Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 22, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 313-314: May 22, 2018

Episode 313 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 22, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast May 22, 2018 at 5:30pm. Guest: Patrick Barrett. Main Topic: Arts Overlay proposal for Central Square Cultural District. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters
[On YouTube]


Episode 314 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 22, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast May 22, 2018 at 6:00pm. Guest: Patrick Barrett. Main Topics: Upcoming events, Inman Square controversy, Harvard Square, alternate views on zoning. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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 7, 2018

On the Agenda – May 7, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:04 am

On the Agenda – May 7, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Another week, another nonappearance of the much-heralded "Divest HP" matter. Perhaps it will never appear – good riddance. As for actual agenda items, here are some:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a supplemental appropriation of $125,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures account to support the revitalization of the Martin Luther King Plaza, the art components and enhance the primary entrance into the Central Square Branch Library.

While the improvements are appreciated, what would be even better is if an additional deck or two were added to the Green Street garage to compensate for future losses if and when housing (and more) is built on some of the area’s surface parking lots. The whole facade of the library branch should also be reimagined. Today it appears to be little more than a public urinal and shelter for substance abusers. This would never be tolerated in Harvard Square, so why do we tolerate it in Central Square?

Charter Right #1. That the Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review and consider the proposed amendment to §10.17.070– “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers” for a hearing and report. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor McGovern on Apr 30, 2018]

When the lead sponsor of an Order calling for increases in Resident Permit fees responds to a Facebook comment that said "Ban cars" with a "Like", then I have to believe this isn’t really about the revenue.

Communication #15. A communication was received from Steve Sands, 4 Buckingham Street, regarding Hewlett Packard Boycott.

I normally don’t pay much attention to these sorts of things (except for the fun or it), but this gentleman captures the absurdity of the HP thing perfectly.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a small business parking pilot that would allow temporary on-street employee parking during typical daytime operating hours.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

Oh my God! A reasonable viewpoint about compromise and reality.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City staff to work with all Harvard Square stakeholders, including the Harvard Square Business Association, the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, abutting businesses, and Harvard University to actively engage the community in a design charrette process with a view in mind towards making Palmer Street a more active and inviting pedestrian walkway and public space.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

Great idea, and I would love to participate even though I don’t fit into any of the named categories. Shared streets (woonerfs) are a great idea that seems to fail in the execution, e.g. Palmer Street, Blanche Street. I want to see both of those streets looking like a crowded street fair after all the trucks have made their deliveries. Palmer Street, in particular, is perhaps the street with the least motor vehicle traffic and it’s in the middle of busy Harvard Square. It’s interesting that nobody seemed to give a damn about Palmer Street until the Harvard Square Business Association tried to do something positive about it and caught grief for it.

Palmer Street - May 6, 2018
Even at MayFair, Palmer Street lacks activity
(except as a place to park the kid trolley)

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to develop a plan to achieve the above policy goals as it relates to the digital divide.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons

This week’s "I want municipal broadband" Order. I would like to see an Order that asks for a Cable TV package that can get Red Sox games for less than $100/month.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting a memorandum regarding Bike Lanes, Street Use, and Micro-Mobility Challenges Facing Cambridge.

I really like reports like this from Councillor Kelley. Sometimes he seems like the only councillor who thinks broadly about transportation and the future. [Hint: It’s not just about PVC plastic posts, segregation, and aggressive political lobbies claiming "turf".] – Robert Winters

April 3, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 301-302: April 3, 2018

Episode 301 – Cambridge InsideOut: April 3, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on April 3, 2018 at 5:30pm. Main Topics: Loss of space for musicians/artists at EMF building on Brookline St. and possible solutions. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 302 – Cambridge InsideOut: April 3, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on April 3, 2018 at 6:00pm. Main Topics: first week of citywide compost collection; Economic Development Committee meeting on retail strategy, Harvard Square; upcoming events. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 27, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 299-300: March 27, 2018

