Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 24, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 115-116: Feb 23, 2016

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

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 115 (Part 1) – Presidential Politics

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

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

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

February 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 20, 2016

Campaign Finance – 2015 Cambridge City Council Candidates

Filed under: 2015 Election,Cambridge,campaign finance,elections — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:08 pm

Vote!This year (2015) is a municipal election year and the roster of candidates is now final. Here is where the campaign accounts stand for incumbents and challengers for Cambridge City Council. This information will be updated as the year progresses.

It will be interesting to see how the new individual contribution limit of $1000/year (up from $500/year) affects campaign receipts and expenditures.

City Council Campaign Finance - 2015 (based on bank reports, updated Feb 20, 2016)

CandidatesStartEndOpenReceiptsExpendBalance#1 Votes$ per #1 Vote
Benzan, Dennis1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$8207.45$70200.89$78273.51$134.84
1159$67.54
Carlone, Dennis1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$4272.67$33079.30$37256.45$95.521002$37.18
Cheung, Leland1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$6002.06$95266.51$39430.61$61837.961189$33.16
Connolly, Mike16-Jul-1515-Feb-16$0.00$50381.44$39581.86$10799.58841$47.07
Courtney, Kim1-Jan-1515-Dec-15$0.00$1869.94$1869.94$0.0072$25.97
Davidson, Mariko25-Jun-1515-Feb-16$0.00$15232.25$15232.25$0.00853$17.86
DeGoes, Plineo16-Jun-1515-Dec-15$0.00$4550.00$4550.00$0.0051$89.22
Devereux, Jan1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$0.00$55720.44$53162.94$2557.501307$40.68
Dietrich, Xavier13-Jul-1515-Dec-15$0.00$2360.00$2360.00$0.0027$78.90
Kelley, Craig1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$2601.58$39626.05$37858.49$4369.141434$26.40
Levy, Ilan13-Jul-1531-Dec-15$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.00153$0.00
Maher, David1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$28741.21$55839.21$83063.27$1517.151637$50.74
Mahoney, Paul F.2-Jul-1515-Feb-16$0.00$5075.00$2376.64$2698.36251$9.47
Mazen, Nadeem1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$12273.54$69320.74$81508.96$85.321929$42.25
McGovern, Marc1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$6098.45$67556.62$72900.57$754.501202$60.65
Mello, Gary1-Jul-1531-Dec-15$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.00119$0.00
Moree, Gregg1-Jul-1515-Feb-16$0.00$13320.00$13316.42$3.5878$170.72
Sanzone, John1-May-1515-Feb-16$0.00$3085.28$2280.50$804.7832$71.27
Simmons, Denise1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$7447.29$59939.41$61288.24$6098.461715$35.74
Toomey, Tim1-Jan-1531-Dec-15$18782.29$48207.68$60573.92$6416.051416$42.78
vanBeuzekom, Minka 1-Jan-1515-Feb-16$7380.40$46013.45$52113.55$1280.301014$51.39
Waite, Romaine2-Jul-1515-Feb-16$0.00$3687.95$3687.95$0.00
274$13.46
Williamson, James1-Jul-1531-Dec-15$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0072$0.00

The table can be sorted by category in ascending or descending order by clicking on the category name in the top row.

The $ per #1 Vote figures will continue to rise as expenditure reports continue to be filed.

All 2015 Campaign Finance Report Summaries (PDF) – last updated Feb 20, 2016

You can also look up these periodic reports (and more) yourself at the OCPF website.

The information in the tables below was compiled in early December 2015. Some additional receipts, expenditures, returned donations, etc. have occurred since then. The tables may be updated at some point in the future to reflect these changes.


Dollars Spent per #1 Vote


Percentage of Campaign Receipts from Cambridge


Additional Campaign Finance Details

February 1, 2016

Groundhog Eve – A Few Items from the Feb 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:16 am

Groundhog Eve – A Few Items from the Feb 1, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting agenda

groundhogPerhaps there will be just six more weeks of winter, then it will get cold again. Until then, here are a few comment-worthy items on tap for this Monday:

Resolution #1. Happy Birthday wishes to former Mayor and City Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves.   Councillor Maher

Happy birthday, Ken!

