Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 20, 2014

Preview of the Oct 20, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:34 pm

Preview of the Oct 20, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here are a few items on this week’s Agenda that seem interesting and worthy of comment.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-36, regarding a report on the feasibility of offering residents an online option to complete the City’s annual census.

This is a welcome option that will hopefully streamline the census and save on postage. Ideally, the City could avoid mailing out the form to those residents who have already completed it online.

Applications & Petitions #3. A petition was received from Alvin Helfeld, et al., 417 Concord Avenue, requesting the Fern Street remodeling plan be reevaluated so that parking is allowed on the left side of the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City project and traffic planners to see if a compromise can be reached which will allow parking on one side of Fern Street while accomplishing City efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.   Mayor Maher and Councillor McGovern

Fern Street Plan

In addition to complaints about the loss of parking in the planned design for Fern St., City officials also plan to force bicycles off the street and onto the sidewalk. This is apparently a nondebatable issue. It’s one thing to safely accommodate children by allowing sufficient space on sidewalks away from business zones, but narrowing road lanes to force other cyclists off the road is both wrong-headed and hostile. At least in this case there appears to be about 15 ft. of road width that might safely accommodate both a motor vehicle and a bicycle sharing the lane. Otherwise a cyclist has no choice but to be forced onto the sidewalk. We would all like to see an interesting and artistic plan for this street, but the current plan still needs work.

Fern Street cross section

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Finance to discuss the feasibility of introducing a Home Rule Petition requesting an increase to the residential exemption.   Councillor Toomey

Somerville has already done this. The standard used to be that the City Council could exempt up to 20% of the assessed value of an owner-occupied home from the local property tax. In 2003 the state legislature amended this to permit up to a 30% exemption, and the City of Cambridge has chosen to do this since then. Since the tax levy is independent of this, the net effect (for owner-occupied homes) is to shift the tax burden onto higher-valued homes. In FY15, the break-even assessed value in Cambridge is approximately $1,282,800. Somerville’s home rule petition was approved and increased the allowable exemption to 35%. It seems certain that a similar petition from Cambridge would also be approved if the City Council chose to pursue this option.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor with the intent of producing language for an affordable housing overlay district to be considered by the City Council.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #20. The City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of collaborating with partners like the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), and/or companies in the private and public sector to achieve the desired development objectives in a manner most cost-effective to the City and that ensures the City will retain a high degree of control over the ultimate outcome of the City-owned Lots 5 and 6.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Order #5 doesn’t specify whether this "affordable housing overlay district" would be in one or more specific areas or if it would be city-wide (in which case it would be silly to call it an overlay district since it would a city-wide change to the Zoning Ordinance). Coupled with Order #20, one gets the impression that the intention here may be to simply designate some parts of the city as areas where only families whose combined income is below a certain threshold are welcome. This is the antithesis of the more thoughtful inclusionary zoning that creates an incentive for more economically integrated "affordable" housing units, especially in new higher density housing proximate to transit. The required percentage of inclusionary units can and should be debated and possibly increased, but inclusion beats the alternative of economic segregation. It should also be emphasized that Central Square and environs, in particular, should not be the sole location for such a proposed overlay district.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back on possible next steps to advance the creation of the Grand Junction Multi Use Path on City and CRA-controlled property identified as Phase 1 in the Grand Junction Feasibility Study.   Councillor Toomey

The timing of this Order follows the recent release of MIT’s study on its share of this corridor.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to take all steps to ensure that the owner of the property on the Belmont-owned portion of the Silver Maple Forest is informed of the opposition to the use of Cambridge land is used for this project.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

Yeah, I’m sure the property owner is completely oblivious to the nearly decade-long series of challenges to the proposed project and the fact that building on the Cambridge portion of this parcel is unwelcome. Did the sponsors of this Order read the following statement from the City Manager in his report last month?: "The project is located within the Little River watershed, which is 8.16 square miles and the larger Mystic River watershed, which is 76 square miles. The project area represents approximately 0.3% of the total Little River watershed and 0.03% of the Mystic River watershed. The project will provide a conservation easement on a total of 7.95 acres, including all of the 2.6 acres in Cambridge."

