Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 25, 2017

Here Comes Summer – Featured Attractions for the June 26, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

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

Here Comes Summer – Featured Attractions for the June 26, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

On Vacation - See you in AugustThe City Council goes on Summer Vacation after this meeting except for what will likely be a fun-filled Midsummer Meeting on August 7. Here are a few items that drew my attention this week:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-31, regarding a report on the status of the Community Garden program.

This is useful information. However, any property owner can make space available for gardeners – residential property owners, institutional owners, and others. Even the narrowest strips of land can be gardened. Some of the best community gardens in Cambridge have been on private property.


Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-6, regarding an analysis and evaluation of "pop up" bicycle lanes.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to accelerate the planning and installation of two or more protected bike lanes by September, to produce a plan by October 2017 for the roll-out of protected bike lanes on all major city thoroughfares, to ensure that the Bike Plan recommendations are fully implemented on all road projects, and that additional infrastructure changes to provide for safety are implemented when possible.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

First, don’t count on there being any actual analysis and evaluation of the "pop up" bicycle lanes. Unless there’s a fatality in one of them they’ll remain regardless how dysfunctional or unnecessary thay may be. As for this latest Council order on the subject, I’m now finally starting to get a sense of what the word "progressive" really means – pushing through changes with minimal analysis and without consulting those affected under the belief that they will one day agree with you. In other words – the opposite of actual democracy. There is a place for segregated bike paths – primarily along arterial roadways, but there are plenty of reasons why they are not ideal for streets with many cross streets and driveways. They also send the rather clear message that cyclists are not welcome on the road and they should stay on the sidewalk like obedient children.


Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Street Performers Ordinance as well as Arts Council staffing and programming.

Not much to say here – just interesting information.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 17-46, 17-47, 17-48 and 17-49, short term rentals.

The regulation of short term rentals has become the central legislative theme for this year. There will be at least one more Ordinance Committee meeting to refine things, and ordination is expected at the Midsummer meeting (August 7).

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an amendment to the City’s previous submission of a Home Rule Petition to the Legislature whereby I requested authorization 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 “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.

Again, not much to say here – just interesting information.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Affordable Housing Trust with the view in mind of immediately contacting the Episcopal Divinity School to begin negotiations for the purchase of 8-acre Episcopal Divinity School site for construction of critically needed affordable housing units including single occupancy spaces and middle income housing, particularly housing for eligible Cambridge residents, families, starter apartments for young adults, veterans, homeless and seniors who have been displaced. [Charter Right exercised by Vice Mayor McGovern on June 19, 2017.]

It’s very unlike that any portion of this site will become available for subsidized housing – for a variety of reasons. It is, however, fun to listen to the well-heeled activists come up with creative ways to oppose it while still trying to look like high-minded progressives. For this, thank you Councillor Toomey for filing the Order.

Unfinished Business #10. An amendment to the Municipal Code Ordinance that Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” be amended by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.” The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 26, 2017.

Perhaps this will be ordained at this meeting. My only question is: "What will the Cambridge City Council ban next?"


Applications & Petitions #2. A rezoning petition has been received from MIT/GSA Volpe to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District.

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 7, 2017 to have a general discussion to receive an update on the planning that has been going on for the Volpe Project. [appended materials]

This has been a long time coming. If you want to learn more and participate, MIT is hosting a workshop on Thurs, June 29 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm in the Kendall Marriott hotel. There will be plenty of other opportunities in the future to be heard.


Order #1. City Council support of Massachusetts House of Representatives bill H.3542, legislation to establish a Massachusetts Infrastructure Bank designed to encourage borrowing and facilitate growth for municipalities.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

It’s an interesting idea, but my sense is that it would make more sense for municipalities facing far greater challenges and with fewer resources than Cambridge. Our AAA bond rating has its advantages.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested work with the Department of Public Works and the Cambridge Arts Council to formally review the use of the Fern Street path as currently designed and consider options to ensure that the path functions as a safe, shared bicycle and pedestrian path and to work with the Department of Public Works to consider whether it is appropriate and feasible for a skateboarding feature to be included at Danehy Park.   Councillor Devereux

The planners delivered a skate park that was never mentioned when they were selling the concept to neighbors as an artsy bike path.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Department of Public Works and Cambridge Fire Department (CFD) staff and other relevant City officials to determine if new facilities are needed by either DPW or CFD to best carry out their respective missions in the future and, if so, what type of facilities they would need and how much space that would require and where they might possibly be located.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern

This is an important matter that has to be explored, but sufficiently large sites are disappearing fast – especially in parts of the city where access to and from the site can be done efficiently.

