Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 6, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 127-128: April 5, 2016

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:53 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 127 (Part 1)

Episode 127 – Cambridge InsideOut. This episode was broadcast on April 5, 2016 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about Envision Cambridge and a variety of other current civic affairs. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 128 (Part 2)

Episode 128 – Cambridge InsideOut (Part 2). This episode was broadcast on April 5, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about Envision Cambridge and a variety of other current civic affairs. [On YouTube]

April 4, 2016

No Foolin’ – Coming up at the April 4, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:48 am

No Foolin’ – Coming up at the April 4, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Every once in a while, reality can be like an April Fools joke on an April Fools joke. As I was preparing to post my annual April Fools Edition of the Cambridge Civic Journal, along came Order #1 on this agenda. See below.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments to consider the pending State legislation and pending legislation in the City of Boston and any other actions that would allow Cambridge to institute municipal lobbying regulations. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Mar 21, 2016.]

As I stated in advance of the previous meeting, this is a "solution" in search of a problem. Modeled on a similar proposal being explored in Boston, this Order would require that "lobbyists … file twice-yearly reports declaring campaign contributions, the names of their clients, policies that they tried to influence or that they advocated on behalf of, compensation received from clients, and dates of lobbying communications." Who exactly are we talking about here? Is this specifically targeting property owners and their representatives who bring forward zoning petitions or file Special Permit applications? Would this also apply to people employed by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the government relations people associated with the city’s major universities? Would representatives of hotel worker unions or the Sierra Club have to register and provide a log of all their activities? Why not also require anyone with a financial interest in the outcome of any City administration or City Council action to register and to provide detailed records of all of their interactions? What exactly is the problem that this measure seeks to cure? Should a residents organization registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit also then be required to divulge all of their contributions and expenditures if they exceed the minimum threshold?

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on the effects of the removal of sidewalk vaults in Central Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Kelley on Mar 21, 2016.]

Once again, this is just one of many things that continue to need attention in Central Square. See page 24 of the Central Square Action Plan (1987) which states; "Even upon completion of the MBTA project there will be many areas without trees or greenery because of the extensive vault and utility system that lies beneath the sidewalks. Improvement and maintenance of these improvements to Central Square’s physical image, both public and private, is essential to gain consumer confidence and interest." Next time you walk through Central Square, take note of the broken sidewalk pavement, the missing, sunken, or heaving bricks (especially neat the T entrances), the number of dead or dying trees, and the tree wells that serve little function other than trip hazards.

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from the Riverside Neighborhood Protective Zoning Proposal to amend the Zoning Map and the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by changing the current zoning designation for the parcels within the Putnam Avenue-Franklin Street and River Street boundaries from C-1 to C zoning.

Though I may need a registered municipal lobbyist to help me read and understand the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance, as near as I can tell this would reduce the permitted Floor/Area Ratio (FAR) from 0.75 to 0.6 (compare to 0.5 for Res A districts), increase the minimum lot area from 1500 sq. ft. to 1800 sq. ft., and increase the minimum ratio of private open space from 30% to 36%. The biggest question I have is what fraction of residential properties in Riverside that might now be legally conforming to the Code would be made nonconforming. Would this change make it all but impossible for homeowners to make even modest changes to their buildings without have to expend a lot of time on money seeking a variance (that they might likely not even get)?

Resolution #7. Resolution on the death of Peter Sheinfeld.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons

Peter has been a friend for many years. This was an entirely unexpected death – here one day gone the next. Peter had a constellation of friends as eclectic as Peter’s many interests. I’ll have more to say elsewhere – especially when some of the people who have known Peter over the years get together soon to exchange recollections.

Order #1. That the City Council go on record asking the Massachusetts State Legislature to review the symbolism of the Official Seal of Massachusetts to determine whether it may be perpetuating or promoting hurtful symbolism.   Mayor Simmons

Great Seal of MassachusettsI had just put the finishing touches on an April Fools joke about the City of Cambridge changing its City seal to obliterate any and all references to anything more controversial than Winnie the Pooh when I saw this City Council order on this week’s agenda. Is this what the future holds – that every historical reference has to be sanitized? This has become ridiculous. I’m sure somebody will be offended no matter what.

