Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 24, 2019

Turkey Trot – Nov 25, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Turkey Trot – Nov 25, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Turkey TrotPerhaps we should call this the Lame Turkey Session and give the ducks a break. Here are a few agenda items that caught my eye:

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,924,594.18, associated with Education First’s EF 3 Building, SP#328) from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Public Works Extraordinary Expenditure account which will be used to support utility work associated with the Port Project and were paid by Education First to fulfill their Inflow and Infiltration requirement.

This is what "mitigation money" is supposed to be all about – actual mitigation and infrastructure improvement. Contrast this with the current practice of granting upzoning not for the sake of good planning but for cash and prizes – and, of course, subsidized housing units. At least the proposal to glue subsidized housing units onto a self-storage facility didn’t fly. Mark my words – this is only going to get weirder in the next City Council term.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-140, regarding Harvard Square plaza area safety improvements.

During my four decades in Cambridge I have seen the Harvard Square pedestrian environment reconfigured several times – each time under the belief that nirvana had been achieved. The last iteration was the "Super Crosswalk" that apparently was never all that super. The next iteration is coming. No matter the outcome, we will be assured that congestion and delay is not a negative consequence but is instead good for us and we should shut up and be grateful – and all parties involved will continue to bend the traffic laws as they see fit.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $107,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance Other Ordinary Maintenance account as initial support of the recommendations of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force regarding the Central Square Cultural District.

Yippee! Money for Central Square! Now if we could only categorize sidewalk repair and improvements to the T station as "art" we’ll be all set.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-122, which requested a legal opinion on the License Commissions authority.

This is by far the most important item on this agenda. Though this legal opinion merely states what many of us have known and understood all along, it should put to rest some of the outrageous misunderstandings that have been circulating. That said, I read an opinion today that it was somehow problematic that a quasi-judicial body like the Cambridge License Commission can act without micromanagement by the City Manager – even though any decision of the License Commission can be appealed. Imagine how outraged people would feel if it was suggested that the Planning Board should not issue or deny a Special Permit without the approval of the City Manager. Ultimately the City Manager is "the appointing authority" and could appoint only yes-men (and yes-women) to all the City’s Boards and Commissions as well as the Police Commissioner and Fire Chief, but that practice would likely head south pretty quickly. City Solicitor Glowa’s legal opinion is both impressive and timely, and I hope it puts to rest some of the falsehoods from the Lower Port to the Upper West.

Committee Report #1 & Committee Report #2. A report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 26, 2019 and Nov 14, 2019 to discuss the petition by Stephen R. Karp, Trustee of Cambridgeside Galleria Associates Trust, to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a Section 13.100 that creates a new PUD-8 District and to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge by adding the new PUD-8 District, which District would include the property located at 100 Cambridgeside Place (currently zoned in the Business A and PUD-4 Districts).

I do hope that the City Council passes some version of this zoning amendment solely because I think we could a lot do better in that corner of the city than what exists now, and some reconfiguration of the Cambridgeside Galleria should be part of that. However, I find aspects of the committee report to be problematic, e.g. "the Petitioner will pay the City $50 million dollars in mitigation funding" and "what would happen to the proposed community benefits if the Petitioner decided to proceed under their current zoning" and "she felt that the height and massing could be appropriate depending on the community benefits." In short, approving changes in zoning should be primarily about good planning and not about any "quid pro quo". Unfortunately, this brand of zoning negotiation as commodity trading is not exceptional in Cambridge these days – and it may only grow worse. – Robert Winters

October 27, 2019

Nervously Waiting and Wading through the Campaign Mailers – October 28, 2019 City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:15 pm

Nervously Waiting and Wading through the Campaign Mailers – October 28, 2019 City Council Agenda

Ballot BoxHere are some items of interest up for discussion/approval/referral this week:

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $350,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Library Extraordinary Expenditures account. This appropriation will fund a feasibility study and interior improvements to the Central Square Branch Library.