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Affordable Housing Trust to investigate the status of the Tokyo restaurant site on Fresh Pond Parkway and if available, consider acquiring this site and report back to the Council regarding findings.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Mayor Maher

When I read Orders like this one, I am reminded of the efforts over 20 years ago by some city councillors to create a "Land Bank" consisting of every undeveloped City-owned parcel, no matter how small, that might possibly be available for "affordable housing" development. The plan was hatched with absolutely no regard to the sentiments of existing residents. In fact, included in that plan was the possibility of repurposing a building and part of the playground in Corporal Burns Park on Banks St. as affordable housing. Thankfully that plan went down in flames. Building new housing in the Greater Boston area, including "affordable housing," is essential, but we should also be wary of efforts to identify every single available parcel for this single purpose. Large housing developments are perfect for the including of affordable housing units and a good case can be made for increasing the required percentage of inclusionary housing units in those projects. The Tokyo restaurant site may or may not be a good site for the Affordable Housing Trust to acquire (though it’s likely unavailable), but all such proposals have to be considered in the context of their surroundings. It would not be wise to create an atmosphere where residents see the City as an invasion force. In the long term that would likely be counterproductive.

Order #14. That the following amendment to the Zoning Ordinance be referred to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for hearing and report: That the areas bounded by Garden, Walden and Sherman Streets and the park currently zoned Business A be rezoned to Residence C-1 to be consistent with the surrounding area.   Councillor Cheung

This is interesting in that the site where Masse’s Hardware and its warehouse existed for many years remains zoned in recognition of its previous commercial use even though the abutting neighborhood, including the site of Paddy’s Lunch across the street, is zoned as Residence C-1. This proposed amendment would uniformize the zoning. The result would be that fewer housing units could be built there by removing the anomalous zoning that now exists which allows for higher densities. This is not a site that’s close to transit, so the case for "smart growth" and higher density housing really is not applicable here. That said, it’s unfortunate that zoning proposals are so often reactive than proactive.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of hosting a Cambridge Challenge Competition for Transportation that offers a prize to the resident or group of residents that come up with the best viable solution to solve our greatest traffic issues.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen

This could be an interesting exercise. I especially like seeing some of the "out of the box" thinking that can result from these kinds of exercises. Don’t be too shocked if some of the proposals include monorails, personal flying machines, or quantum tunnelling. This is Cambridge, after all. Among the entries, I’m sure, will be some creative and viable concepts. Hopefully not all of them will be shot down by residents fearful of change. My own fear is that City insiders will use the exercise to justify forcing more cyclists off the roads and onto the sidewalks.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Arts Council, the Department of Public Works to determine the feasibility of creating an adult playground in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

I though Cambridge was an adult playground. (It is for me.)

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Personnel Director and City Solicitor to determine if a point system similar to the system that awards preferences to Cambridge residents for Affordable Housing units can be used in the hiring process thereby providing a local preference for Cambridge residents when applying for positions within the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

The potential flaw in proposals like this is that it presumes that anyone wishing to work for the City of Cambridge can afford to live in the City of Cambridge. Thankfully there’s no residency requirement being proposed. We all would like to see more Cambridge residents getting Cambridge jobs, but if every city and town chose to make this too rigid a rule this would create more problems than solutions. A little incentive may good, but not too much.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 30, 2014 with the Community Development Department to provide updates on inclusionary zoning, linkage, the Nexus Study, the three expiring use buildings (Briston Arms, the Close Building and Fresh Pond Apartments) that the City is working to preserve and preferences for affordable housing waitlists.

As many wise people have pointed out, it’s far more cost effective to preserve existing affordable housing than it is to build new affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Trust and the Community Development Department have made the preservation of these expiring-use buildings a high priority. The Nexus Study and possible revisions to the linkage fees from new commercial development are long overdue. The Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance may also need revision, but everyone needs to understand that requiring additional inclusionary units also likely means permitting additional density. That’s most likely a good trade-off. One idea that I hope is explored is the idea of a stepped increase in the percentage of inclusionary units required for larger housing developments. – Robert Winters

September 29, 2014

A Taxing Situation – September 29, 2014 Cambridge City Council Notes

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:36 am

A Taxing Situation – September 29, 2014 Cambridge City Council Notes

Property Tax AssessmentsShort agenda this week. Quite likely the most discussed items will be the Orders from last week that were delayed via Charter Right. There’s also the formality of tax classification that will be the subject of a 6:30pm hearing.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2015. [Manager’s letter]

