Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 22, 2017

Countdown – Preview of Oct 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:37 pm

Countdown – Preview of Oct 23, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting

CountdownThe municipal election campaigns are heading into the home stretch right alongside the disposition of the MIT Volpe Zoning Petition. The Volpe vote is expected next week (Oct 30) and Election Day is Tues, Nov 7. Here are the items I found most interesting on the agenda:

Update: The MIT Volpe Petition was ordained as amended on an 8-0-1 vote with Councillor Carlone voting PRESENT. The associated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining MIT’s commitments was also approved on the same 8-0-1 vote.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a communication from the Planning Board relative to the Christopher D. Smith, et al., zoning petition regarding graduate student housing production associated with development in the proposed PUD-7 district.

I will simply say that any zoning petition that is only applicable to one specific owner/developer (as opposed to the property – independent of ownership) should not be approved. The underlying goal of universities providing more housing and more affordability for its students is great – and necessary, but lobbying for that goal should not be done via a zoning petition. It’s worth noting that MIT is now proactively addressing this need for additional housing, especially for graduate students. It’s also worth emphasizing that not all graduate students want to live in campus housing.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to information in response to discussion at the Ordinance Committee hearing of Oct 17, 2017 regarding the Volpe Petition.

Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 16, 2017. Planning Board hearings held July 25, 2017 and Sept 12, 2017. Petition expires Oct 31, 2017.

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 Oct 3, 2017 to continue discussion on a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center site in Kendall Square; said discussion to include the Planning Board and Community Development’s response to the petition and staff recommendations as to changes and remaining issues to resolve and any other matter that comes before the committee.

Committee Report #3. 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 Oct 17, 2017 hearing to continue discussion on a zoning petition by MIT to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay district (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation systems Center site in Kendall Square; said discussion to focus on a final review of the zoning, review of the Design Guidelines and review of the Letter of Commitment.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting the Letter of Commitment from Massachusetts Institute of Technology relating to the amended zoning petition for PUD-7 District for the Volpe Transportation Center Site.

I won’t go into all the details here, but there are many reasons to support the MIT Volpe Petition (as currently amended and coupled with the proposed Memorandum of Understanding) and few reasons to oppose it. That said, this is coming before the City Council a week before Election Day, and there may be some political reasons that one or two councillors may manufacture in order to justify voting against it just to appeal to a particular constituency. In contrast, both co-chairs of the Ordinance Committee (Councillors Carlone and Cheung) deserve a lot of credit for moving this forward and shaping it along the way. MIT officials and those associated with the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) also deserve praise for addressing so many of the requested changes and benefits from a range of stakeholders while still maintaining their fiduciary responsibilities. I don’t think the City could have had a better partner in this than MIT.


Order #1. That the City Manager is advised that ensuring the safety of cyclists at intersections is of critical importance to the Council, and providing for that safety will require a review of the causes and response to these two listed collisions, as well as other collisions and near collisions.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Devereux

There have been more than two such collisions, and the number of near misses is much higher. There are places where separated facilities make sense, but what the City did to Cambridge Street is ludicrous and I fear that they may repeat this error elsewhere unless there is some kind of intervention.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Commissioner of the Department of Public Works to update the City Council on the plan for snow removal relating to the new infrastructure in Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

In this, I believe global warming may be an essential part of the City’s future plans for minimizing snow impacts on their poorly conceived road reconfigurations. If it does snow, some streets may simply become impassable for motor vehicles and for bicyclists. Where will they pile the snow? My guess is that they’ll just ban all parking on some streets until springtime even for relatively minor snow events. – Robert Winters

October 16, 2017

Notable Items on the Oct 16, 2017 City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:11 am

Notable Items on the Oct 16, 2017 City Council Agenda

Harvard Square - from an American Splendor story by Harvey PekarThe posted agenda is relatively light, but there may be more to come from MIT on the Volpe Petition which must be ordained no later than Oct 31. The items I found at least a bit interesting were:

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-78, regarding a Police Substation in Central Square.

It seems pretty clear that the Police Commissioner understands the need for police presence in Central Square. The issue is whether this is best accomplished with a fixed structure (whether it be a storefront or a stand-alone structure) or a more mobile presence. We should see a more detailed plan within the next several months.

