse opportunistic politics; cannabis proliferation; no-excuse absentee voting, lowering voting age, and non-citizen voting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

April 22, 2019

Living on a Budget (A Big Budget) – April 22, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Living on a Budget (A Big Budget) – April 22, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

As the councillors play their fiddles and cannabis outlets poke up through the ground like spring crocuses, the Manager will deliver the FY2020 Budget on Monday. Two departmental budgets appear to have vanished – General Services and Weights & Measures. The full budget details won’t be available until the actual meeting, but the summaries are available now.

Here are some agenda items that piqued my interest (grouped as appropriate). The agenda is pretty full on its own, so I’ll keep my comments to a minimum:

Budget Season!Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the FY2020 submitted budget and appropriation orders.

The Bottom Line is that the total proposed FY2020 Budget is $665,550,940. That’s up 6.9% over last year’s FY2019 budget of $622,477,255. You may want to take a longer view at the multi-year comparisons.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a memorandum regarding the School Department FY20 Budget. [At the Regular Meeting of Apr 2, 2019, the School Committee voted that the General Fund Budget of the Cambridge Public Schools be adopted in the sum of $201,770,255 for FY20.]

That’s a 5.6% increase over last year’s School Department budget.

Manager’s Agenda #2 through 9: The Annual Big Loan Orders (appropriation and authorization to borrow) for:

#2 – $800,000 to provide funds for various Schools for repairs to entrance doors, upgrade of energy management software, replacement of analog phone system with the voice over internet protocol (VOIP), and the replacement of an emergency generator.

#3 – $22,000,000 to provide funds for the construction of improvements at the Fire Station Headquarters Building located at 491 Broadway.

#4 – $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

#5 – $20,500,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the Alewife area.

#6 – $4,000,000 to provide design and construction of Eliot Street between JFK St. and Brattle St. which is a continuation of the Harvard Square Kiosk and Plaza and Surface Enhancement project.

#7 – $10,000,000 to provide funds for the construction of improvements at City Hall.

#8 – $3,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

#9 – $10,000,000 to provide funds for the design and reconstruction of the Tobin School building.

In addition to the Operating Budget, the City also each year seeks authorization to borrow significant amounts for various capital projects (presumably at very favorable interest rates thanks to our multiple AAA bond ratings). This year’s loan authorizations total $74,300,000.


Manager’s Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Grand Junction Multi-use Path Design Project Working Group: Joseph Aiello, Rebecca Bowie, Christopher Cassa, Carlone Lowenthal, Bill McAvinney, Sarabrent McCoy, Miguel Perez-Luna, Jose-Luis Rojas, Dalila Salcedo, Katrina Sousa, Florence Toussaint, Jason Alves, Nicholas Dard, Tom Evans, Amy Flax, Kathryn Lachelt Brown, Tony Lechuga, Brad Pillen, Michelle Lower, Diana Prideaux-Brune, Robert Ricchi and John Sanzone.

Manager’s Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-9, requesting that the City determine what facilities, parking changes, and other improvements to the pavement conditions are possible to make Cambridge’s stretch of Webster Avenue a complete street.


Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the City Council Zoning Petition to amend Section 4.22 "Accessory Apartments," following further staff review and improvements to petition language.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 2, 2019 to continue discussion on a petition filed by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge in section 4.22 to allow for a special permit for the alteration of a single, two-family or accessory structure in existence as of January 2019 to provide one accessory apartment, if appropriate conditions are met.


Manager’s Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 18-144 regarding a report on eviction data, and 19-10, regarding a report sharing information to assist in analyzing displacement.

Communications & Reports #5. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Siddiqui, transmitting the submission of the Mayor’s Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement Mar 19, 2019 meeting minutes.


Manager’s Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-127, regarding draft zoning for urban farming; Awaiting Report Item Number 19-23, regarding allowing lodging houses in Residential A1, A2 and B Zoning Districts; and Awaiting Report Item Number 19-28, regarding a timetable for updating retail and small business components of the zoning table of uses.

Manager’s Agenda #20. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-37, regarding the possibility of expanding the City of Boston’s intergenerational housing pilot to Cambridge.


Manager’s Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Central Square Business Improvement District (BID).

Applications & Petitions #2. A petition was filed by Kenneth S. Barron, 614 Massachusetts Avenue, et al property owners, pursuant to MGL Chapter 400, petitioning that a Business Improvement District (BID) be established for the Central Square Business Improvement District.

Communications & Reports #4. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from the Assessors Department, transmitting certification regarding the petition from Kenneth S. Barron, 614 Massachusetts Avenue, et al property owners, pursuant to MGL Chapter 40O, petitioning that a Business Improvement District (BID) be established for the Central Square Business Improvement District.

