Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 15, 2018

Notable items on the Oct 15, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:07 am

Notable items on the Oct 15, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallHere’s my first pass at the interesting stuff up for discussion at this week’s meeting:

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $160,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will fund an expansion of free food programming for Cambridge youth.

Expanded Free Breakfast & Lunch in Cambridge schools and pre-schools courtesy of Mother Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to support the completion of the Inman Square Intersection Improvements Project.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting memorandum regarding Inman Square Redesign Project.

There are some who still feel that the plan needs revision (including Councillor Kelley), but the judge isn’t going to look at the twenty-seven 8 x 10 colored glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-76, regarding a report on Linkage fee as part of the Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.

Another study coming. At least this time there will also be effort expended to measure the impact of new nonresidential development on employment opportunities for Cambridge residents (could there be a positive impact?). Currently any linkage fees exacted from new development go toward subsidized housing. Some might argue that the greatest deficiency in how these nexus studies and associated linkage fees work is that they do little to address the lack of access for existing residents to jobs in all these new bright shiny buildings, and building additional subsidized housing without such access to employment isn’t necessarily the best strategy.

Charter Right #1. That the Envision Cambridge draft recommendations should be reviewed by the entire City Council in respective committees.

As I have said previously, handing a laundry list of suggestions from Envision Cambridge working committees to each of the City Council committees hardly seems like the best path toward comprehensive planning (you know – the Master Plan). Maybe they just want the Faster Plan.

Order #1. That the City Manager confer with the City Solicitor’s Office on the legal question and the feasibility of placing a condition in public bidding documents prohibiting municipal contractors from displaying any signage—other than company markers and contact information—on vehicles.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

Though I don’t know for sure (really, I do), I believe this Order came about because somebody snapped a picture of a cement truck that had "Make America Great Again" on it.

Order #4. That the Chairs of the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing on Tree Protections and the Chairs of the Health & Environment Committee schedule public hearings on Tree Protections and the preliminary results from the Ordinance Committee hearing.   Councillor Zondervan

I may just have to take down sooner than later that problematic ash tree in my yard that’s leaning on my roof. Otherwise, if a new ordinance is passed I may need a lawyer and an additional check.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to investigate the queries posed by the Economic and University Relations Committee for a City-Based Cannabis Social Equity Program.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

Cast me out from the community, if you will, but I simply cannot wrap my head around a policy that gives preferential treatment to relatives of people convicted of drug-related crimes. Ensuring that the new dope industry provides economic opportunity broadly, i.e. "social equity", is one thing, but getting nailed for dealing dope under previous laws should not provide an advantage over those who lived within the law.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 27, 2018 to discuss Affordable Housing Overlay District.

The juggernaut continues. I spoke my mind on this subject at the most recent meeting of the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group (which really should be renamed the "Subsidized Housing Working Group" based on the fact that they never addressed housing generally). As I have stated repeatedly, it’s certainly true that people want housing to be affordable in the sense that a typical person or family can find a place to buy or rent within their budget, but this is not the same as advocating for a dramatic increase in subsidized housing (of which Cambridge already has a significant amount when you add up all the Housing Authority properties, Inclusionary housing units, etc.). Indeed, I think an argument can be made that the singular focus on subsidized housing may be contributing to the non-affordability of housing generally. The best affordable housing program ever conceived was the proliferation of multi-family housing, and that involved no government subsidy at all.

Better ideas would be to permit multi-family housing in all zones, adjust allowable densities to better reflect the existing built environment, and work regionally to increase the overall housing stock. As I stated at the very first meeting of the Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee, constructing many housing units in Somerville’s Union Square, in Everett, in Allston, and elsewhere will do more toward making housing more affordable in Cambridge than anything. Only when people have options can they make rational economic choices. It is the shortage of available better options that allows housing costs in Cambridge to rise unchecked.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 12, 2018 to discuss Storefront Vacancies Best Practices.

