Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 8, 2014

FY2015 Budget Notes – and a comment on political patronage

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:26 pm

FY2015 Budget Notes – and a comment on political patronage

The first round of the City Council’s FY2015 Budget hearings took barely more than 3 hours today. After a brief (and accurate) statement by Councillor Craig Kelley opposing a proposal to convert the personal assistants for individual councillors into full-time (patronage) jobs, the only departments to have their budgets pulled for further discussion were: (1) Law Department, (2) Information Technology, (3) Public Celebrations, (4) Traffic, Parking & Transportation, (5) Inspectional Services, and (6) License Commission. Most of the inquiries from councillors were brief, and much of the commentary was more like expressions of thanks for how well these departments operate.

The FY2015 Budget Book lists 2 full-time staff positions for the City Council, but the City Council budget includes $1,386,180 to cover the salaries of the city councillors and their aides. These personal aide jobs first appeared in 2006 as part-time positions (without benefits) within the Mayor’s Office budget, but were later shifted to the City Council budget. From the start, almost all of these the jobs were given to individuals connected to the political campaigns of the councillors. Only Councillor Kelley has resisted the patronage urge and operates without a personal aide.

This topic was the first matter discussed at the Government Operations Committee meeting on Tues, May 6. The recommendation of the committee was never really in doubt – of course they want to grant themselves additional political privilege (at taxpayer expense). The City Council apparently is choosing to ignore the fact that the Plan E Charter explicitly says that the City Council can hire exactly 3 positions: City Manager, City Clerk, and City Auditor. Some will argue that it is not the councillors who are appointing the aides, but the councillors choose them, and it’s inconceivable that City staff would ever deny any councillor their personal choice. There are no public postings for these positions, and none of them are subject to the usual range of requirements of other City employees.

It’s always entertaining (and equally aggravating) to hear councillors testify about how much work they do and how they absolutely need more and more staff. So many birthday resolutions, so little time. By the way, almost all of the current group of councillors have other jobs, so most are drawing two salaries. I suppose this explains why they feel the need for additional staff, but an equally good argument can be made for having their salaries cut in half in order to cover the cost of people to write all those birthday resolutions (which would bring them more in line with comparable positions in other cities and towns in the area).

Political privilege is like entropy. It always increases. – Robert Winters

May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo – Key Items on the May 5, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:21 am

Cinco de Mayo – Key Items on the May 5, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few things that caught my attention:

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-34, regarding a report on the City’s legal options on preventing the use of electronic billboards in the City.

billboardApparently, Clear Channel would like to replace many of its existing billboards with electronic versions. There’s a hearing this week (May 8) in Boston regarding a plan to change the billboard where Broadway crosses the Grand Junction RR tracks (picture is from 2009 – an especially entertaining ad). The current mechanical sign has the capacity to rotate between, I believe, three different advertisements. Installing new advertisements takes time and money, but an electronic billboard would allow for an unlimited variety of advertisements at essentially no additional cost beyond routine maintenance of the display. It’s pretty clear why Clear Channel and other billboard owners would like to make the change.

This is potentially a delicate legal matter. Once upon a time Cambridge sought to have all such billboards removed and, if I remember correctly, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. New billboards are now prohibited, but existing bilboards are grandfathered.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-07, regarding a report on the what steps would be necessary to change the method by which surplus votes are transferred in municipal elections and whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method and whether this requires a Charter change. [Read the report]

The report lays out various options the City could pursue if there was the will to make a change. It could be as simple as a majority vote of the Election Commission if there was even one place in the country in that was using Fractional Transfer (or something very close to it) at the time of passage of M.G.L. Chapter 54A in 1938. Since this is extremely unlikely (believe me, I looked into this a dozen years ago), the next simplest route would be to seek a Special Act of the Legislature via a Home Rule petition. The report wisely suggests that if the City Council and the Election Commission really want to pursue this, a consultant specializing in proportional representation and municipal elections should be hired to develop a "comprehensive plan regarding the possible effects, costs, implementation, laws/regulations, proposed schedules and completion dates, pros/cons, skills and knowledge required, etc., with regard to such replacement" before any proposal to move toward replacing the Cincinnati Method of surplus ballot transfer with the Fractional Transfer Method proceeds. This would be a wise course of action, especially since other changes would have to be made regarding recount rights and procedures. Specifically, existing law permits a defeated candidate to seek a "manual recount", so what exactly would that mean under a proposed system with fractional ballot transfers conducted by computer?

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee recommended goals and objectives.

It’s worth the read, but perhaps the most relevant two phrases in the report are: "Cambridge’s contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gases is miniscule on a global level" and "The city must also begin to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change even as we work to minimize the degree of those impacts." From a long-term investment point of view, many actions taken in the name of adaptation to climate change can also be good long-term infrastructure investments. Regardless how one feels about climate change, such investments are likely to be in the best interest of the city and its residents even if not all of the worst-case scenarios pan out.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of two legal opinions as part of the City Manager’s Supplemental Agenda on Mon, May 5, 2014, regarding Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22 concerning the Sullivan Courthouse and Council Order Number 13 of Mar 17, 2014 concerning the First Street Garage.

This remains one of the most significant challenges of this City Council term, and there’s a chance that this will ultimately be decided in court. The City Manager promises to have responses at this meeting on (a) the legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing non-conforming structure; and (b) the relevant zoning requirements for the First Street Garage. Meanwhile, the chosen developer for the property (Leggat McCall) has now introduced a plan to lease parking in the Galleria garage. This could greatly complicate the City’s options because any arrangements involving the City-owned First Street Garage would afford the City some leverage in the project.

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-12, regarding a report on developing a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes violations.