In any case, here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject: "The seal was adopted by the Provincial Congress on Dec 13, 1780. The shield depicts an Algonquian Native American with bow and arrow; the arrow is pointed downward, signifying peace. A white star with five points appears next to the figure’s head. A blue ribbon (blue, signifying the Blue Hills of Quincy, Canton and Milton) surrounds the shield, bearing the state motto "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem" This comes from the Book of Mottoes in the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, Denmark; written about 1659 by Algernon Sydney, English soldier and politician. It was adopted in 1775 by the Provincial Congress and the literal translation is, "With a sword, she seeks quiet peace under liberty." Although the looser English translation more commonly used is, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." Above the shield is the state military crest: a bent arm holding a broadsword aloft. The sword has its blade up, to remind that it was through the American Revolution that independence was won."

Go ahead. Be offended. Get a life.

Order #3. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinance in 5.23 Height Exceptions Proposal for Converting Flat Concave Roofs for Green Uses be referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for hearing and report.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern

This seems to be a reintroduction of something Councillor Kelley had pushed in the last City Council term. There is certainly some merit in the goal.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to take steps necessary to impose a moratorium, to include the possibility of the City Council implementing a zoning change, on the permitting of all new restaurants where a wood-fired oven is used as a significant method of food preparation.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

I can’t say that a moratorium is warranted here, but one thing I will say is that in this age when "mixed-use districts" are being encouraged is that there doesn’t seem to nearly enough attention paid to what the reasonable standards and expectations should be for places (like mine) where businesses and residents are crowded together. Perhaps it’s not enough to just hope that the Cambridge License Commission will ensure that everyone gets along.

This specific Order is about emissions from restaurants (I’m interested in which ones in particular triggered the Order), but there’s not a whole lot to be found in the Zoning Ordinance addressing the reality that some businesses that might operate late into the night in the middle of Central Square or Harvard Square might not be a welcome addition to a more neighborhood-scale mixed use district. This is something I got to thinking about a few years ago during the MIT/Kendall rezoning. Many people came out advocating for more housing (generally a great thing) but there was little attention paid to whether that housing should be located in the busiest location in Kendall Square or perhaps, more appropriately, with at least some small separation from all the activity. I suppose you could argue that tall buildings provide such separation but maybe being a short walk away is preferred.

Sorry for the digression, but I do think that the issue of well-functioning mixed-use districts that don’t drive people crazy is a topic that needs more discussion.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to initiate a process to add high-capacity dedicated motor scooter and motorcycle on-street parking within dense commercial areas, taking care to coordinate with local residents, businesses, and business associations.   Councillor Mazen

The City already does this during the warmer weather months for bikes, so why not? If the City is already OK with removing a few parking spaces in favor of bike parking, allowing for scooters and maybe creating smaller spaces for motorcycles seems worth considering. We’re already seeing some of these scooters parked on sidewalks. On a related matter, we could really use a purge of all the derelict bicycles that are occupying the various bike posts and bike racks around the city.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist and any other relevant City departments to discuss the feasibility of an education campaign that would be available to all property owners through tax bills and other sources to educate residents about watering street trees near their property, refilling Gator Bags, and other tips for caring for street trees and the possibility of implementing an "Adopt-a-Tree" program.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

There’s already a really good program in place for this. It’s called: "Just Do It." Seriously, if there’s a street tree near your house that needs a little love, just adopt it and start taking care of it. Nobody from the City is going to haul you into court for doing so, and the costs are small enough that you hardly need a tax abatement to cover them. I’ve been pruning and watering trees in my neighborhood for years. The core message in this Order is that people just need a little more information and initiative – and that’s worth it. If you do the math you’ll quickly realize that when it comes to basic neighborhood maintenance (including keeping storm drains clear), there’s no way it can get done if you expect others to do it. So….. Just Do It.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the possibility of allowing local businesses to voluntarily donate collected bag fees to non-profit organizations, the newly designed Community Benefits Fund, or the Cambridge Non-Profit Coalition.   Councillor Cheung

The language is curious, don’t you think? Do we really have to take legislative action to allow local businesses to make voluntary donations to non-profit organizations? Perhaps it would be appropriate to change "allow" to "encourage" and provide some suggestions for where the fees might be directed.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with the number of parking spaces in the City of Cambridge as well as the number of cars registered in the city.   Councillor Cheung

I would like to see this information, but the aggregate totals have little value. It would be much better if this could perhaps also be done by neighborhood or other some convenient divisions.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to develop a timeline for the implementation of the C2 non-zoning recommendations.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

While many of us appreciate the intention here, it needs to be pointed out that those non-zoning recommendations are just recommendations and some of them are pretty general and not necessarily in a form that can or should be implemented. The C2 recommendations were to be further refined with the help of the Central Square Advisory Committee, but that process could use a little more attention (and a little spark).

