Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

December 21, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 191-192: December 20, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 191 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on December 20, 2016 at 5:30pm. Topics included the Dec 19 City Council meeting and the Dec 13 meeting of the Economic Development & University Relations Committee on the topic of Harvard Square development and preservation. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters.
[On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 192 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on December 20, 2016 at 6:00pm. Topics included the Participatory Budgeting winners, a 1987 poem about Central Square, Little Free Libraries for Central Square, and the upcoming Zero Waste Plan. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

December 19, 2016

Closing Down an Unusual Year – Dec 19, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda Notes

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:13 am

Closing Down an Unusual Year – Dec 19, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda Notes

This will be the last City Council meeting of the year. Here are a few agenda items worthy of some comment:Darwin's sidewalk sign

On the Table #1 and #2. Sidewalk sandwich board applications (CareWell Urgent Care, Esmeralda) languishing On the Table since being tabled by Councillor Devereux on Apr 25, 2016.

Applications & Petitions #1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. Applications and reapplications for sidewalk sandwich boards for Esmeralda, Honeycomb Creamery, Darwin’s Ltd., Marimekko, and Mundo/Lux.

Normally I wouldn’t even bother noting such minor goings-on, but when did the lowly sidewalk sandwich board become such a big deal? This year has been the Year of the Mountainous Molehill with the Cambridge City Council focusing excessively on advertising and identification signs on buildings, and on darkening as many lights as possible. We’ll soon be a city of totally anonymous buildings that will only be identifiable via iPhone apps. Apparently the only signage that’s completely OK is graffiti.

Bunches of Communications supporting the building of 100% affordable housing on the City-owned parking lots on Bishop Allen Drive.

Needless to say, all housing is affordable to someone. So the real question is what mix of household incomes should be represented in any new housing that may be constructed on these sites? Is segregating people by income the best strategy in the long term? The beauty of Inclusionary Zoning is that it integrates people of different income levels within the same buildings. I hope that any housing that may be created on these parking lots at leasts tries to achieve some sort of economic integration. Most of the communications posted in the agenda make no reference to economic integration. In fact, they bear all the signs of an organized effort – nearly identical phrases transcribed in response to an appeal from a single source.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Police Department and other relevant city departments to allow Officer Peter Neal to purchase Rumba upon his retirement.   Councillor Cheung

This is a very nice gesture, but my understanding is that these police dogs (and I’ve met them all) were trained as bomb-sniffers at some expense and may not yet be eligible for retirement. If Rumba is nearing retirement age, I hope she gets a generous pension of dog bones and biscuits and gets to live happily ever after with Officer Neal.

Order #2. City Council support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Abbott Building in Harvard Square.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

We all want to see the bones of Harvard Square kept somewhat intact even as new owners and new businesses replace others, and this building is certainly deserving of landmark status. That said, some alteration could still make for a better project. There is, however, something backwards about landmarking only after plans have been submitted. Wouldn’t it make more sense to identify and landmark buildings (or entire areas) before they are purchased for redevelopment?

During a recent hearing on Harvard Square that was inspired by this development proposal, one public commenter offered an interesting proposal to create a mid-block alley through this property that would extend Palmer Street and serve as an interesting entryway to any businesses in this building. That would certainly disrupt the "historic facade" of the building, but it was an interesting idea that would be consistent with the many other alleyways and connections that are abundant in Harvard Square. Personally, I just hope that any displaced businesses can be accommodated somewhere in the greater Harvard Square area, though we would certainly welcome them in Central Square or another Cambridge location.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 1, 2016 to discuss the zoning petition submitted by Nabil Sater, et al to amend the Zoning Ordinances in the Central Square Overlay District, Section 20.300.

This petition – the Central Square Restoration Petition – received unanimous approval by the Planning Board at its initial hearing. It usually takes at least two meetings, so that’s at least one measure of the quality of this petition. Central Square, however, has always been a political football, so I expect that some councillors will try to modify the petition in some ways, hopefully positive ways, in order to get their fingerprints on the football. It’s worth noting that the Planning Board characterized this petition as a good interim measure and made it quite clear that other changes to the zoning in Central Square might be forthcoming as the Envision Cambridge process navigates its way through the next couple of years.