This has been discussed for over two decades and it has finally arrived. I should really buy someone a beer (or better yet they should buy me a beer). Special gratitude goes out to Michael Monestime, Executive Director of the Central Square Business Association for bringing this from theory to reality. Additional gratitude goes out to all the Central Square property owners for believing that the future can be better with a little cooperation and vision.


Charter Right #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a memorandum regarding the update on the search process to hire a new City Clerk to replace Donna Lopez when she retires.

Order #9. Appointment of Paula Crane as Interim City Clerk in the event that a City Clerk has not been named in time to begin service on June 1, 2019.   Vice Mayor Devereux


Unfinished Business #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the proposed Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance. [ON OR AFTER APR 22, 2019 THE QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED] [Attachment A][Attachment B]

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 11, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code to add a new Chapter 5.50 entitled “Cannabis Business Permitting”.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting a memorandum regarding Cannabis Business Ordinance Follow Up Inquiry.

Communications & Reports #6. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Zondervan, transmitting a memorandum regarding proposed amendments to the Cannabis Business Ordinance.

Perhaps the 2018-2019 City Council will one day be remembered for making Cambridge the Cannabis Capital of Massachusetts. I suppose they had to do something to look busy.


Order #1. City Council support for H.692 extending voting rights to certain noncitizens.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Zondervan

Order #5. City Council support of the EMPOWER Act (H.720/S.389: An Act ensuring municipal participation of the widest eligible range).   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Zondervan

Order #6. City Council support of H.78: A proposal for a legislative amendment to the constitution to provide for no excuse absentee voting.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Zondervan

Variations of these pop up every few years – generally when some politicians are desperate for attention. Of the three Orders listed above the only one that has merit (and a lot of merit) is the one calling for "no excuse absentee voting". This will require a state constitutional amendment to make it so, but this is by far the best way to increase flexibility in when registered voters can cast their ballots.

In my view citizenship equals the right to vote to elect your government. Non-citizens are welcome to be residents and to pay taxes and receive services, but voting to determine the government should be for actual citizens of the United States, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the City of Cambridge. As for lowering the voting age to 16 or 17, my feeling is that you have to draw the line somewhere, and maybe that line is somewhat arbitrary, but age 18 seems about right. Even if there was a strong movement to adjust that age downward, such a change would have to be uniform across the Commonwealth or across the country. It should not vary from town to town. Fundamentally, it’s just populist horse pucky.


Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update from Eversource and any other relevant City departments regarding the finance, health and safety, building design and the long-term electricity needs that was requested by the City Council before the construction of a substation on Fulkerson Street in East Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

Order #3. That the City Council go on record in opposition to the site owned by Eversource on Fulkerson Street to have a substation and that the City Manager be and hereby is requested to urge Eversource to reconsider its acquisition of the property.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

I have my own issues with Eversource, but from these Orders you would almost think that nobody in East Cambridge or Kendall Square uses electricity or that the demand is dropping. (It isn’t.)


Communications & Reports #3. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting a memorandum regarding CPSD, the Achievement Gap, and a Review of 8th Grade Math MCAS Results.

Various iterations of the Cambridge School Committee and the Cambridge School Department have been talking and talking about "The Achievement Gap" for decades, and all that talk has accomplished little. Perhaps at some point they should readjust their focus on simply doing the best possible job teaching and motivating students and just let the chips fall where they may. I suppose, however, that this is just not the way we do things in Cambridge. – Robert Winters

September 30, 2018

A Taxing Situation – October 1, 2018 City Council Meeting Preview

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:07 pm

A Taxing Situation – October 1, 2018 City Council Meeting Preview

Property Tax AssessmentsThe main order of business is the Tax Rate Hearing at 6:30pm that leads to the determination of the residential and commercial tax rates for FY2019.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2019.

For the most part, the tax levy (and hence the tax rate) was determined several months ago when the City Council voted to approve the FY2019 Budget. Some things have changed since then, but the final steps in the process consist of a series of votes on allocations from available funds to reduce the tax rate, tax classification (primarily residential vs. commercial, subject to limitations under state law), approval of the residential exemption, and several available exemptions and deferrals permitted under state law. Once the votes are taken the Department of Revenue formally sets the tax rates. The Manager’s recommendations are as follows:

1. That the City Council vote to authorize the use of $9,000,000 in Free Cash to reduce the FY19 tax rate.

2. That the City Council vote to authorize $2,000,000 in overlay surplus/reserves to be used for reducing the FY19 tax rate.