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to ban all taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina due to the recently passed discriminatory legislation against the LGBTQ community.   Councillor Toomey

The specific legislation is kind of backwards, but one core aspect of the North Carolina law is not so different than how we do things in Massachusetts. I’m not talking about bathrooms here, but rather the principle that some things are best done uniformly throughout a state and some things can and should be determined at the discretion of individual cities and towns. In Massachusetts there are many things that can only be enacted via Home Rule legislation.

Order #20. City Council support of State Senate Bill S. 1022 which would allow municipalities in Massachusetts to set their own minimum wage without contest.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Here’s a perfect illustration of the dilemma of who should have authority in enacting a law – the city or the state. Personally, I feel that minimum wage laws are appropriately determined at the federal level and at the state level – and NOT at the municipal level. The same was true about the smoking ban and it’s also true for standards on voting. Uniformity across municipal boundaries is generally a good idea. If you want to adjust the minimum wage, talk to your state legislators and maybe suggest different zones in the state, but don’t have different standards in every city and town.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 11, 2016 to discuss the continued employment of City Manager Richard Rossi beyond June 30, 2016 and to initiate negotiations for a successor employment contract and any other related business put forth.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 23, 2016 to discuss the development of the process for the selection of a new City Manager.

The process has begun and the next meeting is Wed, Apr 6. I just hope everyone can stay on task and not try to cure all ills when they should be focusing on hiring a person. I also really hope we can identify someone (soon) who can not only manager a city with a large budget but who also already has great familiarity with Cambridge and its people.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting the determination on an Open Meeting Law Complaint of Kim Courtney dated Oct 28, 2015, amended on Jan 5, 2016.

There really does come a point when the filing of complaints rises to the level of harassment. I’m glad this pointless complaint has been dismissed, but it’s a shame that time and money had to be wasted on the changing of these particular diapers.

March 22, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 123-124: Mar 22, 2016

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:29 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 123 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 22, 2016 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. The main topics in this episode were the recent Division 1 State Championship of the Cambridge Falcons (CRLS Boys Basketball) and some other civic news. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 124 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 22, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. The prominent topics were primarily things discussed at the Cambridge City Council meeting the night before. [On YouTube]

March 21, 2016

Happy Spring! – Coming up at the March 21, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:23 am

Happy Spring! Coming up at the March 21, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Happy Spring!
Happy Spring!

Here are a few items that aroused my interest:

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Peter L. Cohen, et al., Zoning Petition, with a recommendation that the issue be incorporated into a broader study.

Not much to say about this except that the Planning Board recommends that "the issue of parking location may be best studied as part of the Envision Cambridge citywide planning process." There are some who would like to freeze all new construction until that process is complete (which is silly), but there are lots of issues major and minor that can be made part of that discussion without bringing the city to a screeching halt.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Complete Streets Policy and Council Order.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the adoption of a Policy Order committing Vision Zero, a set of goals of eliminating transportation fatalities and serious injuries.

I don’t think anyone can argue against the general concept of safer streets that accommodate all modes of travel. My only concern here is that there needs to be some understanding that there is no universal agreement on how best to accomplish this. Some people will not be satisfied until all cyclists are removed from the roadways under the dogma that creating segregated facilities is the only safe way to accommodate cyclists. Many of us disagree strongly with that assumption except where there is a great differential in relative speeds of cyclists and motor vehicles, e.g. along most DCR parkways. I certainly hope that in accepting these reports there is no implied endorsement of segregated cycling facilities in all or even most circumstances.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2016 and ending Mar 31, 2017.

The Bottom Line: Another 0% increase in the water consumption block rate and a 3.2% increase in the sewer use block rate, resulting in a 2.4% increase in the combined rate for the period beginning Apr 1, 2016 and ending Mar 31, 2017. This is the sixth consecutive year that the City has been able to produce a 0% increase in the water rate.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to the CRLS Boys Basketball Team on their hard-earned semifinals victory and best wishes in the upcoming State Championship games against St. John’s Shrewsbury.   Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

You can add the Division 1 State Championship to the resolution. The Cambridge Falcons (CRLS Boys Basketball) won the state title Saturday night against St. John’s, 66-51.