December 17, 2016

Central Square is a Grandma

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:09 pm

Central Square is a Grandma
Snaggle-toothed and silent
Dozing by a drafty window
In a faded cotton dress.
Her stories need no telling
Even the blind can read her features
In the roughness of her knuckles
Or the rattle of her sigh.
She danced ballet and scrubbed the floor
Raised children and taught them in school
And was a Patroness of the Arts
With big green rhinestone earrings.
She’s been in clubs and fights and station wagons
Behind a desk and in the hospital
And life keeps moving into her
Like it does with old people.
When there’s Greek music playing
Her feet will stamp and shuffle
And she’ll always ask for seconds
When the catfish is fried just right
She may mumble Haitian stories
Or hum a Vietnamese lullaby
While she rolls her endless tortillas
And sips papaya punch.
She’s old, as old as we will be
And who wants to be old?
Only old people like old people
We can try to make her young
We can fix her hair up pretty
But the hairpins pinch and scratch her
We can buy her a chrome-plated wheelchair
And push her out of the way.
She’ll sleep when she takes her medicine
And she weighs almost nothing
But now her heart must go
There’s money to be made.

Hilda Marshall
April 1987

 
Central Square is a Grandma

 

 

Poem "Central Square is a Grandma"
written by Hilda Marshall in April 1987

contributed by Judy Nathans
from her archives

December 6, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 189-190: December 6, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 189 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:30pm. The main topic was the Berkshire Street fire. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters.
[On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 190 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 6, 2016 at 6:00pm. Speed limit reduction to 25mph, Participatory Budgeting, Central Square Restoration Petition. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

November 30, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 187-188: November 29, 2016

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:13 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 187 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 29, 2016 at 5:30pm. Topics include Lucius Paige; possible late night MBTA bus service; MIT development plans and potential at MIT/Kendall, the Volpe site, the northwest campus, and at Mass. Ave.; Cambridge Boards & Commissions; and Monday’s Roundtable meeting on Cambridge’s status as a Sanctuary City. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 188 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 29, 2016 at 6:00pm. Topics include Cambridge’s status as a Sanctuary City; Central Square Restoration Petition; recent meetings of the Central Square Advisory Committee and the Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

August 1, 2016

Selected Agenda Items for the Aug 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council (Midsummer) meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:59 am

Selected Agenda Items for the Aug 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council (Midsummer) meeting

There are a lot of substantive matters on the agenda for this meeting – primarily on the City Manager’s Agenda and in a dozen City Council committee reports covering a range of topics. Here’s a sampler of some items that I found especially interesting. The meeting is taking place at the Attles Meeting Room at CRLS (where the School Committee usually meets).

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-43, regarding publishing a Cambridge Voter’s Guide to be distributed to each household in Cambridge a month before the 2017 municipal election.

Order #2. That the regular City Council meeting scheduled for Oct 24, 2016 be a Roundtable/Working meeting to discuss election issues with the Election Commission.   Mayor Simmons

My guess is that the best we can hope for on the City side will be an improved and expanded guide to PR voting, relevant dates, and a list of candidate names with addresses and possibly photos. Having assembled the Cambridge Candidate Pages for over a decade, I will attest to the fact that voters do want information about candidates, especially in the days immediately preceding the election, but asking the Election Commission (and inevitably the Law Department) to manage this will open a huge can of worms. It would be preferable to get local media outlets to work out a cooperative arrangement to make unbiased information available about municipal candidates. Better coordination of candidate forums would also be helpful, but that also is out of the hands of City officials.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a $45,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection 604b Water Quality Management Planning Program, to be used to fund conceptual green street design plans for three public rights of ways, as well as guidance on green street implementation in space-constrained residential settings; with a focus on smaller scale reconstruction projects that are not part of larger utility reconstruction projects.

For those who haven’t yet seen some of the innovative stormwater management projects in West Cambridge and along Western Avenue, you should check them out. It would be great if more of these projects could be done on a smaller scale. If done right, street trees might actually have a chance to flourish.

Manager’s Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the "Friends of MAPOCO" Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 22, 2016 to discuss a petition by Peter B. Kroon, et al, also known as Friends of MAPOCO, to expand the requirements of the North Massachusetts Avenue Sub-district (Section 20.110) applicable generally within the portions of the Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District (MAOD) zoned Business A-2 (BA-2).

This zoning petition will likely now sail through to a 2nd Reading and eventual adoption as amended.

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to authorizing the Purchasing Agent to award a five (5) year, two (2) month contract to the successful proposer on the Metropolitan Area Planning Council Bike Share System RFP.

The idea is for Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, and Brookline to jointly put out a longer-term request for proposals in order to entice more vendors, hopefully allow for more consistency in service, and possibly get a better price.

Manager’s Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to pursuing the planning and development of a multi-use, bicycle and pedestrian pathway along the Grand Junction corridor that links East Cambridge, Kendall Square, MIT, and Cambridgeport, with potential connections into Boston and Somerville.

Manager’s Agenda #30. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Items Number 16-46 and 16-59, regarding the Grand Junction Greenway, including the status of construction, developer contributions, and the zoning overlay.

