Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 1, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 209-210: February 28, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 209 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 28, 2017 at 5:30pm. Our guest was School Committee member Kathleen Kelly who spoke about the School Department budget, enrollment, and lots more. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 210 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 28, 2017 at 6:00pm. The main topic was the Feb 27 City Council meeting, including the unanimous ordination of the Central Square Restoration Petition. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

February 26, 2017

Before the March – Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:56 pm

Before the March – Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Time TravelIn between Resistance Rallies and Sanctuary Sessions, the Cambridge City Council occasionally meets to talk about Municipal Matters. Here are a few items that may be of interest to those not marching or carrying signs on Monday.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 35 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

It has become an annual tradition. Keep it up. People will complain anyway.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $48,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account. This appropriation will be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new Police Commissioner.

The public is invited to assist the City with the development of the leadership profile for the Police Commissioner search. Members of the public may participate in the process by attending one of the Citywide Public Forums or by providing written feedback. Two Citywide Public Forums, facilitated by PERF, are being held on:
  • Thursday, March 2, 2017, from 6-8pm, School Committee Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway
  • Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 10am–12pm, Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Avenue.


Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. 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 an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 27, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Nov 29, 2016. Petition expires Mar 1, 2017.]

This is the last chance to ordain this before its expiration date. It appears to have unanimous support, but there could still be a tweak or two before it’s official. The real question is whether these very modest zoning changes will provide sufficient incentive for us to see actual positive changes in Central Square. In any case, this is a good start.


Applications & Petitions #3. A Zoning Petition has been received from the owner of the property at Third Street and Cambridge Street to amend the existing zoning at that location to authorize the construction of a 45 unit residential building with small scale retail on the ground floor and parking below grade.

Another day, another zoning petition. Actually, there are two additional City Council zoning petitions being introduced at this meeting – Order #17 and Order #20.

Resolution #2. Thanks to Luis Vasquez for his service to fathers in Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Luis Vasquez is one of the most decent people I have met in my nearly 40 years in Cambridge.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to make the Sullivan Chamber and the prior goal setting facilitator, or any professional facilitator, available on a weekly basis for half day or full day City Council goal setting sessions   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

This Order seems to suggest that City Council goal-setting is an extended exercise that goes on for days and days. In truth, it’s just a snapshot of general priorities at a given time – and it has never taken all that much time to develop nor should it. Like a party platform, it just lays out some general goals and principles. It’s a bit bewildering that they haven’t completed this by now, but it’s not like building Rome.

Order #7. City Council support of the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen

Though this petition appears to be a response to the current specific redevelopment plans for the Abbot Building in Harvard Square, the idea contained in this petition is interesting and potentially worth pursuing. I suspect it would simply make official what likely already happens, i.e. the Cambridge Historical Commission evaluating buildings as possessing varying degrees of historical significance.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City’s commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City’s diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward.   Mayor Simmons

This is a laudable goal but the Order as written is a clear violation of state law. The City Manager is the appointing authority and this Order calls for making appointments to all boards and commissions contingent on approval of a City Council subcommittee. Another problem with this order is that the word "diversity" means a lot of things – and not just what people look like. Should there be mandatory diversity of viewpoint on all advisory committees? We could use a lot more diversity of viewpoint, but some of these boards do, in fact, act as advocates for a particular point of view. Perhaps this Order should be amended by replacing the word "requirement" with the word "goal" and by removing the proposal to give the Civic Unity Committee veto power over City Manager appointments.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on what progress has been made in meeting the goal of creating 1,000 new affordable units by the end of this decade.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

As a rule, goals like this are far too constraining in the absence of other considerations. If this was to be accomplished via Inclusionary Zoning, this implies that the City should have a goal of producing over 8,600 new housing units per decade under current standards or 5,000 new housing units under the proposed new 20% standard. I don’t wish to refer all such considerations to the Envision Cambridge process, but it is a valid long-term planning concern. In addition, housing growth (both "affordable" and in general) has to be accomplished in the whole region and not just in a few cities and towns within the region.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City Departments and industry leaders to generate a report on the potential growth of next-generation wireless technology in the City, to include: the expected footprint of citywide coverage from just one company and what market competition might produce; the integration of public and private infrastructure to support the network; what local standards the City might hope to maintain relative to aesthetics and safety; and how this new technology fits into our Broadband access plans.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Though these are all valid concerns, including the proliferation of seemingly random (and sometimes noisy and ugly) structures perched atop utility poles and buildings, my guess is that when all is said and done the selection of broadcast channels will continue to suck and the cost of access to "premium" services like Red Sox games will continue to soar without limit.

Order #17. Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance by creating a new Section 11.900 – Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings; Maintenance and Security Requirements.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

I’m eternally curious about the motivation of actions such as this one. Could this be related to the long-term vacancy of a place like the Harvard Square Cinema building? Or is this just a way to address long-term horror shows like the Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive without having to file a half dozen City Council orders and inviting lawsuits after an eminent domain taking? I do find it curious that this proposed zoning amendment would assess a monthly fee at a rate of 4.17 percent of the assessed value of the property on any property that is vacant more than 6 months. That’s 50% of the assessed value per year. With rates like that this really starts to look like a regulatory taking of the property and it’s doubtful that courts will look kindly on such a fee structure.

Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to ask the Volpe Working Group to consider how the GSA building will be integrated in with the rest of the site and to ask the independent design consultant to be more involved in the urban design process going forward.   Councillor Cheung

At the MIT meeting on this matter it was revealed that the Volpe replacement building would have to be located at the northwest corner of the Volpe site and that much of the open space associated with the future federal property could be integrated with the rest of the open space planned on the site. Details at http://www.volpemit.com and, in particular in this PDF slide presentation of the Feb 16, 2017 meeting.

Order #20. Proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinances regarding rooftop spaces in Central Square.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

This seems like a sensible outgrowth of the discussion that grew out of the Central Square Restoration Petition which will hopefully be ordained by the time this Order comes up in the agenda. See you at the March. – Robert Winters

February 21, 2017

Black ice blindness

Snowmelt drains across "protected" bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

Snowmelt drains across “protected” bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

The photo is of a stretch of barrier-separated bikeway recently installed on the north side of Massachusetts Avenue between Sidney Street and Douglass Street in Cambridge. The headline of the February 17, 2017 Boston Globe article with this picture is “Snowbank becomes accidental hero for area cyclists”.

But — the shiny area in the bikeway is meltwater from said snowbank. When the temperature drops, the water freezes into a sheet of black ice. The usual drainage techniques don’t work here because, if you will excuse me for belaboring the obvious, the “hero barrier’ is uphill and water runs downhill. I discussed bikeway drainage issues in more detail recently in a post on another blog and years ago in connection with the 9th Avenue bikeway in Manhattan. Just to make it clear, I do have  nice things to say about other features of the 9th Avenue bikeway.

Neither Steve Annear, author of the Globe article, nor anyone quoted in it, makes any mention of the black-ice problem. They are all enthusiastic about the snow-barrier.

From the article: “I like this snowbank-protected cycle track,” Ari Ofsevit, a local cyclist, said on Twitter.

Ari is more than just a “local cyclist”. He widely, imaginatively and thoughtfully discusses transportation improvements his blog. I usually agree with him, except when he turns a blind eye to problems with barrier-separated on-street bikeways.

The article cites Joe Barr. Director of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation for the City of Cambridge:

Barr acknowledged that the snow mound separating the bike lane and the road has offered a sense of protection to cyclists, but he said it could also be masking damage to the base of the flexible posts.

“We won’t know that until we get some more melting. But it certainly looks good on the street,” he said.

And Richard Fries, Executive Director of the massachusretts Bicycle Coalition, commented:

It’s great. It won’t last that much longer, but it does help to hammer into people’s heads [road] patterns and driving habits,” he said. “Because it’s there, it makes the existing bike lane more visible to drivers and more prominent.

Segregation promotes a sense of entitlement on the part of the majority group –in this case, motorists. How do I explain to horn-honking motorists that I have to ride my bicycle in “their” travel lane, now narrowed to make room for the barrier, to avoid crashing on a sheet of black ice?

Or for that matter, to travel at my usual 15 miles per hour so I’m not stuck behind a cluster of bicyclists who are traveling at 8 miles per hour?

Or to avoid being right-hooked and crushed under the back wheels by a right-turning truck where the bikeway ends at Douglass Street?

Just asking.

February 13, 2017

Monday the 13th – Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 9:15 am

Monday the 13th – Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda

This is a very short agenda this week. Here are a few things of possible interest:

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration 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 an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition.

It is expected that the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting. This will put it in the queue for ordination at the Feb 27 meeting – hopefully by a unanimous vote.

Resolution #5. Wishing Ken Reeves a Happy Birthday.   Councillor Toomey

When Ken was on the Council it was a tradition to not only wish him a happy birthday on his Feb 8 birthday, but to also commemorate him for the entire month of February. It’s nice to see Councillor Toomey continuing the tradition – at least for the day. Happy Birthday, Ken!

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist, and any other appropriate City department to establish a Tree Task Force to better protect the urban canopy.   Councillor DevereuxAll Hail Marx and Lennon

This is the only City Council Order on the agenda this week. Perhaps such a task force could be established within the Public Planting Committee rather than duplicating effort. More generally, this is a good time to take a look at all of the City’s various Boards, Commissions, Advisory Committees, and Task Forces to make sure that the right issues are being addressed, there is no duplication of effort, and that volunteer energy is being best utilized.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 12, 2017 to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 regarding sandwich board and A-frame signs.

The littlest issue had its day in committee. Most seemed to agree that some basic guidelines should be established and that the permitting of such signs should be done in the future by City staff without the need for City Council approval of every such sign. An ordinance change will be required to make it so. – Robert Winters

January 10, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 197-198: January 10, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 197 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 10, 2017 at 5:30pm. Main topics: Outdoor lighting, Central Square, Harvard Square, and emerging candidates for the 2017 municipal election. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 198 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 10, 2017 at 6:00pm. Main topics: Outdoor lighting, Central Square, Harvard Square, Inclusionary Zoning, and emerging candidates for the 2017 municipal election. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

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

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