Though I suppose I like the idea of "pop up" art in vacant storefronts, it’s a poor substitute for actual retail. On a related matter, current state law requires all new marijuana stores to obscure the views into these establishments (kinda like a speakeasy in the prohibition era). The crappy response has been to propose putting artsy stuff in the front windows. There are better approaches. My proposal is to create arcade-like shallow retail operations on these frontages. How about a hot dog vendor? A newsstand (if anyone still buys newspapers/magazines)? Maybe just a simple water bottle filling station. How about just creating a recessed area with an awning where a local vendor can sell hats, scarves, or trinkets? There are plenty of other good ideas. I would make the same proposal for other "formula businesses" to create active, low-cost, retail opportunities. – Robert Winters

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

September 23, 2018

Charter Right Do-Over – Agenda items from the Sept 24, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:19 pm

Charter Right Do-Over – Agenda items from the Sept 24, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallMuch of the previous meeting was made subject to the Charter Right by Councillor Toomey, so those items will be back before the City Council this week plus a few more bits and pieces. Here are a few that seem interesting:

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-30 regarding a report on the possibility of Cambridge joining the national suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Normally I don’t care for lawsuits like this, but in this case I’ll make an exception. These are the worst kinds of dope dealers. Better yet, we don’t have to pay for the litigation unless the City prevails and is awarded damages.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department to establish a Senior Living Overlay District at the current site of Sancta Maria Nursing Facility to encourage and incentivize redevelopment specifically for continuum of care services. [Order #1 of Sept 17, 2018]

I think we’re starting to get a bit too prescriptive with Cambridge zoning, especially with the introduction of "overlay districts" for every imaginable use. Many of us would like to see opportunities for senior living or a place where artists can flourish. We would also like places to buy affordable groceries. Is the creation of an overlay district to dictate one use while preventing other potential good uses the right way to go? It’s one thing to classify land use as residential, commercial, industrial, etc., but how far down should this categorization go?

Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments and relevant housing partners to aggressively attempt to obtain, or help others obtain, the Sancta Maria property for purposes of affordable housing. [Order #3 of Sept 17, 2018]

Whatever happened to the idea of a relocated Public Works Yard? I’m not necessarily recommending this, but putting DPW on Concord Ave. and building mixed-income housing on the current DPW site isn’t a crazy idea.

Both of these Orders now appear to be moot thanks to this news flash:
Salvation for Sancta Maria: Nursing facility to remain open in Cambridge (Sept 17, 2018, Cambridge Chronicle)

Charter Right #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the tax status, zoning history, and sale of The Constellation Center’s Parcel C in Kendall Square. [Order #7 of Sept 17, 2018]

Anyone who has followed this knew this Order would eventually come. That will be an interesting and likely fruitless journey down the road of Retroactive Zoning & Tax Classification. Looking forward would make a lot more sense, but I’m sure I’ll find the history interesting.

Charter Right #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Economic Development Division to regularly update the vacant property database as well as review the strategies presented in the Storefront Vacancies Best Practices Report and report back on the feasibility of implementing these recommendations. [Order #12 of Sept 17, 2018]

I testified recently at a follow-up meeting of this committee about the potential unintended consequences of encouraging "pop up" businesses to occupy vacant spaces at (presumably) much lower rents than nearby businesses. I can easily see a seasonable "pop up" store showing up and stealing all the holiday business away from an existing business. The temporary filling of a vacant store could then lead to another vacancy.

Charter Right #14. 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 July 23, 2018 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 10.17 entitled “Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance” in section 10.17.070 entitled “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers.” [Committee Report #6 of Sept 17, 2018]

I attended this meeting. My impression is that we have several elected officials who have never seen a fee increase or a tax increase that they didn’t embrace and celebrate. The simplest way to understand fees is to make clear the distinction with taxes. A fee pays for a service, and the money raised has to support that service. It’s not just another revenue source like a tax that can be used for whatever pet project a councillor wants to support. Personally, I find the notion of renewing a parking sticker every year a bit ridiculous. We accept it only because we’re familiar with the routine (and the long lines for some). A much better system would be to pay a one-time fee for a sticker that’s good for as long as you own the vehicle and still live in Cambridge. It would be easy to encode the sticker for easy verification against City databases. The only people waiting on lines would then be for new residents or new vehicles.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on June 12, 2018 to discuss the housing ombudsman position, receive a detailed update regarding the timeline and plan for the affordable housing overlay district, an update on the inclusionary housing report, and the map of all affordable housing in the city.

