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 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]

February 11, 2018

2017 City Council Campaign Receipts, Expenditures, and $/Vote – FINAL REPORT

Filed under: 2017 election,Cambridge,campaign finance,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 3:27 pm

The following table shows the total campaign receipts and expenditures for 2017 Cambridge City Council candidates. You can sort by any of the fields shown by clicking on the field name – one click ascending and second click descending. Figures reflect the period from Dec 1, 2016 through Jan 31, 2018.

CandidateIDReceiptsCambridge% CambridgeExpenditures
(to Jan 31)
#1 Votes$/Vote
Moree, Gregg14683$905.22$905.22100.0%$905.2246$19.68
Devereux, Jan16062$59,949.50$54,043.5090.1%$50,613.591699$29.79
Levy, Ilan16173$13,706.86$12,350.0090.1%$12,008.79246$48.82
Kelley, Craig14104$26,327.86$20,500.6077.9%$24,886.391092$22.79
Musgrave, Adriane16657$34,162.97$26,223.9976.8%$33,749.31
580$58.19
D'Ambrosio, Olivia16520$7,900.00$5,600.0070.9%$7,945.19216$36.78
Carlone, Dennis15680$40,675.89$28,275.0069.5%$35,908.611176$30.53
Harding, Richard16737$34,500.49$22,641.0065.6%$34,318.46836$41.05
Mallon, Alanna16530$55,932.88$36,539.7065.3%$51,094.851329$38.45
Burgin, Josh16709$24,189.02$14,124.5258.4%$24,104.02392$61.49
Sutton, Bryan16713$1,314.44$719.9554.8%$1,293.0845$28.74
McGovern, Marc15589$88,717.14$48,362.4954.5%$85,337.311880$45.39
Benjamin, Ronald16493$1,262.55$677.0053.6%$1,434.52242$5.93
Siddiqui, Sumbul16556$47,574.60$21,795.0047.9%$36,190.552532$14.29
Zondervan, Quinton16516$62,916.69$29,649.4247.1%$64,073.971565$40.94
Toner, Paul16576$85,390.87$39,693.2646.5%$111,739.75980$114.02
Tierney, Sean16559$31,620.29$14,400.0045.5%$30,779.71779$39.51
Simmons, Denise13783$70,646.47$29,385.0041.6%$93,897.962616$35.89
Toomey, Tim12222$75,092.81$27,067.8636.0%$41,063.881619$25.36
Volmar, Gwen16691$13,374.56$4,713.9435.2%$12,839.56248$51.77
Santos, Jeffrey16686$14,708.95$4,964.3033.8%$12,667.82147$86.18
Sivongxay, Vatsady16528$38,639.88$11,829.0030.6%$37,933.19740$51.26
Gebru, Samuel16531$66,642.14$19,805.0329.7%$65,323.20787$83.00
Okamoto, Nadya16596$10,189.49$1,235.0012.1%$10,603.52550$19.28
Lenke, Dan16771$0.00$0.00-$920.0054$17.04
Pillai, Hari16770$0.00$0.00-$0.00107$0.00
2017 City Council Campaign Receipts and Expenditures (last updated Feb 11, 2018 at 10:33pm)

Note 1: Figures reflect the period from Dec 1, 2016 through Jan 31, 2018.

Note 2: Adjustments to the totals have been made to reflect returned donations, candidate loans repaid, etc.

Note 3: There will be no additional updates except for corrections. This table is meant to give an idea what the actual total receipts and expenditures are for a full municipal election cycle. The choice to use a 14 month period is somewhat arbitrary but reflects what seems to be when campaign activity starts up and winds down.

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February 6, 2018

2017 Cambridge City Council Campaign Bank Reports

Filed under: 2017 election,Cambridge,campaign finance,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:14 pm

The following table shows the summary bank reports for 2017 Cambridge City Council candidates. You can sort by any of the fields shown by clicking on the field name – one click ascending and second click descending.

