Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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]

April 24, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 305-306: April 24, 2018

Episode 305 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 24, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on April 24, 2018 at 5:30pm. The main topics were the proposed HP boycott and the new zoning petition relating to Alewife and climate and heat, etc. introduced at the Apr 23 Cambridge City Council meeting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 306 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 24, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on April 24, 2018 at 6:00pm. The main topic was the FY2019 Cambridge City Budget plus a note on the pending sale of the Constellation Center site in Kendall Square. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

April 22, 2018

Budget Season Returns – Featured Attractions on the Apr 23, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:14 pm

Budget Season Returns – Featured Attractions on the Apr 23, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Budget Season!On this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the FY19 submitted budget and appropriation orders.

The Bottom Line is that the total proposed FY2019 Budget is $622,477,255. That’s up 5.3% over last year’s FY2018 budget of $591,057,460. You may want to take a longer view at the multi-year comparisons. The largest budget increases are actually in the Executive Department (City Manager’s Office) with a 21.1% one-year increase. The budget for the Mayor’s Office jumped by 11%.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $650,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects, and a new boiler at an Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $61,500,000 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 The Port neighborhood, and the River Street neighborhood.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $21,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

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 $88,150,000.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Public Investment Fund account to fund snowstorm related road repairs and capital equipment.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $2,475,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to fund snowstorm related expenses associated with snow plowing and snow removal contracts, salt, other materials, repair costs.

Winter doesn’t come cheap. In addition to the amount already budgeted for FY2018, there are these $3,475,000 supplemental appropriations. You can See It and Click It, but it costs money to Fix it.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-23, relative to repairs to the Harvard Square Portland Loo and methods to prevent service interruptions in the future.

Whoever thought a bathroom would turn into a winter research project. I still think we should have found a way to integrate these bathrooms into existing buildings with actual heating systems.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Election Commission effective May 2, 2018 for a term of four years: Victoria Harris

Congratulations to Victoria Harris. Unlike some years, the City Manager had several qualified candidates from which to choose. Congratulations also go to outgoing Commissioner Polyxane Cobb who did an outstanding job during her time as an Election Commissioner.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of three years, effective May 1, 2018: Olivia D’Ambrosio and Michael Monestime.

Two more outstanding appointments. I do, however, have to make one correction. Contrary to the narrative provided, Michael Monestime and his family now live in North Cambridge, a.k.a. the suburbs, though he’s still our Man in Central Square.

Applications & Petitions #5. A Zoning Petition was received from Douglas Brown Et Al, regarding Zoning petition that aims to balance the future health and safety impacts of climate change.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this petition. There was supposed to be a petition filed several weeks ago that went by the name "The Pause Petition" that sought to put all new construction in the Alewife area on hold. That proposed Moratorium was endorsed by the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee (NCSC), the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance (FPRA), the Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR), Green Cambridge, and the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CResA). It was met by a harsh response from the folks from A Better Cambridge (ABC) and others who saw it primarily as a mechanism to stop the building of new housing and, in particular, "affordable housing". Soon thereafter, the moratorium morphed into this new petition wrapped in green, i.e. "Zoning Amendments for a Flood and Heat Resilient Cambridge". Some parts are cribbed from the preliminary recommendations being developed for Alewife as part of the Envision Cambridge process, but there’s little doubt that a significant goal of this petition is to make it a lot more difficult to build in some areas – particularly the Alewife area.

In addition, there is a very prescriptive 2nd half of this petition that seeks to introduce a "Green Factor" to rule over any new construction requiring a Project Review Special Permit under Section 19.23 of the Zoning Ordinance [50,000 gross sq. ft. or more in all applicable zoning districts – except Business A, Business A-1, or Business A-2 districts where the threshold is 20,000 gross sq. ft.]. This Green Factor "uses a value based system to prioritize landscape elements and site design that contributes to the reduction of stormwater runoff, the improvement of urban air quality, mitigation of the urban heat island effect, and improved well-being of residents and visitors." Without surveying all built properties in the city, I think it’s a fair guess to say that very few of them would have a "Green Factor" that would satisfy the wishes of the petitioners. However, it’s already the case that most new significant building proposals in Cambridge that go before the Planning Board go to great lengths to factor environmental benefits into their plans with the possible exception of those built in dense urban settings (such as the major Squares).

My sense is that this will play out politically in such a way that instead of the "Pause Petition" being spun as blocking housing, this new Petition will be spun as something only a climate-change-denier could oppose. But that’s just politics. Personally, I think the petition should be divided into two separate petitions – one dealing with potentially flood-prone areas (and specifically parts of the Alewife area) and another that focuses specifically on the sustainability stuff citywide. I do think the "Green Factor" approach is overly prescriptive, but it would not be a bad outcome if a handbook of recommended standards grew out of this exercise – even if it was separate from the Zoning Ordinance.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and any other City departments to work with the MBTA to address the above listed necessary improvements to the Harvard Square Station Tunnels while they are being renovated.   Vice Mayor Devereux

The "above listed improvements" involve temporary relocation of stops, minor schedule adjustments, increased foot traffic in Harvard Square, repaving of bus tunnel roadways, hopefully better lighting and seating in the bus tunnels, general repair and restoration, and maybe even restoration of some of the artwork. To this you can add the current T elevator work that’s going on there (as well as in Central Square).