Committee Report #3. 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 May 17, 2017 to discuss updates and data collected thus far for the Retail Strategic Plan, and other matters pertaining to the Study. [appended materials]

This continues to be an interesting topic both in the committee and as part of the Envision Cambridge process. That said, the City doesn’t control economics or consumer habits, so the best we can do will always be a good guess. – Robert Winters

June 20, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 235-236: June 20, 2017

Episode 235 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 20, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on June 20, 2017 at 5:30pm. Our guest was Cambridge City Council candidate Sean Tierney. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Learn more about Sean Tierney at: seantierney.org.


Episode 236 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 20, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on June 20, 2017 at 6:00pm. Our guest was Cambridge City Council candidate Adriane Musgrave. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Learn more about Adriane Musgrave at: voteadriane.com.

Adriane’s Campaign Kickoff event is June 24 from 4:00pm to 6:00pm at Christopher’s in Porter Square.

[Materials used in these episodes]

June 18, 2017

Almost Summer – June 19, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 9:09 pm

Almost Summer – June 19, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

On the HorizonAs is often the case, a packed agenda is followed by a light agenda. Here are a few items of possible interest on this relatively lean menu:

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and any other appropriate City departments on the feasibility and cost of installing computerized traffic signals along the City’s main corridors.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

This Order could easily have been written 40 years ago when the issue wasn’t climate change so much as air quality. Back then a number of two-way streets were made one-way in order to move traffic through more quickly. I might argue that some of those one-way streets should be restored to two-way so that desirable routes can be made less circuitous. [Word has it that the Prospect Street bridge to Union Square, Somerville may be restored to two-way traffic – a good idea, in my opinion.] Of course all the best technology will still not resolve the problem of intersections with heavy traffic on both streets. Shorter or longer signal cycles won’t change the average throughput for an F-rated intersection when traffic is queued up in both directions.

Order #3. That the matter of reviewing the placement of the Committee Reports section within the City Council agenda be referred to the Rules Committee for consideration.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Kelley

There is a certain logic in doing this consistent with Robert’s Rules of Order. One could argue that Committee Reports are more in line with "Old Business" and City Council Orders are really "New Business", and Old Business is generally taken up before New Business.

Order #5. City Council opposition to dismantling of the Dodd-Frank reforms that were put into place following the 2007-2010 Great Recession.   Councillor Carlone

The race is on to see which City Council candidates will most effectively associate themselves with national politics in this election year. There’s plenty of red meat to work with – even though the City Council has close to zero influence in national and international affairs.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Affordable Housing Trust with the view in mind of immediately contacting the Episcopal Divinity School to begin negotiations for the purchase of 8-acre Episcopal Divinity School site for construction of critically needed affordable housing units including single occupancy spaces and middle income housing, particularly housing for eligible Cambridge residents, families, starter apartments for young adults, veterans, homeless and seniors who have been displaced.   Councillor Toomey

A few years ago it was Shady Hill Square and a call to pack subsidized housing into the middle of that Square just to stick it to the residents who wanted to preserve the open space that was part of the original design of this group of buildings when built. Now the call is to insert subsidized housing into a parcel facing Brattle Street with land values somewhere in the stratosphere. It’s hard to interpret this as anything other than a statement sticking it to Brattle Street just because it’s Brattle Street.

