Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 9, 2016

At the Signpost Up Ahead – the May 9, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:46 am

At the Signpost Up Ahead – the May 9, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are some of the items that drew my attention this week:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Conservation Commission for a term to expire November : Dorothy Altman, Edward Pickering, Purvi Patel

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Fresh Pond Master Plan Advisory Board effective May 9, 2016: Janice Snow (3-year term), Jim Barton (3-year term), Janet Burns (2-year term), Deborah Masterson (3-year term), Ann Roosevelt (3-year term), Claudia Thompson (2-year term), Susan Agger (2-year term)

I continue to celebrate all of the great people who agree to volunteer for Cambridge boards and commissions. Not only is it a great opportunity to offer your own insights and talents in the service of your community, it’s also a great education that costs nothing but the time you put into the endeavor.

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Police Superintendent Christopher J. Burke as Acting Police Commissioner, effective May 8, 2016.

When I heard about this at last Thursday’s Budget Hearings, I couldn’t help but think of things said by outgoing Police Commissioner Robert Haas and former Commissioner Ronnie Watson regarding the "bench strength" we have developed in the Police Department and other City departments. We often have multiple great people who can step up into a leadership role either temporarily or permanently. Congratulations to Commissioner Burke, and grateful thanks to Commisioner Robert Haas for his years of service!

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-39, regarding the Green Line Extension (GLX) Project.

Much could be said about the latest developments in the status of the proposed Green Line Extension and the unprecedented offers of financial assistance from Cambridge, Somerville, and other parties to improve the chances of it becoming a reality. It’s definitely worth reading the multiple communications from City Manager Rossi (and Somerville Mayor Curtatone) on this topic. Even if the project is scaled back and is somewhat less spectacular than originally proposed, this is something that really needs to more forward in some form and I hope the contributions from Cambridge and Somerville help to influence the decision to carry on.

Resolution #4. That the City Council go on record congratulating the 2015-2016 Cambridge Rindge and Latin Boys’ Basketball players, coaches, and support staff for their well-earned championship and recognizing them for their dedication and hard work.   Vice Mayor McGovern

I’m crossing my fingers hoping that our heroic Cambridge Falcons will be there for the reading of this resolution!

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant City staff and departments to examine the feasibility of posting advisory signage to broadly encourage a motor vehicle speed limit of 20 to 25 miles per hour on City streets.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Speed Limit UnknownI have been thinking a lot lately about how often the wrong questions and wrong solutions are offered in a variety of settings. This is one of them. As stated in this Order, there is plenty of evidence available showing how rapidly the risk of fatalities and severe injuries increases with motor vehicle speed. However, there are also compelling arguments that can be made in support of common standards across the borders of cities and towns. The issue really isn’t what speed limit Cambridge or some other town should have the right to impose. The real issue is what the common standards should be for different kinds of roads and situations.

For example, on the many local one-way streets in Cambridge where there is one relatively narrow lane with cars parked on either side, the speed limit should be no more than 25mph because there is simply no time to otherwise react if someone were to dart out from between parked cars. Also, on these and other streets, no motor vehicle should ever pass a cyclist or pedestrian without at least 3 or 4 feet of clearance – and never at a great differential in speed. These are the kinds of laws that should be adjusted, and they should be adjusted statewide rather than by individual municipality. This is not just about whether or not a town is "thickly settled" and thereby subject to a 30mph speed limit (which is often not enforced other than to raise revenue). Standards for speed limits, sight lines, lane width, and more should be based on actual safety rather than political discretion. The proposal contained in this Order and in a concurrent effort in Boston should be addressed more comprehensively by the state legislature. Even the name "thickly settled" speaks to the archaic nature of how speed limits and safety standards are established and enforced.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on May 3, 2016.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Jan Devereux, suggesting a random drawing of four City Councillors to serve on the Preliminary Screening Committee on the city manager’s selection process.