It’s nice to see the cooperation of the Mass. Dept. of Transportation in these efforts.

Manager’s Agenda #32. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-22, regarding the opposition to investment funds from the Retirement System.

Some of you may remember the extensive public testimony and countless communications on the topic of the Cambridge Retirement System divesting any funds from any entity that is in any way supporting the production or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems. As it turns out, this was a typical Cambridge tempest in a teapot. As this report states: "upon reviewing the summary, that the Fund’s investments in the production and/or upgrading of nuclear weapons systems is de minimis." I hope everyone at least had fun making their speeches and writing all those letters that all turned out to be about nothing.

Manager’s Agenda #33. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-54, regarding finding a long term solution to adding a dog park in East Cambridge by the end of 2016 and fencing in a temporary location for off leash use by the end of Summer, 2016.

Take note, politicos: There are a lot of Cambridge voters who really love their dogs and want places for them to run and play. Actually, there’s a lot more interest in dogs than in nuclear weapons divestment.

Manager’s Agenda #36. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge to include in the planned reconstruction (the “Project”) of the King Open / Cambridge Street Upper School and Community Complex (“KOCSUS”) the area that is presently occupied by the public swimming pool known as the Gold Star Pool (the “Gold Star Pool Site”) and to construct subsurface geothermal wells in a portion of Donnelly Field that lies directly along and adjacent to the current southerly boundary of the KOCSUS site (the “School Site”).

This is really a formality, but I always find it interesting which things require state authorization and which things do not.

Manager’s Agenda #37. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the request that the City Council move to Executive Session.

Manager’s Agenda #38. Transmitting Communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $42,655 within statutory accounts of the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditure account to complete the purchase of two parcels from the B&M Corporation for the purpose of creating a future multi-use path and greenway.

These items are about making the necessary purchases to complete the Cambridge-owned portion of the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway along the now-abandoned railroad right-of-way. This will be a nice off-road addition when it’s finally complete a few years from now.

Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from Pill Hardware, requesting permission for a display of merchandise in front of the premises numbered 748 Massachusetts Avenue.

Central SquareWhenever I hear people talk about preserving the "funkiness" of Central Square, I want to remind people that before Central Square was "funky" it was an incredibly vital shopping district. It’s really worth looking back at some of the available "Perceptual Form of the City" photos from over 50 years ago. This application to allow the display of mechandise on the sidewalk in front of Pill Hardware reminded me of one of those old photos. It’s also a scene you can see today in Inman Square. The image shown is actually the frontage where the Mass & Main project is planned. This is the kind of thing some of us would love to see in some form as Central Square rediscovers its past and defines its future. It doesn’t have to be just overpriced bars and restaurants.

Applications & Petitions #4. A zoning petition has been received from William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc. to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

Order #11. City Council support to Commonwealth Alternative Care to operate a Registered Marijuana Dispensary at 61 Mooney Street pursuant to local zoning and permitting.   Councillor Cheung

It should pretty clear by now that the way the City Council is handling the siting of medical marijuana dispensaries in totally wrong. Will there be a new zoning petition every time one of these facilities is proposed?

Resolution #6. Congratulations to Patrick and Norma Jean Barrett on the birth of their daughter Gemma Evelyn Barrett.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #8. Congratulations to Jada Simmons and Toju Ononeme on their nuptials.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #11. Resolution on the retirement of James Cullinane from the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department.   Mayor Simmons

This is a triple celebration – a birth, a marriage, and a retirement. Cambridge feels like such a little village sometimes.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Commissioner of Public Works with the intention of reinstating trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher

This proposal has been made at various times over the last 25 years. A case can be made for this based on the fact that the commercial property tax rate is considerably higher than the residential tax rate and perhaps there should be some benefits to go along with the payment of those taxes. The additional cost and time could be significant, but perhaps there could at least be some accomodation for mixed residential/commercial buildings where the lines are often already intentionally blurred. [This happens, for example, right next door to me, and this has been the case for decades.]

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how traffic laws pertaining to crosswalks are currently enforced throughout the City, whether there are any regions where the City has found motorists tend to ignore crosswalk laws, and whether there are additional methods of reporting violators, raising awareness of applicable laws, and enacting stricter laws to ultimately increase pedestrian safety.   Mayor Simmons

Traffic laws pertaining to crosswalks are enforced? That’s news to me. If we’re taking requests, how about let’s also start enforcing the requirement that motor vehicles must be parked less than a foot from the curb. That would make cycling safer. I never see that enforced.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Purchasing Department, the Community Development Department and any other appropriate departments to provide the City Council with an update on the status of the Classification of Commercial Land Use and Recommendations Study.   Councillor Devereux

This is included here only because I’m curious what’s behind it. [Read the Request for Proposals] The RFP says: "In short, the expected result of this study is a commercial land use classification system that makes sense in modern Cambridge, that would be understandable to all community members, and that would be able to effectively regulate commercial use types as they evolve. Based on the study recommendations, the City would determine how the zoning could be amended to fit the recommended system, through either targeted changes to the current ordinance or a more substantial restructuring of the Table of Use Regulations." Uh, OK.