Charter Right #3. That the City Council hereby endorses the National Association of City Transportation Official’s Urban Street Design Guide. [Order #12 of Apr 28, 2014]

Order #3. That the City Manager confer with the School Department; the Public Health Department; the Community Development Department; the Police Department; the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department; and any other relevant departments on the establishment of a Safe Routes to School Program for Cambridge which includes safety improvements to the street infrastructure as well as promotion and education components.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen

One thing common to these three agenda items is the reference to cycling infrastructure, and there are divergent points of view regarding what facilities are appropriate in different contexts. One case in point is Vassar Street where "cycle tracks" were installed a number of years ago to mixed reviews. Travel lanes in the road were narrowed to the point where a cyclist who wants to use the roadway has little choice but to "take the lane". Pedestrians routinely use the sidewalk bicycle lanes, and delivery vehicles now park in the middle of the sidewalk because there’s no longer any place to pull over in the roadway. Nearby on Ames Street, the City installed another "cycle track" to the right of parked vehicles, so now when a delivery truck stops to make deliveries they do so across the path of cyclists.

Few people disagree on the value of separate facilities for bicycles alongside arterial roadways and along recreational trails such as rail-to trail conversions, but there is plenty of room for disagreement on how best to accommodate cyclists on ordinary roads. Personally, I prefer to share the road with other vehicles and follow the same rules as motor vehicles.

Order #1. That the City Manager direct the Community Development Department to develop and create a solar PV incentive program for residential property owners in Cambridge, and to request any necessary budget allocations to fund such work, including potential staffing and direct funding of solar installation incentives, and using student canvassers to reach homes and businesses that have been pre-screened as suitable for solar PV installation.   Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is the kind of initiative I hope would come about as the City talks about "net zero" and other matters involving energy management. The bottom line is that if homeowners and other property owners can access such programs at a reasonable cost, many would do so in a heartbeat. In this regard, the carrot is far preferable to the stick.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Staff and Departments to prepare draft language that would enable the City Council to implement the 2002 nexus study recommendations, as an interim measure pending completion of the new nexus study.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

An adjustment to the current formula is overdue. The current Housing Contribution rate is $4.58 per square foot of applicable gross floor area (of new commercial development) and the recommendation 12 years ago was to increase this to $7.83 (which would now be about $10 per sq. ft. in current dollars). It’s worth emphasizing that these contributions are only associated with new commercial development.

Order #8. That the City Council does hereby go on record naming D. Margaret Drury as Clerk Emeritus of the City of Cambridge in recognition of her outstanding service to the City of Cambridge and its residents.   Mayor Maher

If the Vatican can have a Pope Emeritus, we can certainly have a Clerk Emeritus. We also had Mayor Emeritus Al Vellucci. Perhaps we should recognize Bob Healy as City Manager Emeritus.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department and members of the volunteer community to arrange an informal question and answer session with members of the City Council regarding the new Open Data Ordinance which is to come before the City Council.   Councillor Mazen

This was the subject of Committee Report #1 at the Oct 21, 2013 City Council meeting.

Order #10. That the City Council go on record urging elected officials of U.S. House and Senate to promote and support legislation that classifies broadband providers like Comcast as a telecommunications service under the common carriers provision of Title II of the Communications Act.   Councillor Mazen

Though I don’t understand the genesis of this Order or if there is any kind of coordinated effort toward its goal, any actions to retain "net neutrality" are welcome. – Robert Winters

April 28, 2014

FY2015 Budget – Key Items on the April 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:25 am

FY2015 Budget – Key Items on the April 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The central item on this week’s agenda is the submission of the FY2015 Budget. The City Manager will present a Budget Overview at this meeting, and the series of Budget Hearings will take place over the next several weeks (May 8, May 15, and May 21). It is anticipated that the final vote to approve the budget will take place on June 2.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the FY2015 submitted budget and appropriation orders.

GENERAL GOVERNMENT FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Mayor $430,035 $558,785 $589,680 5.5 37.1
Executive $1,353,140 $2,008,150 $2,298,685 14.5 69.9
City Council $975,570 $1,683,125 $1,711,115 1.7 75.4
City Clerk $720,925 $1,119,765 $1,240,705 10.8 72.1
Law $1,780,975 $2,163,240 $2,176,975 0.6 22.2
Finance $8,837,560 $13,292,350 $14,540,220 9.4 64.5
Employee Benefits $20,499,920 $32,787,200 $32,882,665 0.3 60.4
General Services $984,345 $732,695 $704,725 -3.8 -28.4
Election $756,540 $1,013,565 $1,072,390 5.8 41.7
Public Celebrations $671,505 $891,945 $874,335 -2.0 30.2
Reserve $37,500 $37,500 $37,500 0.0 0.0
TOTAL $37,048,015 $56,288,320 $58,128,995 3.3 56.9
           
PUBLIC SAFETY FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Animal Commission $228,870 $309,700 $323,535 4.5 41.4
Fire $28,891,840 $43,350,275 $44,661,535 3.0 54.6
Police $31,515,220 $47,186,015 $49,260,625 4.4 56.3
Traffic, Parking & Transportation $8,175,095 $10,935,015 $11,088,415 1.4 35.6
Police Review & Advisory Board $77,210 $73,440 $75,235 2.4 -2.6
Inspectional Services $2,261,215 $3,180,045 $3,270,335 2.8 44.6
License $726,735 $1,030,970 $1,063,745 3.2 46.4
Weights & Measures $98,910 $138,540 $142,935 3.2 44.5
Electrical $2,239,640 $2,840,910 $2,767,880 -2.6 23.6
Emergency Management $137,820 - - - -
Emergency Communications $3,097,485 $4,434,425 $4,631,960 4.5 49.5
TOTAL $77,450,040 $113,479,335 $117,286,200 3.4 51.4
           