Manager’s Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-80, regarding a report on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study.

Just some good information about what’s underway regarding open space. If, in addition, plans for the Volpe Center parcel proceed as proposed, the whole Kendall Square area will one day be dramatically improved and better connected. Better sooner than later.

Manager’s Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City Council’s draft Guiding Principles and Goals developed with the assistance of Big Sky Blue Consulting over the course of three public goal setting meetings held during this term.

I have to admit that I don’t put a whole lot of stock in these goal-setting processes, but it is interesting to see what the Council comes up with as a snapshot of current sentiments. The devil is usually in the details, and goal statements are generally light on the details.

Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 16, 2017. Planning Board hearings held July 25, 2017 and Sept 12, 2017. Petition expires Oct 31, 2017.

There have been some indications that MIT may come forward at this meeting with some commitments and timelines – possibly including greater details on its current and future plans for greater on-campus housing options for graduate students and other affiliates. The expiration date of this zoning petition is October 31 and there are just two more regular Council meetings before then (Oct 23 and Oct 30) [corrected]. An additional Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic has been scheduled for Tues, Oct 17 at 2:30pm.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Arts Council regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways on certain streets in Cambridge, propose two streets to pilot as neighborways, and create a process by which a group of residents can request that their street be considered as future neighborways.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

This sounds interesting, but a few specific illustrations would be helpful. Just think how things might have played out if Cambridge Street residents and businesses were allowed to participate in a process like this instead of the "take it or leave it" approach the City took in reconfiguring that street with no real public process.

Order #8. The City Manager is requested to consult with relevant City staff to propose immediate and forward-looking measures to improve and prioritize conservation of Cambridge’s tree canopy before the Urban Forest Master Plan is in place.   Councillor Devereux

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 26, 2017 to follow up on Policy Order #2 of June 20, 2016 to discuss the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance and possible ways to improve this ordinance to protect the tree canopy while protecting individual property rights.

We all love trees, right? One assumption that seems to run through this report is that tree removal on a neighboring property is something neighbors necessary oppose, but there are cases where a resident may actually want a neighboring property owner to remove a tree. I happen to be one of those residents. If neighbors mutually agree that a tree should be removed would any of the proposed ordinances stand in the way of this? – Robert Winters

October 3, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 259-260: Oct 3, 2017

Episode 259 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 3, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 3, 2017 at 5:30pm. Guest: Manny Lusardi, Liaison for Immigrant Affairs (Vice-Mayor’s Office). Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 260 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 3, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 3, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: Elections, Harvard Square, Volpe Petition, property taxes. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 1, 2017

Preview of Oct 2, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:43 pm

Preview of Oct 2, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere are the choice items on this week’s menu:

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 FY2018. [Tax Rate Letter]

Highlights: The FY18 property tax levy is $389,080,359, an increase of $16,406,272 or 4.4% from FY17. The 4.4% property tax levy increase is below the FY17 increase of 5.1%, and slightly above the fiveyear annual average (FY14-FY18) increase of 4.19%. With approval of the recommendations, the ten-year annual average (FY09-FY18) increase will be 4.85%. The FY18 residential tax rate will be $6.29 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.20, or -3.1% from FY17. The commercial tax rate will be $14.81, which is a decrease of $1.31, or -8.1% from FY17. In FY18, commercial property owners will pay 65.4% of the property tax levy, the same share as in FY17. Consequently, residential property owners’ share of the FY18 tax levy is 34.6%, also the same as in FY17.

Based on the FY18 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 7.87%. Total commercial property values increased by 14.36%. The median percentage tax increases for residential properties will be 2.8% for single-family homes, 5.2% for condominiums, 0.7% for two-family properties, and 1.1% for three-family properties. For FY18, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $43,619,137,030 a 10.1% increase over FY17 values.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-66, regarding additional information requested on a Grand Junction Overlay District.