Inclusionary Housing Committee Reports:
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 31, 2016 to continue discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study with community feedback from the May 18, 2016 hearing being shared and discussed with consultant David Paul Rosen & Associates.

Committee Report #11. 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 July 11, 2016 to continue the discussion regarding the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and the Affordable Housing Trust’s recommendations to the City Council.

Committee Report #12. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 18, 2016 to discuss the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

Some revisions to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance seem inevitable later this year, but the economic foundations in the study still seem (to me) to be a bit shaky, especially the idea of increasing the net affordable housing percentage from 11.6% to 20% without any allowance for additional density. My first concern is that if the requirement is too high then it may be more economically advantageous to build something other than housing, e.g. labs. My other concern is that since zoning changes require a two-thirds vote for ordination there might never be the political will to actually lower the requirement even if the economics warrant a decrease. It would be better if there was some way to index the requirement based on current economics.


Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 28, 2016 to discuss the parameters for a potential zoning proposal that includes the Volpe Transportation System Center.

The Volpe zoning dilemma is unique in that it is contrained not only by the funding mechanism for a new Volpe building and the need to ensure that a developer might actually be able to deliver a development without financial loss, but also by a range of competing interests from residents for housing and open space. This may not even be a solvable problem even though the potential benefits could be enormous.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee and Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee, for a joint public hearing held on July 19, 2016 to discuss the presence and impact of short-term rental units (Airbnb, FlipKey, VRBO, etc.) in Cambridge, and to hear suggestions from community members and operators on how best to address the challenges of this emerging market.

This was an incredibly informative hearing. My guess is that short-term rentals in owner-occupied buildings may get the blessing of the City Council but perhaps not so for residential properties that are effectively being operated as hotels by non-resident owner/investors. Another hearing on this topic is scheduled for Wednesday, August 3rd.

Committee Report #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on June 29, 2016 to receive an update regarding the City Manager’s Search in the Focus Groups that took place and the development of the draft profile.

I’m taking bets now on whether the City Council will successfully meet its proposed September 26 date for selecting the next City Manager. Even if they do make a decision by then, it’s likely that there will still be a period of time before the new City Manager can take the reins (unless it’s an internal candidate).

Committee Report #9. 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 June 23, 2016 to discuss the proposed changes to the current liquor license regulations and the City Council policy goals on liquor licenses, economic development, the impact on neighborhoods and local businesses.

This was also an interesting hearing at which the rationale for these proposed changes was clarified.

Committee Report #10. 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 and Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on July 19, 2016, to discuss safety issues as it relates to cyclist and pedestrians in Inman Square, and to hear suggestions from community members and on how best to address the safety challenges of this intersection.

This was a very well-attended meeting, especially by cyclists who were invited through various social media channels. The presentation by City officials was informative. The only down side was the manner in which attention to the safety of Inman Square was deflected by some, especially during public comment, toward other infrastructure proposals that have little to no bearing on the safety of this or any other Cambridge intersection. It was also interesting that numerous residents of Antrim Street were in attendence with concerns over the possiblity that one of the proposed realignment schemes might have the unintended consequence of redirecting more traffic onto Antrim Street.

Barring any emergencies, the next City Council meeting after this will be on September 12.

May 3, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 135-136: May 3, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 135 (Part 1)

Episode 135 – Cambridge InsideOut: Tues, May 3, 2016 at 5:30pm. Featured in this episode is some information about recent and upcomings events plus a few updates on Central Square. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 136 (Part 2)

Episode 136 – Cambridge InsideOut: Tues, May 3, 2016 at 6:00pm. Featured in this episode are some highlights from the May 2, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

April 19, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 131-132: April 19, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 131 (Part 1)

Episode 131 – Cambridge InsideOut. This episode was broadcast on April 19, 2016 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest and Robert Winters is the host. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study, several housing-related bills before the state legislature, and good old Central Square. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 132 (Part 2)

Episode 132 – Cambridge InsideOut (Part 2). This episode was broadcast on April 19, 2016 at 6:00pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest and Robert Winters is the host. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study, several housing-related bills before the state legislature, and good old Central Square. [On YouTube]

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