Episode 8 of Cambridge InsideOut – Phone interviews with Cambridge City Council candidates (Part 2). This episode was broadcast live on Oct 1, 2013 at 6:00pm. This episode features Janneke House and Nadeem Mazen.
Episode 8 of Cambridge InsideOut – Phone interviews with Cambridge City Council candidates (Part 2). This episode was broadcast live on Oct 1, 2013 at 6:00pm. This episode features Janneke House and Nadeem Mazen.
Episode 7 of Cambridge InsideOut – Phone interviews with Cambridge City Council candidates (Part 1). This episode was broadcast live on Oct 1, 2013 at 5:30pm and featured candidates Elie Yarden, Leland Cheung, and Gary Mello. [The program begins about 50 seconds into the video.]
The most significant agenda item is the public hearing and vote relating to the proposed FY2014 tax rates.
City Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Mass Dept. of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2014: [Full Report]
(1) The FY14 property tax levy of $328,544,945 reflects a $11,597,175 or 3.66% increase from FY13, the lowest increase since FY06.
(2) Pending approval from the Mass. Dept. of Revenue, the FY14 residential tax rate will be $8.38 per thousand dollars of value, a decrease of $0.28 or -3.23% from FY13. The commercial tax rate will be $20.44, a decrease of $1.06 or -4.9% from FY13.
(3) As has been the practice in recent years, $11 million in reserve accounts is being used to lower the property tax levy.
(4) Approximately 74.1% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY14 tax bill. In addition, another 13.5% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250.
(5) The median tax bills show a 2.54% increase for single-family homes, a 2.54% decrease for condominiums, a 2.85% increase for two-family homes, and a 4.38% increase for three-family homes. These figures factor in the residential exemption ($215,649 for FY14).
(6) In large part due to new construction, the City’s excess levy capacity (as defined by Prop. 2½) increased by approximately $13.4 million, or 12.87%, to $117.5 million in FY14.
City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a notification from the State Department of Revenue that as of July 1, 2013, the City of Cambridge certified free cash balance is $142,176,089.
This is the highest amount in the City’s history and represents a $26.3 million increase over last year.
City Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the proposed zoning petition regarding Medical Marijuana Regulations. [Full Report]
Basically, the plan is to create two "Medical Marijuana Overlay Zoning Districts" where dispensaries could be located. One area is on either side of Fresh Pond Parkway (including the Shopping Center) and the other is in the NorthPoint area. Related public health regulations governing these dispensaries are expected to follow.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Superintendent of Schools and the Assistant City Manager for Human Services with the view in mind of appointing a task force to recommend an approach to four year old education in Cambridge Mayor Davis
This appears to be an outgrowth of last week’s Roundtable Meeting with the School Committee. Pretty soon we’ll have a record number of Task Forces.
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to review the selection process for the Inclusionary Unit program with a view toward making the process favorable towards former and current Cambridge residents. Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to establish an owner’s handbook to be given to all residents living in Inclusionary Units, and for the Community Development Department to establish formal, annual check-in meetings with all Inclusionary Unit residents. Vice Mayor Simmons
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to report back to the City Council on the style, quality, and long-term care of all Inclusionary Units. Vice Mayor Simmons
This is a curious suite of Orders from Councillor Simmons reflecting questions and concerns about the operational aspects of the City’s generally very successful Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance.
It’s worth noting that the naysayers from the "Cambridge Residents Alliance" (CRA) recently stated: "We reject inclusionary zoning as the primary way to develop affordable housing by including a small percentage of affordable units in large towers of market-rate housing. In fact, those developments have a ripple effect on surrounding neighborhoods, driving rental prices up and leading to a net loss from the city of residents who need affordable units." The CRA’s preferred approach seems to be centered on policies designed to concentrate low income residents in specific areas, especially in and around Central Square. Their thesis that increasing the supply of housing causes housing prices to rise is questionable at best.
Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate new technology methods of communicating street sweeping to residents, with the specific request that an "opt-in" text alert be sent to residents who own parking passes (and resident guest parking passes) by linking geo-coded phone numbers with locations that are to be swept. Councillor vanBeuzekom
"No parking on the Odd side of the street or your car will be tagged and towed." – I guess that’s not clear enough for the new wave of residents who can’t survive ten minutes without their blessed little iPhones.
Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Department of Public Works to devote a greater number of resources towards the challenge of improving the cleanliness of Central Square. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I can’t argue with the intent of this Order, but it’s really more about how the available resources are deployed than just the raw amount of resources. Also, there has to be a lot more required of those property owners in Central Square who are not doing their fair share. For example, if the patrons of the Middle East cover every post and utility box with stickers and other graffiti doesn’t it make sense that the good owners of the Middle East should hire someone to clean up their mess? It’s not right to just dump all the responsibility on the DPW.
Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to review the permitting process and any zoning and building code barriers to greater adoption of solar energy. Councillor vanBeuzekom
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 21, 2013 to discuss the proposed "Net Zero" amendment to the Zoning Ordinance….
Councillor vanBeuzekom’s Order is the kind of energy efficiency initiative that actually makes sense in that it addresses what all property owners could potentially choose to do to conserve energy and save money. In the meantime, however, we have to suffer through the narrow focus and questionable legality of the election-motivated "Net Zero" proposal. – Robert Winters
Sept 27 – There was a City Council Candidate Forum tonight – the first of the season – sponsored by the East Cambridge Planning Team and held at the Dante Alighieri Society Center at Hampshire and Portland Streets in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood of Cambridge. All 25 City Council candidates were there – a full banquet. One thing you have to understand about candidate forums, especially the first of the campaign, is that it’s not especially important WHAT the candidates say, but HOW they connect with the audience. Nonetheless, reporters will likely give detailed accounts of candidate statements, size up the candidates accordingly, and thereby completely miss the point.
The candidates who have a chance of being elected are the ones who actually speak directly to the audience without sounding as though they’re reading from note cards. They address their audience and appeal to them in human terms. The better candidates also say substantive things without being evasive. This projects both competence and honesty.
At the risk of appearing to play favorites, the candidates who were most successful at tonight’s forum were (in no particular order) Ken Reeves, Mark McGovern, Denise Simmons, Dennis Benzan, Leland Cheung, Tim Toomey, and David Maher. Also showing promise were Minka vanBeuzekom, Craig Kelley, Dennis Carlone, Logan Leslie, Luis Vasquez, Jefferson Smith, and Sam Seidel. To a lesser degree, Nadeem Mazen and Ron Peden also had some good moments. This is not to say that the other candidates were especially dreadful (well, maybe one or two) – just that they didn’t especially connect with the audience at this event. This will likely change in subsequent forums, especially next week’s MCNA Forum at Cambridge College where candidates will talk with individual voters around tables. Some candidates do much better in direct conversation than they do addressing an entire room.
Questions posed to the candidates included such topics as affordable housing, transportation, the City Manager and city government, funding for school construction, and perceived dysfunction of the current City Council. They were also asked to comment briefly on the season’s most overblown issue, the "Net Zero Petition," and relatively few candidates offered unqualified support. The two challengers who appear to be running the strongest campaigns were both clearly opposed to this petition as currently written.
The audience at this event was, as is often the case, largely composed of people who were there supporting particular candidates, but there were definitely some non-affiliates at the forum who were there to actually learn about the candidates. The event was recorded by CCTV and should be viewable soon either on Cable TV or via the CCTV website. – Robert Winters
Episode 3 of Cambridge InsideOut – Big Issues in the 2013 City Council election.
This episode aired on Sept 17, 2013.
Here are a few possibly interesting items in this relatively brief agenda:
Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate $10,307,500 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.
The CPA funds will be distributed as always – 80% toward affordable housing, 10% toward open space, and 10% toward historic preservation. There’s a reason why I stopped going to the meetings – it never changes.
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Boston Properties requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map in the area included within the "Ames Street District."
The petition should be noncontroversial. It calls only for minor amendments to the zoning in the MXD district that will allow residential and retail development to proceed.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments as to potential locations, including Hubway stations, where posting cycling laws and etiquette would be in the public interest and feasible for the City of Cambridge. Councillor Cheung
We’ll have to ask Emily Post about the appropriate etiquette, but reminding cyclists that they are operating a vehicle and must follow the same laws as motor vehicles is always a good idea.
Order #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Election Commission to establish a Right to Vote Task Force. Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Simmons
This Order is pure micromanagement of the Election Commission. It is doubtful that a comparable Order would ever be directed toward any other City department.
Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to revise the presentation of the FY15 City Budget document so that the details and costs associated with bicycle-related initiatives are presented as its own category and so that the City’s bicycle-related initiatives (i.e. infrastructure improvements) can be tracked and monitored separately from auto-related initiatives. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I would like to see this only to learn the total amount of money that is being wasted to install a "cycle track" on Western Ave.
Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a task force to further examine the Connolly Petition to be comprised of, but not limited to, community advocates, members of the business community, property owners and developers, Cambridge Community Development representatives and other stakeholders. Councillor Decker
This Order augments the planned "Getting to Net Zero" panel discussion scheduled for Wed, Oct 2, 6:00pm at the Main Library and the Roundtable/Working City Council meeting scheduled for Thurs, Oct 10, 3:00pm to discuss Connolly, et al. net zero zoning petition. It should be obvious that any action along the lines of this petition should have involved all stakeholders and not just the 350.org and anti-development crowds. Perhaps this will put back on track whatever positive merits may be contained in this petition and that a more thoughtful (and legal) approach can be found to the satisfaction of all. – Robert Winters
Our second episode of “Cambridge Inside Out – The Sequel” introduced this year’s Cambridge municipal election candidates. The co-hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters.