Order #1. That the Cambridge City Council go on record in full support of H.3019/S.1810, H.3073/S.1807, and S.1809 as needed protections for area bicyclists.   Councillor Kelley

It’s interesting that 55 years ago the same-numbered bill read: "1961 House Bill 3019. An Act Providing A Penalty For Operating A Motor Vehicle So Dangerously Under The Circumstances That The Operator Should Be Conscious That He Is Unreasonably Endangering The Lives Or Safety Of The Public."

The first of these measures would mandate better mirrors and side guards on some vehicles as a means of helping to prevent catastrophic injuries to cyclists. (A significant fraction of cyclist fatalities involve altercations with very large vehicles). The third of these measures would clarify the rights of a cyclist in a crosswalk (which could make a big difference in terms of legal liability in the event of injury or death). Bicycles are vehicles, but in a situation like the Minuteman Bikeway where there are crosswalks at intersections it’s currently not clear what a cyclist is supposed to do – proceed with caution or dismount and walk.

The second of these measures is the most significant. It attempts to define "vulnerable user" and includes cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, people in wheelchairs, tractor operators, and people riding an animal. The proposed law would require that a safe distance of at least three feet be maintained for a motor vehicle traveling at thirty miles per hour or less, and one additional foot of clearance for every ten miles per hour above thirty miles per hour. The law would also require that if a passing vehicle cannot maintain this safe distance when overtaking a "vulnerable user", the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane, crossing the centerline if necessary, if it is safe to do so or wait for a safe opportunity to overtake. This should be standard practice anyway for any good driver, but it will be great if this is enshrined in law. The greatest danger for cyclists (and pedestrians) occurs when there are turning vehicles, but there is also some risk (and some fear) of getting "brushed back" by a careless motor vehicle operator who does give a wide berth when passing a cyclist, a pedestrian or, for that matter, even a slower motor vehicle.

If I could wave a magic wand and command the legislature to do right, I would also mandate lower speed limits on any road where the distance between moving vehicles and parked vehicles is below some minimum, e.g. many Cambridge one-way streets with cars parked on both sides. Nobody should be driving more than 25mph on streets like Lee St., Fayette St., or Antrim St. (just to name a couple of streets in my own neighborhood). I will also point out that according to the above proposed law regarding vulnerable users it may not even be physically possible to legally pass a cyclist on such road.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development with the intention of organizing a Volpe Task Force made up of representatives from abutting neighborhood groups and Kendall Square residents and businesses.   Councillor Toomey

I would have thought that such a group would already have been formed, but this does again bring up the dilemma of who really represents the people in the various neighborhoods of Cambridge. I am reminded of Al Vellucci’s oft-stated phrase "the self-anointed, self-appointed."

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Information Technology Department and any other relevant City departments on ways the City of Cambridge can implement such a service with the goal of notifying residents of city-wide and neighborhood events and meetings via automated calls or text messages.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux

This isn’t a bad idea, but I have to wonder who will decide which meetings and events will be deemed call- or email-worthy and which residents will be contacted (abutters, immediate neighborhood, citywide).

Order #4. That the City Council go on record in support of the Bikeshare Transit Act.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

This would provide an additional source of funds for expanding services like Hubway. Let me just say that as a cyclist who likes to work on my own bike, there’ nothing like getting to know your own wheels.

Order #9. City Council support of a grant application by the City of Cambridge to the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge, proposing the development of an automated, connected-vehicle transportation system that has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   Councillor Toomey

Beyond all the greenhouse gas stuff, this grant could help in the development of the future Grand Junction Multi-use path which will help link together residential, commercial, and educational centers in Somerville, Cambridge, and Allston. There are reasons for doing this that go beyond climate change, but I suppose that’s where the money is to be found in this political environment.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting notification from the President of the Massachusetts State Senate, calling for a special election to be held on Tues, May 10, 2016, to fill an existing vacancy in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senatorial District [Petruccelli].