CandidateFromToStartReceiptsExpendBalanceAs OfNotes
Benjamin, Ronald01/01/1701/31/18$9.00$1,426.56$1,432.52$3.0402/01/18
Burgin, Josh06/16/1701/31/18$0.00$23,649.50$23,649.50$0.0002/01/18
Carlone, Dennis01/01/1701/31/18$17,827.87$36,169.32$43,908.61$10,088.5802/05/18Expenditures includes $8000 loan repayment
D'Ambrosio, Olivia01/01/1701/31/18$122.75$7,775.31$7,917.94-$19.8802/01/18
Devereux, Jan01/01/1701/31/18$8,715.10$55,616.36$50,574.17$13,757.2902/01/18$13672.25 transfers subtracted
Gebru, Sam01/01/1701/31/18$0.00$65,289.04$64,965.46$323.5802/01/18loans and refunds subtracted
Harding, Richard07/01/1701/31/18$1,961.06$34,985.39$34,318.46$2,627.9902/01/18$50 returned check deducted
Kelley, Craig01/01/1701/31/18$2,231.84$24,844.39$22,124.58$4,951.6502/01/18$100 returned check subtracted
Lenke, Dan08/16/1701/31/18$0.00$1,248.57$920.00$328.5702/01/18
Levy, Ilan07/16/1701/31/18$0.00$11,964.47$12,008.79-$44.3202/01/18$750 loan reimbursement subtracted
Mallon, Alanna01/01/1701/31/18$100.00$54,736.18$49,455.73$5,380.4502/01/18$900 in refunds subtracted
McGovern, Marc01/01/1701/31/18$14,966.66$70,826.09$79,416.58$6,376.1702/01/18$500 returned check subtracted
Moree, Gregg08/16/1701/15/18$0.00$905.22$905.22$0.0001/15/18$174.78 loan subtracted
Musgrave, Adriane05/16/1701/31/18$0.00$34,223.98$33,749.31$474.6702/01/18
Okamoto, Nadya03/16/1701/31/18$0.00$10,947.09$10,603.52$343.5702/01/18
Pillai, Hari07/24/1701/15/18$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0001/15/18
Santos, Jeffrey06/07/1701/31/18$0.00$13,516.75$12,561.21$955.5402/01/18$116.61 loan subtracted
Siddiqui, Sumbul02/16/1701/31/18$0.00$45,524.60$36,190.55$9,334.0502/01/18
Simmons, Denise01/01/1701/31/18$10,179.79$70,105.13$72,689.42$7,595.5002/01/18$500 excess subtracted
Sivongxay, Vatsady01/01/1701/31/18$0.00$37,905.88$37,872.35$33.5302/01/18
Sutton, Bryan06/16/1701/31/18$0.00$1,229.49$1,208.13$21.3602/01/18
Tierney, Sean02/01/1701/31/18$0.00$31,570.29$29,029.71$2,540.5802/01/18
Toner, Paul02/16/1701/31/18$0.00$86,325.01$86,159.48$165.5302/05/18
Toomey, Tim01/01/1701/31/18$4,069.67$70,081.14$49,126.17$25,024.6402/01/18$200 refund subtracted, $18144.68 loan repayments included
Volmar, Gwen06/09/1701/31/18$0.00$12,965.56$12,430.56$535.0002/01/18
Zondervan, Quinton01/01/1701/31/18$3,510.00$62,436.05$64,666.39$1,279.6602/01/18
2017 City Council Bank Reports (updated Feb 6, 2017 at 10:14pm)

Campaign Finance Reports – 2017 City Council (updated Feb 6, 9:50pm)

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January 26, 2018

Cambridge School Committee 2017 Campaign Finance Summaries and $/Vote

Cambridge School Committee 2017 Campaign Finance Summaries

CandidateFromToStartReceiptsExpendBalanceLiabilities#1 Votes$/VoteNotes
Bowman, Mannika1/1/1612/31/17$2,005.37$17,169.72$15,578.13$3,596.96$0.002768$5.63
Cronin, Fran1/1/1612/31/17$3,095.36$24,806.00$26,687.34$1,214.02$0.001572$16.98
Crutchfield, Jacob1/1/161/17/18$41.07$5,931.00$5,972.07$0.00$0.001039$5.75dissolution
Dexter, Emily1/1/1610/20/17$2,575.32$2,520.00$2,874.89$2,220.43$4,655.382378$1.21no report yet
Fantini, Fred1/1/1612/31/17$5,475.07$8,425.00$9,716.06$4,184.01$14,695.992728$3.56
Kadete, Elechi1/1/1610/26/17$48.48$5,644.00$2,856.99$2,835.49$0.00846$3.38no report yet
Kelly, Kathleen1/1/1612/31/17$5,687.05$13,295.00$7,809.39$11,172.66$3,000.001882$4.15
Kimbrough, Laurance1/1/1712/31/17$0.00$10,325.94$9,766.90$559.04$0.001856$5.26
MacArthur, Will11/4/1612/31/17$0.00$5,492.43$4,264.87$1,227.56$0.00795$5.36
Mitros, Piotr1/1/1712/31/17$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.00511$0.00dissolution
Nolan, Patty1/1/1610/20/17$80.24$6,885.00$6,299.45$665.79$8,850.003458$1.82no report yet
Weinstein, David1/1/1612/31/17$1,604.03$3,395.00$4,488.26$510.77$0.00797$5.63
School Committee Campaign Finance 2017 - updated Jan 26, 2018

The receipts and expenses shown cover the period from Jan 1, 2016 through Dec 31, 2017. The totals will be updated as late reports are filed.

You can access the full reports here.

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October 31, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 267-268: Oct 31, 2017

Episode 267 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 31, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 31, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics: The upcoming Nov 7, 2017 municipal election. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 268 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 31, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 31, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: The upcoming Nov 7, 2017 municipal election. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 18, 2017

Interesting Agenda Items on the Sept 18, 2017 City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:10 am

Interesting Agenda Items on the Sept 18, 2017 City Council Agenda

City HallThe City Council meeting last week was dominated by a rhetorical clash over municipal political campaign finance (or perhaps, more correctly, over how to use this as a wedge issue in this year’s municipal election campaign). This week appears to be more routine, though anything is possible in the midst of the political season.