3. That the City Council vote to authorize $3,500,000 from the City Debt Stabilization Fund to be used as a revenue source to the General Fund Budget, which was included in the FY19 Adopted Budget.

4. That the City Council appropriate $3,500,000 from Free Cash to the City Debt Stabilization Fund.

5. That the City Council classify property within the City of Cambridge into the five classes allowed for the purpose of allocating the property tax. It is further recommended that the City Council adopt a minimum residential factor of 57.5386%.

6. That the City Council approve the residential exemption factor of 30% for owner occupied homes, which should result in a residential tax rate of $5.94 and commercial tax rate of $13.71 (per $1000 of taxable value after exemptions) upon final approval by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

7. That the City Council vote to double the normal value of the statutory exemptions.

8. That the City Council vote to increase the FY18 exemption allowed under Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17D from $314 to $322.

9. That the City Council vote to increase the FY18 asset limits allowed under Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 17E from $62,205 to $63,760.

10. That the City Council vote to increase the FY18 income and assets limits for elderly persons (age 65 or older). Income limits of $25,721 to $26,364 for those who are single and $38,582 to $39,547 9 for those who are married, asset limits of $51,439 to $52,725 for those who are single and $70,730 to $72,498 for those who are married, as allowed under MGL, Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 41D.

11. That the City Council vote the income limit for deferral of real estate taxes by elderly persons (at least 65 years old) as determined by the Commissioner of Revenue for the purposes of MGL, Chapter 62, Section 6, subsection (k), for a single person who is not head of household ($57,000) and for a married couple ($86,000), as allowed under MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, Clause 41A. The reduction of the interest rate to 4% for deferred taxes, which was approved by the City Council previously, will continue.

Order #3. That the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee schedule a hearing on the proposed “Cambridge Publicly Financed Municipal Election Program” and the “Cambridge Municipal People’s Pledge Program” as soon as possible and report back to the City Council with a plan for implementation no later than the City Council meeting scheduled for Nov 19, 2018.   Councillor Toomey

I seriously wish these proposals and various alternatives proposed by others would just go away. It is becoming increasingly clear that such things as a positive social media presence, a good email list, and boatloads of personal contact are far more important than money in a local election campaign. So, could we stop chasing this wild goose?

Floating CrosswalkOrder #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Traffic, Parking and Transportation department and any other relevant city departments to study the potential of utilizing the Icelandic crosswalk design in an intersection in East Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

If you feel that screeching panic stops are a wise choice for traffic calming, then this is your design. I will humbly suggest that simpler solutions would be preferable. On the other hand, we could try some other optical illusions like holographic tigers or various apparitions from Ghostbusters.

Order #7. That the Envision Cambridge draft recommendations should be reviewed by the entire City Council in respective committees.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

My presumption has always been that this laundry list of recommendations would be farmed out to the various City Council committees for further review prior to any consideration of zoning changes in the Ordinance Committee or other actions. I also think it would be a good idea to have the full final Envision Cambridge report in hand before delving too deeply into any of these ideas. Looking at them in isolation is not recommended.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation & Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 12, 2018 to discuss the guiding policy and safety priorities for regulating and permitting shared electric scooters to operate in Cambridge.

Maybe the public will gleefully accept these devices, but what is currently available is simply not safe to use under all conditions by any reasonable standard. The relatively small wheels alone virtually guarantee a tumble when encountering even a small imperfection in the road. On a related matter I found it interesting that the response by Ant Bike to statements from CDD that they were not permitted in Cambridge led them to place two of them in the park next to the City Hall Annex where CDD is located. (I moved them outside to the sidewalk.) On the same day that the City of Lynn announced that they were not allowed, seven of them appeared along one stretch of Main Street in Kendall Square (with five of them lying on their side restricting pedestrian movement). What they see as "economic disruption" is hard to distinguish from "obnoxiously aggressive".

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation & Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 20, 2018 to discuss reducing the speed limit to 20 MPH on residential streets citywide and the creation of 20 MPH safety zones on certain other streets.

My primary comment at this hearing was that there were some city councillors who would gladly reduce the speed limit to 0 MPH if this was permissible under state law. The simple fact is that almost all drivers operate their vehicles safely under the current 25 MPH limit. The problem is the scofflaws for whom the legal limit will be ignored no matter where you set it. Consistent enforcement is what’s important, though there are some streets and specific locations where a 20 MPH limit is advisable. I also think the City should seriously consider the use of a "shared street" model with an even lower speed limit in some heavily pedestrian areas. This would have been my choice for Brattle Street where the City installed those counterintuitive segregated bike lanes. A much better solution would be to make that entire stretch of Brattle Street a two-way low-speed shared street for all. – Robert Winters

May 21, 2018

Rearranging the Deck Chairs – What’s Up on the May 21, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,Inman Square — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:08 am

Rearranging the Deck Chairs – What’s Up on the May 21, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are my selections from this week’s menu:

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $44,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Executive Department Extraordinary Expenditures which will be used to assist the Department of Conservation & Recreation in constructing an ADA accessible canoe and kayak boat launch.