Order #7. That the City Council go on record opposing H.R.38 and S.446, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, and calls on its representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to vote against these bills, and to work with their colleagues to oppose these bills.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

See Order #5 above. That said, the lunatics are clearly running the Congressional asylum if they really believe that gun-toting dudes from the deepest red states should have license to pack heat in Massachusetts just because they come from or simply visited a wacky state in order to get a gun and a license. Even some bars in the Wild West required patrons to check their weapons at the door.

Committee Report #2. 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 May 30, 2017 to discuss the role of police officers in the community, the installation of a police substation in Central Square and the stationing of a uniformed police officer in City Hall.

Though I like the idea of having a police officer in the vicinity of City Hall, I really don’t think the best use of highly-trained police is to serve as professional greeters. Regarding the installation of a police substation in Central Square, this would only make sense if done as a multi-purpose storefront location for police, MBTA workers, public information, and a public bathroom. That, of course, would require coordination among different agencies, so it will never happen. – Robert Winters

June 12, 2017

Coming up at the June 12, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:07 am

Coming up at the June 12, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

It’s a loaded agenda this week. Not so many Council Orders, but plenty on the City Manager’s Agenda and Committee Reports. Here are a few brief comments on some of these matters.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for authorization to transfer a leasehold interest in the property at 1-15 Vail Court to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust and to appropriation $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures to facilitate the abatement and demolition of the existing structures on the site.

The Vail Court project slowly moves along. In an ideal world there would be a more comprehensive plan for not only the Vail Court property but also the adjacent parking lot at Prospect St. and Bishop Allen Drive that could transform that whole block into something great. I haven’t heard anything lately regarding challenges to the compensation for the eminent domain taking.

Vail Court - 2013
Vail Court in 2013

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-4, regarding current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community.

The gift that keeps on giving. </sarcasm>

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-39, regarding a report on the City’s policy of conducting CORI checks on applicants of the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

As the Manager’s letter notes: "It is a state requirement that every staff person or volunteer who works with children in a licensed summer camp or a childcare setting must have gone thru the CORI process." Indeed, even those of us who teach at Harvard Summer School have to submit to this every year. However, as the letter says: "The CORI record results are not used in any way to deny young people an opportunity to participate in the Mayor’s Program." Seems fair enough.


Community Benefits $$

Manager’s Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Community Benefits Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2017: Kathryn Fenneman, Risa Mednick, Elizabeth Aguilo, Cibele Goncalves, Daniel Liss, Rowan Murphy, Amy Salomon, Geeta Pradhan, Susan Lapierre, Paul Parravano, Ellen Semonoff, Sandra Clarke, and Lisa Peterson (Chair)

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,728,500 from Free Cash to the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,366,506 from Free Cash to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund.

This represents the culmination of an idea that was first proposed some years ago – namely that instead of "mitigation" being worked out in what sometimes were side deals with individual councillors in order to gain their support, money is now to be deposited into the General Fund, worthy recipients and projects will be vetted by the advisory committee, and then ultimately voted by a majority of the City Council. I’m still not sure how this would work for donations of real property (as was the case with the Foundry Building).


A Bonanza of Planning Board Reports

Manager’s Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Zoning Petition regarding rooftop spaces in the Harvard Square Overlay District.

"…the Board believes that a more comprehensive examination of Harvard Square’s zoning needs, including community discussion, should be undertaken before implementing a single limited zoning change."

Manager’s Agenda #23. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the petition to rezone the block bounded by Third Street, Cambridge Street, Second Street and Gore Street from Business A to a new designation Business A-5.

"…the Board believes that this petition would benefit from additional study and input from the community to determine if it should stand alone or if there should be a broader vision for the area as a whole, and also to determine the range of impacts such change(s) might have. Some of this study may occur in the future as the Envision Cambridge process focuses on major corridors, including Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street."

Manager’s Agenda #24. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Observatory Hill Village (Mahon, et al.) Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 18, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by the Friends of Observatory Hill Village to establish the Observatory Hill Village Overlay District.

According to the petitioners, "the zoning petition was submitted to preserve the business residential mix [in this 3-block long stretch of Concord Ave.]. Developers have an economic interest and an incentive to replace commercial retail buildings with high end housing. This puts the businesses at risk." It seems likely that this petition is headed for re-working and re-filing.