Here are some things I find interesting on this week’s agenda:

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Fee Ordinance and, if required, an appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer fee on sale of all residential, commercial and institutional properties where the buyer pays 1% of purchase price on any amount in excess of $2.5 million and an additional 4% of the purchase price on any amount more than $5 million.

Charter Right #3. City Council support of H.3512 in the Massachusetts Legislature, allowing Massachusetts to obtain a fee on large real estate transactions that will be put towards affordable housing endeavors.

As I said last week, there may be some merit in these proposals, but as long as the focus remains exclusively on raising more revenue to regulate even more housing while not solving the affordability question more generally, this is all just pissing in the wind.

Applications & Petitions #1. A Zoning Petition has been received from Joseph Maguire, SVP – Real Estate Development & Asset Services, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., to amend certain provisions of Article 13.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to allow for the creation of Innovation Office Space in the PUD-3A and PUD-4C Zoning Districts.

I would like to learn more about the motivation for this change. It seems minor, but interesting.

Resolution #9. Resolution on the death of Cleo Stoughton.   Councillor Devereux

Cleo was a transportation planner at the Community Development Department. She recently passed away at the age of 28 after battling cancer.

Resolution #11. Congratulations to Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian for being honored for his exemplary work in reducing crime and incarceration rates by the Adolescent Consultation Services.   Mayor Simmons

I just want to give a shout-out to Sheriff Koutoujian. His efforts to match prison inmates with work projects provided us with the labor to clear previously inaccessible parts of the towpath along the Middlesex Canal in Billerica. I was able to lead a better hike along the canal, and all of the prisoners enjoyed the work – a really great community service.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on the status of the Light Cambridge Committee and anticipated next steps.   Councillor Maher

The idea here is to promote appropriate architectural lighting of culturally or historically significant sites in Cambridge. It does not appear to be controversial, but it does seem that lighting draws political attention like moths.

Order #4. That the Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee are requested to schedule hearings to take up the attached proposed Comprehensive Housing Plan for review and consideration in the near future.   Mayor Simmons

I’ll have to read this very long proposal a bit more carefully. Either that or you can explain it all to me. It just seems like we’ve been arguing the same points about housing for decades and we just keep spinning our wheels.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director to the Election Commission and the Election Commissioners with the view in mind of adding a link to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on the Election Commission website.   Councillor Toomey

There’s already a link there, but you can get some easier to digest summaries here and here.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a schedule for resubmitting a revised draft of the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance that incorporates clearer wording and/or more clearly explains each section in less technical jargon and is more coherent in its entirety, with the goal of seeing such an Ordinance adopted by the end of this City Council term.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

I was getting kinda curious about whatever became of this. Here it returns – just in time to shine a light on it during election season.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Office of Workforce Development and other appropriate City personnel to establish a comprehensive and robust skilled labor trades program, with a view toward increasing the number of Cambridge residents working in the skilled labor trades.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern

The truth is that the City could do more to address income inequality by taking on initiatives like this than all the combined political rhetoric on the issue. There are a lot of people now in Cambridge who need people to work on their houses and can afford to pay for that work. There’s plenty of work to do.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to establish an aggressive outreach program to all property owners, with a view towards purchasing any properties possible and converting these properties into affordable housing.   Mayor Simmons

I’m always a bit suspicious about initiatives like this. I don’t know that I would be comfortable with the City scooping up any properties just to regulate them. It almost sounds as though the goal is to regulate as much housing as possible – like a back door recreation of rent control. I don’t like the rampant speculation that’s been happening with Cambridge residential properties, but I’m equally uncomfortable with putting so much residential property under government control.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on May 16 to discuss tenant protections, anti-displacement policies, and Inclusionary Housing tenant selection policies; the Committee will also discuss any updates received from the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA), including a report on the issuance of CHA Choice Vouchers to public housing applicants.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on July 26 to discuss the next steps for the Foundry Building including: financing, community benefit, non-profit ecosystem, and community engagement.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 6 to discuss the recently published “City of Cambridge Getting to Net Zero Action Plan: Fiscal Year 2016 Progress Report” and to receive a general update on the Net Zero Action Plan. Councillor Devereux stated that there is information in the report explaining how the City originally adopted the Net Zero Policy. It began with a citizen petition, and was later adopted by the City Council. The Community Development Department will be producing yearly progress reports to track movements on the way towards the ultimate Net Zero goal. This hearing is to discuss the first progress report.

No comments to offer on these committee reports – just links for you to read them if you wish. – Robert Winters

September 12, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 255-256: Sept 12, 2017

Episode 255 – Cambridge InsideOut: September 12, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 12, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics: Sept 11 City Council meeting, tax-financed municipal campaigns, Volpe Petition. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 256 – Cambridge InsideOut: September 12, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 12, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: Volpe Petition, MIT graduate housing, candidate forums, endorsements. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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