Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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

February 24, 2014

From Central Square to Lechmere – Preview of the Feb 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:24 am

From Central Square to Lechmere – Preview of the Feb 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here are a few comment-worthy items on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-04, regarding an update on when the Central Square Branch Library will reopen.

The Manager informs us that "We anticipate the reopening no later than March 10th, weather permitting. In the meantime, please know that the book drop will remain open for the duration of the project."

Applications & Petitions #5. An application was received from Zevart Hollisian requesting permission for a curb cut at the premises numbered 300 Massachusetts Avenue; said petition has received approval from Inspectional Services, Traffic, Parking and Transportation, Historical Commission and Public Works. No response has been received from the neighborhood association.

This is in reference to the project now under construction that was the subject of a contentious zoning petition a year ago. Though the petition ultimately passed unanimously, I would be surprised if some disgruntled activists showed up now to obstruct the necessary curb cuts.

Applications & Petitions #8. An application was received from Massachusetts Institute of Technology requesting permission for a temporary banner across Massachusetts Avenue at Norfolk Street, fifty-seven banners on poles in Harvard Square, ninety-three banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Memorial Drive to Harvard Square, sixteen banners on poles along Broadway from Ellery Street to Felton Street and eighteen banners on poles along Massachusetts Avenue from Inman Street to Bigelow Street announcing the Cambridge Science Festival Apr 18-27, 2014. Approval has been received from the Electrical Department.

I highlight this item only for the purpose of noting the date of this year’s Science Festival (April 18-27). Every year brings something new and interesting.

Resolution #8. Resolution on the death of Carl F. Barron.   Mayor Maher

Carl Barron was one of the most generous civic benefactors that Cambridge has known over many decades. Never shy about expressing his point of view and backing it up financially, Carl funded scholarships for CRLS graduates and improved health care facilities at Mount Auburn Hospital. He was the Central Square merchant who stayed in Central Square when everyone else was fleeing to the suburban malls. When we first met in 1992, we had little in common other than our dedication to the improvement of Central Square and the fact that we appreciated each other’s sense of humor. Times change and Central Square is changing, but many of us will still remember Carl for all that he did for the area during some of its toughest days.

Resolution #20. Congratulations to the Central Square Business Association, House of Vans and the Middle East on the Snochi Winter Festival.   Councillor Cheung

Speaking of the changing Central Square, did you ever think we’d have a pop-up winter carnival with snowboarding in Central Square? Well, last week we did.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and report back to the City Council on the matter of the closure of Lechmere Station before a new station is completed and operational and provide time lines for the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site.   Councillor Toomey

In addition to Councillor Toomey’s concern about potential disruption to people who need to access the Green Line at Lechmere, he also wants "time lines for the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site." This was a hot topic a couple of years ago when various neighborhood people were circulating the idea of a year-round market that might be developed as part of the current Lechmere Station site when it is vacated and the station moved to the other side of the McGrath Highway as part of the Green Line extension. What are the current plans for the Lechmere site?

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and other appropriate City personnel and then report back to the City Council on the feasibility of installing a permanent Cambridge Police Officer within City Hall to better ensure the safety of the public and the people who work within the building.   Councillor Simmons

I’m curious not only about the need expressed in this Order but also as to why it’s being submitted now. Cambridge City Hall has seen its share of controversy over the years, especially during the days of rent control, but it’s actually been relatively nonconfrontational through it all. Councillor Simmons’ argument could be made for just about any building that is publicly accessible, but it’s not at all clear that City Hall has any greater need for a dedicated police presence that any other place. Should the proposed policy be implemented, I expect that the City Hall Police Officer will have a lot of time on his or her hands. This doesn’t seem like the best way to deplot police resourses. I could perhaps understand it for public meetings with large attendance, but otherwise it seems unnecessary.

Order #7. That the City Council go on record urging local business owners to make a concerted effort to shovel a path to parking meters immediately in or around their establishments.   Councillor Simmons

Perhaps this Order should be amended to urge local business owners to also shovel out the bike posts in front of their businesses. Motor vehicles are not the only vehicles that need a parking space that can be accessed.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher regarding a retrospective talk on the career of Roger Boothe, Director of Urban Design, on Tues, Feb 25, 2014 at 5:30pm at the Main Library.

I do hope they record this event and make it available for later viewing. Roger Boothe will be retiring this month. He has been an invaluable resource within the Community Development Department for as long as I can remember. He’s also a hell of a great guy. – Robert Winters

February 12, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 35 and 36 with guest Denise Simmons

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:38 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 35 with guest Denise Simmons (Part 1). This program was broadcast on Feb 11, 2014 at 5:30pm.

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 36 with guest Denise Simmons (Part 2). This program was broadcast on Feb 11, 2014 at 6:00pm.