The essentials:

  • The FY15 property tax levy of $341,445,455 reflects a $12,900,510 or 3.93% increase from FY14. The increase in the levy of 3.93% is also well below the five-year average annual increase of 4.92%.
  • The FY15 adopted operating budget increased by 2.91%.
  • The FY15 residential tax rate will be $7.82 per thousand dollars of value, which is a decrease of $0.56, or –6.68% from FY14.
  • The commercial tax rate will be $19.29, which is a decrease of $1.15, or –5.63% from FY14.
  • This recommendation includes the use of $14.65 million in reserve accounts to lower the property tax levy: $2.0 million from overlay surplus and $12.65 million in Free Cash. The certified Free Cash amount of $160.5 million is the highest amount in the City’s history and represents an $18.3 million increase over last year.
  • Approximately 72% of residential taxpayers will see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in their FY15 tax bill. In addition, another 13% of residential taxpayers will see an increase between $100 and $250. Therefore, a total of 85% of the residential taxpayers will see no increase or an increase of less than $250.
  • As a result of market activity in calendar year 2013, which is the basis of the FY15 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 11.53%. Total commercial property values also increased by 11.15%.
  • For FY15, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $30,143,180,521, a 10.98% increase over FY14 values.
  • For FY15, the City was able to increase its levy limit by approximately $29.4 million, to $475.4 million. Approximately $18.2 million of this increase was due to new construction.

Charter Right #1. That as we undertake the Cambridge Conversations and the Master Planning Process, the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to study emerging business types in Cambridge and how they are affected by the use regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, and to recommend changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will help classify such businesses in a clear, rational way that supports the long-term interests of the community and instruct the Community Development Department to evaluate appropriate ways to facilitate home-based businesses above and beyond what is currently allowed. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Five of Sept 22, 2014.]

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to begin testing strategies to enhance such engagement at the earliest opportunity by methods such as requiring developers to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood and provide a report along with the permit application describing public input and changes to the project as a result of such input and to suggest changes to the Planning Board rules, which could be adopted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Ordinance, which could be enacted by the City Council to codify successful community engagement strategies. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Six of Sept 22, 2014.]

Both of these Orders from last week are helpful. There’s nothing especially complex about these proposals. As in the case of a current zoning petition that would make expiration dates for zoning petitions consistent with state law, the most useful proposals are usually pretty obvious and the only question is why it takes so long for city councillors to propose them. Much of this is just good housekeeping.

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing "no smoking marijuana" signs in city playgrounds and that signs further provide that persons found to be doing so could be fined in accordance to Massachusetts General Laws: CHAPTER 94C, Section 32L. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on Order Number Fourteen of Sept 22, 2014.]

Please see comments from last week. If there is one new ordinance I’d love to see in Cambridge, it would be an ordinance mandating the reduction of visual clutter from regulatory signs. You can barely walk twenty feet along many Cambridge streets without encountering another such sign. Enough! – Robert Winters

September 22, 2014

Interesting Items on the Sept 22, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:16 am

Interesting Items on the September 22, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here’s a sample of what’s on this week’s relatively brief agenda.

Order #3. That the Government Operations, Rules & Claims committee is requested to hold a meeting to discuss changing the terms used in Council "Orders" to more accurately reflect their message.   Councillor Kelley

Perhaps Councillor Kelley is interpreting "Order" as might be expected as a former member of the United States Marine Corps. Perhaps the more appropriate interpretation is like when you order from a menu. If this were done verbally, the conversation might go something like this:

Councillor: Excuse me, sir, but may I have fries with that cheeseburger?
City Manager: Thank you for your Order, councillor, but we’re all out of fries. Would like like some cole slaw instead?

OR, as it often goes:

Councillor: What do you recommend?
City Manager: The Alewife with lemon pepper is good.
Councillor: I’ll Order that!