This responds to a City Council request last week for additional information. We first suggested the use of this RR corridor as a bicycle/pedestrian connection in 1999 when I served on the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee. Back then I saw it primarily as a way of providing direct access to the open space and fields of Magazine Beach for the people of East Cambridge. My view now is that this would also make housing options in East Somerville and Allston more attractive for MIT students and staff and for people who work in Kendall Square and along the corridor. I really hope this becomes a reality within the next few years.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the MIT Volpe PUD-7 Zoning Petition with suggested changes. [Letter][Revised Petition][Redlined Petition]

Committee Report #1. 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 Sept 13, 2017 to continue discussion on a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Center site in Kendall Square.

I am cautiously optimistic that we may see ordination of some amended form of this zoning proposal before the expiration date at the end of October. Much depends on what commitments MIT is willing to make in the weeks before ordination (independent of the disproportionate demands of the Smith, et al. petition re: graduate student housing). This really could become a great space, and I hope the planners can find room for some fun attractions, e.g. a batting cage where people can take a few swings.

Applications & Petitions #2. A Zoning Petition has been received from Peter Kroon, et al., transmitting a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that would amend the Harvard Square Overlay District.

Read the petition and draw your own conclusions, but my read of this petition is that it wants to bring some of the best features of the recently ordained Central Square Restoration Petition up to Harvard Square, e.g. the transition from regulating "fast food" to instead regulating "formula businesses". It also prioritizes housing in the upper floors of any taller new buildings. (Don’t worry, there’s no towers expected anytime soon.)

Resolution #11. Congratulations to the Central Square Business Association for a successful Dumpling Fest and Central Flea.   Mayor Simmons

Special thanks go to Michael Monastime, the new Wizard of Central Square, for pulling off one of the biggest daytime attractions Central Square has seen in years.

Resolution #12. Congratulations on Bill Cavellini, Bernard LaCasse and the Cambridge Arts Council on a successful restoration of the "Beat the Belt" Mural.   Mayor Simmons

I wish I could have attended the dedication. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who helped.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City departments with the view in mind of implementing systems in Harvard Square.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung

The order contains a generally good list of suggestions for transportation and public amenities in the Harvard Square area. I hope that the inclusion of more bicycle lanes doesn’t translate into additional mistakes like the Brattle Street Lanes of Confusion.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested, in as timely manner as possible, to determine if Cambridge can legally assist DACA beneficiaries by collecting donations from individuals and organizations. Managing and dispersing such raised donations on a reimbursement basis to Cambridge DACA beneficiaries.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Cambridge works with plenty of nonprofits and religious entities that can provide the suggested services without running afoul of any state laws.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to create a volunteer bike registry program that can accept donations that will go to fund environmentally friendly projects in the City.   Councillor Toomey

I would register my bike in a heartbeat and agree to adhere to any and all traffic laws. (I already do.) That said, I don’t know that we would see much tangible benefit from such a voluntary program. If it could convince more cyclists to take more seriously their responsibilities as road users perhaps there might be some marginal benefit.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of subsidizing the rate of the “100% Green” option in the Cambridge Community Electricity Program to ease any financial burden that residents who want to use entirely renewable energy may feel when purchasing, using existing income thresholds such as the Fuel Assistance Program.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

This is a very slippery slope. Relatively few residents opted into the more expensive “100% Green” option because people generally make rational economic choices. Just because City officials feel that choosing this option is a worthy goal doesn’t mean that taxpayers should be subsidizing it. Buying groceries from the local market may be a worthy goal in support of local businesses, but many of us will still do much of our shopping at Costco and Market Basket. Should taxpayers pick up the difference if we do all our shopping locally? I don’t think so. – Robert Winters

September 25, 2017

Preview of Sept 25, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:28 am

Preview of Sept 25, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere are the items that drew my attention this week:

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 17-55 and 17-64, regarding an update on Bicycle Lane Implementation and Outreach.

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 17 persons as a members of the Pedestrian Committee for a term of two years.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 18 persons as a members of the Bicycle Committee for a term of two years.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 20 persons as a members of the Transit Committee.