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City staff to ensure that an additional commitment of $20 million from the City’s budget is devoted over the next five years toward the City’s efforts to preserve and create affordable housing units.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

As I often point out, the term "affordable housing" is a euphemism for regulated housing obtained by applying either to the Cambridge Housing Authority or similar agency. It is not the same as addressing the goal of affordability of housing in Cambridge and in the greater Boston area.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to contact the Constellation Charitable Foundation to receive an update on plans for the Parcel C in Kendall Square and when development can be expected to begin.   Councillor Toomey

Based on the press release last week, that’s a question best addressed by whatever party buys the property. When that sale happens the Constellation Charitable Foundation will be out of the picture.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City Staff, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Friends of Poorman’s Landing, and the East Cambridge Planning Team to ensure the timely repair of Poorman’s Landing.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

In addition to the letter and the pages specific to Poorman’s Landing, the recently published (Jan 2018) Cambridge Riverfront Plan is worth the read.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to produce a report for use by the Housing Committee that contains information pertaining to the appropriate language for the creation of an Affordable Housing Overlay District.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

I repeat – The term "affordable housing" is a euphemism for regulated housing obtained by applying either to the Cambridge Housing Authority or similar agency. It is not the same as addressing the goal of affordability of housing in Cambridge and in the greater Boston area.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 22, 2018 to gain a better understanding of the extent of the City’s digital divide and to explore possible ways to increase digital access.

I’m sure this will get a lot of play during the upcoming Budget Hearings, but the bottom line is still The Bottom Line – the related proposal that the City should build its own municipal broadband system is a very expensive proposition. Furthermore, the jury is still out on whether exposing the City to this financial risk is even a wise approach. Everybody wants alternatives to the Comcast monopoly, but there may be better ways to achieve this.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 21, 2018 to discuss the implementation of the Short-Term Rental Ordinance.

It doesn’t help that AirBnB seems to be sending the message out to all of its "hosts" to join them in their lack of cooperation.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 18, 2018, to discuss confirming the City’s Manager’s selection of Margaret Drury as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA).

Slam dunk easy call on the reappointment of our most esteemed former City Clerk Margaret Drury to the revitalized Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Dosha E. Beard, Executive Secretary to the School Committee, transmitting a copy of an order from the School Committee recommending the FY19 General Fund Budget of the Cambridge Public Schools be adopted in the sum of $191,069,500.

This represents a pretty steady 31% of the City’s Operating Budget (just in case you were wondering). – Robert Winters

May 23, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 229-230: May 23, 2017

Episode 229 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 23, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 23, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included ranked choice voting advocacy in Cambridge and elsewhere in Massachusetts; the role of City Council committees vs. unofficial (and not especially public) working groups. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Episode 230 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 23, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 23, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included the May 22 City Council meeting, affordable housing in Somerville, short-term rentals and more. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

May 21, 2017

Budget Passage – Notable May 22, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,transportation — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:45 pm

Budget Passage – Notable May 22, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items

Allston projectIt is expected that the City’s FY2018 Budget will be approved at this meeting. In addition, there are a few other items of interest.

The Pike
Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a letter written by Community Representative and former Mayor Henrietta Davis to Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack regarding the Allston I-90 project.

Order #1. City Council endorsement of the letter of Community Representative and former Mayor Henrietta Davis to Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack regarding the Allston I-90 project, prepared in consultation with the community and City of Cambridge officials.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

You should really understand the whole proposed project and not get too caught up in the details of whether or not the River Street exit ramp from Storrow Drive should be preserved as is. [Jan 19 Cambridge presentation] It’s a VERY interesting project and there’s no question that the current state of the affected area is ripe for significant change in every way.


The FY2018 Budget
Unfinished Business #7-10 relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow (7) $20,000,000 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 City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport neighborhood, and the Port neighborhood; (8) $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks; (9) $2,000,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including roof repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at an elementary school; and (10) $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 2, 2017, May 10, 2017 and May 9, 2017 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $568,246,680.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 10, 2017 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,973,850.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 10, 2017 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $19,912,815.

Councillors – Please limit your "thank you" remarks to under one minute per councillor. Your unanimous vote on the Budget will send that message clearly enough.


Peace, Love and Understanding
Resolution #8. Declare June 12 to be Loving Day in Cambridge.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

It’s not what you think. Then again, maybe it is.

Order #2. City Council in support of Somerville officials in their efforts to achieve 20% affordable housing in all development projects.   Councillor Carlone

This is pretty clearly about whether or not a waiver should be granted in the Assembly Row project. The situation there was that the developer (Federal Realty) was eligible for the waiver because it had entered into a master planned agreement with the City of Somerville prior to the raising of the affordable housing requirement for a building of that size from 12.5 percent to 20 percent. On Thursday, May 18 the waiver was granted, so this Order is essentially moot (unless there are additional projects permitted prior to the increase in the inclusionary requirement).

There is, however, one very questionable aspect to this City Council Order. It is not addressed to the Somerville Board of Alderman but rather calls on the Cambridge City Council "to stand in support of Somerville officials, like Alderman Matthew McLaughlin, in their efforts to achieve 20% affordable housing in all development projects." This reads an awful lot like a candidate endorsement. The Order also calls specifically for sending "a suitably engrossed copy of this resolution to Somerville Alderman Matthew McLaughlin on behalf of the entire City Council." This Order should really be amended to address the issue rather than the incumbent Somerville Alderman seeking reelection this November. – Robert Winters

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