Order #5. That as we undertake the Cambridge Conversations and the Master Planning Process, the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to study emerging business types in Cambridge and how they are affected by the use regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, and to recommend changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will help classify such businesses in a clear, rational way that supports the long-term interests of the community and instruct the Community Development Department to evaluate appropriate ways to facilitate home-based businesses above and beyond what is currently allowed.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to begin testing strategies to enhance such engagement at the earliest opportunity by methods such as requiring developers to hold a public meeting in the neighborhood and provide a report along with the permit application describing public input and changes to the project as a result of such input and to suggest changes to the Planning Board rules, which could be adopted by the Planning Board and/or Zoning Ordinance, which could be enacted by the City Council to codify successful community engagement strategies.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of conducting a series of walks through Alewife for the purpose of better knowing the area in preparation for the Dec 1, 2014 roundtable discussion about city-wide planning   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

These are the kinds of Orders many of us have been waiting to see now that time-wasting distractions like the Carlone Petition have been put to bed. Order #6, in particular, proposes a specific procedural change that could help prevent some of the misunderstandings that have been associated with various development proposals.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Finance Department to determine the possible structure, size, and plans for a discretionary budget.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

This smells like trouble. My prediction is that if such a "discretionary budget" is established with which city councillors can vote to fund projects outside of the usual budget process, there will be pressure to grow the budget steadily every year so that councillors can fund extracurricular projects outside of city management. I’m particularly intrigued by the squishiness of the Whereas statement that "With detailed criteria and procedures – and with an agreed upon culture that emphasizes city efficiency and emergent needs, and not personal projects – a Discretionary Budgeting process can make the city even more responsive and innovative." Does anyone seriously believe that such an agreed upon culture will rule the day and that personal projects would be de-emphasized? Anyone ever hear of The Foundry?

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant state-level authorities regarding the potential for enhanced pedestrian safety measures along Memorial Drive in the vicinity of the MIT Sailing Pavilion.   Councillor Carlone

This is a pretty good Order. If one were to make a list of roads and locations in Cambridge that are especially treacherous, that list should include quite a few places along Memorial Drive that are dangerous not only for pedestrians crossing the road but also for motor vehicle operators who park alongside vehicles moving at speeds well in excess of the posted speed limits. I would also put most of Fresh Pond Parkway and Alewife Brook Parkway on my list of dangerous roads for pedestrians.

Don't bogart that joint, my friend.Order #14. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing "no smoking marijuana" signs in city playgrounds and that signs further provide that persons found to be doing so could be fined in accordance to Massachusetts General Laws: CHAPTER 94C, Section 32L.   Vice Mayor Benzan

I believe this Order may need a few more clauses, such as:
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Cambridge Arts Council to prepare a permanent archive for all of the hysterically funny graffiti that will continue to appear on or around these signs; and be it further
ORDERED: That a sufficient budget be allocated for the frequent replacement of said signs so that they may be freshly defaced with new jokes and funny pictures.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting information on the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition recommending referring to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for further hearings and reports.

So like, hey man, how did we miss the expiration date for the zoning petition to expand the area where the medical marijuana dispensary can be built? Bummer, man! – Robert Winters


Postscript: On Applications & Petitions #1, an application from Starbucks requesting permission for three benches in front of 1662 Mass. Ave., Councillor Carlone objected to the placement of the benches directly in front of the premises due to it not being ADA compliant. Though he perhaps didn’t explain his objection so clearly, his point was correct. The proposed placement of the benches abutting the building is right where a blind person would least expect them. Good call, councillor.

On Order #3, Councillor Kelley would like to change the term "Ordered" to "Requested" in the wording of City Council Orders. City Clerk Donna Lopez explained that the current wording is consistent with state law and City Council rules. Councillor Mazen opined that the word "Ordered" should be interpreted literally by the City Manager so that he would do exactly what the City Council dictated regardless of other considerations.

On Order #8, Councillor Mazen pushed the envelope even further in his argument for giving the City Council their own "discretionary budget" outside the management of the City administration. The central theme in his argument was that city councillors possess expertise in some areas beyond what City staff can comprehend. You have to love the hubris. This, by the way, is the same Councillor Mazen who several months ago stated, in response to issues raised about personal staff for councillors, that each city councillor should have "full staff". Apparently a single aide is not adequate to support the grand plans and brilliant vision of some individual councillors. Councillor Kelley was refreshing in noting that the proposed "discretionary budget" seemed more like a "City Council slush fund". The matter was referred to the Finance Committee for further discussion after most of the city councillors were dismissive of the proposal.