Resolution #2. Retirement of Susan Flannery from the Cambridge Public Library.   Mayor Simmons

We have been blessed with Susan Flannery as Director of the Cambridge Public Library for over two decades. Enjoy your retirement! The Order declares March 30 as Susan Flannery Day in the City of Cambridge. Celebrate by reading a book!

Resolution #3. That the City Council declare Apr 9, 2016 to be Tom Lehrer Day in the City of Cambridge.   Mayor Simmons

Yet another fine example of how mathematicians can be good at more than just mathematics. The Resolution declares April 9 to be Tom Lehrer Day in the City of Cambridge. Coincidentally, that’s also the anniversary of my own mathematics doctoral defense – a personal holiday of sorts. I think I have all of Tom Lehrer’s records.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council as to what steps may have already been undertaken to examine the question of the legality of tying the Living Wage Ordinance to the Linkage Ordinance, what additional measures must be taken in order to obtain a definitive answer, and what the timeline for this process is projected to be.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

It’s not entirely clear what is intended here, but I don’t think it’s such a good idea to intermingle policies regarding what can be built in Cambridge and how developers or commercial tenants should pay their workers. To the best of my understanding, there are also no requirements about hiring union workers in the zoning code, and only the Commonwealth and the federal government have the authority to determine any minimum wage or living wage.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City departments to consider the pending State legislation and pending legislation in the City of Boston and any other actions that would allow Cambridge to institute municipal lobbying regulations.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen

Not only is this unnecessary given the limited authority of city councillors under the Plan E Charter, it also reads like an accusation from three city councillors directed at their colleagues. All campaign contributions are now easily accessible public records. There is no need for any additional layer of bureaucracy. This is a "solution" in search of a problem.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Managing Director of the Cambridge Water Department for the purpose of creating an online database of lead service lines similar to the one created by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission and to disseminate information to residents about the Cambridge Water Department’s free quality testing and lead service pipe replacement services.   Councillor Toomey

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Water Department to create an informational web page that will provide plumbing infrastructure installation tips for residents, commercial customers, and contractors in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Unlike other cities across the country, the City of Cambridge has been way ahead of the game in terms of testing and replacement of lead services. My house is a good example. I replaced my old service in conjunction with an emergency repair by the Water Department some years ago, and my building has been one of the City’s lead and copper testing sites for nearly three decades. We are definitely not Flint, Michigan.

Order #7. That the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations Committee and the Civic Unity Committee hold a joint hearing to determine the feasibility of facilitating the appointment of an “Non-Citizen Representative” to the City Council.   Councillor Mazen, Mayor Simmons

This is a ridiculous proposal. There has never been a day in the history of Cambridge when a non-citizen couldn’t bring concerns to any of the elected city councillors with every expectation that those concerns would be addressed. All five items proposed are already available to any member of the public – citizen or not. It is also abundantly clear that the appropriate City Council Committee for the substance of this Order would be the Government Operations Committee – and neither of the two committees specified in the Order.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on the effects of the removal of sidewalk vaults in Central Square.   Councillor Cheung

For those not in the know, the continued presence of hollow sidewalks, a.k.a. sidewalk vaults or area ways, in Central Square is one of the main reasons why the sidewalks routinely fail and are difficult to maintain. Eliminating these area ways is not cheap and the financial burden primarily rests with the property owners. At the very least the City could require that these be remedied as a precondition for any City grant programs or zoning relief. This is just one of many things that continue to need attention in Central Square. – Robert Winters

March 14, 2016

The Eve of the Ides – March 14, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:17 am

The Eve of the Ides – March 14 Cambridge City Council meeting highlights

Ides of MarchWith the announcement last Friday that City Manager Richard Rossi would not be seeking a contract extension at the end of his term this summer, things got really interesting really fast around City Hall. People are already speculating on possible successors. Let’s just hope that the relative peace that we’ve see so far this term manages to reign – even as those with divergent points of view jockey for position to influence the process to come. The City Council’s Government Operations, Rules, and Claims Committee will meet at 10:00am on Wed, Mar 23 to continue the discussion of the process and schedule for selecting the next City Manager.