Episode 299 – Cambridge InsideOut: March 27, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on March 27, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: March 26 City Council meeting, Central Square Arts Overlay, Rooming Houses, and other housing issues. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 300 – Cambridge InsideOut: March 27, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on March 27, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics include short-term rental regulation updates, Housing Committee priorities, citizen activism for municipal broadband. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 26, 2018

Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:33 pm

Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City Hall postcardHere’s my take on what looks interesting this week.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as new members of the Planning Board for a term of three years, effective Apr 2, 2018: Nikolas Bowie and Corinne Espinoza

Though it doesn’t say it in the communication, both of these appointments are as Associate Members of the Planning Board replacing Ahmed Nur and Thacher Tiffany.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-18, regarding a report on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance.

Two notes:
(1) As Commissioner O’Riordan states: "We have heard from businesses concerning the cost of alternative products. For example; at a Harvard Square establishment, one service item increased in cost from $0.03/unit to $0.50/unit. In North Cambridge another retailer indicated that their new containers cost three times more after the ordinance went into effect."
(2) Plasticware that is marketed as "compostable" is, for all intents and purposes, not actually compostable (except under very specialized conditions).

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-19, regarding Central Square pedestrian signals.

The proposed modification seems like a good plan that will not unnecessarily add to traffic congestion while providing a degree of additional safety and clarity.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2018 and ending Mar 31, 2019.

The water rates are again held constant as the sewer rates continue to soar. The projections indicate that in the coming years the water rates will start to rise slightly and the sewer rates will moderate somewhat. It’s worth reminding everyone that most of these costs are fixed costs, so as people do a better job at conservation the rates inevitably have to rise to cover the fixed costs.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to explore the possibility of accepting the City of Boston’s invitation to join their intergenerational housing pilot program.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

People have been doing this since the dawn of time – renting rooms to younger people who can lend a hand as they benefit from decent rents, but it’s definitely an idea that deserves promotion.

Order #2. That the City Manager conduct, compile, and publish an inventory of all City-owned vacant buildings and lots with the City’s plans for them, if any.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Devereux

Two words – Land Bank. This same concept was floated by then City Councillor Ed Cyr (and possibly others) about 25 years or so ago using the term "Land Bank". It inevitably led to a conflict among different priorities, esp. open space vs. "affordable housing", though there was at least one case in which a proposed site provided parking (and a turnaround) for a very congested dead end street. I’m sure there are some sites that should be made available for housing (whether "affordable" or just plain housing), but I’d hate to see the perception of "crisis" lead to the stifling of all other alternatives.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to appoint an appropriate City representative to work with the Historical Commission, the Veterans Services Department, representatives of the Cambridge African American Heritage Trail, Cambridge Historian Jon Hill, and any other appropriate parties in an effort to place markers on the graves of Mr. Cato Freeman and Mr. Neptune Frost at the Old Harvard Square Burial Ground, a marker for Mr. Agrippa Hull on the Cambridge Common, and markers for any other early unsung patriots of color that we may yet determine have been hidden in the shadows of history for far too long.   Councillor Simmons

This is a great idea. It’s probably also a good time to review and refurbish some of the historical markers all around Cambridge. We could also use an updated guide book for walking tours in both the Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Cambridge Cemetery highlighting the many significant people buried in these cemeteries.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development, the Executive Director of the Cambridge Arts Council, and the City Solicitor with a view in mind of drafting of an Arts Overlay District ordinance that would achieve the goals of creating and preserving spaces for the arts in the Central Square Cultural District.   Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

While I think this is a good idea, I hasten to add that there are a lot of people who need or would want "live/work space" who you might not necessarily label as "artists".