COMMUNITY MAINT/DEVELOPMENT FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Public Works $23,648,125 $32,859,690 $33,634,490 2.4 42.2
Community Development $4,472,620 $5,676,340 $6,335,440 11.6 41.6
Historical Commission $457,580 $632,940 $687,860 8.7 50.3
Conservation Commission $89,760 $123,470 $127,770 3.5 42.3
Peace Commission $76,215 $143,940 $148,445 3.1 94.8
Cable T.V. $999,500 $1,474,795 $1,452,495 -1.5 45.3
Debt Service $23,917,070 $49,716,250 $50,446,035 1.5 110.9
TOTAL $53,660,870 $90,627,425 $92,832,535 2.4 73.0
           
HUMAN RESOURCE/DEVELOPMENT FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Library $5,461,430 $8,946,395 $9,249,325 3.4 69.4
Human Services $14,581,590 $23,155,080 $24,225,290 4.6 66.1
Women’s Commission $155,860 $233,115 $241,295 3.5 54.8
Human Rights Commission $158,730 $249,380 $266,890 7.0 68.1
Veterans $510,885 $1,005,375 $1,092,655 8.7 113.9
TOTAL $20,868,495 $33,589,345 $35,075,455 4.4 68.1
           
CITY TOTAL $189,027,420 $293,984,425 $303,323,185 3.2 60.5
           
EDUCATION FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
Schools Operating (TOTAL) $122,053,195 $150,989,445 $156,669,635 3.8 28.4
           
INTERGOVERNMENTAL FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
MWRA $16,177,455 $21,346,815 $22,189,730 3.9 37.2
Cherry Sheet Assessments $11,569,960 $20,126,950 $21,504,975 6.8 85.9
Cambridge Health Alliance $6,500,000 $6,500,000 $6,750,000 3.8 3.8
TOTAL $34,247,415 $47,973,765 $50,444,705 5.2 47.3
           
GRAND TOTALS $345,328,030 $492,947,635 $510,437,525 3.5 47.8
            
  FY05 submitted FY14 adopted FY15 submitted 1 yr % change 10 yr % change
WATER $17,098,120 $14,238,700 $13,964,275 -1.9 -18.3
PUBLIC INVESTMENT $8,834,255 $34,407,930 $16,548,370 -82.2 87.3

Note 1: Though the City Council’s budget is up just 1.7% over last year, it rose 75.4% over the decade – faster that all other entities in the General Government category.

Note 2: The overall submitted budget is $510,437,525 representing a 3.5% increase over last year’s budget.

Note 3: The Public Investment Fund this year include $3,800,000 for Information Technology Initiatives – apparently a response to a variety of City Council Orders in this area.


Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Chun, et al zoning petition with suggestions for a possible alternative approach.

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board Report on the 2014 Town-Gown Process.

No particular comments here – just two reports from the Planning Board worth noting.

Manager’s Agenda #9-15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation and authorization to borrow:

(a) $1,150,000 to provide funds for the design, drainage, and installation of new synthetic field surfaces on the soccer fields at Danehy Park.

(b) $150,000 to provide funds for the purchase and installation of mechanical components to ensure the operational integrity of the elevator at the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility.

(c) $550,000 to provide funds for renovations to the Thomas P. O’Neil, Jr. Fresh Pond Golf Course.

(d) $2,600,000 to provide funds for planning and municipal building renovations, including a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan, design and construction of improvements at the City Hall Annex and upgrades to the City Hall Third Floor Women’s Restroom.

(e) $750,000 to provide funds for building renovations, including water infiltration system repair at the Haggerty School, replacement of the emergency generator at the Graham & Parks, Tobin and Cambridgeport Schools, and boiler replacement at the Graham & Parks School.

(f) $9,205,655 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, stormwater management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Western Avenue and Agassiz areas as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program and public toilet installation at Harvard Square.

(g) $1,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

These loan authorization orders are times to coincide with the FY2015 budget process.

Manager’s Agenda #16-17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the rescission of the remaining amount:

(a) $1,000,000 of the loan order authorized by the City Council on May 21, 2012 for the City Hall Roof replacement project.

(b) $100,000 of the loan order authorized by the City Council on May 21, 2012 for the Ryan Garage and Simard Building Roof Replacement project.

We got lucky with a very favorable bidding environment for both of these roof replacement projects.

On The Table #5. That the Cambridge Community Development Department shall hold a series of public meetings to discuss the range of planning and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, pre-fabricated units, transportation, congestion, open space, streetscape design, building design, sustainability, infrastructure and economic development with recommendations for moving forward on short range and long range planning work that is recommended as an outgrowth of these discussions. [Order Number Fifteen of Apr 7, 2014 Placed on Table on motion of Councillor Simmons on Apr 7, 2014.]

Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a revised planning order submitted by Mayor David P. Maher and Councillor Dennis Carlone regarding the Master Plan.