While I’m glad to see all of these appointments and reappointments to these volunteer committees, there is an important point that needs to be stated. These are ADVISORY committees. They consist of a lot of really dedicated people who put a lot of time and thought into their committee work, and we are grateful for their service. However, recommendations from these or any other advisory committees should never be the final word. City staff and ultimately the elected officials bear that responsibility, especially when a committee consists primarily, if not exclusively, of advocates for a single point of view. Do members of the Bicycle Committee take into account the needs of all residents and others who need to travel through the city? Do they factor in all four seasons? Are the needs of delivery vehicles taken into account? What happens when what is ideal for transit users is in conflict with a proposal from the Bicycle Committee? What happens when the needs of residents and local businesses conflict with the demands of a subset of cycling advocates?

I served on the Recycling Advisory Committee for two decades. During that time I always tried to evaluate any proposals from the point of view of all residents – and not just the most zealous recycling advocates. I’m not at all convinced that this is done in some of these other advisory committees. In fact, I honestly believe that anyone with a contrary view would never even be appointed to the Bicycle Committee.

One day the Envision Cambridge consultants, its associated Advisory Committee (of which I am a member), and City staff will issue its recommendations and hopefully lay out a workable vision for city planning for the near future and the long term. Should the City Council adopt those recommendations without debate? Will modifications to the plan be forbidden? Of course not. When the Recycling Advisory Committee offered recommendations they were rarely accepted without question.

Nonetheless, as Mr. Barr’s report spells out, the Cambridge Bicycle Plan "lays out a vision for where the City intends to implement bicycle facilities in the future". Did the Cambridge City Council ever really analyze that plan? Was any of it open to revision or negotiation? Or was it just accepted as a non-negotiable plan for the sake of political expedience? Does it address actual safety or is it primarily about "comfort", convenience, and "turf"? Most importantly, was any effort ever expended to balance the needs of all road users?

Manager’s Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-30, regarding a report on partnering with DCR and the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association to revitalize Magazine Beach.

I’m grateful to all of the people who are helping to transform this space into something great.

Manager’s Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an amendment to the Foundry Demonstration Project Plan.

How many years has it been now?

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Community Preservation Act (CPA) recommendations for FY2018. [Attachments]

No surprises here – the legal maximum of 80% for subsidized/regulated housing, and the legal minimum of 10% each for open space acquisition and historic preservation.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Law Department, the Community Development Department, and any other appropriate City departments to update the City Council on what is being done to address the Council’s request for actions on vacant and abandoned buildings.   Councillor Devereux

There are plenty of good steps that can be taken, but the City Council needs to start by rethinking their earlier non-starter proposal that would have levied fines so steep that any court on the planet would recognize it as a regulatory taking. They can also try working with these property ownerts to bring about best outcomes.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Information Technology Department and other appropriate City personnel and report back to the City Council on the effectiveness of the SeeClickFix system.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

The system works well in some ways, but it really depends a lot on which department is responding. It has also degenerated in some ways into a vehicle for advocacy where some users flood the system just to push their point of view. – Robert Winters

September 18, 2017

Interesting Agenda Items on the Sept 18, 2017 City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:10 am

Interesting Agenda Items on the Sept 18, 2017 City Council Agenda

City HallThe City Council meeting last week was dominated by a rhetorical clash over municipal political campaign finance (or perhaps, more correctly, over how to use this as a wedge issue in this year’s municipal election campaign). This week appears to be more routine, though anything is possible in the midst of the political season.

Here are some things I find interesting on this week’s agenda:

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Fee Ordinance and, if required, an appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer fee on sale of all residential, commercial and institutional properties where the buyer pays 1% of purchase price on any amount in excess of $2.5 million and an additional 4% of the purchase price on any amount more than $5 million.

Charter Right #3. City Council support of H.3512 in the Massachusetts Legislature, allowing Massachusetts to obtain a fee on large real estate transactions that will be put towards affordable housing endeavors.

As I said last week, there may be some merit in these proposals, but as long as the focus remains exclusively on raising more revenue to regulate even more housing while not solving the affordability question more generally, this is all just pissing in the wind.

Applications & Petitions #1. A Zoning Petition has been received from Joseph Maguire, SVP – Real Estate Development & Asset Services, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., to amend certain provisions of Article 13.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to allow for the creation of Innovation Office Space in the PUD-3A and PUD-4C Zoning Districts.

I would like to learn more about the motivation for this change. It seems minor, but interesting.

