Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 28, 2015

Post-Eclipse – Items from the Sept 28, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:27 am

Post-Eclipse – Items from the Sept 28, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Super Lunar EclipseIt was a Super Moon in Total Eclipse on Sunday, but Monday brings us back to Earth. Here are some things of interest at this week’s City Council meeting:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following members of the Foundry Advisory Committee: Deborah Rue (3-year term), Folakemi Alalade (2-year term), Jamie Sabino (1-year term), Jason Slavick (3-year term), Mark Tang (2-year term), Mariam Bucheli (1-year term), Richard Thal (3-year term).

I recognize only one name in this group of appointees – and that’s probably a good thing.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2016.

Excerpts from the Manager’s letter: The actual FY16 property tax levy is $354,430,753, an increase of $12,985,298 or 3.8% from FY15. The 3.8% property tax levy increase is below the five-year average annual increase of 4.54%. With approval of these recommendations, the ten-year average annual increase will be 4.75%. Based on a property tax levy of $354.4 million, the FY16 residential tax rate will be $6.99 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.83, or -10.61% from FY15. The commercial tax rate will be $17.71, which is a decrease of $1.58, or – 8.19% from FY15. This will be the eleventh year in a row that a majority of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no change or an increase of less than $100 in their tax bill. In fact, in FY16, approximately 87% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100. As a result of market activity in calendar year 2014, which is the basis of the FY16 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 16.28%, which is the highest increase in the past decade. Total commercial property values increased by 13.18%. For FY16, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $34,680,060,680 a 15.1% increase over FY15 values. The actual FY16 total assessed values are significantly greater than the projections presented to the rating agencies in February 2015 due to continued strength in the Cambridge real estate market.

Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 14, 2015 to discuss proposed amendments to Section 11.200 entitled Incentive Zoning Provisions and Inclusionary Housing Provisions. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 24, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held July 21, 2015. Petition expires Oct 12, 2015.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 22, 2015 to further discuss the petition to amend the incentive zoning requirements that is currently under consideration by the City Council.

There’s a good chance the amendments to the incentive zoning requirements will be ordained at this meeting.

Order #2. That the City Clerk, in consultation with the City Solicitor, draft a response regarding the Open Meeting Law complaint filed by Ilan Levy for the City Council’s consideration.   Mayor Maher

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor David P. Maher transmitting an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Ilan Levy, 148 Spring Street.

Perhaps someone can explain to me how the reelection of councillors can somehow be interpreted as "business before the City Council" that might be subject to the Open Meeting Law. Will the councillors be voting on the question of their own reelection at an upcoming meeting? Without such a basis, this complaint could just as well have been raised about seeing more than 5 city councillors in a restaurant or at a baseball game. While the Open Meeting Law is a good idea in principle, it continues to amaze me how some individuals (and candidates) use it just to be a pain in the ass (PITA) without any constructive purpose. Perhaps there should be a PITA Slate in the November election.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to draft an ordinance extending Cambridge’s big bank retail storefront limitations to the rest of Porter, Harvard, Central, and Kendall Square.   Councillor Cheung

My only suggestion is that there should also be an ordinance prohibiting retail stores from covering up their windows with advertisements and other clutter to the point that you can no loonger even see inside the building. For example, drop by the CVS and Walgreens stores in Central Square.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back on the ability to increase funding for affordable housing in a manner which would not adversely impact real estate taxes on existing housing units or cause a shift in taxes from commercial, industrial and personal property taxes to the residential class and given the limitation upon the tax classification, any recommendation must not jeopardize the current tax distribution by shifting a greater burden on the residential taxpayers which would result in making existing housing less affordable for current residents.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Kelley

This seems like a shell game. How do you increase expenditures without increasing revenue from any available taxable properties? At some point this City Council will have to address a far more general notion of what constitutes "affordable housing" that goes beyond simply subsidizing housing for people who can satisfy certain income criteria on paper. Perhaps this may be an impossible dream but in a properly functioning economy there should be a sufficient supply and a broad range of housing options of varying size, quality, and location so that most people can at least find something acceptable within their means without a government subsidy.

Order #15. That a Home Rule Petition "AN ACT TO ADOPT PROTECTIONS FOR CAMBRIDGE’S GOVERNMENTALLY-INVOLVED HOUSING STOCK" be submitted to the General Court for a special law relating to the City of Cambridge to be filed with an attested copy of this order which is hereby approved under Clause 1 of Section 8 of Article II, as amended, of the Articles of Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to the end that legislation be adopted precisely as follows, except for clerical or editorial changes of form only.   Councillor Mazen

Perhaps this is well-intentioned, but the language in this Order has all the markings of a back door re-introduction of rent control. Perhaps that’s the intention of whoever drafted this petition. As such, I suspect the state legislature will have some reservations.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Marc C. McGovern transmitting a report on the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Income Insecurity in Cambridge.

This report is a good read about a topic that many people in Cambridge don’t really think about. I do have some questions about some of the assertions in the report, e.g. the claim that "a family of 4 needs to earn $108,800 annually to meet their minimum needs." Perhaps if you focus only on averages and medians you might draw such a conclusion, but a better analysis would look at the entire distribution of housing options and services and not just at the averages and medians. – Robert Winters

September 21, 2015

Summer’s End – Select items from the Sept 21, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:52 am

Summer’s End – Select items from the Sept 21, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Summer's EndThe City Council returns this week from their summer vacation. Here’s a sampler of potentially interesting items on the meeting agenda.

Reconsideration #1-3 relating to the regulation of taxi services and ride-sharing companies.

It’s anyone’s guess why these items are being reconsidered. All three of these orders were relatively benign actions about which there was little disagreement.

Reconsideration #4. Councillor Cheung has notified the City Clerk of his intention to file reconsideration on Policy Order #25 of Aug 10, 2015 adopted by the City Council to petition the Massachusetts General Court to enact the attached Home Rule Petition entitled "AN ACT TO ENABLE CERTAIN NON-CITIZEN RESIDENTS OF CAMBRIDGE TO VOTE IN SCHOOL COMMITTEE AND CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS".

Frankly, I was surprised that this order passed without any discussion. Though I seriously doubt that the proposed Home Rule petition has any chance of passage at the State House (and it shouldn’t), this is a matter that should at least have been debated.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to recommendations from the Community Preservation Act Committee Chair that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.

This is the annual vote on appropriation of CPA funds and there’s no doubt whatsoever that it will be for an 80-10-10% split with affordable housing getting 80% of the funds and the minimum 10% each for open space acquisition and historic preservation.

Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Iram Farooq as Assistant City Manager for Community Development.

Iram Farooq is a great choice to head CDD, especially as we head into a multi-year evaluation of long-term citywide planning.

Manager’s Agenda #28. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request from Normandy Real Estate Partners and Twining Properties ("Normandy/Twining") to make available for disposition approximately 1,042 square feet of City owned land known as Coolidge Place, which is an eight (8) foot wide public way that connects Massachusetts Avenue to the City-owned Municipal Parking Lot Number 6 on Bishop Allen Drive.

This is just a formality, but opponents might try to monkey-wrench the proposed development any way they can.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Patrick W. Barrett III, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by amending Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 4.000, Section 4.22 ("Accessory Apartments").

This is a very interesting zoning petition for many reasons – not the least of which is the fact that those who signed the petition span the whole spectrum civic/political activists. If ordained, this petition could create a significant amount of housing opportunities across the city.

Order #4. That the City Council go on record committing Cambridge to produce locally what it needs to consume by 2054.   Councillor Mazen

I seriously doubt that we’ll be seeing cows grazing on the Cambridge Common or at Danehy Park to satisfy the culinary choices of those of us who enjoy a cheeseburger now and then. Perhaps they can just print them on a 3D-printer. Then again, this is a City Council that REALLY likes to enact bans, so I suppose they could just ban anything that can’t be produced locally.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City departments regarding the possibility of a satellite police station in Central Square, data for incidents in Central Square for the last six months, increase of the City’s drug treatment capacity and beds, additional trash barrels and updates for sidewalk and street improvements.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Though Central Square is getting better every day in many ways, and will continue to improve when more housing is created, there are some things that continue to plague the area, including vandalism, drug problems and incidents of violent crime.

Order #7. That the City Council meetings scheduled for Nov 30, 2015 and Dec 28, 2015 be and hereby are cancelled.   Councillor Toomey

Order #14. That the following regular City Council meetings be scheduled as Roundtable/Working meetings: Oct 5, 2015 – Roundtable to discuss Opioid Abuse; Oct 26, 2015 – Roundtable to discuss City-Wide Planning; Nov 16, 2015 – Roundtable between the School Committee and the City Council; Dec 14, 2015 – Roundtable to discuss Transportation Issues.   Mayor Maher

I read somewhere that cancelling a couple of meetings and scheduling several Roundtable meetings is somehow dereliction of duty on the part of the City Council. In fact, meetings around Thanksgiving and the December holidays are cancelled almost every year and this has been the case for decades. Council rules call for 6-8 Roundtable meetings per year and this will make 9 if they all happen. There were 6 last year, so this seems about right for this two-year City Council term. Besides, are there really any dire issues now that require an intense meeting schedule? I don’t think so. Besides, all of the proposed Roundtable meetings are on very essential matters.

Order #20. That the City Council go on record formally urging MIT to reconsider the decision to not renew the lease for Metropolitan Moving & Storage, and to determine whether any other viable alternatives to this plan exist.   Councillor Simmons

Considering the fact that this building is in a location close to the heart of the MIT campus, it sure seems like it could enjoy a better use than just a warehouse. In any case, it’s hard to imagine how this building can be re-purposed as housing while maintaining its fortress-like exterior. Then again, a lot of MIT people prefer to travel in tunnels, so maybe this will be ideal for them.

Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation to create an electronic list containing the number of parking stickers issued to each development in the past ten (10) years should be made publicly available, to include, if possible, any demographic information that would help inform car ownership discussions such as age of the car owners.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Mazen and Councillor McGovern

While it’s certainly true that a lot more Cambridge people are now choosing not to own a motor vehicle, it would be helpful to quantify this better. I’m especially interested in knowing how the excessive cost of on-premises parking translates into residents who do own cars choosing to instead park on the street for the cost of a resident sticker.

Order #26. 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 Sept 28, 2015.   Vice Mayor Benzan

It has been expected for some time that this zoning petition would be refiled to allow for at least a bit more analysis and discussion.

Order #27. That the City Manager confer with the CRA and report back with clarification regarding the past and future relationship between the CRA and Boston Properties and if Boston Properties will be the party to develop and lease any new square footage as a result of the zoning petitions passage and if the City Council can require a process for new developers to bid on CRA projects.   Councillor Toomey

It’s an interesting question whether the fact that Boston Properties was selected decades ago as the primary developer for Kendall Square means that this must always be the case.

Order #31. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority with the view in mind of purchasing the property on Vail Court in order to convert to affordable housing.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

Whether it’s redeveloped as "affordable housing" or in some other way, it’s just ridiculous that this property so near the heart of Central Square has been derelict for decades. Perhaps the threat of eminent domain and redevelopment by the CRA may finally force some action. Then again, this is an issue that’s been debated at the City Council repeatedly and all that’s happened is that the parked vehicles have disappeared and big red X’s now festoon the exterior of the building.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 11, 2015 to discuss how to assist tenants in danger of losing their homes due to the recent sale of their buildings on Harding Street.

The committee report gives all indication that the new owners of the Harding Street properties have absolutely no clue how to manage rental properties. I really have to wonder who is financing their real estate acquisitions.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 6, 2015 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code by adding a new Chapter 8.70 entitled "Prohibition on the Use of Polystyrene Based Disposable Food Containers."

The motto for this City Council might well be "When in doubt, ban it." Why bother trying to convince people to do the right thing when you can just make it impossible for them to do otherwise. – Robert Winters

August 9, 2015

On Tap at the Aug 10, 2015 City Council Midsummer Meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 3:03 am

On Tap at the Aug 10, 2015 City Council Midsummer Meeting

People's RepublicThis is usually the biggest agenda of the year. Here are a few highlights:

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Karen Kosko as a member of the Cambridge Library Board of Trustees effective Aug 1, 2015 for a term of three years.

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Gary Dmytryk as a member of the Commission for Persons with Disabilities for a term of three years, effective July 1, 2015.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as members of the Kids’ Council effective Aug 10, 2015: Bridget Rodriguez, Rabeya Akther, Michelle Lower, Ron Benham, Neal Michaels, Liz Hill, Claude Jacob, Geeta Pradhan

The appointments to City Boards & Commissions continues (more to come!).

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to approve the Incentive Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 14, 2015 to discuss proposed amendments to Section 11.200 entitled Incentive Zoning Provisions and Inclusionary Housing Provisions.