Manager’s Agenda #25. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation (no recommendation at this time) on the Zoning Petition regarding vacant or abandoned buildings.

The key sentence here is: "The Board also believes that the proposed fee structure needs to be reconsidered, especially in consultation with the Law Department as to the legality of certain of its provisions." Basically, the fee that was proposed is a clear regulatory taking and could never pass legal muster. Perhaps if they can replace that with something reasonable this petition could be re-filed and perhaps some good will come of it.

Manager’s Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the City Council Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.

Committee Report #4. 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 May 31, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to create a new chapter 4.60 to regulate short-term rentals (STR).

There may be some additional details to be ironed out prior to ordination, but this is the petition that seems destined to pass. It will likely be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting and enter the queue for ordination in a couple of weeks or at the Midsummer meeting in August at the latest. The petition expires Aug 29.

Manager’s Agenda #27. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Cockrill, et al., Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.

Committee Report #6. 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 May 24, 2017 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et al. to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.

This petition was apparently filed by industry people who favor the proliferation of short-term rentals with minimal regulation. It won’t be ordained and the City Council would be wise to just let it die without even being passed to a 2nd Reading. It’s interesting that the first signer after whom the petition is named doesn’t even support it. In the committee report Councillor Devereux suggests that in light of this fact the City should reconsider how petitions are named. In fact, there’s already an established precedent for this situation. In the year 2000 the "Yoder Petition" was renamed the "Tringo Petition" when Ralph Yoder stated that he no longer supported the petition that bore his name. The new name was derived from the second signature on the petition. Perhaps we should now refer to the "Cockrill Petition" as the "Stonehouse Petition" after the next valid signature on the petition, but for all we know he may not support it either. Seriously, the petitioners should really be taken to the woodshed for how they pushed this petition.


Manager’s Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-7, regarding an update on the City’s Community Choice Electricity Aggregation Plan.

I’m now almost convinced that this may be a good thing. I’ve been getting offers for several years now from energy companies who want me to sign up with them and lock in a reduced rate. The Eversource rate is then often later adjusted to be lower, so I’ve always told them to take a hike. Apparently, with the City’s arrangement I could go back to Eversource at any time if I don’t like the relative cost, so I suppose I’ll just go along. It’s an opt-out arrangement, so many of us will just allow laziness to prevail.

Manager’s Agenda #34. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to be used to conduct geotechnical, and environmental services to support the site assessment for a Concept Plan to site the new school on Callahan Field and future Feasibility Study for the Tobin School project.

This could yield an attractive option to construct the new school adjacent to the existing school. The entire area used to be brickyards and then landfill.

Manager’s Agenda #36. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Department Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for the citywide curbside organics program.

If all goes well we could have citywide organics collection possibly by next April. This appropriation will provide for purchase of a rubbish packer and purchase and delivery of curbside bins, kitchen collector pails and other materials and services necessary to roll out the program to approximately 20,000 households (in addition to the 5,200 households on the Monday trash route that currently have organics collection).

Order #2. That the City Council condemn President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and urge Governor Charles D. Baker to publicly commit to ensuring that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts similarly adheres to the goals and ideals of the Paris Climate Agreement.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Nobody should be surprised by the introduction of this City Council order. My guess is that neither the Commonwealth nor the City will be changing any plans as a result of the bloviations of the current occupant of the White House.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to determine how Visual Preference Surveys (VPS) could be incorporated into the planning and zoning process.   Councillor Carlone

I did one of these surveys not long ago. It seemed like a useful exercise for things like building heights relative to street width and how retail fits in with residential. That said, I don’t know that it would be wise to make this a binding requirement so much as an advisory measure of public support for various options. I hate to think where we’d be if every proposed change was subject to plebiscite.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the License Commission with the intent of formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor license.   Councillor Toomey

The value of liquor licenses may go the way of taxicab medallions. I have sympathy for someone who sank a lot of money into the purchase of a liquor license from an existing license-holder, but the old phrase "caveat emptor" still applies. Taxpayers should not be asked to bear the lost value of something freely purchased by a willing buyer from a willing seller. Times change. The loss of value of a license in no way reduces the ability to operate a business profitably.