I get the sense that not many Cambridge residents know what exactly is being proposed in the current plan for a citywide "affordable housing overlay district". I’ll provide a few more details shortly, but the basic idea is that your city councillors want to give builders of subsidized housing the right to to build up to four times the density as any other property owner with some setback requirements waived and little or no public process permitted. – RW

September 16, 2018

Pre-Fall – Select menu items from the Sept 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:50 pm

Pre-Fall – Select menu items from the Sept 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallThe boys and girls return to the playground this week. Here are a few things that caught my eye.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) for FY2019.

80% housing, 10% open space, 10% historic preservation – same as every year. Not negotiable.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommended appointment of the following person as a member of the Cambridge Housing Authority for a term of 5 years: Elaine DeRosa

I cannot think of a better choice for this important appointment.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Wed, June 20, 2019 to discuss the potential for a City-based Cannabis Social Equity Program, focusing on ways to reduce barriers to entry in the commercial Cannabis industry.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Cannabis Zoning Petition with suggested revisions and additional considerations.

I’m a little curious about this: "Board members suggested further study of whether mobile facilities could be allowed, given that a mobile facility operating on a temporary basis might provide lower barriers to entry for small businesses that cannot afford typical retail rents." Are they talking about pot trucks to go along with the food trucks? When I was a kid there was a Good Humor Man who got caught selling dope out of his ice cream truck. Nowadays they’d just call that economic empowerment.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following persons as a members of the Library Board of Trustees: Karen Kosko, Patricia Payne and Nancy Woods.

Excellent appointments all around.

Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from the Office of the Mayor McGovern requesting permission for a temporary banner across Massachusetts Avenue in front of City Hall promoting the Indigenous Peoples’ Day from Oct 3, 2018 thru Oct 15, 2018.

Most people just celebrate this as Day Off. No banner necessary.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Frances (DeGuglielmo) Tingle.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

Resolution #6. Retirement of Attorney David Sullivan from the Massachusetts State Senate.   Mayor McGovern

Resolution #29. Retirement of William"Bill" Dwyer from the Department of Public Works.   Mayor McGovern

One thing not everyone knows is that the Department of Public Works is a community with many people who work for decades, sometimes their entire working life, within DPW. Retirements of people like Bill Dwyer are a very big deal indeed.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department to establish a Senior Living Overlay District at the current site of Sancta Maria Nursing Facility to encourage and incentivize redevelopment specifically for continuum of care services.   Councillor Mallon

I think we’re starting to get a bit too prescriptive with Cambridge zoning, especially with the introduction of "overlay districts" for every imaginable use. Many of us would like to see opportunities for senior living or a place where artists can flourish. We would also like places to buy affordable groceries. Is the creation of an overlay district to dictate one use while preventing other potential good uses the right way to go? It’s one thing to classify land use as residential, commercial, industrial, etc., but how far down should this categorization go?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments and relevant housing partners to aggressively attempt to obtain, or help others obtain, the Santa Maria property for purposes of affordable housing.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern

Whatever happened to the idea of a relocated Public Works Yard? I’m not necessarily recommending this, but putting DPW on Concord Ave. and building mixed-income housing on the current DPW site isn’t a crazy idea.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Police Commissioner to increase enforcement of the Bike Lane Bill to keep our bicycle infrastructure free and unobstructed.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Does this apply to Really Bad Bicycle Infrastructure (RBBI)?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the tax status, zoning history, and sale of The Constellation Center’s Parcel C in Kendall Square.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey

Anyone who has followed this knew this Order would eventually come. That will be an interesting and likely fruitless journey down the road of Retroactive Zoning & Tax Classification. Looking forward would make a lot more sense, but I’m sure I’ll find the history interesting.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Economic Development Division to regularly update the vacant property database as well as review the strategies presented in the Storefront Vacancies Best Practices Report and report back on the feasibility of implementing these recommendations.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I testified recently at a follow-up meeting of this committee about the potential unintended consequences of encouraging "pop up" businesses to occupy vacant spaces at (presumably) much lower rents than nearby businesses. I can easily see a seasonable "pop up" store showing up and stealing all the holiday business away from an existing business. The temporary filling of a vacant store could then lead to another vacancy.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to provide a legal opinion on a Motion to Rescind.   Councillor Zondervan

Order #14. That the City Council rescind its vote of July 30, 2018 failing to send the climate safety (Brown, et al) petition to a second reading, thereby taking no action on the petition.   Councillor Zondervan

Our petulant Councillor Zondervan continues to stomp his feet in protest over the failure of the Nakagawa-Brown petition to be passed to a 2nd Reading. First he tried to file reconsideration, and now he wants to go for the legislative equivalent of annulment. I am not a lawyer (IANAL) and I have no prior knowledge of anyone ever looking to do pull a "Motion to Rescind" on a prior vote, but consider the ramifications of such a thing. A local legislature votes on a zoning matter (one way or another) and the matter is finalized. A property owner then happily goes to the bank to secure financing now that the road has been cleared. Then a month or so later the local legislature comes back and cries "Do Over" like that annoying kid who didn’t like the fact that the other kids prevailed in the ball game.

Committee Report #5. 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 13, 2018 to discuss revisions to the proposed Municipal Code amendment to create a new chapter 12.22 entitled “Surveillance Technology Ordinance;” said revisions were submitted to the City Council on June 25, 2018.

The interesting aspect of this (at least to me) is the legal separation of authority under the City Charter. The City Council may be the body that sets general policies, but can you imagine the ensuing chaos of having the Cambridge City Council micromanaging how the Cambridge Police Department conducts its day-to-day operations or how it responds to an emergency situation? It’s one thing to set parameters and maintain a dialogue, but police investigations should not be arbitrarily constrained by people trained more in politics than in police work.

Committee Report #6. 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 July 23, 2018 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 10.17 entitled “Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance” in section 10.17.070 entitled “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers.”

I attended this meeting. My impression is that we have several elected officials who have never seen a fee increase or a tax increase that they didn’t embrace and celebrate. The simplest way to understand fees is to make clear the distinction with taxes. A fee pays for a service, and the money raised has to support that service. It’s not just another revenue source like a tax that can be used for whatever pet project a councillor wants to support. Personally, I find the notion of renewing a parking sticker every year a bit ridiculous. We accept it only because we’re familiar with the routine (and the long lines for some). A much better system would be to pay a one-time fee for a sticker that’s good for as long as you own the vehicle and still live in Cambridge. It would be easy to encode the sticker for easy verification against City databases. The only people waiting on lines would then be for new residents or new vehicles.

Committee Report #8. 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 8, 2018 to discuss City Council petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Article 5.000 as it relates to rainwater and flat roofs.

As an owner of a triple-decker with a flat roof, I completely understand the concerns about clogged drains and why someone might seek an alternative design. The ideas in this zoning petition have merit. The only issue should be how to ensure that one person’s cure is not another person’s cause of trouble, i.e. rainwater being diverted to an unwelcome place. – Robert Winters

August 15, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 331-332: Aug 14, 2018

Episode 331 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 14, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 14, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: EMF landmark study, St. James housing, Brown Petition fallout, flat roofs, and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 332 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 14, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 14, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: OldTime Baseball, Central Sq. murals, Surveillance Tech. Ordinance and Plan E Charter, civic opportunities, and upcoming primary. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

July 31, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 327-328: July 31, 2018

Episode 327 – Cambridge InsideOut: July 31, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on July 31, 2018 at 5:30pm. The main topics were drawn from the July 30 Cambridge City Council meeting, especially the disposition of the Nakagawa-Brown petition. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 328 – Cambridge InsideOut: July 31, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on July 31, 2018 at 6:00pm. The main topics were drawn from the July 30 Cambridge City Council meeting, and other things from around town. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