The proposal as amended is ready to be Passed to a 2nd Reading and ordained at the first City Council meeting in September. No doubt some people will continue to clamor for even higher fees to be exacted, but the current amended proposal is the best compromise and is long overdue.

Manager’s Agenda #24. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting approval of the discontinuance of an approximately twenty (20) foot wide, 8,660 square foot parcel of City owned land along the eastern edge of Ames Street between Broadway and Main Street (the Ames Street Parcel) in connection with the disposition of this parcel that the City Council previously approved. [Map Plan]

The sale of this narrow strip will facilitate the development of a 200,000 square foot multi-family residential project with up to 20,000 square feet of ground floor retail and an improved Ames Street. This disposition is consistent with previous actions approved by the Planning Board and the City Council.

Applications & Petitions #9. A petition has been received from Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan (KSURP) and to amend the current zoning for the MXD district in Kendall Square to reflect the proposed changes to the Plan. [Text of Petition]

No comments are necessary other than to suggest that you read the petition (93 pages). The proposed changes are consistent with much of the discussions regarding Kendall Square in recent years.

Resolution #23. Resolution on the death of retired Chief of Police of the City of Cambridge Anthony G. "Tony" Paolillo.   Councillor Toomey and Mayor Maher

According to his obituary in the Belmontonian, Chief Paolillo was hired as a patrol officer, worked his way to captain before being named acting chief in 1982, and was sworn in as chief a year later. He retired from the post in 1991, after which the city appointed a police commissioner to run the department. The Anthony Paolillo Tot Lot on Pine Street is named for him. He was quite "progressive" as a Chief, embracing the earliest concepts of "Community Oriented Policing".

Resolution #28. Congratulations to the Preservation of Affordable Housing on its acquisition of the Briston Arms Apartment and thanks for their commitment to affordable housing in Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

According to the City’s press release: "This acquisition by Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) will continue its use as a mixed-income community and make renovations which will help preserve and ensure its affordability for years to come. The mix includes Section 8 Housing Assistance rental subsidies for 73 of the apartments and new rental assistance subsidies for an additional 46 apartments. Thirty five of the apartments will continue to be offered at market rates. Briston Arms was at risk of losing its affordability when the subsidy restrictions were due to expire in 2018. Cambridge and Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust provided more than $4 million in loans to help preserve these apartments as affordable housing."

Resolution #67. That the City Council declare Sun, Aug 9, 2015 to be proclaimed as "Mike Brown Day" in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

It’s worth reading this: US Dept. of Justice Report on Ferguson incident

Order #1. That the City Council amend Policy Order #11 of June 22, 2015 attached.   Councillor Simmons

The Order seeks to amend the phrase "all lives matter and all lives are precious" to read "all lives matter and all lives are precious, and we must take actions to affirm that Black Lives Matter".

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City personnel to determine the effectiveness of the policy of ticketing and towing vehicles that obstruct street cleaning, to determine whether modifying this policy to exclude towing vehicles would have a negative impact on the City’s ability to maintain clean streets.   Councillor Simmons

Is the primary purpose of street cleaning to collect fines or to clean the streets? Perhaps a better alternative would be to fine the offending vehicle and tow it a half-block away to a parking spot that was just cleaned. Cars with alarms can be crushed.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department and other appropriate City personnel to compile a report of the housing and financial assistance options the City and its community partners offer to seniors living on fixed incomes in order to help them remain housed in their current units and to estimate how many seniors on fixed incomes are in danger of being priced out of their units in the coming half-decade to determine whether additional City resources are needed to assist these seniors.   Councillor Simmons

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee, for a public hearing held on July 9, 2015 to discuss whether there are measures the City and local housing agencies and advocates can take to assist the soon to be displaced tenants of 295 Harvard Street.

Amidst all the advocacy for affordable housing, there should be additional emphasis on taking care of our older residents with limited resources who have fewer options than younger residents and newcomers. This is especially true now with outside investors looking to swoop down and buy properties at stratospheric prices.

Order #7. That the City Manager consult with the Community Development Department and other appropriate City personnel to determine what kinds of incentives could be provided to landlords who choose to refrain from increasing the rents on their tenants, and to report back to the City Council in a timely manner.   Councillor Simmons

Where do I sign up for my incentives? I love the intention, but I expect there’s nothing that can be offered to kindhearted landlords other than a good handshake and a heartfelt "thank you".

Order #10. That the City Manager develop a program to offer home electricity monitors to residents at cost, in a program similar to the distribution of rain barrels through the Department of Public Works.   Councillor Cheung

I seem to recall that there was already a plan to do this at some point – perhaps as a checkout at the library. The monitors are relatively cheap, however, and there’s no reason why residents can’t just buy a few monitors and loan them around to their friends and neighbors. You only need to use them for a little while to determine how much power is being drawn by various devices.

Order #16. That the appropriate City departments in conjunction with other stakeholders, such as the Salvation Army, Cambridge Overcoming Addiction, and other non-profits conduct a survey of opioid-related deaths and persons struggling with the epidemic that are frequenting our squares, particularly Central Square.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

This is a very detailed Order well worth reading. Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern should be applauded for their initiative. This is a BIG problem.

Order #17. That the City Manager confer with the Acting Assistant City Manager for Community Development with a mind towards informing new property owners of the desire, based on planning studies, to expand Ahern Field and for planning staff to keep these desires in mind as a vision for this site is developed by the owners, and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

I am reminded of one of our recommendations about 15 years ago from the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee that called for, when feasible, closing inessential city streets adjacent to existing parks as a means to create contiguous park space. I don’t know if the property in question is well-suited for this purpose coupled with some reconfiguration of Fulkerson Street, but it certainly would provide a means to widen the Grand Junction RR corridor consisted with recent proposals for rail with trail.

Order #15. That the City Council hereby goes on record urging Governor Baker and the State Legislature to move expeditiously in issuing guidelines and regulations that will ensure that taxi services and ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft are able to operate on a fair and even plane throughout the Commonwealth.   Councillor Simmons and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #18. That the City Manager confer with the appropriate City Departments about the feasibility of placing an immediate moratorium on any fees paid by the Taxicab industry to the City of Cambridge until: 1) the State has enacted ridesharing regulations; and/or 2) action is taken by the City to deregulate the Taxicab industry following the Mayor’s Roundtable on this matter.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung

Order #24. That the Cambridge City Council go on record urging the Massachusetts House and Baker administration to move swiftly in clarifying new law and associated regulation, taking into account the needs of municipalities in flux, and ultimately act with the intention of achieving parity and safety amongst transit operators of all kinds.   Councillor Mazen

Other than stating my personal preference that town-by-town issuance of taxi medallions be replaced by a state licensing system applicable to all services that pick up passengers (regardless how the car is hailed), it is worth noting how much attention is being paid to this issue of late. Ideally, cars and vans for hire should supplement the public transit system at rates that are not exorbitantly more expensive than transit. The fact that someone might have to pay $50 for a ride to the airport with the taxi forbidden to pick up passengers on the return trip is absurd. I’ll also note how fondly I remember my friend Arthur Santoro who did wonders for the Cambridge taxicab industry back in the days before human beings were transformed into robots with twitching thumbs habitually staring into small rectangles.