This means that there will also have to be a primary on Tues, April 12 and, since it’s unlikely that we’ll see a viable Republican or other party candidate, that’s when the actual decision will be made with the Democrat running unopposed or minimally opposed on May 10. Special elections like this should not be conducted in this way. If there is to be a primary, it should be a single open primary where the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the final election. Better yet, require ranked-choice-voting (RCV) with transferable votes to elect a single winner and eliminate the primary altogether. It’s idiotic that legislators should be determined in a low turnout primary. Isn’t Massachusetts supposed to be a hotbed of intellect and innovation? Why can’t we get elections right?

Don’t forget – the Presidential Primary is also taking place on Tues, March 1.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., transmitting a series of articles regarding the affordable housing crisis. [San Francisco’s Self-Defeating Housing Activists] [What’s the Matter with San Francisco?]

The comparison of San Francisco and Cambridge may be imperfect, but the underlying issues explored in these articles do have some relevance here.

We’ll also likely get the 2016-17 City Council Committee Assignments at this meeting (or at least we hope so). – Robert Winters

January 24, 2016

Tasty menu items for the Jan 25, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:22 pm

Tasty menu items for the Jan 25, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

MenuMore than anything else, I’m hoping that the membership and Chairs of the City Council subcommittees will be completed in time for this Monday’s meeting. There’s also the possibility that the committees themselves could undergo some changes. In 2014 the number of committees was reduced from 17 to 11 via consolidation. It’s unlikely that this number will be further reduced, but some reconfiguration is not out of the question.

Other than the committee appointments, here are some morsels that aroused my interest:

Order #1. City Council support of H.3933 which will create a parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and poorest in Massachusetts.   Councillor Toomey

Regardless of the merits of the proposal, it’s hard to tell what is meant here by "parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and poorest in Massachusetts". The proposed constitutional amendment would add an additional 4% tax on top of the current 5.1% state income tax on earnings in excess of $1 million in any tax year.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to communicate the Cambridge City Council’s full support of the Cambridge Housing Authority’s proposed project funding to the Commonwealth and MassDevelopment and to convey the immediacy of the Cambridge Housing Authority’s need in requesting that the Commonwealth approve tax-exempt bond financing without delay.   Councillor Cheung, Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

This would be one more step to ensure that the financing is available to carry out the necessary renovations to the Manning Apartments in the Central Square area.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate City departments to report back with a rough estimate of capital and operating expenditures for a pilot City of Cambridge tool library for the year 2017.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

This is an intriguing proposal, though it seems like the best model would be more like a public-private partnership. Compare with Parts and Crafts in Somerville.

Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to coordinate with the Clerk’s Office and the appropriate departments to implement within three months an electronic public comment display in the Sullivan Chamber, listing the speaker’s name and affiliation as well as a timer.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung

Just get a better timer – perhaps one with a green, yellow, and red light to alert the speaker when his or her time is drawing to a close. There is no need for "an electronic public comment display…. listing the speaker’s name and affiliation". Each speaker now provides that information verbally and that is sufficient.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works and the Community Development Department to work with Eversource and other power providers to plan and implement infrastructure improvements to fully support future development in Cambridge and further to confer with the appropriate departments to draft an amendment to the City’s Zoning Ordinance that would see projects needing a special permit undergo a power needs assessment as part of the permitting process.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Devereux

This is a modified version of an order from the Dec 21, 2015 meeting. More attention needs to be given to the evolving infrastructure needs in Cambridge as new housing and other structures are introduced – not as a means of blocking development but to ensure that such things as electrical power are adequate to support future needs.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 14, 2015 to discuss the climate change vulnerability assessment.

I make note of this report only because my testimony at this hearing relates to the above Order regarding electrical infrastructure needs.

Order #9. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs with a view in mind of scheduling two finance committee hearings to be chaired by a Councillor of the Mayor’s choosing, one as an update from the head of the Finance Department and the other to review budget priorities, to be held in the middle of February.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

It is likely that this Order will simply be redirected to the Finance Committee to schedule these meetings if the City Council committee assignments are completed in time for this meeting.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to amend Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich dated Jan 5, 2016.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a response to an Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Hasson Rashid dated Jan 8, 2016.