The process continues. I’m perplexed at the addition of an "interfaith community representative" to the proposed Preliminary-Screening Committee. Unless the next City Manager will be delivering sermons, I see absolutely no reason to rub out the line between church and state here. Regarding Councillor Devereux’s proposed random selection of City Council representatives in the screening process, I will say only that there are reasons why a majority of councillors choose a Mayor and how that Mayor chooses people to chair important City Council committees like the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee. There is still a place for good judgment here that is best not replaced by the successive flipping of coins or drawing of names from a hat. – Robert Winters

May 2, 2016

Dos de Mayo – Interesting Items on the May 2, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:04 am

Dos de Mayo – Interesting Items on the May 2, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Dos de MayoIt’s a pretty short agenda this week as we head toward the Budget Hearings starting Thurs, May 5. Here are a few choice cuts:

Resolution #1. Congratulations to the recipients of the 2016 Outstanding City Employee Award.   Mayor Simmons

One of my favorite events. Special congratulations to Sandy Albano. The Awards Ceremony is this Friday, May 6 at 9:30am in the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall.

Order #2. That the Economic Development and University Relations Committee be and hereby is requested to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 Encroachments onto streets – Permit required – Fee – Exceptions to discuss whether including additional approval criteria and adjusting the permitting fees is appropriate.   Councillor Devereux, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Mazen

On the Table #3-5. Three separate applications requesting permission for a sandwich board sign in front of the respective premises.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting additional information on sandwich board sign application for Mexicali Burrito.

How did sandwich boards get elevated to the highest level of attention in this City Council term? Can the color of sidewalks be far behind? Is adjusting the fee required for displaying a sandwich board sign really necessary? I often encounter a sandwich sign partially obstructing the sidewalk in front of a small place on Mass. Ave. on my way to MIT. I just move the sign to a location where it’s less of an obstruction. Problem solved. If a business continues to obstruct the public way after a warning, just revoke the permit. Again, problem solved. Recently I saw a complaint filed on See-Click-Fix about a mattress that was set out on rubbish day on Inman Street that had toppled onto the sidewalk. Wouldn’t it have been simpler to just move the mattress out of the way than to photograph it and file a complaint with the City? It’s not like that property owner will be putting out mattresses every week. Simple solutions aren’t complicated.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to coordinate with the appropriate City departments to publish a Cambridge voter guide to be distributed to each household in Cambridge a month before the 2017 municipal election.   Councillor Mazen, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Interesting proposal. Having curated the Cambridge Candidate Pages for the last 7 municipal elections, I’m in a rather unique position to comment on this. My purpose in setting up the Candidate Pages was always to provide a neutral, level playing field with the hope that it would mitigate the advantages that incumbents and candidates with very deep pockets had in getting their name and campaigns out to voters. Judging from the number of hits, especially in the days immediately before each municipal election, the Candidate Pages have been quite successful.

Some of the things that you may not know about is that in every election there are candidates who fail to provide basic candidate information even after repeated requests, candidates who frequently ask to change their posted information, candidates who submit statements that are truth-challenged, and candidates who are totally uncooperative – even though the site is completely neutral. There is also the rather severe constraint that this imposes on me personally since I have to refrain from saying what I really think about the various candidates in order to maintain some impartiality as the curator of the Candidate Pages. If the City chooses to go forward with this, I suppose this would give me the freedom to say exactly what I think about the candidates – something I am often asked to do and which I have resisted doing ever since I started the Candidate Pages. I may still choose to be impartial, but having this option does carry with it a certain appeal.