In the meantime, we do have a regular meeting this week. Here are a few items of some interest – with minimal comment:

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining the noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 36 municipalities in the United States with three AAA ratings from the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

This has become an annual event that is treated almost as routine – but it isn’t. It speaks volumes regarding the fiscal policies of the City Management balanced against the policy initiatives of the City Council.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to form a special working group that will be tasked with developing a framework for the continued stewardship, curatorship and oversight of the Out of Town Kiosk in Harvard Square.

The discussion of this item during the previous City Council meeting had more than a few hints of the desire of some city councillors to micromanage a process best left to the kind of public process that is generally followed in projects like this. Now if only half that much attention could be focused on Central Square.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Margaret Carney-Myers.   Councillor Mazen

Resolution #8. Resolution on the death of Steven Warren Reckhow.   Councillor Maher

I remember Margaret from 25 years ago when some of us expended great effort organizing "Earth Day" events for Cambridge. Though they divorced some time ago, it is worth noting that Margaret was once married to former Cambridge City Councillor Jonathan Myers. The last time I saw her was several years ago while giving some lessons on composting at a community garden in Cambridgeport.

Steve Reckhow’s rapid health decline and death came as quite a shock. Steve and his wife Sylvia have owned the property next to me on Broadway – the former Hubley’s auction house – for a number of years now. They redeveloped that property and the triple-decker behind me with great attention to energy conservation and historic preservation. The Broadway building now houses the Barismo/Dwelltime coffee shop and the Wildflower Montessori School.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with relevant City departments to develop data on residents of housing developments with 16 units or more to capture such demographic information as the City might find relevant for future planning, to include the number and age of residents, as well as the percent of owner-occupied units, broken down by unit size, specific building and building location.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

I like information as much as anyone, but this seems a bit on the intrusive side. Perhaps they can just take the information from the annual street listing and be satisfied with that. Do we really need to categorize everything and everybody to such a degree?

February 28, 2016

Leapin’ Legislators – Items of Interest on the Feb 29, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

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

Leapin’ Legislators – Items of Interest on the Feb 29, 2016 Cambridge City Council agenda

FrogThere’s not much to leap about on this week’s agenda, but here are a few items that stirred my interest:

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Mazen on Feb 22, 2016.]

Under normal circumstances, an eminent domain taking of residential property is not the best course of action, but Vail Court is clearly exceptional. This property has been derelict now not for years, but for decades. It is problematic for abutters and for anyone who cares about the greater Central Square neighborhood.

Unfinished Business #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor E. Denise Simmons transmitting proposed changes to the City Council Rules and the City Council Committee Assignments for the Council Term 2016-2017. [Placed On Unfinished Business for one week on Feb 22, 2016 per Rule 36b.]

For those unfamiliar with the City Council Rules, any rules change is required to "lay on the table" for at least a week before it can be finalized. Since the standing City Council committees are established within the City Council Rules, they are not formally reconfigured until the rules are finalized. However, since the Chairs of each of the committees were announced weeks ago, there was nothing preventing them from scheduling meetings. So far, only the Finance Committee has scheduled meetings.

Applications & Petitions #1. A petition was received from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, requesting permission for twenty-five banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Memorial Drive to Vassar Street and six banners on poles along Broadway from Longfellow Bridge to Third Street to publicize the upcoming MIT celebration of their move from Boston to Cambridge 100 years ago.

This should be fun. The official "Crossing the Charles procession and competition" is set to take place on May 7.

Dancing FrogResolution #8. Congratulations to the African American Heritage Alliance on the unveiling of a memorial quilt which will illuminate the unique history and vital contributions of African Americans in Cambridge through the creation and dissemination of an historic trail, educational materials, and programs for residents and visitors.   Mayor Simmons

One of the greatest things about living in Cambridge is that there’s history to be discovered on almost any street in the city. This is a great addition to the historical fabric.

Order #1. 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 Tax Ordinance and, if required, appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer tax on real estate transactions in the City of Cambridge such that the value of a real estate transaction not less than $1 million be taxed on a sliding scale based on said transaction value, with proceeds being earmarked for affordable housing initiatives in the City, and to report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

This will likely go nowhere in the state legislature, but it’s an interesting new angle on generating funds for affordable housing programs. Legally there’s a rather large obstruction to this proposal going anywhere – namely that the Community Preservation Act is already funded by such a tax on real estate transactions, and Cambridge already allots 80% of that CPA revenue toward affordable housing.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to form a special working group that will be tasked with developing a framework for the continued stewardship, curatorship and oversight of the Out of Town Kiosk in Harvard Square.   Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

Perhaps this same special working group can take on the establishment of a jointly operated storefront abutting Carl Barron Plaza in Central Square that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. Oh yeah, that’s in Central Square, so I suppose that means it will be assigned a lower priority.