With 25 City Council candidates and 9 School Committee candidates to fit into a 27 minute program, this was like municipal speed dating. We relied on the Cambridge City Council Candidate Pages and the Complete record of Cambridge PR Elections 1941-2011 as resources for the program.
School is back in session for our intrepid Cambridge city councillors. After 6 weeks of vacation they return to a predictably long agenda with few controversial items. Here are some highlights (additional comments to follow):
Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-15, regarding creating a short term task force that will consider drafting a municipal ordinance related to outdoor lighting.
This task force comes about as a result of the ill-fated Teague petition that would have prohibited some types of outdoor lighting in new buildings only. The task force has a goal of finalizing its recommendations by early 2014.
Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Popper-Keizer, et al Zoning Petition.
Manager’s Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Craig Kelley Petition as proposed (Flat Roofs/Rainwater Separation).
No comment here on these two zoning petitions receiving negative recommendations from the Planning Board. Links are provided to the PDF reports.
Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to set up a $20,000 one-year Build Neighborhoods Fund from Community Benefits funds. [was: Order #16 of July 29, 2013]
However well-intentioned this Order from Councillor vanBeuzekom may be, there are some inherent risks associated with the distribution of public money to neighborhood groups. It’s reassuring that the Order included the following: "ORDERED: That distribution of the Build Neighborhoods Fund use a system similar to the former Police Community grants – in that grant recipients use requirements and grant spending reporting is clearly communicated." With appropriate safeguards, small grants like this (up to $500) can be enormously helpful for graffiti removal initiatives, neighborhood cleanups, block parties and other "wholesome" activities.
Charter Right #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the rationale and thought process of the License Commission on the proposed increase of liquor license fees prior to the change taking effect. [was: Order #20 of July 29, 2013]
The License Commission recently jacked up the annual fees licensees are required to pay to cover enforcement and other costs. I have heard that there is some resentment from the proprietors of well-behaved restaurants that they have to bear the cost of misbehaved bars and nightclubs.
Resolution #89. Congratulating Jane Kenworthy Lewis on being appointed Acting Clerk of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Vice Mayor Simmons
Congratulations to Jane Lewis on this significant appointment. Jane was one of our original band of recycling advocates over 24 years ago and one of our hardest working volunteers. She also played a major role in the drafting of the City’s Municipal Recycling Ordinance.
Resolution #132. Congratulations to Iram Farooq on being appointed Acting Deputy Director of the Community Development Department. Mayor Davis
If appointments like this are based on earning your stripes through great work, then Iram has more than earned her stripes during the recent planning processes for Kendall Square and Central Square. This really is a great appointment.
Resolution #141. Thanks to the Masse family and the FX Masse Hardware Co. staff for their many years of exemplary service and assistance to Cambridge residents. Mayor Davis
Some multi-generational institutions like Masse Hardware deserve their own chapters in the history of Cambridge. Though I understand that new housing will appear at Masse’s Corner, I mourn the passing of the essential retail it provided for so many years. I am constantly aware of the steady slide from essential retail toward restaurants, cafes, and similar uses. We all love our restaurants and cafes, but now we often have to go to Somerville and elsewhere to buy our groceries, clothing, and other supplies. If there was one act of magic I wish the City could perform, it would be to invent a way that we can attract and retain essential retail in Cambridge. A classic diner or two would also be welcome.
Resolution #148. Thanks to Sergeant Kathleen Murphy, Cambridge Police Department, for her many years of service to the City of Cambridge and best wishes in her retirement. Mayor Davis
Yes, indeed. Sergeant Murphy has been a regular presence at the semi-annual rides organized by the Cambridge Bike Committee. I hope she’ll continue to ride with us (without the uniform) for many years to come.
Resolution #149. Congratulations to City Councillor Leland Cheung and his wife Yin Zhou on the birth of their daughter Lela Marie Zhou. Councillor vanBeuzekom
If Councillor Cheung seems tired at the meeting, we’ll give him a pass. Congratulations Leland, Yin, and Lela Marie!
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner as to whether the City of Cambridge currently reports crime gun information to the E-Trace system and, if not, explore the feasibility of doing so. Councillor Cheung
If we add some high-resolution security cameras on a few key streets, we may do a lot to assist Cambridge Police in solving serious crimes involving deadly weapons. Any word yet on the June 2012 murder of Charlene Holmes?
Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant staff and report back to the City Council with a plan to review and adjust news box placement to ensure the general public’s access to the sidewalk is not unreasonably hindered. Councillor Kelley
This was the subject of much deliberation in the City Council during the months prior to the enactment of the Newsbox Ordinance in February 1999. Two things are worth noting. First, there were probably more newsboxes in 1999 than there are now as printed material has given way to electronic Spam, social media, and online shopping. Second, fenced-in outdoor dining and Hubway stations now consume (and sometimes obstruct) at least as much sidewalk space as any newsboxes.
Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff about the possibilities of starting street cleaning at a later time in the morning. Councillor Kelley
The 7:00am blaring of the announcement from the DPW sound car can be a bit annoying, but the tagging and towing doesn’t start until a perfectly reasonable 8:00am and everyone knows that you can park after the street cleaning is complete. If you push back the start time, you also push back the time at which it’s safe to park again. It’s probably best to leave well enough alone. If you want to do something more meaningful, allow people with resident stickers to park free at metered spaces until 9:00am or 10:00am. Any councillors care to submit such an Order?
Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City and CPS staff about the usefulness of an "Open Right" campaign to prevent "dooring" to cyclists and how such a public awareness campaign might be implemented. Councillor Kelley
Anything that can be done to better educate the public about this hazard is a good thing. Then again, they may forget while they’re texting and juggling their coffee. Another Order I would suggest is to ask the Traffic & Parking Officers to strictly enforce the requirement that vehicles park within a foot (hopefully less) of the curb. It’s incredible how many lazy drivers park several feet from the curb – and this can be a serious hazard for cyclists in the roadway.
Order #20. That the City Council go on record urging the President of Cambridge College to assent to a meeting with representatives of the Cambridge College security officers and with members of SEIU Local 615 to discuss labor issues and that the City Council refuse to attend any events at Cambridge College until such time that a meeting has been scheduled. Vice Mayor Simmons
Will this apply to the City Council Candidates Forum sponsored by the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association at Cambridge College on October 2?
Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate the use of green colored pavement within bike lanes along major roadways and at key intersections, especially considering Massachusetts Avenue, Hampshire Street, Broadway, Huron Avenue, and Concord Avenue. Councillor vanBeuzekom
I recall that this was done in the past in Central Square and elsewhere (with blue paint), but it didn’t take too long for the paint to wear away. This would be a waste of paint along roadways, but there are some applications in and around intersections that might make sense.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on July 23, 2013 to review recommendations for the best practices in supporting neighborhood groups and to determine best strategies going forward.
As stated above, there are inherent risks associated with the distribution of public money to neighborhood groups. It is a fact that some neighborhood groups (and associations of neighborhood groups) are de facto political action committees. The City should support helpful initiatives from residents, but not politicized neighborhood groups.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on July 30, 2013 to discuss assessing the current status of Central Square following the Central Square Advisory Committee’s non-zoning recommendations and exploring potential options to make the neighborhood a safer and more family-friendly area.
This meeting featured a significant amount of input from residents about problematic behavior in and around Central Square. Other significant non-zoning elements include the design and maintenance of public space, retail, cultural and non-profit diversity, connecting people to the Square, environmental issues, the status of the municipal parking lots, monitoring public benefits, and traffic and transportation issues. It’s a full plate.
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 31, 2013 to examine the finances of various proposals for the future of the Foundry Building.
Deciding on the disposition of this building is the subject of four City Council committees. The Foundry building was transferred to the City as a result of the Alexandria rezoning process with the intention that it would be used for municipal or community uses. Ten thousand square feet (10,000) would be used for community purposes. There are, however, significant costs in preparing the building for public use. This is a hotly debated topic that we will certainly be hearing more about during the current municipal election season.
Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 21, 2013 to discuss new meeting protocols as they relate to resolutions and policy orders and record keeping of the City Council Minutes.
Some of the revised procedures are good and useful, but some of the unintended consequences of recent revisions to the Open Meeting Law have been problematic. Perhaps the Mass. State Legislature should revisit this law to address some of these more problematic consequences – especially those aspects that thwart collaboration in order prevent collusion.
Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 7, 2013 to receive a brief update on community benefits from the nonprofit summit.
Much of this discussion grows out of the recent trend during rezoning negotiations to encourage "community benefits" donations – a somewhat suspicious trend in that it has the appearance of essentially purchasing increased height and density in proposed development projects. As the saying goes, "money changes everything." Now that some funds have been accumulating, the elected officials and City administration are haggling over how these funds can be legally spent. My primary thoughts on this are that things worked much better when Cambridge businesses and institutions focused on charitable giving to support the people of Cambridge through a variety of programs independent of local government. The trend toward City-controlled "community benefit funds" is a road that we perhaps should have avoided entirely. – Robert Winters
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