MAYOR MAHER
COUNCILLOR CARLONE
WHEREAS: The City of Cambridge is required to have a comprehensive Master Plan to provide a basis for decision-making regarding the long-term physical development of the City; and
WHEREAS: The Master Plan should include: goals and policies, land use, housing, economic development, natural and cultural resources, open space and recreation, services and facilities, traffic and transportation, urban design plans, and implementation schedules; and
WHEREAS: According to the Community Development Department, the City’s Master Plan is composed of a growth policy document, the Zoning Map, Zoning Ordinances, and a variety of planning studies which in many cases have focused on specific neighborhoods within the City; and
WHEREAS: The City has experienced significant development and change in recent years making the need for periodic review of our current growth policies essential to our efforts to promote good urban planning; and
WHEREAS: The City Council understands that a balanced and sensible approach is necessary to better guide future development, and that the amount of development that has occurred in our community has provided social and economic benefits to our residents, while also understanding that residents have questioned or expressed concerns with several projects and issues related to citywide planning/urban design; and
WHEREAS: The City Council recognizes that a diverse set of values exists in our City and further recognizes that our City government must respond to the needs and viewpoints of all neighborhoods, residents and business partners; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to engage the services of an independent planning/urban design professional who will lead a community process beginning with a series of public meetings aimed at receiving public input and discussing the range of planning, urban design and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, prefabricated units, building aesthetics, transportation, traffic and congestion, pedestrian and bicycle safety, open space, streetscape design, building design, community-building, sustainability, infrastructure, climate vulnerability and economic development; and be it further
ORDERED: That these initial meetings take place in a variety of neighborhoods throughout the city and that every effort be made to hold these meetings prior to June 30th, 2014; and be it further
ORDERED: At the conclusion of this series of meetings, the consultant along with CDD report their findings back to the City Council through the Ordinance Committee by July 31, 2014; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Council then consider recommendations and a strategy for moving forward on short and long range planning/urban design work based on these discussions, and that the Mayor schedule an upcoming Roundtable Discussion to include the City Council and the Planning Board to address the issue of a Master Plan and to help establish the city’s urban planning and community development priorities.

This was the central agenda item at the April 7 meeting at which the Mayor was requested to negotiate a substitute Order that might win the support of a clear majority of councillors. The essential difference between Order #14 and Order #15 at that meeting concerned whether any new look at comprehensive city planning should be a political process conducted within certain City Council committees (Order #14) or if it should be directed by those City entities (the Planning Board and the Community Development Department) whose job it is to carry out these activities.

It seems very unlikely that the proposed schedule can be met. It’s also not at all clear whether such a short time-frame is even a good idea. It may simply prove to be just a series of meetings in which activists opposed to new housing development send their troops to each and every meeting/workshop to create the (false) impression that the residents of the city are up in arms over the "tsunami of development." Hopefully some rational people will attend to help balance the tone. The intent of the proposed Order appears to be to conduct a short process that will then lead to a larger planning process. It seems likely, however, that some people will intentionally misinterpret this to imply that the goal of the short process is to produce a set of specific goals and that the larger process will then be for producing ways to implement those goals. This is NOT what the Order says.

I’m concerned that the Order calls for the short process to culminate in a report to the City Council via the Ordinance Committee by the end of July. The purpose of the Ordinance Committee is to deliberate on proposed ordinances, and these come to the committee as a result of City Council Orders. I cannot recall any precedent for the Ordinance Committee ever bypassing this protocol. It would be far better for the report to be delivered at a regular or special City Council meeting after which one or more Orders would be submitted and approved by a majority of the City Council to look into specific proposals or a plan for a larger process. I hope the City Council modifies the proposed Maher/Carlone Order accordingly.

The competing Orders of April 7 differed primarily in regard to which body should ultimately conduct a review of comprehensive planning for the city. The proposed Maher/Carlone Order only calls for a consultant to conduct the short process. It is silent on the matter of who shall conduct the longer process. The City Council will ultimately have to approve any significant proposed changes in policy, but any extensive process leading up to that approval should not be conducted by the City Council or any of its subcommittees.

Another aspect of this issue is whether there should be any kind of moratorium imposed on either new development or on changes to existing zoning that would allow any greater development. Though none of the proposed orders specifically call for such a moratorium, many activists who want to slow or stop housing growth have expressed this as a goal and they will continue to advocate for it. Other activists who favor new housing and "smart growth" will continue to advocate for their position. It seems likely that these competing points of view will not find resolution any time soon.

Unfinished Business #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow an additional $11,000,000 to provide funds for construction and other associated costs of the King School project. The question comes on adoption on or after Apr 21, 2014.

This loan authorization order will likely get its final approval at this meeting.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to revisit the City’s policy of establishing Hubway stations in residential areas to determine whether this policy adequately balances the needs of the community and the desires of the residents and to report back to the City Council in a timely fashion.   Councillor Simmons

I suspect this Order grew out of the objections from some residents in the Dana Park area in Cambridgeport to a new on-street Hubway installation on Lawrence Street.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft a legal opinion on whether it is legally permissible to require a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) as part of the Board of Zoning Appeal special permit and variance application process and the Planning Board Project Review Special Permit application process and report back to the City Council on this matter.   Councillor Cheung

I’m guessing that this is not legal. There are plenty of worthy goals that cannot be turned into legally binding requirements. You will not, for example, find anything in the zoning code that mandates that union members must be employed in the construction of new buildings. A Memorandum of Understanding is one thing, but writing such agreements into zoning language is something entirely different.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine what options may exist to provide dedicated office space to the members of the City Council.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Carlone

Allow me to simply point out that during the last 15 years, city councillors have gained reserved parking spots behind City Hall that used to be available to full-time employees at City Hall; they saw their salaries rise dramatically; and they granted themselves the right to hire people from their political campaigns as taxpayer-funded "personal aides". In addition to the City Council office, the Sullivan Chamber, and relatively recent additional office space for councillors (and their "aides"), this Order now calls for there to be "dedicated office space to the members of the City Council". Almost all of the city councillors have other jobs. The job of a city councillor is not now and was never meant to be a full-time job. Adequate meeting space is what is needed – not private offices for individual councillors.

Order #11. That the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee is requested to provide an update to the City Council on any progress that has been made in drafting a Community Benefits & Mitigation Plan, and that an expected timeframe in which a formal recommendation on policy might be made to the City Council is also provided.   Councillor Simmons

I was wondering when this issue was going to find its way back into City Council consideration. It’s a tricky issue that’s been batted around now for a number of years without any serious movement.