February 11, 2014

Cambridge City Council subcommittees for 2014-2015

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:23 pm

City Council subcommittees for 2014-2015

Committee Members Staff
Ordinance Benzan (Co-Chair), Carlone (Co-Chair), Cheung, Kelley, Mazen, McGovern, Simmons, Toomey
(committee of the whole – mayor ex-officio, quorum 3)
Lopez
Crane
Finance McGovern (Chair), Benzan, Carlone, Cheung, Kelley, Mazen, Simmons, Toomey
(committee of the whole – mayor ex-officio, quorum 3)
Lopez
Crane
Government Operations, Rules, and Claims Toomey (Chair), Cheung, Mazen, McGovern, Simmons
(5 members, quorum 2)
Lopez
Cosgrove
Housing Simmons (Chair), Benzan, Kelley, Mazen, McGovern
(4 members, quorum 2)
Crane
Economic Development and University Relations Benzan (Co-Chair), Simmons (Co-Chair), Carlone, Mazen, McGovern
(5 members, quorum 2)
Crane
Human Services & Veterans McGovern (Chair), Benzan, Kelley, Mazen
(4 members, quorum 2)
Crane
Health & Environment Cheung (Chair), Carlone, Mazen, McGovern
(4 members, quorum 2)
Lopez
Neighborhood and Long Term Planning,
Public Facilities, Art, and Celebrations
Mazen (Chair), Benzan, Carlone, Toomey
(4 members, quorum 2)
Crane
Transportation & Public Utilities Carlone (Chair), Benzan, Cheung, Kelley
(4 members, quorum 2)
Lopez
Civic Unity Simmons (Chair), Benzan, Cheung, McGovern
(4 members, quorum 2)
Crane
Public Safety Kelley (Chair), Carlone, Simmons, Toomey
(4 members, quorum 2)
Lopez

February 9, 2014

Leaving Cincinnati? Feb 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:33 pm

Leaving Cincinnati? Feb 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Here are a few Agenda items that sparked some interest.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the Early Education Services Task Force.

As the report states, "The charge to the Task Force is to identify a range of possible options for expansion of early childhood services and to explore the benefits and challenges of each option." Candidates and elected officials have talked for some time about the value of early education services as an effective means of preventing future achievement gaps and other hardships. Many people believe that directing these resources early may lessen the need for corrective action later. We have now apparently entered into the planning and implementation phase of this initiative.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-03, regarding the progress of the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Committee.

The ECKOS planning study committee has been meeting for much of this past year to develop an initial vision and goals for the entire open space network in Kendall Square and vicinity building upon the K2C2 Planning Study. There is now underway a planning and design competition. My only question is where they will be locating the miniature golf course. I’m dead serious. Think about how amazing it would be to have a sculpture garden that doubles as a mini-golf course.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-02, regarding a report on determining whether Councillors "replying all" to emails, addressed to the council@cambridgema.gov on business that may subsequently come before the Council are unintentionally violating the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law.

Though everyone applauds the goal of transparency in public process and open meetings that encourage civic participation, one really has to wonder if we’ve now gone way over to the other side when every interaction among elected officials and between elected officials and the public entails the risk technically violating this law. I simply cannot believe this was the intention of the legislature when they drafted the current version of the law.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining the noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with three AAA ratings from the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

We’ve come to take Cambridge’s credit-worthiness for granted, but it’s the result of the City administration and the City Council maintaining a steady financial plan even as we’ve undertaken some very ambitious and expensive projects. We often hear about Cambridge’s "free cash" and excess levy capacity whenever someone wants the City to break the bank to pay for another public amenity, but maintaining such a buffer is precisely why our bond ratings are so good.

Unfinished Business #3. That City Council Rule 35A be amended to provide that no suspension of the rules shall be required for late ceremonial resolutions filed after the close of the meeting agenda or before resolutions are voted on at the meeting. [Order Number Eight of Feb 3, 2014 Placed on Unfinished Business on Feb 3, 2014.]

Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a letter from Mayor David P. Maher regarding the Ad-Hoc Committee relative to changes to Rule 26 of the City Council Rules. [Communication and Report from City Officers Number Four of Feb 3, 2014 Placed on Unfinished Business on Feb 3, 2014.]