Committee Report #1. 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 May 22, 2017 to discuss the creation of a section in the agenda entitled “General Council Discussion;” and dedications to identify a suitable location site to honor the commitment to the City made by City Councillor and State Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. and to identify an appropriate building to dedicate to Richard C. Rossi’s decades of service to Cambridge.

I attended and gave testimony during the first part of this meeting. The topic grew out of a City Council order from Councillor Kelley to carve out a section in the City Council agenda where any councillor could inform his colleagues what he’s been working on in a manner that doesn’t violate the Open Meeting Law. What interested me is the emergent (and questionable) practice of some councillors holding unpublicized and essentially private meetings leading to policy proposals. There is a better way. Any councillor can give adequate notice and hold a public meeting of an ad-hoc committee (possibly with just one councillor) on any topic. Anyone interested in that topic could then attend and possibly provide useful input.

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 May 23, 2017 to discuss a proposed Municipal Code amendment to Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.”

It looks like the City Council may finally be running with the Running Bamboo Ordinance. Now they’ll have start thinking about the next thing to be banned. – Robert Winters

June 6, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 231-232: June 6, 2017

Episode 231 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 6, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on June 6, 2017 at 5:30pm. The main topic was the June 5 City Council Roundtable meeting on Envision Cambridge – Alewife. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Episode 232 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 6, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on June 6, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: a) Envision Cambridge Roundtable; b) Mass. Democratic party platform; c) short-term rental regulation. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

May 23, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 229-230: May 23, 2017

Episode 229 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 23, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 23, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included ranked choice voting advocacy in Cambridge and elsewhere in Massachusetts; the role of City Council committees vs. unofficial (and not especially public) working groups. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Episode 230 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 23, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 23, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included the May 22 City Council meeting, affordable housing in Somerville, short-term rentals and more. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

May 21, 2017

Budget Passage – Notable May 22, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,transportation — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:45 pm

Budget Passage – Notable May 22, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items

Allston projectIt is expected that the City’s FY2018 Budget will be approved at this meeting. In addition, there are a few other items of interest.

The Pike
Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a letter written by Community Representative and former Mayor Henrietta Davis to Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack regarding the Allston I-90 project.

Order #1. City Council endorsement of the letter of Community Representative and former Mayor Henrietta Davis to Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack regarding the Allston I-90 project, prepared in consultation with the community and City of Cambridge officials.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

You should really understand the whole proposed project and not get too caught up in the details of whether or not the River Street exit ramp from Storrow Drive should be preserved as is. [Jan 19 Cambridge presentation] It’s a VERY interesting project and there’s no question that the current state of the affected area is ripe for significant change in every way.


The FY2018 Budget
Unfinished Business #7-10 relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow (7) $20,000,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport neighborhood, and the Port neighborhood; (8) $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks; (9) $2,000,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including roof repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at an elementary school; and (10) $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 2, 2017, May 10, 2017 and May 9, 2017 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $568,246,680.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 10, 2017 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,973,850.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 10, 2017 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2018 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $19,912,815.

Councillors – Please limit your "thank you" remarks to under one minute per councillor. Your unanimous vote on the Budget will send that message clearly enough.


Peace, Love and Understanding
Resolution #8. Declare June 12 to be Loving Day in Cambridge.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

It’s not what you think. Then again, maybe it is.

Order #2. City Council in support of Somerville officials in their efforts to achieve 20% affordable housing in all development projects.   Councillor Carlone

This is pretty clearly about whether or not a waiver should be granted in the Assembly Row project. The situation there was that the developer (Federal Realty) was eligible for the waiver because it had entered into a master planned agreement with the City of Somerville prior to the raising of the affordable housing requirement for a building of that size from 12.5 percent to 20 percent. On Thursday, May 18 the waiver was granted, so this Order is essentially moot (unless there are additional projects permitted prior to the increase in the inclusionary requirement).