I can’t help but wonder how things will play out when some of the more "out there" candidates object to what’s permitted to go into the proposed voter guide. Will fact checking be required? Who will be in charge of putting this together and interacting with the candidates and their campaigns? This could open an interesting can of worms. I might speculate that with this free political advertising this could lead to local political parties (or entities that are effectively political parties) recruiting scores of candidates just to pack the pages with their platform. When all the fringe candidates get included, this might end up looking more like a comic book than a voter guide. – Robert Winters

April 26, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 133-134: April 26, 2016

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:42 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 133 (Part 1)

Episode 133 – Cambridge InsideOut: Tues, April 26, 2016 at 5:30pm. Major items discussed included today’s presidential primaries, the City’s Outstanding Employee Awards, the Envision Cambridge committee appointments, and the FY2017 Cambridge City Budget. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 134 (Part 2)

Episode 134 – Cambridge InsideOut: Tues, April 26, 2016 at 6:00pm. Major items discussed included the FY2017 Cambridge City Budget and a rundown of some of the items proposed/discussed/acted on at the April 25 Cambridge City Council meeting. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

April 25, 2016

Real Money – The City of Cambridge FY2017 Budget tops the April 25, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:14 am

Real Money – The City of Cambridge FY2017 Budget tops the April 25, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

FY2017 BudgetOne of the things that distinguishes a city manager submitted budget from what you might see in a city with a strong mayor form of government is its consistency from year to year. Rather than see budgets for individual departments or initiatives skyrocket or plummet depending on which voters the mayor is courting, we generally see in the Cambridge budgets predictable changes based on rational objectives. That’s worth remembering the next time someone tries to convince you that we need to change the charter.

Here are what I see as the most notable agenda items this week:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the FY2017 submitted budget and appropriation orders. [$560,592,915 total proposed FY17 Operating Budget – a 5.4% increase over FY2016; $13,969,210 Water Fund; $16,890,570 Public Investment Fund; (plus the total of $188,100,000 in Loan Orders – see #5-11 below)]

Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Judith T. Martin, Executive Secretary to the School Committee transmitting a copy of an order from the School Committee recommending the FY17 General Fund Budget of the Cambridge Public Schools be adopted in the sum of $172,793,980.00.

The City Manager and his Finance staff are expected to give a Budget Overview at this meeting during which they’ll provide additional details (and a possible correction to the apparently missing Conservation Commission budget). The FY2017 Budget Book (either in print or online) is also expected to be made available around the time of the meeting. The Budget Hearings conducted by the City Council’s Finance Committee commence May 5.

For the sake of comparison, here’s a table showing how some of the budgets have changed over the last year, 2 years, and 12 years.