Arguably, the most significant thing on this week’s agenda doesn’t appear on the agenda at all – namely the question of a contract extension for City Manager Richard Rossi. According to the current contract, there is no set date by which Mr. Rossi must inform the City Council of his intentions, but the City Council is obliged to notify Mr. Rossi of their intentions no later than March 1, 2016. There is no doubt that the City and its residents would be well-served by having Rich Rossi continue as City Manager for at least another year or two (preferably more). I sincerely hope that a majority of the City Councillors will see the wisdom in signaling their intention this Monday to enter into discussions with Mr. Rossi on a contract extension. Indeed, based on Mr. Rossi’s superlative performance over the last few years, I can see no reason why the vote should be anything other than unanimous. – Robert Winters

February 24, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 115-116: Feb 23, 2016

Filed under: Cambridge InsideOut,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:37 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 115 (Part 1) – Presidential Politics

This episode was broadcast on Feb 23, 2016 at 5:30pm. In this episode we stepped outside of Cambridge and talked about the presidential primaries a week before Super Tuesday. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 116 (Part 2) – More Local Matters

This episode was broadcast on Feb 23, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

February 21, 2016

Back to Work (Really) – Monday, Feb 22, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:05 pm

Back to Work (Really) – Monday, Feb 22, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Committee Members
Ordinance Carlone (Co-Chair), Cheung (Co-Chair)
(committee of the whole)
Finance McGovern (Chair)
(committee of the whole)
Government Operations,
Rules, and Claims
Maher (Chair), Cheung,
Mazen, McGovern, Toomey
Housing Mayor Simmons (Co-Chair),
McGovern (Co-Chair),
Carlone, Devereux, Maher
Economic Development and
University Relations
Devereux (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Mazen, McGovern
Human Services & Veterans McGovern (Chair), Devereux,
Maher, Mazen, Toomey
Health & Environment Devereux (Chair), Carlone,
Kelley, McGovern, Toomey
Neighborhood and Long Term
Planning, Public Facilities,
Art, and Celebrations
Mazen (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Devereux, Maher
Transportation
& Public Utilities
Toomey (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Kelley, Mazen
Civic Unity McGovern (Chair), Devereux, Kelley,
Mazen, Mayor Simmons
Public Safety Kelley (Chair), Maher, Mazen,
McGovern, Toomey

Back to WorkNote: Much of this meeting’s agenda was originally set for February 8, but all City of Cambridge offices were closed that day due to snow. All of those items were carried over to the February 22 agenda.


The 2016-2017 City Council committee assignments have been announced by Mayor Simmons. There are also proposed amended 2016-2017 City Council Rules on the agenda for this week’s meeting. The proposed changes include uniformizing most City Council committees at 5 members and allowing for the possibility that some Roundtable meetings may be televised. One curious departure from tradition is that Mayor Simmons will co-chair the Housing Committee and also be a regular member of the Civic Unity Committee. In all my year’s of Council-watching, I don’t recall the Mayor being anything other than an ex-officio member of any subcommittees (other than committees of the whole) and certainly never a co-chair. I have to interpret this a strong desire of Mayor Simmons to continue work begun on these committees during the last term.

I’m especially pleased by the appointments to the Government Operations, Rules, & Claims Committee – especially with the City Manager’s contract discussion coming up (very) soon. The City Council must give notice of its intentions no later than March 1.

Other interesting items on this coming Monday’s City Council agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Sharlene Yang as the new STEAM Coordinator.

So much of the focus on STEM/STEAM has seemed like little more than political fashion, but if any of these efforts result in matching young people growing up in Cambridge with real opportunities in the local economy of today, it will all have been worth it. That said, a coordinator needs to have something to coordinate and it will be interesting to see if the required opportunities develop.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Sage Cannabis, Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

Communications #8. A communication was received from Michael Dundas, Chief Executive Officer, Sage Cannabis, Inc., 13 Commercial Way, Milford, MA, regarding a status update on the zoning amendment petition APP 2015 #72 filed with the Cambridge City Clerk on Nov 9, 2015.