Resolution #9. Resolution on the death of Cleo Stoughton.   Councillor Devereux

Cleo was a transportation planner at the Community Development Department. She recently passed away at the age of 28 after battling cancer.

Resolution #11. Congratulations to Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian for being honored for his exemplary work in reducing crime and incarceration rates by the Adolescent Consultation Services.   Mayor Simmons

I just want to give a shout-out to Sheriff Koutoujian. His efforts to match prison inmates with work projects provided us with the labor to clear previously inaccessible parts of the towpath along the Middlesex Canal in Billerica. I was able to lead a better hike along the canal, and all of the prisoners enjoyed the work – a really great community service.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on the status of the Light Cambridge Committee and anticipated next steps.   Councillor Maher

The idea here is to promote appropriate architectural lighting of culturally or historically significant sites in Cambridge. It does not appear to be controversial, but it does seem that lighting draws political attention like moths.

Order #4. That the Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee are requested to schedule hearings to take up the attached proposed Comprehensive Housing Plan for review and consideration in the near future.   Mayor Simmons

I’ll have to read this very long proposal a bit more carefully. Either that or you can explain it all to me. It just seems like we’ve been arguing the same points about housing for decades and we just keep spinning our wheels.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director to the Election Commission and the Election Commissioners with the view in mind of adding a link to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on the Election Commission website.   Councillor Toomey

There’s already a link there, but you can get some easier to digest summaries here and here.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a schedule for resubmitting a revised draft of the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance that incorporates clearer wording and/or more clearly explains each section in less technical jargon and is more coherent in its entirety, with the goal of seeing such an Ordinance adopted by the end of this City Council term.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

I was getting kinda curious about whatever became of this. Here it returns – just in time to shine a light on it during election season.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Office of Workforce Development and other appropriate City personnel to establish a comprehensive and robust skilled labor trades program, with a view toward increasing the number of Cambridge residents working in the skilled labor trades.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern

The truth is that the City could do more to address income inequality by taking on initiatives like this than all the combined political rhetoric on the issue. There are a lot of people now in Cambridge who need people to work on their houses and can afford to pay for that work. There’s plenty of work to do.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to establish an aggressive outreach program to all property owners, with a view towards purchasing any properties possible and converting these properties into affordable housing.   Mayor Simmons

I’m always a bit suspicious about initiatives like this. I don’t know that I would be comfortable with the City scooping up any properties just to regulate them. It almost sounds as though the goal is to regulate as much housing as possible – like a back door recreation of rent control. I don’t like the rampant speculation that’s been happening with Cambridge residential properties, but I’m equally uncomfortable with putting so much residential property under government control.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor E. Denise Simmons and Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on May 16 to discuss tenant protections, anti-displacement policies, and Inclusionary Housing tenant selection policies; the Committee will also discuss any updates received from the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA), including a report on the issuance of CHA Choice Vouchers to public housing applicants.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on July 26 to discuss the next steps for the Foundry Building including: financing, community benefit, non-profit ecosystem, and community engagement.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 6 to discuss the recently published “City of Cambridge Getting to Net Zero Action Plan: Fiscal Year 2016 Progress Report” and to receive a general update on the Net Zero Action Plan. Councillor Devereux stated that there is information in the report explaining how the City originally adopted the Net Zero Policy. It began with a citizen petition, and was later adopted by the City Council. The Community Development Department will be producing yearly progress reports to track movements on the way towards the ultimate Net Zero goal. This hearing is to discuss the first progress report.

No comments to offer on these committee reports – just links for you to read them if you wish. – Robert Winters

September 12, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 255-256: Sept 12, 2017

Episode 255 – Cambridge InsideOut: September 12, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 12, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics: Sept 11 City Council meeting, tax-financed municipal campaigns, Volpe Petition. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 256 – Cambridge InsideOut: September 12, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 12, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: Volpe Petition, MIT graduate housing, candidate forums, endorsements. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 11, 2017

Fall Semester at the Sullivan School – Sept 11, 2017 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:41 am

Fall Semester at the Sullivan School – Sept 11, 2017 City Council Agenda Highlights

City HallThe City Council returns from Summer Vacation this week. In addition to appropriation requests for a wide range of essential programs, here’s a look at what seems interesting – at least to me.