It was interesting to hear some of the back-and-forth at last week’s City Council meeting about these proposed rules changes. The most significant changes are the reduction of the number of City Council Committees from 17 to 11 and the establishment of quorums for each of these committees. The proposals are simple, sensible, and workable (in spite of being called "fierce and complicated" by one observer). If all goes well, the rules changes (mainly the consolidation of committees) will be voted at this meeting and the City Council committee appointments will be made public. I’m looking forward to seeing how well this group of nine works together on specific matters in committee.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to State Representative Marjorie Decker for spearheading an amendment to fund a total of $13.5 million in Cambridge infrastructure transportation projects that was unanimously passed by the members of the State House of Representatives.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Though it clearly takes more than one representative in a House of 140 members to bring home the bacon, it’s good to see Marjorie Decker and the entire Cambridge delegation getting the job done. My understanding is that the Mass. State Senate and ultimately the Governor still have to weigh in before the deal is done. The noted $13.5 million is for the design and reconstruction of roads and sidewalks in Harvard Square and on River Street. There is also $3 million for completing the design and construction of the Inlet Bridge connecting North Point Park to the O’Brien Highway; $1.5 million for the design of a rail trail in the Grand Junction Railroad corridor in Cambridge, Somerville and Charlestown; $1.3 million for the Watertown Greenway which runs from Watertown to the Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge; $500,000 for construction at Fresh Pond Parkway and Mount Auburn Street; and $500,000 for a new pedestrian bridge at Alewife. None of this is final, but the signs are good.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant city departments and engage with the leadership of Globe Direct to ensure that Cambridge residents who have not subscribed to weekly Globe Direct circulars and have indicated that they do not wish to receive more are promptly removed from further distribution lists.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.68 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction.

The topic of Order #3 is also contained in the committee report, i.e. those unnecessary red plastic bags containing advertisements that now litter Cambridge porches, sidewalks, and anywhere else they can toss them. The main subject of the committee report is a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags that’s been kicked around for the last year or two. I need to point out that opinions are not unanimous in the recycling advocacy world on this topic. If plastic bags are replaced by paper bags, this is not necessarily a net positive from an environmental point of view. The hope is that the use of reusable grocery bags will greatly increase, and a proposed mandatory fee on paper bags is meant to encourage this. It’s also worth mentioning that many Cambridge residents (perhaps most) do their grocery shopping outside of Cambridge, e.g. the Somerville Market Basket, and may bu only minimally affected by this proposed ordinance.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department and the Election Commission to determine 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.   Councillor Carlone

This is a good Order but it needs at least one more "Whereas" to emphasize the real reason why this reform should be considered. Allow me to go through this point by point (and you can feel free to tune this out if you’ve heard this before):

First, let’s be clear that a candidate does not need to reach the election quota in order to be elected. The purpose of the quota to to limit the number of ballots a winning candidate is allowed to keep in order to assure proportional representation. It does happen in some elections that candidates elected late in the process do not reach quota, but all other candidates have then been defeated and the number of candidates is reduced to the number to be elected.

It’s true that the Cincinnati method involves an element of chance, and that never sits well with people. It is, however, a fair system in that there is no systematic bias for or against any individual candidate, election precinct, or any subset of the electorate. The fact that shuffling and then recounting the ballots may give slightly different results is a serious problem, especially if there’s a close election.

The primary reason why a change should be considered to a system that is independent of ballot order is not because the current method in unfair, but rather because it creates a perverse incentive for a losing candidate to seek a recount solely to take advantage of this random element. The recent Recount cost an additional $109,604 and served only to prove the relative accuracy of the original scan of the ballots. [It should also be noted that much of this cost is caused by the substantial time needed to recreate the original ballot order. If this sequence didn't matter, things would go a lot faster and cost far less.]

The Fractional Transfer Method noted in the Council Order is a ballot-order-independent method, but it must be noted that this requires somewhat more than simply changing the way surplus ballots are transferred. An equally important aspect of the method is how it deals with the election of a candidate during a round. In order to not have ballots transferred early in the round be treated differently than those transferred later in the round, it’s necessary that candidates be allowed to go over-quota during the round and then have their total reduced to quota using the same fractional transfer rules. The Fractional Transfer Method is actually the default option for the tabulation software Cambridge uses. The use of the Cambridge Rules is an optional set of rules built into the software.

The real purpose of the Order is to get information from the Law Department and the Election Commission about what steps would be required in order to make a change. The Election Commission can make changes to the procedures by simple majority vote to another method consistent with the principles of the law, but only to another method in use at the time of enactment of the law (1938), and there is no evidence of Fractional Transfer being in use anywhere at that time. The real goal should be to add this method to the list of permissible methods now that it can be done simply and quickly using modern technology. It is likely that this can be accomplished via a Home Rule Petition and a subsequent Special Act of the State Legislature. However, it’s important to also clarify how such a change might affect other provisions in the law, e.g. the right to a manual recount. It would perhaps be best if the standard for a recount could be clarified so that verification of voter intent followed by a computer count would be the preferred procedure should there be a call for a recount.

In anticipation of future conversations about this, today I carried out the Fractional Transfer Method and compared it with the Cincinnati Method for 7 City Council elections from 2001 through 2013. I will be happy to share the results with anyone who is interested (the winners are the same, by the way, though order of election does change in some elections). I also plan to do this for School Committee elections over this same period. – Robert Winters

January 28, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 33-34: Discussing Foundry options with guest Rozann Kraus

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 33 with Rozann Kraus (Part 1) – broadcast Jan 28, 2014 at 5:30pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 34 with Rozann Kraus (Part 2) – broadcast Jan 28, 2014 at 6:00pm

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