Order #19. That the City Council goes on record refiling as of Sept 16, 2015, the attached proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance to amend Article 6.000 of the zoning ordinance to create a new section 6.24 Carsharing Provisions which will create a definition and general provisions for carsharing and allow limited use of parking spaces for carsharing as a means to provide mobility options for Cambridge residents, employees and visitors.   Councillor Cheung

Some version of this will likely eventually pass. Some reassurances to neighbors and appropriate restrictions are in order, but this is basically a good idea – kinda like Hubway with engines.

Order #22. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments with an update for plans for the creation of the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) coordinating office, including any financial pledges from the City to implement the STEAM working groups recommendations.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee, for a public meeting held on July 15, 2015 to discuss how emergent out of school time programs recruit underserved youth in innovative ways, how programs engage youth in advanced research or professional skills building, and how these programs may present exciting models for other organizations seeking to impact socio-economic and educational equity in Cambridge.

When Vice Mayor Benzan was Candidate Benzan two years ago he emphasized his goal of connecting people in the neighborhood in which he grew up with potential nearby job opportunities in places like Kendall Square. There have been countless meetings over the last year or so about ways to realize this and similar goals. It will be interesting to see if anything really tangible and lasting comes of this. Most of the reports I’ve read seem to focus on creating new staff positions which might facilitate results, but until we get to see some real success stories much of this remains just good intentions. Most of the Kendall Square jobs that have been created in the last few decades still require significant academic credentials and actual skills – and you really can’t just output those on a 3D-printer or other gadget. As a practitioner of the M part of STEAM, I would like nothing more than to see local Cambridge kids develop the mathematical skills and other skills needed to better connect to the potential of the Cambridge economy.

Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to setup the most effective voting method that maximizes community participation for the renaming of Area IV.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Ranked Choice Voting anyone?

Order #25. That the City Council go on record petitioning the Massachusetts General Court to enact the attached Home Rule Petition entitled "AN ACT TO ENABLE CERTAIN NON-CITIZEN RESIDENTS OF CAMBRIDGE TO VOTE IN SCHOOL COMMITTEE AND CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS".   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Cheung

Some version or another of this comes up every few years – and usually in the months leading up to a municipal election. I’ll just restate my own view that citizenship and voting rights are closely intertwined and that’s the way it should remain. Someone who is currently a citizen of another country but residing in the United States can generally still vote in the country of their citizenship, and many continue to do so. Inventing a new term like "pre-citizen" as is done in this petition actually seems to be unwittingly acknowledging the connection between citizenship and the right to vote. I hope this Order does not pass and, if it does, I hope that the State Legislature rejects it as they have done in the past. There should be uniformity in voting requirements across all cities and towns in Massachusetts. The fact that all cities and towns subscribe to a common statewide voter database is just one example of this principle in action.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a joint public hearing with the Planning Board on June 29, 2015 to discuss a petition by the Planning Board to amend Section 13.10 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance so as to change the development controls applicable in the Planned Unit Development at Kendall Square (PUD-KS) Overlay Zoning District.

This is arguably one of the hottest issues these days – at least among residents in East Cambridge and other neighborhoods close to the Volpe Center property. There is some pressure to gaze into the crystal ball and decide on the best zoning regulations consistent with the constraints associated with the disposition of the Volpe Center, but there are some councillors who feel that kicking this can down the road is a reasonable option. – Robert Winters

June 21, 2015

The Appointed Hour – Summer at Sullivan – Highlights of the June 22, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:23 pm

The Appointed Hour – Summer at Sullivan – Highlights of the June 22, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Sullivan ChamberThis Monday’s meeting will be the last regular meeting before the summer break. [The June 29 meeting was cancelled in favor of a joint Ordinance Committee/Planning Board meeting to discuss the uniquely complex zoning petition concerning the Volpe site in Kendall Square.] Chief among the items that caught my attention are the many appointments and reappointments to City Boards & Commissionsa most honorable calling:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments and reappointments of the following persons as members of the Cambridge Peace Commission effective June 22, 2015:
Reappointments:
Frank Connelly, Larry Kim
New appointments:
George Atallah, Aboma Dirbaba, Jame Eliscar, Gladys Friedler, Elelchi Kadete, Lijun Li, Johanne Méléance, John Ratliff, Regina Yang

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of William G. Barry, Jr. as a member of the Harvard Square Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective June 10, 2015.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment and reappointments of members to the Cambridge Historical Commission:
Reappointments:
William King, Robert Crocker, Chandra Harrington, Jo M Solet, Joseph V. Ferrara, Susannah Tobin
New appointment:
Shary Berg

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Mid Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, effective June 22, 2015:
Sue Myers, Monika Pauli, Nancy Goodwin, Charles Redmon

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Avon Hill Neighborhood Conservation District Commission:
Reappointments: Theresa Hamacher, Arthur Bardige
New Appointment: John Sanzone

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments and reappointment of the following persons as member of the Half Crown-Marsh Neighborhood Conservation District Commission:
Reappointment: William King
New Appointments: James VanSickle, Judith Dortz, Charles Smith, Marie P. Dillenseger, Dr. Peter Schur

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments and reappointments of the following persons as members of the Board of Trustees of the Cambridge Health Alliance, effective June 11, 2015:
Reappointments: Maren Batalden, MD; William Hart, Everett; Madge Kaplan, Cambridge; Katharine Kosinski, MD, Cambridge
Officers: Carol Van Deusen Lukas, Chair; Joshua Posner, Vice-Chair
Reappointments: Robina Bhasin, EdM, Somerville; Danna Mauch, Ph.D., Cambridge; Barbara Anthony, Cambridge

Manager’s Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as member of the Commission for Persons with Disabilities Advisory Board, for a term of three years, effective June 22, 2015:
Maria Fontellio, Zarha Kanji, Alicia Zeh-Dean

Serving on a City volunteer board isn’t for everyone. There’s plenty of room for disagreement among the members of any City board, but it’s really a place where reasonable people can learn from their peers and from City staff and come to reasonable conclusions – whether it be a regulatory board or an advisory board. It’s not a place for inflexible people unwilling to compromise. I have a reverence for people who choose to take on these roles without any compensation. Real civic activism is about giving your time and effort to serve on a City board or volunteering in countless other ways throughout the city. We should all tip our hats to every person named above.