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to compile a list of single family homes which could be purchased by the Affordable Housing Trust and converted to Single Room Occupancies or Housing Cooperatives.   Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

I think that the concept of Rooming Houses or Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residences is something that fell out of favor over the years but which might again make some sense in this age of micro-units, short-term rentals, and people choosing to live with relatively few possessions. That said, I’d hate to see this used as a pretext for the City to relentlessly buy up the city’s housing stock. The fact that this Order specifically asks to "compile a list of single-family homes available on the market in Residential A1, A2, and B zones" seems rather politically motivated. Wouldn’t it be better to simply provide some financial and other incentives to property owners to configure their properties so as to address current needs?

Order #9. City Council opposition to any legislation that would remove or limit the options of municipalities to pass local ordinances regulating short-term rentals to include accessing tax revenue similar to what is done with hotels and motels.   Councillor Kelley

This was at the center of the discussion at last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting on the subject of the City’s regulation of short-term rentals. Briefly, the industry people (AirBnB) wanted to influence legislation now on Beacon Hill to permit taxation on short-term rentals by amending it to remove local regulatory controls as a precondition for accepting the potential revenue. This crooked attempt was apparently thwarted in the House, though the bill is now before the Senate and will likely have to go through a conference committee prior to its final passage and, presumably, the Governor’s signature. – Robert Winters

Extra: Summary of what the House did last week on the AirBnB bill.
AirBnB is in favor of being taxed, but came out in opposition to the state registry where their hosts would have to share their personal information. The amendment referenced above in regard to Order #9 and referred to as amendment #11 in the House bill) was directed at the proposed (and now on hold) City of Boston regulations on short term rentals which would regulate them according to how many days a host rented out units. This amendment was apparently never seriously considered and will likely not have much support in the Senate either. It came from an industry lobbyist (possibly representing a short term rental group called StayAlfred).

Much of the work up to this point on other short term rental bills has been to tax them like hotels. This bill introduces a whole new tax structure for short term rentals and the Senate may return to that structure.

Summary of the current bill

  • The bill would require the Department of Revenue to maintain a short-term rental registry, record the name of each host and the address of each unit they offer, and give the department the authority to charge a "reasonable fee" for registration. An "easily searchable and regularly updated" list of unit addresses — without the host’s name — would be published online.
  • Rentals would be taxed at levels ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how many units a host offers. Residential hosts renting two or fewer units would be taxed at 4 percent, investor hosts with three to five units would have a 5.7 percent tax, and professionally managed hosts renting six or more units would face an 8 percent tax per rental, under the bill.
  • Cities and towns would have the option to impose local excise taxes of up to 5 percent for residential hosts, 6 percent for investors, and 10 percent for professionally managed hosts. Communities that opt for the local tax would need to adopt ordinances or bylaws requiring any residential units offered as short-term rentals first undergo a safety inspection, the costs of which would be charged to the host.
  • Half of the local tax collected from professionally managed hosts would need to be dedicated to "programs addressing either local infrastructure needs or low- and moderate-income housing programs," according to the bill. A Rep. Kevin Honan amendment adopted Thurs, Mar 22 would require that at least 25 percent of that tax money be distributed to low- and moderate-income housing programs.
  • The taxes in the bill would kick in a year after the bill’s effective date and would not apply to units that rent for less than $15 a day.

Also, an amendment was adopted that provides:
“Any city or town that has a safety inspection program in place as of the effective date of this act may deem any previously completed inspections of residential units to be in compliance with this requirement.”

This should avoid the need for duplicative inspections for hosts who register with Cambridge and then must also register to comply with state law.

March 20, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 297-298: March 20, 2018

Episode 297 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 20, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on March 20, 2018 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest. Main Topics: Tenant Right of First Refusal, Envision Cambridge. Host: Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 298 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 20, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on March 20, 2018 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest. Main Topics: Envision Cambridge, Central Square. Host: Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

February 6, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 289-290: Feb 6, 2018

Episode 289 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 6, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 6, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Jerry’s Pond, Central Square crosswalks, right of first refusal. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 290 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 6, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 6, 2018 at 6:00pm. The main topic was the proposed “Right of First Refusal” enabling legislation now at the State House. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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