GENERAL GOVERNMENT FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
City Clerk $720,925 $1,240,705 $1,123,935 $1,217,510 8.3 -1.9 68.9
City Council $975,570 $1,711,115 $1,789,700 $1,880,205 5.1 9.9 92.7
Election Commission $756,540 $1,072,390 $1,149,425 $1,308,220 13.8 22.0 72.9
Employee Benefits $20,499,920 $32,882,665 $33,025,885 $37,756,330 14.3 14.8 84.2
Executive $1,353,140 $2,298,685 $2,356,150 $2,463,020 4.5 7.1 82.0
Finance $8,837,560 $14,540,220 $16,024,605 $17,151,925 7.0 18.0 94.1
General Services $984,345 $704,725 $683,040 $710,735 4.1 0.9 -27.8
Law $1,780,975 $2,176,975 $2,174,415 $2,219,965 2.1 2.0 24.6
Mayor $430,035 $589,680 $586,635 $671,920 14.5 13.9 56.2
Public Celebrations $671,505 $874,335 $905,900 $939,685 3.7 7.5 39.9
Reserve $37,500 $37,500 $37,500 $40,000 6.7 6.7 6.7
TOTAL $37,048,015 $58,128,995 $59,857,190 $66,359,515 10.9 14.2 79.1
PUBLIC SAFETY FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Animal Commission $228,870 $323,535 $331,365 $338,775 2.2 4.7 48.0
Electrical $2,239,640 $2,767,880 $2,594,885 $2,809,845 8.3 1.5 25.5
Emergency Communications $3,097,485 $4,631,960 $5,077,255 $5,342,040 5.2 15.3 72.5
Fire $28,891,840 $44,661,535 $44,990,895 $46,094,005 2.5 3.2 59.5
Inspectional Services $2,261,215 $3,270,335 $3,414,450 $3,706,080 8.5 13.3 63.9
License Commission $726,735 $1,063,745 $1,183,145 $1,240,340 4.8 16.6 70.7
Police $31,515,220 $49,260,625 $50,646,165 $51,145,765 1.0 3.8 62.3
Police Review & Advisory Board $77,210 $75,235 $77,435 $3,700 -95.2 -95.1 -95.2
Traffic, Parking & Transportation $8,175,095 $11,088,415 $11,483,870 $12,299,375 7.1 10.9 50.4
Weights & Measures $98,910 $142,935 $145,875 $148,945 2.1 4.2 50.6
TOTAL $77,450,040 $117,286,200 $119,945,340 $123,128,870 2.7 5.0 59.0
COMMUNITY MAINT/DEVELOPMENT FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Cable T.V. $999,500 $1,452,495 $1,536,585 $1,642,360 6.9 13.1 64.3
Community Development $4,472,620 $6,335,440 $7,359,590 $8,464,085 15.0 33.6 89.2
Conservation Commission $89,760 $127,770 $130,585 ?? ?? ??
Debt Service $23,917,070 $50,446,035 $54,664,525 $58,096,295 6.3 15.2 142.9
Historical Commission $457,580 $687,860 $654,580 $644,990 -1.5 -6.2 41.0
Peace Commission $76,215 $148,445 $151,510 $154,690 2.1 4.2 103.0
Public Works $23,648,125 $33,634,490 $35,090,060 $37,181,700 6.0 10.5 57.2
TOTAL $53,660,870 $92,832,535 $99,587,435 $106,184,120 6.6 14.4 97.9
HUMAN RESOURCE/DEVELOPMENT FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Commission on Women $155,860 $241,295 $246,425 $253,965 3.1 5.3 62.9
Human Rights Commission $158,730 $266,890 $275,140 $257,270 -6.5 -3.6 62.1
Human Services $14,581,590 $24,225,290 $25,354,795 $27,926,755 10.1 15.3 91.5
Library $5,461,430 $9,249,325 $9,723,990 $9,702,575 -0.2 4.9 77.7
Veterans $510,885 $1,092,655 $1,123,070 $1,102,545 -1.8 0.9 115.8
TOTAL $20,868,495 $35,075,455 $36,723,420 $39,243,110 6.9 11.9 88.0
CITY TOTAL $189,027,420 $303,323,185 $316,113,385 $334,915,615 5.9 10.4 77.2
EDUCATION FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Schools Operating (TOTAL) $122,053,195 $156,669,635 $163,940,420 $172,793,980 5.4 10.3 41.6
INTERGOVERNMENTAL FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
Cambridge Health Alliance $6,500,000 $6,750,000 $7,000,000 $7,000,000 0.0 3.7 7.7
Cherry Sheet Assessments $11,569,960 $21,504,975 $21,336,755 $21,984,465 3.0 2.2 90.0
MWRA $16,177,455 $22,189,730 $23,516,200 $23,898,855 1.6 7.7 47.7
TOTAL $34,247,415 $50,444,705 $51,852,955 $52,883,320 2.0 4.8 54.4
GRAND TOTALS $345,328,030 $510,437,525 $531,906,760 $560,592,915 5.4 9.8 62.3
FY05 adopted FY15 adopted FY16 adopted FY17 proposed 1 yr % change 2 yr % change 12 yr % change
WATER $17,098,120 $13,964,275 $13,964,115 $13,969,210 0.0 0.0 -18.3
PUBLIC INVESTMENT $8,834,255 $31,954,025 $18,076,290 $16,890,570 -6.6 -47.1 91.2

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-14, regarding the possibility of closing two lanes to cars on Memorial Drive on April 29th for Walk/Ride Day.