The Rest:

Manager’s Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-30 and 15-41, regarding License Commission Fees and Cap Areas.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a complete list of all the established liquor cap areas. It would have been helpful if the number of licenses in each cap area was included in the report. It would also be interesting to get maps showing both the liquor cap areas and the fast food cap areas.

Applications & Petitions #4. A zoning petition has been received from Elizabeth M. Stern, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map by changing the current zoning designation of Lot 84 (2551 Mass. Ave.) and Lot 65 (7 Richard Ave.) on Assessing Block Map 186 from Business A-2 to Residence B and remove both from the MAOD and the NMAS, redraw the zoning district boundary lines so the two lots are in the Residence B zone and not in the MAOD or the NMAS and revise Article 20, Sections 100-111. [Petition text]

Another week, another zoning petition. The intent of this petition appears to be to prevent either new commercial construction or higher density residential construction from happening at the northwest corner of Richard Ave. and Mass. Ave. where a one-story dry cleaning business is now located.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the School Committee with the view in mind to request the Superintendent of Schools to provide data regarding Charter Schools.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

This would be good information to receive, but I can’t see what the City Council can do or will do with that information.

Order #2. That the City Council go on record adopting the Net Zero Action Plan which includes key actions to reduce emissions and the process that engages stakeholders.   Councillor Cheung

The recommendations are all well and good for new construction, but I do hope the City Council acts more cautiously on any requirements for existing residential buildings. If significantly onerous requirement are imposed on homeowners thinking of renovation, many homeowners will either defer necessary renovations or quietly make improvements without seeking permits. I also hope that the elected councillors also take a moment or two to understand enough physics to see why "net zero" may be unrealistic for certain building types and uses, especially in this New England climate. It would be so much better if the language could be shifted away from the often unrealistic "net zero" and toward the more sensible "maximally efficient".

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to write a letter to the Department of Public Health indicating the City of Cambridge’s non-opposition for Commonwealth Alternative Care’s application to operate a RMD at 135 Fawcett Street, Cambridge, MA.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Mazen

Two points – First, it’s amazing how many roadblocks have been thrown up to block any medical marijuana dispensaries from actually being built after being approved by voters via initiative petition. Second, it should be pretty clear that full legalization of marijuana for recreational use may be only a year or two away via the ballot box, and it seems likely that any dispensaries that are approved under the current law may become the initial sites for sale for recreational use if and when that is made legal.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to install ADA compliant sidewalks, create protected bike lanes, and consider additional features to guarantee the safety of young students and all other users in the Huron Avenue area.   Councillor Mazen

This Order is about half right. The referenced sections of Huron Ave. lack sidewalks along the perimeter of the Fresh Pond Reservation and it would be good to add them from Fresh Pond Parkway to as far as the Russell Youth & Community Center. They would then also be available to young children on their bicycles. For adult cyclists there are already well-functioning bike lanes on both sides of Huron Ave. that are quite safe and allow for reasonable speeds and normal turning movements. A "cycle track" in this location is not only unnecessary, but it would also require narrowing the travel lanes to a point where cyclists who prefer the road would be less safe. The alternative would be to remove a significant number of parking spaces used frequently by people using Glacken Field, the Russell Center, the golf course, and Fresh Pond Reservation. Installing just a sidewalk would be an improvement without any negative consequences – Robert Winters.

June 15, 2015

Noteworthy items on the June 15, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

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

Noteworthy items on the June 15, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

City HallThere are some substantial reports from the City Manager and some interesting Council Orders on this week’s agenda.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-97, regarding a report on the MLK School construction compliance with the Cambridge Employment Plan.

Normally I don’t care at all about this sort of bean counting, but I did find interesting the following facts in the Manager’s report:

(1) The Cambridge resident worker hours on the MLK project totaled 3.8% which is less than the required goal of 25%. However, the Cambridge resident population of workers skilled and/or experienced in construction trades has been less than 2% making this requirement virtually impossible to meet. [Perhaps it’s time to revise that goal.]

(2) The minority worker hours on the MLK project as of Apr 30, 2015 totaled 32.6% which is above the goal of 25%.

(3) The women worker hours on the MLK project as of Apr 30, 2015 totaled 1.0%. U.S. Census data reveals that women in Massachusetts skilled in the trades is less than 2%.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to recommendations of the Cambridge Off Leash Working Group regarding off leash dogs in Cambridge.

The discussions about how best to accommodate our canine friends have been going on for a decade. Dog owners actually comprise a pretty effective political lobby in Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt, with suggested changes, the Carsharing Zoning Petition.

This has generated some concerns recently as well as some alternate proposals on how best to accommodate carsharing, e.g. using some on-street resident parking spaces for this purpose. This zoning petition is specifically about off-street spaces and the Planning Board recommends that off-street lots should maintain at least 75% of their spaces for privately owned vehicles and that only lots with a minimum of 4 spaces may accommodate carsharing vehicles. However, the Planning Board also recommends that these limits can be waived via a Special Permit on a case-by-case basis. The theory here is that by making carsharing more easily available the number of privately owned vehicles should decrease thereby relieving some of the demand for on-street spaces.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appropriate zoning language for recommended changes to the Incentive Zoning provisions, as requested in Council Order Number 6 of May 18, 2015.

As the report states, "The intent of these proposed changes is to implement changes recommended by the recently completed Incentive Zoning Nexus Study." Specific changes include:

• Removing the current special permit trigger so that housing contributions would be made by all projects with 30,000 or more square feet of uses subject to the Incentive Zoning provisions;

• Expanding the definition of an incentive project to add seven new uses for which housing contributions would be required (in addition to the current uses of office, lab and retail): hotel/motel, radio/TV studios, institutional, health care, social services, light industry/wholesale, and heavy industry;

• Increasing the contribution rate to $12 per square foot [from the current $4.58], with an annual rate increase of $1 per year over the next three years;

• Making automatic the annual adjustment of the contribution rate based on changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI);

• Requiring that the City initiate a periodic reevaluation of the housing contribution by initiating an updated nexus study after three years;

• Eliminating the current deduction of the first 2,500 square feet from the calculation of the contribution;

• Establishing a definition of a “Middle Income Household” and adding language to make clear that the Affordable Housing Trust can use resources generated to assist Middle Income Households.