Order #12. That the City Council hereby endorses the National Association of City Transportation Official’s Urban Street Design Guide.   Councillor Carlone

I hope the City Council takes the time to carefully go through this Design Guide before rubber-stamping it. For example, the NACTO website prominently features "cycle tracks" as their preferred facility for accommodating bicycle traffic. There are many people (including me) who disagree with this approach, and I have no doubt that if some of the designs were presented to the public there would be considerable debate. If one of the important roles of the City Council is to listen to the public, I would expect that at the very least this Design Guide should first get a hearing before the City Council’s Transportation & Public Utilities Committee prior to any approval.

Order #16. That the City Manager direct the Community Development Department to work with the owner of 362 and 364 Rindge Avenue, non-profit housing agencies, the Affordable Housing Trust, and other potential public and private partners to develop a plan with the ultimate goal being the preservation of affordable units.   Councillor Mazen

These buildings were mentioned at a recent meeting of the City Council Housing Committee meeting as significant expiring-use residential buildings that were a high priority in retaining affordable housing in Cambridge. Though it’s good to have a City Council Order to emphasize this matter, it was already a top priority among the City’s various housing agencies and partners.

Order #28. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works and Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department on the feasibility of painting green all designated bicycle lanes on all major streets.   Councillor Cheung

It’s feasible to lay down paint, but it would then also have to be maintained. Most of the painted lanes the City has marked in the past have long since faded away, and except for key locations where they may be useful, they will again fade quickly. It’s better to provide this extra treatment at fewer priority locations that can be regularly maintained. – Robert Winters

April 16, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut with Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 8:58 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 51 with Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone (Part 1). This episode broadcast on April 15, 2014 at 5:30pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 52 with Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone (Part 2). This episode broadcast on April 15, 2014 at 6:00pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

April 9, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 49 and 50 with Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 6:37 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 49 with Cambridge Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan (Part 1). This episode broadcast on April 8, 2014 at 5:30pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 50 with Cambridge Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan (Part 2). This episode broadcast on April 8, 2014 at 6:00pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

April 7, 2014

Master Plan Mythology and other Big Items on the Apr 7, 2014 City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council,planning — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:58 am

Master Plan Mythology and other Big Items on the Apr 7, 2014 City Council Agenda

City HallThere has been a great deal of myth-making in Cambridge over the last couple of years that, arguably, began with the "Central Squared" report from the "Red Ribbon Commission on the Delights and Concerns of Central Square" in December 2011. One of the more emphasized recommendations in that report was for the development of a significant amount of new housing (primarily targeting middle-income residents) in the Central Square area. This led to the formation of a group called "Essex Street Neighbors" who, along with other Area Four activists, opposed this concept and promptly filed a zoning petition to obstruct any such future plans. Even as most planners embraced principles of transit oriented development and smart growth, these residents moved in exactly the opposite direction by advocating for the preservation of surface parking lots and a decrease in density in the vicinity of transit in Central Square.

Their petition was eventually allowed to expire and the group re-branded itself as the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CRA) as it added activist partners including key players with the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods (ACN). As the "K2C2 process" got underway with the goal of making recommendations for Kendall Square (K2) and Central Square (C2) and the areas in between, the newly branded Cambridge Residents Alliance continued to oppose any zoning petitions or recommendations that might result in added density (including new housing). One part of their rhetorical arsenal was a call for a "citywide master plan" in the wake of what their group has characterized as a "tsunami of development". The clear implication in all of their rhetoric was that new development – primarily housing development – was being done with little or no guidance from the Planning Board or the Community Development Department and with minimal attention paid to transportation concerns.

That rhetoric continued unabated during the 2013 municipal election season as the Cambridge Residents Alliance and its Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods partners were ever-present at campaign events and actively tried to lure candidates over to their way of thinking – with some success. They ultimately endorsed just one candidate – Dennis Carlone – who was elected and who subsequently took on Mike Connolly as his "council aide". Mr. Connolly continues to be listed as the Secretary of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods and is a primary communications person for the Cambridge Residents Alliance even though he is now being subsidized by the City of Cambridge. While these personal council aide positions have been filled with political supporters of the respective councillors from the beginning, never has the position become as overtly political as it has now become with the hiring of Mr. Connolly.

The CRA/ACN activists have continued their political organizing this year by targeting residents in areas where new housing has been built or where it is proposed to be built. In every instance the rhetoric is of the "tsunami of development" or "unbridled development".

It is interesting that the agenda of the April 7 City Council meeting includes not only an Order (from Councillors Carlone, Mazen, and Simmons) that is the capstone of the master plan mythology crafted over the last two years, but also an alternative Order (from Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern) that offers a much more factual point of view and, most significantly, an acknowledgment that the Planning Board and the Community Development Department have actually been doing their job and carrying out established City Council policies in recent years – including the development of new housing in accordance with smart growth principals and overall policies promoted by regional entities such as the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

I find the discussion of the need for a “master plan” for Cambridge to be, on the one hand, naive and, on the other hand, disingenuous. Though I have not examined the zoning codes from other cities in great detail, I seriously doubt whether there are too many with as much detail as Cambridge’s Zoning Ordinance. It’s VERY prescriptive with its wide variety of overlay districts and planned unit developments. Cambridge’s Zoning Ordinance coupled with its Growth Policy Document (initiated 20 years ago and updated several years ago) really does give a very comprehensive picture of Cambridge’s "master plan". Cambridge officials are also ever-present at all regional planning meetings – especially those involving transportation planning.

Perhaps the real reason for all the talk now and during the recent City Council election about a “master plan” comes down to a single overriding policy and not actually about a master plan or any failings in the zoning code. That single policy is that housing is encouraged (with associated incentives in the zoning ordinance) on sites that were formally commercial or industrial. If you look at most of the significant housing developments now or recently under construction you’ll find that most of these replaced non-housing uses. This policy is also very consistent with all of the regional plans developed and promoted by the MAPC and other regional planning entities.