September 14, 2014

The Ides of September – Sept 15, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 7:57 pm

The Ides of September – Sept 15, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

This week’s central agenda item is the vote to approve the appropriation of CPA funds.

80% for Affordable HousingManager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, requesting that the City Council formally appropriate/allocate the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds as follows:

1A. 80% of the FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($6,240,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;

1B. 10% of FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($780,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

1C. 10% of FY2015 CPA Local Fund revenues ($780,000) allocated to Open Space;

2A. 80% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($1,360,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust;

2B. 10% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($170,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

2C. 10% of FY2014 State Match revenues ($170,000) allocated to Open Space;

3A. 80% of the Fund Balance ($2,400,000) allocated to Affordable Housing and appropriated to the Affordable Housing Trust;

3B. 10% of the Fund Balance ($300,000) allocated to Historic Preservation;

3C. 10% of the Fund Balance ($300,000) allocated to Open Space;

4A. Appropriate ($10,000) from the Fund Balance for the cost of the Community Preservation Coalition Membership Dues.

Manager’s Letter     Full Report

The information is provided here only to highlight the City’s continuing commitment to dedicating the maximum 80% of Community Preservation Act funds toward Affordable Housing initiatives and the minimum 10% each to Open Space Acquisition and to Historic Preservation. These are the only three permissible uses for CPA funds.

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Charles D. Teague, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to clarify existing ordinance so that said ordinance can be enforced: align the zoning amendment expiration date in the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to be the same as state law, align the Special Permit criteria with adjudicated state law and require that the master plan be followed whereas following the master plan is optional under state law.

As to the first proposal regarding expiration dates of zoning petitions, this is a simple correction that the City Council should have addressed when they were first alerted to the discrepancy by the City Solicitor. I wrote here on July 29, 2013: "The ambiguity between zoning petition expiration dates can be simply resolved via a minor change in the Zoning Ordinance. It’s baffling why no city councillor has yet proposed this solution."

The second proposal calls for changing the language in the Zoning Ordinance so that Special Permits "may be granted" rather than "will normally be granted" by the Planning Board if all the Special Permit criteria are met. This would be a major change from a relatively clear process with established criteria to an environment in which there may as well be no criteria at all.

The third proposal is actually pretty funny (as well as absurd). Mr. Teague was perhaps the single most outspoken person making the claim during last year’s municipal election season that Cambridge had no master plan. Now he’s saying that the very thing he said did not exist must now be followed to the letter. Even if Mr. Teague had a change of heart regarding his beliefs, it would perhaps be a good idea if he tried to understand the difference between planning principles and legally enforceable ordinances. It’s an important difference.

Resolution #18. Declare Sept 21, 2014 as Gratitude Day in the City of Cambridge.   Mayor Maher

I am most grateful to Mayor Maher for this Resolution.

Order #4. Scheduling of Roundtable/Working Meetings on Oct 6, 2014 with the Affordable Housing Trust, Dec 1, 2014 to discuss city-wide planning including discussions with the Planning Board and Jan 12, 2015 to discuss city-wide planning including discussions with the Planning Board.   Mayor Maher

Order #5. That the Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee schedule a meeting to review the City Council’s most recent goals and make recommendations for FY16 Goals to include the addition of a goal relating to City-Wide Planning.   Mayor Maher

It’s worth noting that these steps addressing City-Wide Planning are taking place the week after the distraction of the Carlone Petition was finally eliminated. This is not to say that there won’t be other zoning petitions forthcoming. In particular, it seems likely that those who wish to block the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment and those opposed to building housing in the Alewife area may yet have a few cards to play.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public meeting held on July 9, 2014 to discuss the Community Development Department’s efforts to preserve expiring use buildings, and a discussion about inclusionary zoning and the Nexus study.

In the spirit of moving on to more important business, it’s about time that these housing-related matters are fully addressed. In particular, an increase in the inclusionary zoning requirement will likely have to permit additional density to cover the cost of the additional "affordable" units. That will likely require some uncomfortable political choices. The preservation of expiring use buildings is now a top priority of the Affordable Housing Trust and the Housing Division of the Community Development Department. Suffice to say that the cost of preserving existing affordable housing units is generally far less than building new affordable housing units. – Robert Winters

September 8, 2014

Back in Session – Notable Items on the Sept 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:25 pm

Back in Session – Notable Items on the Sept 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

SeptemberSummer’s over. Here are a few agenda items that caught my eye.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-72, regarding a report on evaluating parking around the Sullivan Courthouse.