Order #1. Zoning Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance for the area along Walden Street near the intersection of Garden Street and extending through the intersection of Sherman Street currently zoned Business A be rezoned to a newly created zoning district entitled Business A-4 and add a new Business A-4 line to Section 5.33.   Councillor Cheung

If eventually ordained, this new zoning designation will respond to some of the issues raised by a proposed residential development at the former Masse’s Hardware site(s). It’s interesting that the proposed maximum residential density would actually be higher than is currently the case, though there would now be minimum front and side setbacks that do not exist under the present zoning. I have been told that the affected parties are agreeable to this new zoning.

Order #4. That the City Council meeting scheduled for Mon, June 29, 2015 be and hereby is cancelled after consultation with the City Manager so that a joint public hearing between the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee be held at 6:00pm in the Sullivan Chamber to discuss the zoning petition to amend Section 13.10 to change the development controls in the Planned Unit Development at Kendall Square (PUD-KS) Overlay District; said majority of the area of the PUD-KS is occupied by the Volpe Transportation Systems Research Center operated by the US Department of Transportation.   Mayor Maher
[Petition text] [Summary of major proposed changes] [All currently proposed zoning amendments]

The process for this zoning amendment is uniquely different than just about every other petition due to the many constraints associated with this being a federally-owned property. There are time constraints based on the current presidential term as well as financial constraints inherent in the federal law that allows this arrangement in which revenue generated from the rest of the site must cover any costs associated with constructing a new building for the Volpe Transportation Center on the site. This may also impose some limitations on the lofty goals expressed by some regarding the percentage of affordable units to be mandated as part of any residential construction. One variable that could relieve some of those constraints is the allowance of greater height and, not surprisingly, this has some people bent out of shape about the possibility that the tallest building in Cambridge might grow from this zoning. The unusual procedure of having a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Board (rather than completely separate parallel processes) is also not setting well with the same people, but in this unique situation it seems warranted.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

People may not like the advertising, but there are indications that Hubway may not be economically sustainable without it.

Order #6. That the City Council go on the record condemning Harvard Towers Corporation for neglecting to reach out to the City of Cambridge to determine if there are ways to mitigate the negative repercussions on the City’s housing market stemming from the mass eviction of tenants of 295 Harvard Street.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

This building (built in 1962) contains 111 apartments, and tenants were given very little warning that they all have to be gone by Aug 31, 2015. The building is just a block away from where I live and nobody in my neighborhood seems to even know what is ultimately planned for the building.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of permitting cyclists to advance simultaneously with the pedestrian "walk" signal and to to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of piloting bicycle-specific signal faces at the Cambridge-Hampshire St intersection.   Councillor Mazen

Many cyclists already do start moving with the walk light (not me), but I have to say that this is really more about convenience than about safety. When motor vehicles and bicycles are both stopped at a traffic light, all parties are aware of each other and there’s little or no conflict when the light changes. The greater hazard is from moving vehicles turning in front of moving cyclists and from cyclists positioning themselves in the roadway in ways that are fundamentally unsafe, i.e. passing a potentially turning vehicle on the right.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff or the appropriate departments on the feasibility of legally requiring supermarkets and other food seller and resellers to donate leftover food to donation centers in order to cut down on food waste.   Councillor Mazen

Many, if not most, food markets already do this to some degree. Facilitating food donations and composting programs would be more helpful than simply mandating that it be done. This means addressing the need for adequate transportation, scheduling, and other logistics.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with total amount of funds currently in and total expected to be in the Community Benefits Funds account as well as the origins of the funds and any expenditures to date.   Councillor Toomey

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $88,430 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used for consulting fees to conduct a community wide needs assessment relative to our Community Benefits plan. The requested amount is two-thirds of the total cost of the needs assessment ($132,430 total). With a vested interest in the outcome, the Cambridge Community Foundation has made a substantial financial commitment of $44,000 to cover one-third of the total cost (see Agenda Item Number 15). This is the first step regarding the further development of a plan to distribute funds earmarked for Community Benefits. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Number Fourteen of June 1, 2015.]

This matter has been stewing for a number of years and it’s about time that the City Council moved things in the direction of a resolution and a system for handling these funds and putting them toward productive use. – Robert Winters


The Upshot (the morning after): On Manager’s Agenda #1, most of the councillors chimed in about their disappointment that the dreams of past Councils regarding apprenticeships in the trades have not been realized. Chalk it up, perhaps, to the changing demographics of Cambridge or maybe to the fact that many young residents don’t understand that well-paying careers in construction, law enforcement, and other areas are actually available to them (Benzan).

There was some public comment on the Carsharing Zoning Petition (Manager’s Agenda #20) – mostly concerns about the possibility of disruptive activity associated with this commercial activity taking place in residential neighborhoods. One deficiency in the petition is that it doesn’t address the possibility that a resident with off-street parking might choose to park on the street in order to derive income by leasing their off-street space to a carsharing company. If that were to happen, there really should be a complaint-driven revocation process written into the regulations.

The recommended changes to the Incentive Zoning provisions that were the subject of Manager’s Agenda #21 are now a zoning petition that will be scheduled for Ordinance Committee and Planning Board hearings.

The Council spent far too much time discussing the propriety of cancelling their June 29 meeting in favor of a Joint Special Meeting with the Planning Board (not a Roundtable, so there will be no fixed time limit and public comment will be permitted) to discuss the Volpe zoning petition. The Special Meeting was eventually unanimously approved with the possibility that a brief Regular Meeting might also be scheduled in the event that there is any pressing regular business.

The Council voted 8-1 (Mazen voted No) on Order #8 to open the possibility of advertising on Hubway bikes as a means of ensuring the economic viability of the program.

The Council expressed their condemnation of the actions of the owners/managers of Harvard Towers (295 Harvard St.) in evicting all residents (111 apartments) with very short notice and no information on their future plans for the building.

June 1, 2015

Budget Approval is the Big Item on the June 1, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:18 pm

Budget Approval is the Big Item on the June 1, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Budget Approval Night!Tonight’s the night for approval of the FY2016 Budget and related matters. Here are the items that seemed noteworthy:

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointment of the following persons as members of the Community Preservation Act Committee for 5-year terms effective June 1, 2015: Chandra Harrington, Thacher Tiffany

The CPA Committee is a 9-person board appoint by the City Manager. These two appointments are for the Historical Commission representative (Chandra Harrington) and the Planning Board representative (Thacher Tiffany). The CPA Committee’s next meeting is June 16 at 6:00pm in the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall. The meeting agenda will include providing the public an opportunity to suggest and recommend projects for CPA funding for Housing, Open Space and Historic Preservation in FY16.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $2,300,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for the third phase of the LED street light conversion project.