I remember back in 1999 when the City first partnered with MDC (now DCR) to invest $1,500,000 to upgrade Magazine Beach in exchange for priority in field scheduling. This satisfied what would otherwise have been a need identified in the Green Ribbon Open Space Report (2000) for access to a community park for the Cambridgeport neighborhood. Most of that investment went toward the fields and landscaping in the eastern part of Magazine Beach. The City’s later investment (approx. $300,000 plus over $700,000 in matching funds and capital expenditures by DCR) has been focused on the western part, and a lot of credit for that goes to the Magazine Beach Partners (originally formed out of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association as the Friends of Magazine Beach) for spearheading the renovations of the old powder magazine and its vicinity. This is civic activism at its best.

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-17, regarding the status and proposed next steps to advance the urban agriculture initiative.

The City already established regulations for the keeping of honeybees (Dec 2017) and will soon address hen-keeping (as opposed to henpecking), but this report is specific to "urban farming" whcih will include zoning recommendations affecting "the cultivation of agricultural products for public consumption". It does not affect home gardening. The zoning recommendations are expected in Fall 2018 and will require City Council approval, and soil safety regulation will be determined by the Commissioner of Public Health.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for approval to submit the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge to include as part of the Inman Square Intersection Safety Improvements Project (“Project”) the planned reconfiguration of the intersection of Hampshire Street and Cambridge Street in the Inman Square area of the City (hereinafter, “Inman Square”) as well as a portion of the land that makes up Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci Community Plaza (“Vellucci Plaza”).

Proposed Revisions
VELLUCCI PLAZA – DESIGNATED OPEN SPACE – PROPOSED REVISIONS

This agenda item will likely be the centerpiece of the meeting. There are a few points that warrant comment. First, the substance of this matter is the Home Rule Petition to the state legislature to swap existing designated open space for new "open space" in order to facilitate a realignment of the roadways. That has its own controversies, including different viewpoints regarding preservation of trees in the short and long term. The reconfiguration of the road is being supposedly done for the sake of safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicle operators, but it is not at all clear that the proposed configuration (at considerable cost) will actually improve anything. The City routinely invokes the "Vision Zero" mantra to justify non-debatable changes in infrastructure with the assertion that all decisions are "data-driven", but at one recent meeting on this topic it was asserted by someone very close to the debate that there have been no accidents at all in Inman Square since the simple application of green paint to the roadway to better clarify the presence of cyclists as they pass through the intersection.

What seems quite clear in the proposed road reconfiguration is that it is centered on pushing all cyclists to use the sidewalk as they pass through the intersection (which many cyclists simply will not do – and for good reason). Will this result in fewer traffic incidents? Or will there be a spike in altercations between cyclists and pedestrians? Will cyclists who choose to use the roadway have their safety compromised? Personally, though I suppose there may be some room for improvement, my sense is that the "short term" fixes of painting the green lanes and restricting some turning movements have addressed most of the safety issues and that this next round of "improvements" may actually make things worse. The proposed changes seem more ideology-driven than data-driven. There is a lot to be said for intuitive and simple road design, and this is anything but that.

PS – It is stated in the report that "the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Commission approved the proposed Plaza design", but I heard from one member that this was only because their authority extends only to buildings and not to roadways, and since there are no buildings involved in either the land swap or the road design they didn’t have standing in this matter.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for approval to seek authorization from the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General (the “IG”) for the City to use the Construction Manager at Rick (“CMAR”) procurement and construction method (the “CMAR Method”) in connection with the redevelopment of the Foundry building.

How many years has it been now since we received this "gift" of the Foundry building?

Unfinished Business #1-4. Appropriation and Loan Authorization Orders for $5,000,000 (Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan); $650,000 (School building infrastructure projects, and a new boiler at CRLS); $61,500,000 (water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the The Port neighborhood, and the River Street neighborhood); and $21,000,000 (reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks).

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 1, 2018, May 8, 2018 and May 9, 2018 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $597,219,385.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 8, 2018 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,973,855.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 8, 2018 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2019 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $17,267,995.