There is little doubt that issues of traffic and parking will continue to be part of the discussion of the future use of the Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. A proper comparison should be between the previous active use as a courthouse/prison vs. the proposed uses for office/housing/retail. The availability of on-street resident parking and an analysis of the existing structured parking in the area are part of this discussion. This report addresses the former.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-80, regarding a report on fluoride in the City’s water supply.

Read Saul Tannenbaum’s take on this: https://www.cctvcambridge.org/WaterFluoridation

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-75, regarding a report on possible options for preserving the Silver Maple Forest. [Letters from DPW Commissioner Owen O’Riordan and DCR Commissioner John Murray]

Most people, including the City Manager, feel that this area would be preferably preserved as open space but, as the report and the attached letters indicate, "it’s complicated" and there are plenty of competing priorities when it comes to land acquisition.

Applications & Petitions #8. A zoning petition has been received from CJUF III Northpoint LLC to amend certain provision of the City of Cambridge Zoning Ordinance that govern the Planned Unit Development in the North Point Residence District to allow limited amounts of off-street retail parking.

This appears to address the need for sufficient parking to support retail uses planned for the North Point area. This is completely in line with the nearly universal desire for mixed use development in this area and elsewhere in the city.

Communications #7. A communication was received from Gerald Bergman, 82 Elm Street, regarding the ongoing debate about the Carlone Petition.

Most communications sent to the City Council in recent years have been boring repetitions of talking points pushed by various advocacy groups. Gerry Bergman’s letter, in contrast, is a substantial appeal that greater attention be paid to the affordability of housing. Whether you agree or disagree with the points he makes, Gerry’s letter offers detailed suggestions and is worth reading. Even if the affordability of housing is an issue that can only be meaningfully addressed regionally, it’s important that Cambridge continue to hold up its part of that conversation.

Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Peter A. Vellucci.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #5. Resolution on the death of Mayor Emeritus Walter J. Sullivan.   Mayor Maher, Councillor Toomey and Councillor Simmons

I note these resolutions simply to once again note the loss of these two major Cambridge political figures on the same day in early August.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that details how many City jobs have been outsourced to outside vendors since 2010, how the decision is made to consider outsourcing a job that was originally an internal hire, how the outside vendors are chosen, what the benefits to the City are of outsourcing these jobs to outside vendors, and whether individuals working in these positions have the same job benefits and protections as those who work directly for the City have.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to issue a report to the City Council that outlines what the City’s hiring process is, whether Cambridge residents are given preference when applying for jobs, whether internal candidates are given preference over external candidates, and what the City’s procedure is for encouraging employee advancement and professional development for current employees.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

Both of these Orders seem like reasonable requests for clarification of policies regarding the hiring and advancement of City employees. They provide an interesting contrast with the discussions and resulting ordinance of 20 years ago that mandated residency for many City jobs. Whether or not you agreed with that short-lived ordinance (it was repealed a few months after ordination when a new City Council took office), the simple fact is that the high cost of housing in Cambridge creates a significant dilemma if the ideal is to have people who work in (and for) Cambridge also live in Cambridge.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with Community Development Department and report back to the City Council with a summary of previous recommendations for the Volpe Center site included in planning studies such as but not limited to, ECAPS, Neighborhood Planning Studies, K2, and efforts by the East Cambridge Planning Team and that the report summarize zoning and zoning overlays, and outline the development potential and limitation of this area.   Councillor Toomey

The future of the Volpe Transportation Center site in Kendall Square may well prove to be one of the major planning opportunities for the next few years if it does become available for redevelopment. Much of the housing recommendations in the K2 study were focused on the Volpe site and there have been indications that the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and the Community Development Department are eager to realize those recommendations in some form or another.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and any other appropriate City or State Departments to create a pedestrian stairway leading from the sidewalk on Alewife Brook Parkway to the Fresh Pond Mall parking lot.   Councillor McGovern

Though this seems like a perfectly reasonable idea that builds upon what people are already doing today, I expect that ADA requirements will drive up the cost and complexity of such an accommodation to the point where nothing happens.