This should be the final phase of the conversion project. It is estimated that the City will achieve over 40% of energy savings once the project is complete. Phase 3 of the project includes the retrofitting of decorative and park fixtures across the city.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a zoning petition to amend the provisions of the PUD-KS District set forth in Section 13.10 of the Zoning Ordinance. The intent of these proposed changes is to implement the zoning recommendations of the Kendall Square ("K2") Planning Study in order to facilitate future redevelopment of the John A. Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, which occupies the majority of the PUD-KS District, in accordance with the study.

As the communication states: "The intent of these proposed changes is to implement the zoning recommendations of the Kendall Square (“K2”) Planning Study in order to facilitate future redevelopment of the John A. Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, which occupies the majority of the PUD-KS District, in accordance with that study." One potentially controversial part of the proposal is that in addition to a general height cap of 250 feet in the district, there is an allowance for the Planning Board to potentially approve a single signature landmark building of up to 500 feet if it meets "a high standard for architectural excellence."

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for public hearings held on May 7, 2015, May 14, 2015 and May 13, 2015 relative to the General Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2016 and recommending adoption of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $510,570,005.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 14, 2015 relative to the Water Fund Budget for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2016 and recommending adoption of the Water fund Budget in the amount of $13,964,115.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 14, 2015 relative to the Public Investment Fund for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2016 and recommending adoption of the Public Investment Budget in the amount of $18,076,290.

Unfinished Business #15-20. Communications from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to orders requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $67,200,000 consisting of:

  • $37,750,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects;
  • $5,000,000 to provide funds for a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan;
  • $4,600,000 to provide funds for surface improvements to the Harvard Square area;
  • $150,000 to provide funds for the purchase and installation of mechanical components to ensure the operational integrity of the elevator at the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility;
  • $15,700,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects; and
  • $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

These are the traditional Finance Committee reports and loan authorizations relating to the approval of the FY2016 Budget.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and the School Committee, who is requested to refer this matter to the Superintendent of Schools, regarding CPS enrollment information for multi-units, car ownership and excise tax payments and parking permit applications and trip generation data.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung and Councillor McGovern

This seems like a relevant request for information as we head toward the upcoming Citywide Planning Process, i.e. "the Master Plan".

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on May 21, 2015 to discuss development of a process for the evaluation of the City Manager and recap the procedure for the setting of City Council Goals for the upcoming Legislative Term and to consider a different format.

I’ll simply expand on what I said at this meeting. I participated in the circus-like public evaluation of the City Manager back in 1993 and I would never want to see anything like that repeated again. Any member of the public may comment on the performance of the City Manager whenever they please, and they often do, but this is fundamentally the responsibility of the elected City Council to evaluate and hire a city manager. If people have issues with city management, they should speak to their councillors. It’s also important to keep distinct the periodic goal-setting process and any evaluation, contract extension, or hiring of the City Manager.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 15, 2015 to discuss the C2 portion of the K2C2 Study.

Hopefully the stars are now aligned for more serious discussion and action at the City Council on the future of Central Square. – Robert Winters

Comments?

May 18, 2015

Coming up at the May 18, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council,planning — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:26 am

Coming up at the May 18, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Mass+MainThere are plenty of items from which to choose on this week’s agenda, but there’s really little doubt that the one to watch is the vote to ordain the Normandy/Twining petition that would allow a significant number of new apartments to be built at the eastern end of Central Square, a.k.a. Lafayette Square.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Normandy/Twining (Mass and Main) Zoning Petition. The Planning Board recommends adoption with suggested modifications.

Unfinished Business #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 1, 2015 to continue discussions on the Normandy/Twining petition. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 11, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Feb 24, 2015 and continued on Apr 28, 2015. Petition expires May 27, 2015.

Communications – 30 letters in support of Normandy/Twining Petition and 21 letters opposing Normandy/Twining Petition.

The necessary votes appear to be there to ordain this petition, but the real story is the political dynamics surrounding it. The Cambridge Residents Alliance (CResA), an unregistered political action committee disguised as a non-profit civic association, was born a few years back in response to the very things this petition would bring, i.e. additional height and residential density in Central Square. Back then it was the prospect of apartment buildings popping up on Prospect Street and Bishop Allen Drive and a residential tower behind the firehouse in Lafayette Square. Those ideas were either withdrawn or put on permanent hold. Other ideas were floated during the C2 process that helped to shape their recommendations, but the prospect of something actually being built only began to materialize at the end of the C2 process when the Quest properties in and around Lafayette Square were sold. There was little doubt that something would be done with these properties.

Objectively speaking, there’s a lot to be said for bringing significant new housing to this location, especially with a sizable number of units set aside for people with low/moderate income. There’s also some great possibilities in terms of ground floor retail and what people these days like to call "placemaking". It’s also very significant that a residential building is being proposed rather than an office or lab building.

On the other hand, this is also an opportunity for politics and we’ve seen a lot of that lately. There was an organized effort to turn an Ordinance Committee meeting on this petition into a tribunal directed at any city councillor who ever took a dollar from a property owner or developer. Poorly researched investigations into other Normandy-owned properties led to slanderous accusations propagated on various listservs. CResA activists and their scribes promoted conspiracy theories about City departments trying to work around the Zoning Ordinance and evade planning. A well-considered (and courageous) letter sent out by Councillor Kelley over the weekend has sparked some angry responses from the perpetually closed-minded. Through it all we’ve seen incumbent city councillors slandered while new candidates bulk up their campaign accounts and try to recruit feeder candidates for the November election – all of this over the building of new homes (near transit) where people can live.

It’s worth noting that a significant amount of public testimony on this matter has been in support of the Normandy/Twining petition, and many people who are not taking sides on the issue at least generally acknowledge that if there is to be residential density in Cambridge this is a pretty sensible place for it to be located.

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Chestnut Hill Realty Zoning Petition. The Planning Board recommends adoption.

This appears to be just a technical improvement of a zoning change enacted a couple of years ago.