There is, however, one very questionable aspect to this City Council Order. It is not addressed to the Somerville Board of Alderman but rather calls on the Cambridge City Council "to stand in support of Somerville officials, like Alderman Matthew McLaughlin, in their efforts to achieve 20% affordable housing in all development projects." This reads an awful lot like a candidate endorsement. The Order also calls specifically for sending "a suitably engrossed copy of this resolution to Somerville Alderman Matthew McLaughlin on behalf of the entire City Council." This Order should really be amended to address the issue rather than the incumbent Somerville Alderman seeking reelection this November. – Robert Winters

May 14, 2017

Interesting Items on the May 15, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:26 pm

Interesting Items on the May 15, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few choice items on this week’s menu:Yeah, it's Robert's birthday

Charter Right #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, apologizing to his Colleagues, City Manager and City Staff for not attending tonight’s meeting in order to attend a conference on climate change adaptation and expressing his thoughts and apology for the events at the Budget Hearing. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on May 8, 2017.]

Let’s get this one all clear up front. The issue here is that one city councillor (Mazen) acted abusively toward City employees during a recent Budget Hearing and used a malcontent resident’s letter as cover to justify his inquisition. Last week’s (May 8) City Council meeting ended with a heated interchange resulting from Mayor Simmons’ defense of City employees which upset the super-sized ego of the offending councillor. The story should probably end there since nobody wants the drama to continue. There is an Order on this week’s agenda (#7 – see below) that may represent some sort of resolution of this matter.

My hope is that one positive outcome of this kerfuffle is that councillors might get a better grip on what constitutes decent behavior toward City employees and of what is appropriate under the City Charter (which spells out quite clearly that if a city councillor wants to take issue with a department or any individual employee he or she should deal with the matter through the City Manager). If a councillor wants to propose any policy changes, that’s what City Council orders are for, and they require a majority vote – though, quite frankly, city councillors often vote for policy orders without challenge or discussion out of a misplaced sense of courtesy toward their colleagues. If a matter is referred to a City Council committee for further discussion, it is incumbent on the sponsor(s) of the Order to convince his or her colleagues about the merit of the proposal. In the case of proposals involving elections (such as paying people to vote or using public money to subsidize City Council election campaigns), a convincing case was never made for those proposals.

Applications & Petitions #3. A petition was received from Cambridge Arts Council requesting eleven temporary banners to be hung on light poles along the north bound traffic lane side of First Street between Binney and Cambridge Streets, announcing the Cambridge Arts River Festival on Sat, June 3, 2017 from 11:00am to 6:00pm along the East Cambridge Waterfront in Lechmere Canal Park and in the DCR parklands adjacent to Cambridge Parkway.

Applications & Petitions #4. An application was received from Cambridge Arts Council requesting permission for two temporary banners across Massachusetts Avenue at City Hall and across JFK Street at Mount Auburn Street announcing the Hong Kong Boston Dragon Boat Festival on Sun, June 11th.

I highlight these only to remind everyone of the many attractions that occur during the months of May and June. The Riverfest worked out pretty well in the Lechmere Canal area last year, though many of us still would like to see it eventually return upstream to the area near the Weeks Footbridge.

Resolution #7. Resolution on the death of Harold J. Aseph III.   Councillor Maher, Councillor Toomey

Just read this. It’s one of the most thoughtfully and beautifully written death resolutions I’ve ever seen from the City Council. [It was written by Fran Cronin.]

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of installing one or more park benches around the Fresh Pond Reservation for the benefit of Cambridge residents, particularly senior citizens who would benefit from such conveniences.   Mayor Simmons

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate staff about providing some appropriate seating on the grassy hill at Kingsley Park.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

These would be welcome additions – and not just for senior citizens.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the School Department, Human Resources, and any other relevant City departments to determine what it would look like financially and logistically for the new Tobin School to house half of Cambridge’s 3 and 4 year olds with the goal of providing universal pre-k split between the Tobin School and another school to be redesigned in the near future.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Devereux

I’m interested to see what the cost implications of this might be. It will likely be quite expensive. Having looked at what parents with good incomes shell out for the two pre-K schools and a day-care facility on my (very short) block in Cambridge, I’m sure some of those people would love to have a "public option". It could be the only affordable option for people of lower income.