I believe most planners, including Dennis Carlone, will tell you that housing is not a major contributor to motor vehicle traffic – at least not compared to commercial uses. If traffic is what’s getting the activists’ panties in a twist, they should not be looking at new housing as the cause for their discomfort. My sense has been that you can look to pass-through traffic in the Alewife area as the primary cause of any trouble there and not to anything recently or currently being built in Cambridge. The simple fact is that the highway part of Route 2 ends abruptly at Alewife and all that traffic has to connect to their destinations somehow, and it does lead to a ripple effect that clogs things up elsewhere.

There is also a fair amount of regional traffic that simply passes through parts of Cambridge at the eastern end in order to connect to arterials such as the Mass Pike. The River Street/Prospect Street corridor is problematic because it’s a major connection from the Mass Pike. Unless a “Master Plan” intends to build new arterials to relieve the traffic, and we all know that will not and should not happen, then the call for a "master plan" is little more than a populist myth designed to win votes or, perhaps more correctly, a disguised effort to stop the development of new housing.

Here are a few more specific comments on the meeting agenda items:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as members of the Central Square Advisory Committee as set out in Section 20.300 of the Zoning Ordinance.

Though I was personally very pleased to be reappointed to the CSAC, it was especially refreshing to see among the appointees a number of new names. This is a hopeful sign. The CSAC is purely advisory and has no actual regulatory authority, but it has the potential to be very helpful in facilitating community discussion on matters relating to Central Square. I look forward to the expanded role that has been proposed for the body.

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-09, regarding a report on the status of the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site.

I’ll simply quote from the last paragraph: "Redevelopment on the current Lechmere Station site is permitted as part of an approved PUD master plan for the North Point area (Planning Board Special Permit #179). Part of the current station site will accommodate a northerly extension of First Street to Monsignor O’Brien Highway. The remaining land is permitted for residential development with a maximum height of 65 feet, with retail uses and plaza space at the ground level. Redevelopment would be contingent upon completion of the new station and transfer of the land to the private developer." This has the potential to really transform this site into something far better than is there today.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow an additional $11,000,000 to provide funds for construction and other associated costs of the King School project.

The additional cost will likely surprise no one. Bear in mind that this is just the first in a series of what will certainly be several more very expensive school replacement projects associated with the plans embodied in the School Departments "Innovation Agenda".

Order #7. That the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee is requested to review and evaluate the overall effectiveness of the Council Aide positions.   Mayor Maher

I am intrigued by the introduction of this Order at this time. While I have consistently questioned the idea of personal aides for city councillors, I have never questioned the need for adequate staffing. I have to wonder if the overt politicization of the council aide positions this year has anything to do with the timing of this Order. My other concern is that our well-paid councillors may actually want to turn these into full-time positions – an absurd proposition without justification, but not an impossibility.

Order #8. That the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge be amended to limit the number of non-locally owned financial institutions not to exceed the number of existing established financial institutions; said limit be in the overlay districts of Central, Harvard and Kendall Squares.   Councillor Cheung

I can’t imagine any way that this could be done consistent with the laws of the Commonwealth or the United States Constitution.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to support the intent of the Master Plan initiative which seeks to provide the City Council, its committees, City Staff, members of the public, and all interested stakeholders with an opportunity to further explore traffic congestion, transportation financing, pedestrian safety, resident parking, and a desire for enhanced multi-modal transit infrastructure throughout the city.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Mazen

Order #15. That the Cambridge Community Development Department shall hold a series of public meetings to discuss the range of planning and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, pre-fabricated units, transportation, congestion, open space, streetscape design, building design, sustainability, infrastructure and economic development with recommendations for moving forward on short range and long range planning work that is recommended as an outgrowth of these discussions.   Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

See comments above. I only hope that the greater wisdom prevails and that the Order from Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern picks up a clear majority of votes. Professional courtesy and collegiality notwithstanding, I hope that if any part the "Master Plan" order is approved then it should be radically amended to remove the various references to noble goals that would, in fact, be thwarted by its underlying goal of slowing or stopping the construction of new housing in Cambridge.

Order #16. That the City Council urgently requests that MassDOT start the permitting process for underpasses for Anderson Memorial Bridge, Western Avenue Bridge and River Street Bridge immediately, given that MassDOT has changed its construction and design plans for all three of the above bridges where it is now possible for the timely addition of underpasses to such plans   Mayor Maher and Councillor Carlone

Though I may find the notion of bike/pedestrian pathway without street crossings along the Charles River quite appealing, I’m also quite respectful of the cost and engineering difficulties associated with such a plan. I could imagine ways to do this at the BU Bridge or the Anderson Memorial Bridge, but it’s much more difficult to see a way to make this so at either the Western Avenue Bridge and River Street Bridge (or, for that matter, at the Mass. Ave. bridge). – Robert Winters

March 24, 2014

Noteworthy Items from the March 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 3:15 pm

Noteworthy Items from the March 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few interesting items. Additional comments may follow.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-10, regarding the feasibility of establishing an online list or map that indicates all outstanding pothole repair requests. ["In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-10, regarding the feasibility of establishing an online list or map that indicates all outstanding pothole repair requests, I am happy to report that this option is now available on the City's website at: http://www.cambridgema.gov/iReport/mapofopenservicerequestsforpotholes."]

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-16, regarding a report on the status of the First Street Garage RFP process. [The last statement says it all: "I will take no further action as to this proposed disposition until I receive further guidance from the City Council."]