Shoo, fly. When well-meaning laws like the Open Meeting Law degenerate into vehicles for malcontents to act out their psychological issues, it’s time for the State Legislature to consider amending the laws to better respect their intended purpose. City officials should not be required to waste their time on complaints such as the two listed above. – Robert Winters

January 10, 2016

Starting from Scratch – Agenda Items from the Jan 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:18 pm

Starting from Scratch – Agenda Items from the Jan 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Meeting

City HallIt’s hard to characterize as "new" an elected body that’s 8/9 the same as the previous one, but it’s a clean slate nonetheless with a new Mayor. We’ll have to wait and see where this train takes us. Also, the City Clerk’s Office has changed the way they make meeting materials available starting with the new Council term. It’s good in some ways, but it’s a lot more difficult in other ways, especially in linking to specific documents without having to open up a 30MB PDF file just to find a single item buried among 300 pages. Here are a few agenda items that seem worthy of comment:

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, in response to the City Council’s request for a legal opinion on whether the City can act either through ordinance, home rule petition or additional avenues to protect tenants from dramatic rent increases or unfair evictions, and whether the City has the ability to strengthen the tenant protections provided under the state Condominium Conversion Act.

As the City Solicitor’s opinion makes clear, municipalities have very limited authority in such matters, especially in the regulation of rents, but some specific tenant protections could possibly be enacted via a successful Home Rule petition.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Barrett, et al, Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. 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 Nov 19, 2015 to discuss a petition filed by 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 Apartment"). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held on Oct 27, 2015. Petition expires Feb 17, 2016.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Patrick W. Barrett III, Esq., regarding the Barrett Petition.

These three items refer to the Barrett Petition that would modify zoning relating to Accessory Apartments and Basement Space. With a Feb 17 expiration date, now would be a good time to get the City Council Committee assignments completed so that the Ordinance Committee could reconvene and iron out any desirable amendments to this petition.

[UPDATE: The Barrett Petition passed (as amended only to insert an effective date of May 1, 2016) by a 7-1-1 vote (Cheung, Kelley, Maher, Mazen, McGovern. Simmons, Toomey voted YES; Carlone voted NO; Devereux voted PRESENT).]

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item #15-32 (2015), regarding a report on the economic analysis for Central Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on City Manager Agenda Number Twenty-six of Dec 21, 2015.]

The timeliness, scope, and accuracy of this report hardly makes it a good starting point to reactivate discussions on the future of Central Square, but it’s something. Even a refutation of some of its assumptions would refocus some attention back to this area.

Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to amend article 4.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to require that a power needs assessment be a requirement for appropriate projects that undergo special permit review. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Twelve of Dec 21, 2015.]

There was a residential project proposed for 10 Essex Street that went through its required hearings and approvals two years ago and was never built. At the time, one topic discussed was the need to accommodate an electrical vault accessible from the street. This otherwise technical detail was relevant in light of the fact that the abutting new H-Mart in Central Square (which would have an entrance through this proposed building) had its opening delayed for a long time due to inadequate electrical infrastructure to service that block. Only a temporary waiver permitted the opening of this now very popular store and one might speculate that this could be related to the failure to build this welcome transit-oriented development. Either that or it’s the usual inaction of this particular property owner.

When the City’s latest Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment findings were announced recently, I made the point that the adequacy of the city’s electrical infrastructure should have been given more attention in that study. Councillor Cheung’s Order of Dec 21 is relevant in that it seeks to ensure adequate electrical infrastructure for new large developments, but greater attention also needs to be paid to the entire electrical network of the city, especially in view of potential additional burdens – often on very aged and inadequate electrical lines – that may come with extended summer heat waves.

Charter Right #6. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to give recognized community groups the ability to present alongside or directly after city staff, on the record and as part of the presentation agenda during meetings of the Ordinance Committee. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Thirteen of Dec 21, 2015.]

I really hope this proposal is discarded outright or radically amended into something sensible. There simply is no standard for what constitutes a "recognized community group", and the proposal would in all likelihood simply confer a special status upon a political entity such as the "Cambridge Residents Alliance" to present their official review of all proposals to come before the Ordinance Committee. Nothing now prevents members of this or any other organization from presenting oral or written testimony just like any other citizen or interested party.

[UPDATE: After a curious discussion, this matter was referred to the Government Operations & Rules Committee (not yet appointed).]