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-45, regarding a report on formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor licenses, and Awaiting Report Item Number 17-72, regarding an update on the progress and plan to address the concerns relative to the sale of liquor licenses. [Reports from City Solicitor and License Commission Chair]

This City Solicitor’s response is pretty much what was logically expected. The final paragraph states: "Therefore, in my opinion, the License Commission has no legal obligation to provide compensation to alcohol license holders who may be experiencing a devaluation of their alcohol license on the private market. There may be ways that the License Commission could mitigate the devaluation of certain alcohol licenses, such as by exercising its discretion not to issue new alcohol licenses, but there is nothing of which we are aware that would require the License Commission to do so."

The true value of a liquor license is in the income it can generate in the normal course of business. It was never meant to be a retirement investment. Like taxi medallions and confederate currency, not all things were meant to have lasting value.

Manager’s Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Harvard Square Conservation District Study Committee, effective Sept 1, 2017: Christopher Mackin, Jerry Murphy, Christopher Angelakis, Jessica Sculley, William Barry, Joseph Ferrara and Kyle Sheffield.

Manager’s Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Central Square Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective Sept 11, 2017: Tahir Kapoor

Never underestimate the value of our volunteer citizen boards and commissions. Congratulations and thank you to all the appointees.

Charter Right #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a Non-Binding Public Opinion Advisory Question Petition filed with the Election Commission on July 14, 2017. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Aug 7, 2017]

It’s likely that we’ll have more posturing on this issue at this meeting. It’s worth noting, by the way, that the mailing address for the petitioners is the business address for Councillor Mazen.

There is a worthwhile conversation to be had regarding various ways to level the playing field for candidates, but this is not the way to do it. For starters, the statement of the petitioners reads more like an accusation than a proposal. More importantly, the proposal asks voters to "buy a pig in a poke". There are no specifics provided – only that public financing of political campaigns is to be supported like motherhood and apple pie. I will simply suggest that if a voter understood this to mean that new candidates would receive a small stipend to get their campaign started there might be a fair amount of support. On the other hand, if the goal is to grant $50,000 to every candidate to waste in any way they see fit, it’s almost certain that voters would not support this. The details matter. It also matters that we use PR elections in Cambridge, and slates would certainly be formed just to aggregate money to support the slate candidates.

It’s worth noting that Communication #12 comes from Adam Strich, the person who delivered the signatures to the Election Commission for this proposed ballot question. His words should make clear where these petitioners are coming from: "It’s hardly a secret that more than a few councillors are in the pocket of special interests, big developer in particular. I would imagine, however, that you didn’t enter into public service aspiring to become corporate stooges and shills. But whatever idealism you may have had was gradually eroded by the realities of local politics – in particular, by the need to maintain a war chest large enough to fund the practically endless campaigning required of you. All of that is completely understandable; I’m not here to judge. I would hope, though, that you retain some sense of unease regarding this state of affairs, and that such feelings would lead you to embrace the opportunity to provide public funding for municipal election campaigns, so that you can finally serve the hardworking residents of this great city, rather than your current robber baron overlords. Thank you."

Councillor Toomey has a somewhat different view. See Order #23. Perhaps throwing even more money into the furnace of municipal election campaigns isn’t really the answer.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Christopher D. Smith, et al., to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding sections and provisions to Article 13.000 regarding Graduate Student Housing Production Requirements.

Some candidates and advocates have been referring to this as the MIT graduate student petition. However, it didn’t come from the MIT Graduate Student Union and, in fact, 4 of the 16 signers are new City Council candidates hoping to exploit the controversy. Most people will agree that MIT should be providing more housing for graduate students and possibly for post-docs. In fact, MIT agrees. How much graduate housing is appropriate is open to question and should not be prescribed in zoning. Most MIT graduates have preferred to live off-campus and generally choose to do so as long as they can find a place where they can afford the rent. Hopefully MIT can provide greater clarity regarding its plans to build more graduate (and undergraduate) student housing – both how much and where – between now and the vote on the Volpe Petition. Perhaps a Memorandum of Understanding can be signed with some commitments. That would be the better approach.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to streamline recording and transcription requirements in line with those currently in place for the Planning Board for the Board of Zoning Appeal and the Historical Commission.   Councillor Devereux

There does come a point of diminishing returns. Is it really that important to have a play-by-play of every discussion regarding dormers, paint colors, and types of shingles?