Order #10. The City Manager report back to the City Council with an update on work underway to recommend changes to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, next steps to be taken by staff and the City Council toward the goal of amending the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to increase the ratio of required affordable units, and implications of such an increase so that the City Council can be prepared to take up changes to this important Ordinance.   Councillor McGovern, Mayor Maher and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is a timely Order that acknowledges the fact that there will be trade-offs associated with any change in the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, e.g. the need to permit additional height and density in order to deliver the desired affordable housing units.

Order #12. The City Manager is requested to work with the City Clerk and the IT Department to create a searchable, sortable public online resource which clearly displays all policy orders that have come before the City Council, including also: each City Council member’s voting record, information on the City Manager’s progress on each order, any departmental notes related to any given order, and an estimated timeline related to any given order.   Councillor Mazen

For any consequential City Council Order, this is usually achieved by the inclusion of language in the Order requiring a report back from the City Manager. The inclusion of each councillor’s voting record seems more politically motivated than anything else and, besides, most Orders pass unanimously. It is perhaps better to let the City Manager and the various City departments do their job of prioritizing and acting on City Council orders without unnecessary bookkeeping of every action taken and when. Then again, if micromanagement is your thing, then this Order is for you. For the most part, the City administration has been very responsive to City Council requests over the last few years even when juggling many such requests.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee for a public hearing held on Aug 14, 2014 to review expenditures/allotments in reference to the City Council Travel and City Council Resolutions with possible amendments, the position of Deputy City Clerk and any other items that may properly come before the Committee.

The central recommendations of this report are that (a) individual councillors should get an increase in their annual allotments for job-related travel; (b) councillors should restrain themselves from submitting excessive numbers of resolutions; and (c) Paula Crane should be appointed as Deputy City Clerk. These are all good proposals. There was some discussion of placing a strict quota on how many resolutions each councillor could file, but it does seem that voluntary compliance is the better way to go with public shaming of any councillor who goes overboard.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 30, 2014 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

Committee Report #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Aug 27, 2014 to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

These are the reports of the two Ordinance Committee hearings concerning the Carlone Petition which will hopefully be euthanized in short order. Even Councillor Carlone acknowledged that this was really about putting the brakes on at most three projects currently in the pipeline (Courthouse redevelopment, New Street housing, and Alewife Triangle housing). It will be in everyone’s best interest if this petition is put to sleep and attention redirected toward the proposed citywide planning process. That said, the intense focus by some advocates on the Courthouse and other projects could lead to other zoning petitions in the coming weeks that are more site-specific.

One thing I’ll say specifically about the second Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic was how effectively some of the more specious claims by some advocates (regarding the Alewife area and New Street) were refuted. Specifically, requirements for any new development in the Alewife area would produce greater flood storage capacity than now exists, and any "brownfield" aspects of proposed housing sites on New Street are subject to full review and required remediation. In short, redevelopment would yield cleaner sites and greater flood protection than doing nothing – in addition to any new housing that is provided. Then again, perhaps this is really all about traffic in the final analysis, and the fact that residential housing has minimal traffic impact is something people just don’t want to hear.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor David P. Maher announcing the formation of a Special Mayor’s Commission to explore the issues surrounding poverty and its effects on our community and Councillor McGovern will chair this Commission.

Good idea, Mr. Mayor, and you chose the right Chair.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting copies of two Acts of 2014 signed by the Governor, An Act Authorizing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to Lease Certain Parkland in the City of Cambridge; and An Act Authorizing the Commissioner of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to Convey a certain parcel of land in the City of Cambridge.

I look forward to hearing a little more detail about the second of the two documents having to do with land conveyed in the North Point area (possibly for the proposed skate park). The first of these concerns the lease of the Powder House at Magazine Beach to the City of Cambridge. This opens up the possibility of an active use of this structure in conjunction with the great restoration work now underway. – Robert Winters