It’s all feasible. The greater questions are (a) whether the City is willing to substantially redesign the Central Sq. library entrance to make it less of a nuisance, and (b) whether there’s any interest in adding another level or two of parking to the Green Street Garage to meet existing demand and to compensate for losses elsewhere in the Central Square area. My guess is that they’ll do neither.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the request for two appropriations of $23,000,000 from Free Cash and $7,000,000 from Cambridge Redevelopment Authority for the Foundry project.

The gift that keeps on giving.</sarcasm>

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff on determining the most appropriate signage and messaging that would best educate cyclists on the importance of following traffic laws, particularly stopping at red lights, for their own safety and the safety of other cyclists and pedestrians.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

Ensuring cyclists own safety seems like a continuing uphill battle. This past Thursday on my way to teach a lecture I watched two cyclists with no lights ride at around 8:00pm directly across the path of a large truck on Oxford Street below the field of vision of the driver. Near miss.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and the Department of Public Works to determine what facilities, parking changes, and other improvements to the pavement conditions would be necessary and feasible to make Porter Square and Massachusetts Avenue between Roseland Street and Beech Street a quick-build Complete Street with bus priority.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Zondervan

I have minimal knowledge of the best remedy for this area. I can, however, show at least one location where paradoxically the removal of an exclusive bus priority lane would actually make bus traffic move more quickly. Beware of one-size-fits-all solutions.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 24, 2019 to discuss the City policy on sidewalk surface treatments as discussed in Policy Order #16 of July 30, 2019.

I like all-brick sidewalks except when I have to shovel them after a snowstorm. Then again, in my neighborhood when an asphalt patch of a concrete sidewalk is made it can take over 5 years to restore the sidewalk. Or never. Especially if the cut was made by Eversource/Neverfinish.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Mayor McGovern, transmitting a report, "The Kind of City which is Desirable and Obtainable:" A brief history of zoning in Cambridge.

I love anecdotal and oral histories. They add to the story. As for the political point attempting to be made here, never forget the age-old advice that "correlation does not imply causation." Cambridge zoning was initially done to simply acknowledge and codify what was already built. One definitely gets the impression that the current mayor wants to obliterate existing zoning primarily to facilitate a specific proposal. If you start with a conclusion you can nearly always cobble together a narrative to support it. I am far more interested in the here and now and whether specific modifications to existing zoning might be appropriate to achieve best outcomes, e.g. transit-oriented development, moderate increases in density, and adjusting the table of uses to reflect present-day uses in commercial zones. – Robert Winters

October 1, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 421-422: Oct 1, 2019

Episode 421 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 1, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 1, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Candidate slates; political action committees; DigBoston Dirty Politics; ABC, CResA, ORC, CCC; reemergence of single-issue politics; independent candidates; future Council – Practical Solutions or Pointless Revolution. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 422 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 1, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 1, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: School Committee election; Candidate Forums; slate politics; SNL; pending zoning matters – Karp, Article 19, Northwest Alewife Quadrangle, and Barrett Times Three. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 24, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 419-420: Sept 24, 2019

Episode 419 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 24, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 24, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Bow Tie Ride; supervoters; First St. Garage/Courthouse resolution; Cannabis Business Ordinance approved; beer gardens in City parks. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 420 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 24, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 24, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Road ahead for bike lanes on Mass. Ave.; resources to find out about candidates; Candidate Pages, CCTV videos, forums; sage advice; Follow the Money; campaign propaganda. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 23, 2019

Fire Up That Doobie – Cannabis, CPA Funding and the rest of the Sept 23, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:23 am

Fire Up That Doobie – Cannabis, CPA Funding and the rest of the Sept 23, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

After an eventful week of Courthouse Controversy and Picking Winners in the Cannabis Sweepstakes, here are the things that struck me as interesting on this week’s agenda:Reefer Madness

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) for FY2020.

It will be the maximum 80% to the Affordable Housing Trust, and the minimum 10% for Open Space Acquisition and 10% for Historic Preservation – non-negotiable, of course.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a petition to amend provisions in Section 22.20, which governs Green Building Requirements, and also applicable definitions contained in Article 2.000.