Order #3. That the zoning petition filed by Milford Medicinals, Inc. be placed on file.   Mayor Simmons

It’s hard to say where this matter is going to ultimately end up, but it’s important to note that the City Council and City staff spent a considerable amount of time on the current zoning that delineates two areas where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate. Has the case really been made that those districts are inadequate and that additional mini-districts have to be established whenever a medical marijuana dispensary wants to operate elsewhere? It’s also worth considering how the marijuana sales landscape will take shape in the event that the ballot question on legalization prevails later this year.

Resolution #18. Congratulations to the MIT-based members of the LIGO collaboration on their contributions to the observation of gravitational waves.   Councillor Cheung

Occasionally my worlds collide. The "chirp" of two black holes colliding was the talk in every corner of MIT on February 11. Even MIT President Rafael Reif was as excited as a kid at a carnival.

Order #5. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to amend the provisions of the PUD-KS District set forth in Section 13.10 of the Zoning Ordinances and which includes a majority of the Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, be refiled as of Feb 9, 2015.   Councillor Carlone

This re-filing has been anticipated for some time, and now there will be an Ordinance Committee to work on it.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant City departments to study the benefits of a wellbeing index and plan for how it might be incorporated into various City planning processes, including the city wide Master Plan.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

Call me skeptical. I just read the following description of a wellbeing index: "The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is designed to be the Dow Jones of health, giving a daily measure of people’s wellbeing at the close of every day. With a daily measure, determining the correlation between the places where people work and the communities in which they live, and how it impacts their wellbeing, is now possible. Additionally, the index will increase an understanding of how those factors impact the financial health of corporations and communities." This seems to be in part a continuation of the spectrum of policies that Cambridge planners have been using for years in promoting transportation alternatives and integrating passive and active recreational opportunities wherever possible. My skepticism comes from the potential subjectivity of such a measure. I’m reminded how when various measures of cycling safety led to inconclusive results, a new "comfort index" was invented in order to justify specific policies regarding road design that some planners wanted. How shall we measure "wellbeing"?

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding how the decision to move these festivals out of Central Square was reached, what plans the City has to initiate other festivals in Central Square to replace these lost activities, and what can be done to return these festivals to Central Square.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

It would be great if the Central Square Worlds Fair could one day be revived, but these events don’t come cheap, and they don’t all yield benefits for the existing businesses in Central Square.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Public Works Department, and any other relevant City department to level the sidewalks and add new lighting to Carl Barron Plaza prior to any renovations taking place.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Any significant renovations to Carl Barron Plaza will likely be delayed until the River Street improvements happen a couple of years from now. That said, basic maintenance of the sidewalks and better lighting shouldn’t be delayed. One comprehensive improvement that could also be made now would be a jointly operated storefront abutting the plaza that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. An outside public restroom (the Portland Loo) recently open in the Harvard Square area, but it would be so much better (and more secure) if such a facility in Central Square was done jointly with enhanced police presence. The plumbing will also be a lot simpler.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

The perennial sore thumb continues to throb. Non-friendly eminent domain takings are a huge hassle and don’t always end well, but this situation is ridiculous.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Clerk to communicate the City Council’s strong support of Harvard’s graduate research and teaching assistants to choose collective bargaining to the Harvard University administration.   Councillor Cheung

Some form of collective bargaining may make sense here, but being a graduate student teaching assistant is not a career option and should not be categorized the same way as long-term jobs are – unionized or not. More than anything else, this is really a test of the ethical standards of universities like Harvard, and any discussion of what constitutes fairness should also be extended to adjunct faculty for whom this often does constitute a career choice.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to seek permission from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for the use of two lanes (one in each direction) of Memorial Drive for non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians only and further to coordinate with the appropriate city departments to close two lanes to cars (one in each direction) on Memorial Drive on Apr 29, 2016, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Walk/Ride Days, and the kick-off of the 5th Annual Walk/Ride Day Corporate Challenge.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Mayor Simmons

Though there may be some popular appeal in doing something like this, the unfortunate reality is that the DCR "parkways" have become essential links between the urban core and major roads like the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 2. This includes the need for a through lane as well as a turning lane at numerous locations. Removing two travel lanes or even shutting these roads down altogether may be fine on weekends and holidays, but the road already operates at capacity during rush hour on working days. It is hard to imagine the DCR agreeing to such a road closure on a busy Friday. If so, perhaps the name should be changed from "Walk/Ride Day" to "Piss Off Thousands of Commuters Day." – Robert Winters

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