Update: Councillor Carlone (wisely) suggested that it would be preferable if any pre-K options were diversified in the sense that they should be smaller groupings spread throughout the city rather than be concentrated into one or two school buildings.

Order #4. That a Standing Committee made up of three School Committee members, three City Councillors the Superintendent, the City Manager, as well as other members to be determined, be established to meet monthly to discuss issues pertinent to the School Department and the City and to improve communication between the School Committee and City Council.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

The City Council should think long and hard about the wisdom of this. It could go either way in terms of resolving conflicts or creating conflicts between these two elected bodies. I could easily see this becoming a place where some city councillors try to steer things that are really meant to be decided by the School Committee and the School Department. On the other hand, there are some matters such as community schools and after-school programming, that falls under the Department of Human Services Programs even though they take place in public school buildings and which the City Council clearly has some policy-making role. They may want to reconsider the plan of meeting monthly. That seems too frequent. Quarterly (and as needed) would be more than enough. Even then it would be meeting more frequently than half of the other City Council committees.

Update: Councillor Kelley floated the idea that perhaps there should be a charter change that "combines the School Committee and the City Council". This, of course, can only be interpreted as a suggestion that the School Committee be eliminated and its functions turned over to a subcommittee of the City Council. I am eager to hear how School Committee members feel about the idea.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City departments with a view in mind for a city-wide expansion of the piloted North Massachusetts Avenue and Kendall Square store frontage limitations, entrepreneurial co-working space, and local retail zoning regulations.   Councillor Cheung

A current topic of discussion in the Envision Cambridge process is "Corridors", i.e. main thoroughfares in the city, including most retail locations. I doubt whether a single city-wide standard is appropriate, but some of these "corridors" could use a little reinvention.

Update: Councillor Mazen expressed his desire that an co-working space be subsidized – either from taxes or through some kind of nebulous "inclusionary" requirement. This, I suppose, would then require some City department to decide who will be eligible for this subsidized space – and the slow shift toward government control continues. Councillor Devereux suggested that this needs more study in concert with the ongoing Retail Strategic Plan. Councillor Carlone suggested that this proposal should be put on hold for now and that it is becoming clear that retail can no longer be supported everywhere.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor’s Office, the City Clerk’s Office, and the Finance Chair to establish a framework for periodic Roundtables throughout each term that will provide City Councillors opportunities to invite different Department Heads in for open, unrestricted discussions on topics of interest to the City Councillors.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen

This was exactly the intention of the City Council when Roundtable meetings were first established – way back around 1999. The City Council unearths its own history. As for "unrestricted discussions", I do hope that this does not include inquisitions and/or browbeating of department heads or other City employees. – Robert Winters

Update: Though most councillors seemed generally supportive of the idea, Councillor Devereux suggested that rather than do this as City Council Roundtable meetings they should be done within meetings of the Finance Committee which would allow public comment. Mayor Simmons explained that the idea was to have a more general discussion – not just about finance-related matters. Councillor Devereux wanted some clarification of what the expectations would be noting that Roundtable meetings with City departments often center around some kind of formal presentation followed by questions and discussion.

Councillor Carlone won the wisdom prize by proposing that such freewheeling discussions with City departments take place within existing City Council committees whose focus aligns with the particular department – and not just the Finance Committee. In fact, many years ago most of the City Council committees aligned almost exactly with City departments. It might be a good idea to move back closer to that system so that City Council discussion could be better aligned with what City government actually does.

At the very least, we can probably do with much shorter PowerPoint presentations at City Council Roundtables and more freewheeling informal discussion. That was the original idea when Roundtable meetings were established nearly two decades ago. – RW

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