Objectively speaking, this really is the most significant agenda item, but there’s really nothing left but the vote (and, of course, the usual round of gushy thank-you’s by councillors to City staff and vice-versa).

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a detailed accounting of locations, if any, where Cured-In-Place Plastic Pipe (CIPP) and other plastic pipes currently exists in Cambridge, when it was installed, and why there was no public process for such a potentially hazardous change in water policy.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

There are several available methods for re-lining pipes as an alternative to replacement including Cured-In-Place Plastic Pipe (CIPP) which uses fitted mesh and epoxy. Some people, including members of the Water Board, have expressed concerns about this method based on possible leachate, but this seems to be more a function of quality control than of the material itself. The Order states that "all plastics leach chemicals" which may be true but is not helpful. People buy water and other beverages in plastic bottles all the time and those drinks are often in contact with their container far longer than municipal water is with those pipe sections that are lined with epoxy. In addition to the matter of real vs. perceived hazard, there’s also an interesting question here of who really has the authority to make decisions like these – the Water Department or the volunteer Water Board. A century ago the Water Board had very broad authority, but it’s not so clear today where that authority ends under the current form of City government.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to create a structured commercial tax rate system for FY20 that prioritizes lowering the tax rate for small businesses.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Simmons

Any such change would require either a general change in state law or a Home Rule Petition. The tax classification (residential, commercial, industrial, open space, and personal property) allows different rates (within prescribed limits) among these categories but there is no further refinement within any of the categories. This can translate into a hardship for a small "mom ‘n pop" retail business since (at least for Cambridge) the commercial tax rate is nearly 2½ times the residential tax rate, and there is nothing analogous to the residential exemption (which is a fixed exemption that can yield very inequitable benefit). Personally, I think the state legislature should create enabling legislation to give cities and towns a bit more flexibility, but there is an understandable risk that this would simply result in the maximum benefit being shifted onto those who vote in the local elections regardless of the net public good. Much of Cambridge retail is being driven into oblivion by rising rents (which factor in the taxes to some degree) and shifting consumer habits (like, you know, Amazon). Tax relief may help some, but the problem is bigger than that.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the relevant City Departments to launch a program during the summer months to activate the Front Lawn of City Hall in the afternoon with games (such as cornhole boards), food trucks, and other forms of entertainment to engage a diverse age range of residents in recreation.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Zondervan

Why not a ferris wheel and a zipline? I do like the fact that people are drawn to this space, but it is passive for a lot of them and they may not appreciate all the activity. Regarding food trucks, there would be a certain irony in having them within 100 or so feet of the License Commission offices (but that cryptic reference is something you’ll have to ask me about). In any case, a hot dog vendor on the sidewalk would be a nice addition, though I suppose it would have to be a vegan alternative "not dog" vendor to gain approval (in which case forget I ever mentioned it).

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to report back to the Housing Committee on how the City could establish a method of eviction data collection.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Cambridge Human Rights Commission to report back on housing-related activities including number of housing-related investigations, number of housing-related cases successfully mediated, relationships with regional housing-related organizations, and successes and challenges of the Cambridge Fair Housing Ordinance   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

My presumption is that these requests relate to the ongoing agenda of the City Council’s Housing Committee, but these issues have also been discussed within the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group and elsewhere. My presumption is that the concern here is the Bad Behavior of Very Big Mean Landlords, but this is, after all, the People’s Republic of Cambridge which, unfortunately, has at least some history of collateral damage against owners of rental property regardless of virtue.

Order #7. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Recycling Division of the Department of Public Works to study the feasibility of expanding the curbside composting program to small businesses and nonprofits in the City by the end of 2019.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon

It’s definitely worth looking into, but it’s not so simple to determine what constitutes a small business deserving of the City’s largess. For example, if a large office building houses 50 small businesses should the City pick up the tab (and the garbage) for the whole building? There is already a lot of ambiguity with mixed residential/commercial buildings all over the city. – Robert Winters

May 8, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 309-310: May 8, 2018

Episode 309 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 8, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 8, 2018 at 5:30pm. Main topics: FY2019 Cambridge Budget hearings, Curbside Compost Program, and related matters. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 310 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 8, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 8, 2018 at 6:00pm. Main topics: May 7 City Council meeting, parking issues, updates around town. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

May 2, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 307-308: May 1, 2018

Episode 307 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 1, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 1, 2018 at 5:30pm. Main topic: Cambridge FY2019 Budget, historical look at City budgets. Hosts Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 308 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 1, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 1, 2018 at 6:00pm. Main topics: Featured items from the Apr 30 Cambridge City Council meeting; tax-funded political campaigns. Hosts Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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