I hate to say "I told you so", but… no, I actually enjoy saying "I told you so." The City’s application was not approved due to concerns of the State Police around traffic safety and congestion. There was never any realistic chance that this would be approved. I told you so.

Manager’s Agenda #5-11. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow:

#5: $17,350,000 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 Alewife Watershed, Cambridgeport Neighborhood, and areas in Harvard Square as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program.

#6: $5,000,000 to provide funds for a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement Plan.

#7: $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

#8: $149,600,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including construction for the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex, building envelope repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at the Amigos School.

#9: $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.

#10: $4,000,000 to provide funds for the renovations of the Out of Town News Kiosk Building and adjacent plaza area in Harvard Square.

#11: $10,000,000 to provide funds for the design and construction of a multi-use path/greenway along the eastern Grand Junction railroad right of way from Broadway to the city line.

That’s a total of $188,100,000 in Loan Orders – dominated by the cost of construction of the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex.


Manager’s Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a report on potential issues related to the Barrett, et al. Zoning Amendment.

As promised on the night the Barrett Petition was passed, the proposed amendments have arrived.

Manager’s Agenda #20. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge receiving a 5-STAR Rating from STAR Communities (STAR) – the highest score ever given in the country and Cambridge is one of only four cities nationally to earn the top 5-STAR rating.

More gold stars for Cambridge.

Unfinished Business #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 24, 2016 to discuss a zoning petition by the Sage Cannabis, Inc. to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 20.700 Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by creating an additional Medical Marijuana Overlay District (MMD-3). Question comes of Passing To Be Ordained on or after Apr 18, 2016. Planning Board hearing held on Mar 15, 2016. Petition expires June 22, 2016.

Manager’s Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 16-34, which requested a legal opinion on the legality of the Zoning Petition filed by Sage Cannabis, Inc. For a medical marijuana dispensary and whether it is spot zoning.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, regarding MDD-3 Special District Zoning Petition or the draft letter from the City Manager of non-opposition to the Department of Public Health for Sage Cannabis, Inc.

The Sage Cannabis Petition will likely sail through ordination at this meeting, but the communication from Councillor Kelley is interesting. Apparently, in some other places where marijuana dispensaries have been approved there were agreements signed that would produce revenues for the host cities. It’s a bit odd that Cambridge with its host of community benefit and other mitigation protocols in place never asked for anything from Sage Cannabis.

Communication #1. A communication was received from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, Real Estate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Investment Management Company, 238 Main Street, providing a brief update on several requirements related to the Kendall Square zoning (PUD-5).

This letter notes that:
1) MIT’s first community fund contribution payment of $2.5 million and its first community-based organization fund payment of $1 million were made to the City on July 3, 2013; and MIT’s second community fund contribution payment of $2.5 million and second community-based organization fund payment of $1 million were recently made to the City on Apr 7, 2016 bringing MIT’s contributions to $7M. Two more sets of payments will be made in the future, as stipulated by the Kendall PUD-5 final documents.

2) MIT has been working with the City to finalize the property transfer of 35 Cherry Street. The City is working through a community process to determine the future use of the parcel, after which the closing and the transfer of title will be finalized. The City’s acquisition of 35 Cherry Street includes the stipulation that the parcel be used "in perpetuity in a manner that directly benefit residents in the Area Four Neighborhood and surrounding communities."

3) MIT’s $500,000 contribution to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority’s Grand Junction pathway project between Main Street and Broadway has enabled that work to proceed to the point that a grand opening celebration is now being planned for the spring.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Suzanne Schell Pearce.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Maher

Cambridge has lost one of the most kind-hearted activists I personally ever met.