July 30, 2018

Endless Summer – July 30, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:30 am

Endless Summer – July 30, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallThe City Council’s one summertime Special Meeting is this Monday. The actual number of agenda items is not unusually high for a Midsummer meeting, but the 1001 page package of Council materials surely must have violated some City tree ordinance or another. The likely big draw will be the Nakagawa-Brown Petition (which goes by various other marketing names) – the latest in a multi-decade effort to slow new construction in Cambridge. There’s also a proposed ordinance for how to regulate marijuana sales in our emerging world of people neutralized by mind-numbing cellphones, apps that erode personal navigational abilities, and substances that dull your mind.

Here are the agenda items I found either interesting, refreshing, or ridiculous – with minimal comment:

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-57, regarding a report on launching a program during the summer months to activate the front lawn of City Hall in the afternoons with games.


Manager’s Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Douglas Brown, et al., Zoning Petition.

Order #13. That the City Manager, with input from Mayor McGovern and the City Council, is requested to appoint an advisory committee to work through resiliency elements raised during the Envision process and through the Brown petition and report back to the City Council, with the input of the appropriate City agencies and departments.   Councillor Toomey

Committee Report #3. 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 June 27, 2018 to discuss the Zoning petition received from Douglas Brown et al to amend the zoning Section 20.70 Flood Overlay district and creation of a new Section 22.80 – Green Factor.

An enormous number of letters of formal opposition to the Nakagawa-Brown Petition.

The protest letters may represent a sufficiently high percentage of the affected land area that a super-duper majority of 7 of 9 votes would be needed for this zoning amendment to pass. [If you need my 0.07 acres to cross the threshold, let me know.] That said, it probably couldn’t muster 5 votes and will likely be allowed to expire without coming to a vote. There may be a few ideas contained in the petition that could be useful if revised and brought up in a different context, e.g. incentives for better use of privately owned open space and/or recommendations for greater resiliency in building infrastructure. The worst aspect of this petition, in my humble opinion, is that it is being sold as a "climate safety petition" as if the goal was to protect people when it’s primarily about limiting growth (which is a perfectly rational goal, but just be honest about it). Some of its supporters have even gone so far as to suggest that failure to pass this would be "immoral".

By the way, it’s not just the possibility of derailing the renovations to the Miller’s River Apartments that makes this petition problematic, and a few nit-picky amendments to carve out exceptions won’t make it any better. This petition would throw an enormous percentage of the city’s buildings into nonconformity and could turn even the most basic building modifications into an expensive legal nightmare. There’s also an apparent belief that property owners are incapable of making rational economic choices, e.g. taking steps to minimize future costly damage due to heavy rains or storm surges. The petitioners have apparently decided that only they can ensure your personal safety.


Update: Based on concerns that this proposed zoning amendment would jeopardize funding for the Millers River renovations as well as other proposed affordable housing projects, the City Council chose to move the petition to a 2nd Reading for the purpose of having that vote fail (which it did on a 4-5 vote with Councillors Carlone, Devereux, Kelley, and Zondervan voting to pass to a 2nd Reading and Councillors Mallon, Siddiqui, Simmons, Toomey, and Mayor McGovern voting against passing to a 2nd Reading). This not only ends the life of this petition but also prevents its reintroduction for the next two years. After the vote, Councillor Toomey made a motion for "Suspension of the Rules for the purpose of Reconsideration hoping the same will not prevail" – a parliamentary move to finalize the vote. That first requires that the Rules be suspended which requires 6 votes, and it failed on a 5-4 vote with those who had voted against passing to a 2nd Reading voting for Suspension of the Rules. That leaves open the possibility that one aggrieved councillor may file for Reconsideration of the vote – a pointless gesture that would most likely lead to a hastily scheduled Special Meeting solely to vote on Reconsideration which would yield no change in the outcome – only delay. [PS – Councillor Zondervan turned out to be that aggrieved councillor who filed for Reconsideration. The only problem is that, as I suspected, under Robert’s Rules of Order (not this Robert) a member has to be on the prevailing side of a vote in order to be able to file for Reconsideration. In this case the prevailing side was the vote NOT to pass to a 2nd Reading, so Councillor Zondervan was ineligible.]