If I’m reading this correctly, it appears that the City is ditching the costly LEED certification process for "green" buildings in favor of an in-house process that achieves the same goals or better. It’s also noteworthy that this proposal is for larger projects, so ordinary homeowners should not worry yet about the City monkey-wrenching with ordinary home improvements.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a petition to amend provisions in Article 5.000 and Article 22.000 pertaining to setback requirements and exterior building insulation.

This appears to be a reasonable minor proposal to allow additional building insulation that might previously have extended into yard setbacks. We’re talking inches here, not feet.


Charter Right #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-56, regarding a report on the feasibility of constructing a quick-build complete streets project to provide separated bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, from Sidney Street to Putnam Avenue.

Communications #22. A communication was received from Michael Monestime, Central Square Business Improvement District, and Nathanael Fillmore, Cambridge Bicycle Safety, expressing their joint support for building protected bicycle lanes on Massachusetts Avenue between Sidney Street and Putnam Avenue in the near future.

The velo-zealots will likely be out in force once again proving their inability to understand words like "reasonable" or "compromise" or anything relating to vehicles with more than two wheels.


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

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 Aug 14, 2019 to continue discussions on a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code to create a Cannabis Business Permitting ordinance including amendments submitted at the July 30, 2019 Special City Council meeting.

Committee Report #3. A report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 18, 2019 at 11:00am to discuss amendments to the proposed Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance.

They should just flip a few coins and approve something and move on. The Ordinance Committee apparently decided to go with the two-year moratorium to allow various "economic empowerment" applicants to have a head start before the medical dispensaries can also dip into the pot of Acapulco Gold. By the way, is there anyone who was not offended by the "Slave Amendment" postcard that was sent citywide by Richard Harding and his cannabis pals? I’m really starting to dislike everyone associated with this business.


Order #6. Alcoholic beverage permitting in large parks.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley

As the Order says: "A better experience would be ensured for participants if a regulated, enclosed, and permitted beer garden could be located within a large park such as Danehy during a special event." Quite true, and Vice Mayor Devereux deserves a lot of credit for following up on this after this year’s sizzling Jazz Festival that would be so much nicer if it can be moved back to a field of real grass with a permitted beer garden.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Human Services and the Cambridge Public Library  system to hire a social worker in the FY2021 budget for the Central Square Library branch.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern

I suppose this might be a good thing, but I can’t help but wonder if this is yet another way to enable bad behavior that continues to make Central Square, and the Library in particular, a hostile place for families. – Robert Winters

September 17, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 417-418: Sept 17, 2019

Episode 417 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 17, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 17, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Sept 16 Council meeting (Part 1) – Cannabis, First Street Garage, Lobbying via Direct Mail, zoning history, changing nature of the city, New Street zoning failure. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 418 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 17, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 17, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Sept 16 Council meeting (Part 2) – UpperWest pandering and Charter ignorance, evolution of License Commission practices, Municipal Broadband feasibility and shelf life, candidate forums and endorsements, CDD policy failures. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 10, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 415-416: Sept 10, 2019

Episode 415 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 10, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 10, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Sept 9 Council meeting (Part 1) – First Street Garage, Affordable Housing Overlay, and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 416 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 10, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 10, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Sept 9 Council meeting (Part 2) – First Street Garage, Affordable Housing Overlay, and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

August 13, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 413-414: Aug 13, 2019

Episode 413 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 13, 2019 (Part 1) – w/Patrick Barrett

This episode was broadcast on Aug 13, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Central Square (of course); Overlay continued; Courthouse politics; zoning for a purpose. Hosts: Robert Winters, Patrick Barrett [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 414 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 13, 2019 (Part 2) – w/Patrick Barrett

This episode was broadcast on Aug 13, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Creative zoning for Squares and mixed use districts; thoughts on this year’s municipal elections and lack of civic infrastructure. Hosts: Robert Winters, Patrick Barrett [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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