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board that the Council not adopt the Linear Park Zoning Petition. [Planning Board report]

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,720,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover winter 2013-2014 snowstorm expenses associated with snow plowing contracts, salt and other material and repair costs.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council to move to Executive Session to discuss pending litigation in the case of Soto vs City of Cambridge. [Read the complaint here: http://www.universalhub.com/files/soto-complaint.pdf]

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff and report back to the Council on the possibility of instituting a parking sticker system that allows limited non-residential ability to purchase stickers to park on residential streets during normal weekday working hours.    Councillor Kelley

Order #2. That the Mayor is requested to confer with relevant members of the School Department and the School Committee and report back to the City Council on the status of any CPS efforts to ascertain why students choose Charter Schools over CPS options and any subsequent efforts by CPS to bring those students back into the District.    Councillor Kelley and Councillor Carlone

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to search for and examine any companies that could potentially offer to deploy fiber optic internet in the city.    Councillor Cheung

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to draft proposed language that will allow for the inclusionary zoning formula to be based on the gross square footage of a project rather than like units.    Mayor Maher

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Human Services to report to the City Council on the implementation of a city-wide job fair exclusively for Cambridge residents.    Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a task force composed of experts, residents, the Cambridge Housing Authority, and representatives from the local universities charged with developing a municipal broadband proposal for Cambridge, potentially also including extension of city fiber into public housing properties.    Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Carlone

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to seek a legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing nonconforming structure and to report back to the City Council and Planning Board with this legal opinion.    Councillor Toomey

March 16, 2014

Broadband, Bikes, and Buildings – March 17, 2014 City Council Agenda highlights

Broadband, Bikes, and Buildings – March 17, 2014 City Council Agenda highlights

One highlight of this meeting is the annual presentation of the water/sewer rates for the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY15). The rest of the meeting could well be dominated by the ongoing saga of the future of two East Cambridge buildings – the Foundry building and the former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse. But first, the water and sewer:

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2014 and ending Mar 31, 2015. [City Manager's Letter]

This will be the 4th straight year of no increases in the water rate. Sewer rates continue to see moderate increases. Here’s the 10-year history of water/sewer rate increases (rates are per CcF, i.e. 100 cu. ft., approx. 750 gallons):

Ten Year History of Water/Sewer Rate Increases

Percent Increases (Water) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 0.0% 4.0% 0.0% 2.1% 2.8% 1.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.02
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 0.0% 3.7% 0.0% 2.0% 2.6% 1.6% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.2% $3.24
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.2% 2.7% 1.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.44
Block 4 2,001 – 10,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.0% 2.6% 1.4% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.3% $3.65
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 0.0% 3.9% 0.0% 2.2% 2.6% 1.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.6% $3.96
Percent Increases (Sewer) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 7.6% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.9% 8.0% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.3% 55.6% $8.62
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.8% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.4% $9.12
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 8.0% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.3% 5.2% 55.4% $9.79
Block 4 2,001 – 10,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.9% 7.8% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.2% $10.54
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 7.5% 8.1% 0.0% 4.8% 7.8% 7.9% 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 5.2% 55.3% $11.21
Percent Increases (Combined) FY06 FY07 FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 10 Year FY15 Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF 5.1% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.7% $11.64
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF 5.0% 6.7% 0.0% 4.0% 6.2% 6.1% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.3% $12.36
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.4% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.1% 3.8% 40.6% $13.23
Block 4 2,001 – 10,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.5% $14.19
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF 5.0% 6.8% 0.0% 4.0% 6.3% 6.1% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 3.8% 40.5% $15.17

Cambridge does a good job at delivering great water inexpensively. Sewerage costs considerably more.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $150,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expenditures account which will be used to hire a team of technical consultants to work with the Getting to Net Zero Task Force and City staff and provide subject matter advice and analysis.

It will be interesting to see where this task force eventually goes. One route could be to regulate and tax everyone into submission. Hopefully something better will come of these efforts, e.g. programs to enable homes and workplaces to be made greatly more energy efficient with associated long-term cost savings.

Resolution #16. Resolution on the death of Rosemary "Rosy" White.   Mayor Maher

Resolution #27. Resolution on the death of Steven Brion-Meisels.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

I didn’t know Steven Brion-Meisels, but I knew of him. Marc McGovern’s comment sums him up pretty well: "He was one of the most gentle, considerate, peaceful people I have ever met and he did a great deal for the children of Cambridge."

I have personally known Rosy White for over 20 years. I originally met her when she served as the campaign manager for City Council candidate (and former State Rep.) Elaine Noble who ran in 1991 and 1993. I will always value Rosy’s great sense of humor which is the most important quality anyone can possess.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to develop proposed ordinance language that will limit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products in the City of Cambridge to individuals 21 years of age or older.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Councillor Carlone

As with the campaign a decade ago to prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants, and other indoor spaces, I find myself straddling the line between personal freedom and regulation for the well-being of those directly affected by the noxious behavior of others. This proposed ordinance would forbid the sale to anyone under 21 years of age "any product containing, made, or derived from tobacco or nicotine that is intended for human consumption, whether smoked, chewed, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted, sniffed, or ingested by any other means including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, little cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, snuff, or electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars, electronic pipes, or other similar products that rely on vaporization or aerosolization."

If the residents of Cambridge and Massachusetts find acceptable restricting anyone younger than 21 from buying or consuming alcoholic beverages, they’ll probably be agreeable to applying the same standard to tobacco products. If this is to be the law, I’m glad the proposal applies to so-called "e-cigarettes". I actually find these to be more disturbing than actual smoking. They seem more like an acknowledgement of addiction than the burning and inhalation of tobacco, and it’s only a matter of time before their apparatus is modified to inhale other substances. Perhaps the next generation of products will involve direct intraveneous injection without the need to soil the lungs.