Order #1. That the City Council go on record urging the National League of Cities to move the venue for the NLC City Summit scheduled to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November 2017 to another state which does not have such discriminatory legislation on the books.   Mayor Simmons

Punishing the local businesses who had no say whatsoever in what laws their state government chose to pass.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council and the community with a response to the concerns and assessment of the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance.   Mayor Simmons

This might also be a good time to get some feedback on reactions to the proposed polystyrene ban set to go into effect later this year. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking ordinances when necessary.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department, the Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs, and other appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of waiving the motor vehicle excise tax for electric vehicles.   Councillor Devereux

First, this would require authorization from the state. Second, it’s a slippery road to travel when you start taxing people differently based on what you perceive to be better behavior. Why not charge different excise taxes for people who use their vehicles less frequently?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council if any progress has been made on the willingness of the City of Cambridge to contribute to a successful Green Line Extension and if there has been conversations with local developers regarding the same.   Councillor Toomey

Though I suppose you can make the case that "local developers" and cities through which public transit passes derive benefit from the presence of the transit, this is still a sorry state of affairs when the state and the MBTA cannot manage their fiscal affairs to maintain and enhance their assets.

Order #8. City Council opposition to any off-peak hour fare surcharges as a means of mitigation for continued off-peak hours T service and support for a fair and equitable solution to mitigating the loss of late night T service, specifically one that does not unduly burden those with the least flexibility in their reliance on an affordable means of off-hours transportation.   Councillor Cheung

I didn’t know this was even being considered. It is worth mentioning that when the T shuts down at night the cost of transportation goes up considerably for those who must then take taxis or one of the pseudo-taxi services.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 6, 2016 to continue to discuss the development of the process for the selection of a new City Manager.

The process continues. Hopefully not for too long and leading to a good outcome. If the Council becomes deadlocked, I’m happy to make the decision. – Robert Winters

April 10, 2016

Up the Inclusionary – Hot Topics on the April 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:20 pm

Up the Inclusionary – Hot Topics on the April 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Inclusionary ZoningHere are the relatively few agenda items that seem interesting this week:

City Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, recommending the reappointment of Conrad Crawford to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

City Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, recommending appointment of Naomie Stephen to the Cambridge Housing Authority.

These are the only two City Boards for which City Council approval is required for appointments by the City Manager. Under recently amended protocols, these will each have a City Council committee hearing prior to coming back to the City Council for a vote.

City Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study.

This is by far the most significant agenda item. Any change to Inclusionary Zoning would be a zoning amendment, so this matter will now have to be referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for further deliberation. The study and the Manager’s recommendation call for a substantial increase in the inclusionary requirement. If I read it correctly, the current 15% requirement (which ends up being under 12% of the new units created after the density bonus is added in) would go up to somewhere between 17% and 20% after the density bonus is added. Some activists will, no doubt, want an even higher percentage, but there are at least some indications that the sky is no longer the limit in terms of housing prices and rents. There may be some logic in exercising at least a little caution in increasing the mandatory requirements.

Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Dorothy Steele.   Councillor Toomey

If you didn’t see the recent Eric Moskowitz article on Dorothy Steele on the front page of the Boston Globe (Apr 5, 2016), you really should. It was one of the most beautifully written tributes I’ve ever read in a newspaper.

Order #2. That all future Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee meetings related to the selection of a new City Manager be televised.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

The actual level of interest in this process among the general public is not nearly as great as the sponsors of the Order seem to think. Interest will definitely pick as we get nearer to an actual vote, but for now it’s just the usual suspects.

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 Sage Cannabis Inc., application to operate a RMD in the Business B-2 (MMD-3 Zoning) District within the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts.   Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

I can certainly understand why the City Council might support a zoning change to allow Sage Cannabis to operate a medical marijuana dispensary at a location not previously permitted under zoning, but does the City Council really have to also write them a letter of recommendation? Surely the zoning change should be sufficient. – Robert Winters

April 6, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 127-128: April 5, 2016

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

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 127 (Part 1)

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


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 128 (Part 2)

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

April 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead. Be offended. Get a life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 22, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 123-124: Mar 22, 2016

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

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 123 (Part 1)

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

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 124 (Part 2)

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

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