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on a Police Substation in Central Square.   Mayor Simmons

I’ll once again say that a multi-service space for police, MBTA workers, and public information – with a public bathroom – would have been the right approach. Separate little huts for each of these purposes isn’t the best plan. We could, however, use a little more police presence in Central Square regardless.

Order #10. That the City Manager update the City Council on progress for the goal of 1,000 New Affordable Units by the end of the decade.   Mayor Simmons

If you factor in all the Inclusionary units in the pipeline we might actually be doing pretty well. However, the greater problem is not the number of regulated "affordable units" so much as the general loss of affordability in market housing, and that can only be solved regionally. I hate to break it to you Cambridge, but you cannot house the world unilaterally.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study.   Councillor Toomey

This is useful information in the ongoing discussion of the Volpe Petition. What will the Big Picture be for residents and workers navigating their way through the greater Kendall Square area when everything is built out?

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff to identify and share with the City Council possible solutions to regulatory or legislative gaps on the local or state level that would help clarify how emerging types of conveyances can most safely and effectively be incorporated into Cambridge’s Urban Mobility planning and infrastructure investments.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and the Fire Chief with the view in mind of creating and developing city wide alternate routes for fire apparatus and emergency police vehicles in an emergency situation that would avoid travel routes where there is backed up traffic.   Councillor Toomey

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of procuring additional fire apparatus, especially rescue vehicles and ambulances, in the East Cambridge and the Port area.   Councillor Toomey

Every day I see how some of the City’s well-intentioned roadway reallocations effectively choke some roads, make it more difficult for buses and delivery vehicles to navigate, and make it virtually impossible to pause to pick up or drop off people or goods. Curb access is disappearing even as the need for improved curb access is increasing in a world of online shopping, Uber and Lyft vehicles, and a variety of new modes of transportation. The only thing the Traffic Department (a.k.a. the Department of Wishful Thinking) seems to prioritize is novice cyclists. I shudder to think what we’ll have to contend with when there’s either snow or a motor vehicle breakdown. The City is rapidly removing all flexibility in the roads. Pretty soon the only way a driver will be able to yield to an emergency service vehicle will be by running down some "flexi-posts".

Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Fee Ordinance and, if required, an appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer fee on sale of all residential, commercial and institutional properties where the buyer pays 1% of purchase price on any amount in excess of $2.5 million and an additional 4% of the purchase price on any amount more than $5 million.   Councillor Toomey

Order #22. City Council support of H.3512 in the Massachusetts Legislature, allowing Massachusetts to obtain a fee on large real estate transactions that will be put towards affordable housing endeavors.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

There may be some merit in these proposals, but as long as the focus remains exclusively on raising more revenue to regulate even more housing while not solving the affordability question more generally, this is all just pissing in the wind.

Order #23. Establishment of a "Cambridge Municipal Election People’s Pledge" program.   Councillor Toomey

This "modest proposal" does manage to make a few interesting points – most significantly regarding the amount of money being spent this year and in recent years on some municipal election campaigns. While some candidates speak ill of money from "developers", some of these same candidates have a political base encompassing the loftier socio-economic classes and are graced with $500 and $1000 checks like the falling of autumn leaves. It’s also interesting how many candidates pay big money or campaign managers and even pay people to canvass for them. That’s not how things used to be done. Candidates had actual supporters for many of those tasks. Maybe the dirty little secret now is that some campaigns only have as much support as they can purchase.

I can’t say that I support all of Councillor Toomey’s proposals in this "People’s Pledge", but some of them do have some merit. In the meantime, we can settle on disclosure – making abundantly clear where campaign funds come from and how efficiently those funds are spent. Let the voters judge.

Committee Report #1. 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 Aug 2, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planning Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center site in Kendall Square.

I’ll simply say that if the current City Council cannot settle this with a good outcome by the Oct 31 expiration date, then perhaps they should be judged accordingly a week later. There are some great opportunities here if these nine councillors can earn their pay and create those good outcomes. – Robert Winters

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