Unfinished Business #8. 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 Nov 18, 2015 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to amend Article 6.000 to create a new Section 6.24 Car-sharing Provision that will create a definition and general provisions for Car-sharing and will allow the limited use of parking spaces. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Oct 27, 2015. Amendment submitted by Councillor Cheung on Dec 21, 2015. Petition expires Feb 16, 2016.

This will likely be ordained at this meeting (or very soon) now that the public notice requirements have been met.

[UPDATE: The Car-sharing Zoning Amendment passed on a 7-2 vote with Councillors Kelley and Toomey voting NO. Councillor Toomey has since filed for Reconsideration of the vote.]

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Peter L. Cohen, with regard to a proposed amendment to the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to restrict garage development in dimensionally non-conforming lots.

I don’t know much about this petition, but judging from the signatures on the petition it sounds like someone wants to build a garage on a dimensionally non-conforming lot on or around Donnell St. or R.C. Kelley St.

Resolution #5. Resolution on the retirement of Elaine Thorne.   Mayor Simmons

Elaine Thorne has, in addition to other duties, served as the staff person for the Central Square Advisory Committee for many years. She has been a great friend for over two decades and I wish her well in her retirement. Perhaps one day we may see her again as a citizen member of on the City’s boards & commissions. Her expertise and her perspective as a life-long Cantabrigian would be a welcome addition.

Resolution #7. Congratulations Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis.   Mayor Simmons

It is very appropriate for this year’s Fresh Pond Stewardship Award to be awarded to Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis. It was nearly two years ago that Chip Norton died unexpectedly, but he served many years working to protect the watershed areas of the Cambridge water supply. Henrietta Davis has also been an advocate for Fresh Pond and the watershed areas for many years (though I do wish she would return the MAPC Cambridge watershed study I loaned her many years ago!).

Order #3. That the City Council Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review the attached proposed amendment to §12.16.030 Trees—Climbing, Signposting, Fastening horses.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

You certainly have to read the text of the Order to appreciate its intent, namely to address the problem of bicycles being recklessly locked to living trees. I do enjoy occasionally looking at the sometimes obsolete language of some of Cambridge’s more dated ordinances. For example: "9.04.070 – Throwing objects in streets or on bridges. No person shall play ball or throw a stone or other missile in any street, or upon or from any bridge." You didn’t know that stickball was illegal in the streets of Cambridge, did you?

Order #4. That the matter of creating smoke free places of employment to protect all workers in unenclosed areas be referred to the Ordinance Committee for consideration.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

A motivation for this proposed amendment seems to be to address the potential dangers of smoking at construction sites where there are flammable materials present. The fire at the new Putnam Ave. school that delayed its opening for six months seems to be the most obvious example of this hazard.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and other relevant departments to draft a zoning ordinance that would see the installation of solar panels be as of right in all zoning districts in the City.   Councillor Cheung

This is a reintroduction of an Order from Oct 19, 2015. It remains an excellent idea after any potential conflicts have been resolved.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council with language that could create a Grand Junction Overlay District that would help to create incentives and ensure the completion of the Grand Junction Multiuse Path.   Councillor Toomey

This is basically a reintroduction of an Order passed on Feb 23, 2015. The only difference now is that there is some sense that funding may be more difficult to come by in light of the scaling back or indefinite delay of other MBTA projects, e.g. the Green Line Extension. Some "Occupy" types have suggested that "Cambridge should just build it", but that’s problematic if you don’t own or control the right-of-way or, most importantly, the RR bridge over the Charles River that carries an active rail line. That said, creating an overlay district with incentives for abutting property owners to facilitate the construction is a good start.

Order #8. That the City Council go on record accepting the attached provisions of Chapter 162 of the Acts of 2015, the same being ‘AN ACT RELATIVE TO THE TAX STATUS OF CERTAIN LAND OWNED BY A HOUSING AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE.”   Mayor Simmons

It’s hard to say whether this was done for a specific property or in connection with some of the creative financing plans the Cambridge Housing Authority has been exploring and adopting. In any case, the Act was adopted and signed by the Governor, so all that’s left is for the City Council to accept its provisions.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Transmitting An Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich, 955 Massachusetts Avenue #259, Cambridge, regarding the amended Minutes of the City Council meeting of Aug 10, 2015.

We can only hope that these two mosquitoes will soon fly away or find another host on which to feed. – Robert Winters

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