Bike PostOrder #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to develop a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes.   Councillor Kelley

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to consult with appropriate City staff, cyclists and others in an attempt to figure out a more effective way for cyclists to use public bike parking for short, medium and long-term bike storage to alleviate the problem of abandoned bikes clogging bike parking facilities and to ensure that cyclists have appropriate public space in which to lock their bikes.   Councillor Kelley

I’m with Councillor Kelley 100% regarding the clearing of derelict bikes that are now cluttering up all the City’s bike posts. I spoke with DPW Commissioner Owen O’Riordan about this a few days ago and my understanding is that DPW will be ramping up the tagging and removal very soon. I can agree with people using them short term where they live, but they really should bring their bikes into their buildings or elsewhere on the property rather than using up City-funded facilities for private use. This can be a real conflict in mixed residential/commercial areas.

I’m also in agreement regarding unnecessary parking in bike lanes, but I’m willing to acknowledge that sometimes this is unavoidable, especially with some delivery vehicles. They also park at taxi stands and bus stops for short periods when options are limited. One thing I do not agree with is giving a hard time to delivery vehicles that park in so-called "cycle tracks" at street grade level where the City has mandated that motor vehicles may not park next to the curb because they want bikes to ride between the parked vehicles and the curb. This is an abysmally bad idea in places where deliveries must be made. I know that some members of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee have been irritated by such occurrences on Ames Street, but my sympathies lie with the delivery vehicle drivers there. The natural place for motor vehicles to park will always be right next to the curb.

Order #10. That the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee hold an appropriate number of public hearings to investigate internet access issues in Cambridge, to include possible expansion of the City’s fiber optic network and use by private entities and business of that network.   Councillor Kelley

Communications #6. A communication was received from Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street regarding the case for Municipal Broadband in Cambridge.

I’ve been hearing about this now for over a decade and at one point even volunteered the roof of my building to install equipment to further the goal. As near as I can tell, all of the City’s efforts have gone nowhere. Perhaps the best course of action would be for a group of movers and shakers to form their own task force, develop some resources, and make this happen with minimal City involvement. Rumor has it that there are a few entrepreneurs living in Cambridge who know a thing or two about such things.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status of the First Street Garage RFP process and that the City Council urge the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and the developer of the Sullivan Courthouse to work together to reduce the height, traffic, and environmental impacts of the developer’s proposal so as to gain community support and resolve the uncertainty that surrounds the project.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Toomey

It’s anybody’s guess how this matter will ultimately be resolved, but it seems certain that unless the Commonwealth intervenes in an active way (which may mean accepting a lot more of the financial burden in the disposition of this property), the eventual outcome could be something that’s loved by nobody. I do wish people would use better comparatives when assessing the impact of the various proposals. For example, any measure of traffic impact should compare with the property when it was actively used as a courthouse/jail and not during recent years when sagebrush could have been blowing through the near-vacant property. Perhaps the worst-case outcome would be for the Commonwealth’s selected developer, Legatt-McCall, to just build whatever they can as-of-right in this nonconforming property. The trickiest part of this Council Order may be the potential impossibility of gaining "community support" in an environment where some people continue to insist that the only acceptable outcome is to have any future building on this site conform to current zoning.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to determine the legal and regulatory process necessary to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), companies in the private sector, and/or local universities, and/or donors that are willing to partner with the City to achieve the desired development objectives at the Foundry Building and report back to the City Council on the best manner in which to implement and fund the future community use of the building.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Toomey

On the Table #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Arts Council to determine the types of spaces that are most needed within the local arts community with the view of using the Foundry to fill those needs and to allocate appropriate funds to make appropriate upgrades for the purpose of creating a community arts center. (Order Amended by Substitution.) [Order Number Ten of Jan 27, 2014 Placed on Table on motion of Mayor Maher on Jan 27, 2014.]

The Foundry issue seems a lot easier to resolve than the future of the Sullivan Courthouse. It’s been trending toward a Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) role for the last month or so, and Order #16 seems consistent with this trend. I suspect that the programming of the space will continue to be debated for some time to come with good arguments being made for early childhood education, an arts center, and for some kind of Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics (STEAM) center. These proposed uses are only partially compatible, and it’s still necessary to have the building work financially. One of the more interesting aspects of this process has been the growing acceptance of CRA involvement in this and potentially other projects around the city (as opposed to just Kendall Square). The CRA now even has a webpage for its strategic plan and potential initiatives. Not so long ago there was concern expressed about having the CRA involved in development projects because of their "lack of accountability." Now they are coming to be seen as a vehicle for delivering desirable outcomes.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with a representative from MIT with the view in mind of arranging attendance by an MIT representative to present the findings of the Graduate Student Housing Working Group to the City Council in either a roundtable or special meeting format.   Councillor Cheung

The report from MIT’s Graduate Student Housing Working Group was pretty simple to read and digest. No decisions have been made yet where new housing will eventually be built, but the MIT administration has now quantified what the housing needs are. Other than the politics, it’s hard to see exactly what a roundtable or special meeting would add to the discussion, but I guess there’s no harm in asking. The main thing is that MIT representatives promised an honest evaluation of their (graduate student) housing needs when they sought approval of the MIT/Kendall zoning petition and they delivered on that promise. Some of the new housing will appear in and around Kendall Square, but it’s likely that most of it will be constructed elsewhere on the MIT campus and on other nearby MIT-owned property.

Order #20. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor regarding the possibility of contacting the Attorney General’s Office and requesting that a representative be made available to attend an upcoming Open Meeting Law training for the City Council.   Councillor Mazen

While it is certainly a good idea to have such a training (especially now that some councillors are using their "aides" as a means of getting around the restrictions of the law), it would be much better if the state legislature would intervene by evaluating and amending some of the more counterproductive aspects of their law. – Robert Winters

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