Order #4. Support of House Bill 340 that calls on the Department of Education to not approve PARCC for Massachusetts public schools; calls on the state to not require high-stakes standardized tests be used as a requirement for high school graduation for at least the next three years; and that the state establish an Educational Review Task Force to examine the effectiveness and impact of these high-stakes standardized tests.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Kelley

This is a matter that has lots of people pretty charged up. I teach mathematics primarily to university students, but I also have quite a few high school students in my Harvard Extension School classes. You’ll never hear me arguing against the need for better standards in mathematics education – especially when it comes to challenging students to aim higher. Part of that means having some standardized testing and I don’t especially care what form that testing takes as long as it’s fair. I also have never been of the "every kid gets a trophy" mindset, but I do think it’s important that every kid have a path to graduation even if it means adjusting the path. Not all kids are destined to win Nobel Prizes, but everyone deserves a chance to one day have a chance at economic opportunity – especially in a city like Cambridge. Minimal standards won’t help to achieve that goal. Is PARCC better than MCAS? I don’t know, but I sure wish people would just make a good decision and go with it.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to review the attached seven recommendations submitted as part of the Apr 30, 2015 Housing Committee hearing minutes and instruct the City Solicitor and the Acting Assistant City Manager of the Community Development Department to prepare appropriate zoning language to achieve these recommendations.   Councillor Simmons

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Apr 30, 2015 to continue the Apr 22, 2015 discussion on the incentive zoning study from the Community Development Department.

While the political people have been obsessing over Normandy/Twining, housing in the Alewife area, and the ultimate legal resolution of the Sullivan Courthouse, there has been an ongoing review and update to some of the financial mechanisms that help to fund various affordable housing initiatives via fees derived from new non-residential development. The recommendations contained in this Order are mostly timely and appropriate, but I’m skeptical about any effort to tie linkage fees to job training programs or the City’s living wage ordinance for reasons similar to why unionized labor requirements should not be written into the Zoning Ordinance. Not all good standards and practices should be bound into law. Some things, like lease covenants requiring tenants to not seek residential parking permits, are best left as agreements and understandings rather than governmental requirements.

Order #16. That the Cambridge City Council officially go on record supporting the efforts and progress of the Cambridge Community Development Department related to the C2 study and we look forward to considering the zoning and non-zoning recommendations when presented to the Council.   Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

Ideally, once the Normandy/Twining zoning petition is settled, there should be renewed interest and greater seriousness about the C2 study and its recommendations. Sometimes it takes a serious development proposal to motivate people to actually get serious. This isn’t the only example of that principle in action.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing held on Mar 25, 2015 to receive updates and to discuss next steps for the shared-use, rails-with-trail path along the City’s Grand Junction Corridor.

As I testified at the hearing, the most interesting parts of this proposal are how it will connect to places outside of Cambridge. It has the potential to create much better links between destinations at/near MIT to housing in Somerville and across the Charles River. At the Somerville end there are better and worse ways to align this route to the planned Somerville routes and the right-of-way being planned for the Green Line Extension. The primary bicycle facilities will always be the existing road network, but it’s great to make better use of abandoned and underutilized rail assets to create more and better connections. – Robert Winters

May 4, 2015

Quatro de Mayo at the Cambridge City Council – May 4, 2015 Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge Redevelopment Authority,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:47 am

Quatro de Mayo at the Cambridge City Council – May 4, 2015 Agenda Highlights

News!Here’s a quick look at what’s on deck for Monday. The most significant items are Manager’s Agenda #1-6, the appropriation and loan authorization orders for capital budget items totaling $67,200,000. There’s also an appropriation order of $6,000,000 in Manager’s Agenda #10 "to facilitate necessary initial capital improvements to the Foundry building." After the Public Comment period (and hopefully starting at the scheduled time) there will be a 7:00pm public hearing on a proposal by the City of Cambridge to dispose of a long-term leasehold interest in the Foundry Property at 101 Rogers Street to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) and on a request for diminution of the full disposition process.

Here are the big ticket items:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $37,750,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Agassiz Neighborhood, Alewife Watershed, Area IV Neighborhood, and Harvard Square areas as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $4,600,000 to provide funds for surface improvements to the Harvard Square area including Eliot Street, Eliot Plaza, Brattle Street, and Brattle Plaza.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $150,000 to provide funds for the purchase and installation of mechanical components to ensure the operational integrity of the elevator at the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $15,700,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including the design and construction for the King Open/Cambridge Street School and Community Complex, roof replacement at the Kennedy Longfellow School, and a new boiler at the Fletcher Maynard Academy.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $4,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $6,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account to facilitate necessary initial capital improvements to the Foundry building consistent with City Council Policy Order O-16 adopted on Mar 17, 2014, and to support the reuse of the building according to the vision and objectives identified through a robust community process.

Presumably the following item of Unfinished Business will also be discussed during the 7:00pm hearing on disposition of the Foundry building.

Unfinished Business #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Foundry Building process, including the City’s plans to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (the "CRA") to redevelop the Foundry building in a way that meets the vision and objectives expressed by the City Council and the community.


Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a proposed framework for your consideration concerning the goal of setting Cambridge on the trajectory to becoming a "net zero community", with focus on carbon emissions from building operations.

There’s a lot that can be said about this topic, but your homework assignment is to read the report first. It’s available as a Word document, but if you prefer PDFs, try these:

Net Zero Framework (the main report) Appendix E (Greenhouse Gas Reduction)
Appendix A (Best Practices) Appendix F (Solar Potential)
Appendix B (Building Energy) Appendix G (Summary)
Appendix C (Energy Supply) Appendix H (Netzero Task Force members)
Appendix D (Actions) Appendix I (Net Zero Action Plan)

Resolution #6. Congratulations to Patrick W. Barrett III on passing the Massachusetts Bar Exam.   Councillor Toomey

There’s a crowd of us out here in the bleacher seats cheering.


Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Apr 22, 2015 to continue discussion on the incentive zoning study from the Community Development Department.

The recent Nexus Study recommends an increase in the contribution rate "from the current $4.58 to $10-$12 per square foot of new commercial development, expansion of the uses that would be subject to the ordinance, removal of the special permit trigger which currently limits the applicability of the incentive requirements to projects needing certain special permits, elimination of the 2,500 square foot exemption, continuation of the 30,000 square feet building size threshold, maintenance of a uniform housing rate for all uses and continuation of adjustments to the contribution rate by the Consumer Price Index." [You should read the committee report for more detail on what this all means.] Some activists/candidates would like to raise it to $24 per square foot (or even higher), but it’s likely that cooler heads will prevail.

That’s all for now folks. – Robert Winters

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