It was pointed out over and over at the meeting that most of the elements of the petition with any merit were already in discussion and being considered both within City departments and City task forces and as part of the Envision Cambridge process. – RW


Manager’s Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a draft zoning petition concerning the regulation of cannabis establishments in the City of Cambridge in response to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-75. [Cannabis Zone Map]

My prediction: Legal marijuana shops will sell the expensive stuff and the riff raff will still buy from other sources. Also, let’s face it – so-called "medical marijuana dispensaries" were always intended to be a first step toward recreational pot shops. I hope they can at least bring back the Peter Max posters and lava lamps from the head shops of my youth.


Manager’s Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-14, regarding a report on applying for a Targeted Brownfields Assessment grant for Jerry’s Pond.


Three rambling and incoherent communications regarding Magazine Beach from the inevitable Robert LaTrémouille.

Five communications from the ever-colorful Peter Valentine – who always means well.


Resolution #7. Retirement of Ellen Shacter from the Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

Resolution #18. Resolution on the death of George Teso.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #19. Resolution on the death of Richelle Robinson.   Councillor Simmons


Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council for an update on the Grand Junction Overlay District in September.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate staff from the City, MassDOT, the Federal Railroad Administration, the MBTA and any other organization with jurisdiction over the Sherman Street train crossing and related train traffic with the goal of implementing whatever street and intersection changes are necessary to get this area re-designated a “quiet zone.”   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Toomey

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City departments on what attempts were made to discuss with Lesley University or the Episcopal Divinity School about purchasing the property for affordable housing development and the results of any such discussion.   Councillor Toomey

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City departments to establish an action plan to work with the City’s Community-Based Organizations to create a network of summertime evening programming to reduce the threat of violence in the City’s public spaces in 2019 and beyond.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to adopt a policy of replacing any failed 4000K LED streetlights with warmer alternatives as opportunities arise, and offering shielding/filtering upon request from nearby residents whenever possible.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

I want those LED lights that keep changing colors.

Order #15. That the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts, and Celebrations Committee hold a hearing before October to discuss the various events being planned for Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2018 and ways to properly observe the holiday in a way that promotes the culture, history, and diversity of Native American peoples during future years.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Zondervan

This Order really makes me yearn for a cannoli from the Cafe Roma Pastry Shop on Hanover Street in the North End.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff to determine the navigational editing capabilities of the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Mallon

I continue to marvel at just how quickly the ability of human beings to navigate or even know where they are has degenerated thanks to their "smart" phones and their "smart" cars.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to contract with an outside survey company to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of inclusionary tenants’ experiences, with a particular emphasis on biased practices.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

Must be that video.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 15, 2018 to discuss the development of an Affordable Housing Overlay District plan.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Co-Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui Co-Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Apr 10, 2018 to discuss the first annual report from the Community Development Department as called for in the updated Inclusionary Zoning ordinance.

Committee Report #5. 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 19, 2018 to review the whole licensing and permitting process and to discuss ways to make it more efficient.

Committee Report #6. 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 13, 2018 to was to receive an update on the Short-Term Rental Ordinance #1397.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on May 23, 2018 to discuss an Arts Overlay District ordinance that would achieve the goals of creating and preserving spaces for the arts in the Central Square Cultural District.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor Marc McGovern, appointing Councillor Mallon as chair to the newly formed Mayor’s Task Force on the Arts.

June 26, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 321-322: June 26, 2018

Episode 321 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 26, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on June 26, 2018 at 5:30pm. The main topics were the June 25 City Council meeting and pending zoning petitions. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 322 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 26, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on June 26, 2018 at 6:00pm. The main topics were the autonomous vehicles, the future of transportation, and the recent Open Archives events. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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