August 16, 2014

2013 Cambridge City Council Campaign Finance Receipts (Jan 1, 2013 through July 31, 2014)

2013 Cambridge City Council Campaign Finance Receipts (Jan 1, 2013 through July 31, 2014)

CandidatesCambridgeTotalCambridge %union/PAC %Real Estate %Notes
Benzan, Dennis$25,891.00$55,161.0046.9%3.3%0.5%$2,000 overpayment subtracted
Carlone, Dennis$34,796.00$41,650.0083.5%0.6%0.5%$16,000 from candidate
Cheung, Leland$21,366.00$51,385.3741.6%6.4%20.2%$2 from candidate
House, Janneke$12,177.24$14,811.7382.2%0.2%5.1%$6867.24 from candidate; $1132.76 reimbursed
Kelley, Craig$10,591.00$11,441.0092.6%0%3.5%$25 from candidate
Lee, James$1,800.00$1,975.0091.1%0%0%$1,800 from candidate
Leslie, Logan$20,520.00$24,007.5385.5%4.2%0%$13,100 from candidate
Maher, David$28,260.00$50,653.6855.8%6.6%22.4%-
Mazen, Nadeem$10,706.96$41,058.4326.1%2.7%0%includes $1750 in-kind, $3000 loan from candidate
McGovern, Marc$28764.80$58,228.1349.4%9.3%29.5%$1903.58 from previous campaign
Mello, Gary$500.00$500.00100.0%0%0%$500 from candidate
Mirza, Mushtaque$17,786.00$19,983.0089.0%0%0%$17,000 loan; $16793.84 apparently forgiven
Moree, Gregg J. $2,400.00$2,400.00100.0%0%0%$2,400 from candidate not itemized
Peden, Ron$500.00$500.00100.0%0%0%$500 from candidate not itemized
Phillips, Lesley$500.00$500.00100.0%0%0%-
Reeves, Ken$14,343.88$67,362.9321.3%9.3%25.0%Campaign headquarters greatly underreported; accounting unclear
Seidel, Sam$15,362.00$22,245.8269.1%1.1%0.9%$4,001 from candidate
Simmons, Denise$16,125.00$35,222.0245.8%14.1%20.3%-
Smith, Jefferson$20,040.00$39,440.0050.8%6.0%0%$17,220 from candidate; confused accounting
Toomey, Tim$15,969.43$41,083.7738.9%13.6%22.1%-
vanBeuzekom, Minka $22,512.00$31,757.7070.9%1.3%3.0%$7,500 from candidate
Vasquez, Luis$1,375.00$2,410.9657.0%0%0%-
von Hoffmann, Kristen$6,351.33$17,166.4537.0%0%1.7%$1,750 loan; $1640.33 in-kind forgiven
Williamson, James-----no reported receipts
Yarden, Elie-----no reported receipts

Note: Receipts include candidate loans which can greatly increase the percentage from Cambridge. Fees are included and reduce total receipts. Percentages for unions/PACS and identifiable real estate interests (RE) are shown. The total receipts in the first graph below includes all receipts reported by the bank. Bank receipts in some cases do not match the reported itemized receipts. All figures taken from Mass. Office of Campaign & Political Finance (OCPF) reports.

Two candidates in particular, Nadeem Mazen and Jefferson Smith, have financial reports that are especially difficult to decipher due to their liberal use of credit cards which resulted in some expenses being counted twice. I corrected the data as much as I could, but both campaigns could have used a competent treasurer.

Additional information, including expenditures, may be found at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=2660.

These figures will be updated as additional information becomes available.

Receipts
Total Itemized Receipts – 2013 (through Dec 14)


Cambridge Percentage
Percentage of Itemized Receipts from Cambridge – 2013 (through Dec 14, minimum $2000)

Cambridge Receipts from Others
Percentage of Itemized Receipts from Cambridge w/o Candidate Loans


Percent Real Estage
Percentage of Itemized Receipts from Real Estate/Developers – 2013 (through Dec 14, minimum $5000)

August 14, 2014

Cambridge Mayor David P. Maher and City Manager Richard C. Rossi Accept ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 4:37 pm

City Council and School Committee Members will Participate in Group Challenge

ALS ChallengeOn Wednesday, August 20, at 2:00pm, Cambridge Mayor David P. Maher, along with Vice-Mayor Dennis Benzan and other members of the Cambridge City Council, will participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and funds for ALS research. The event will occur on Cambridge City Hall lawn. “So many people in all walks of life are being faced with this terrible disease,” stated Cambridge Mayor David Maher, “just last week we lost a long time Cambridge School employee and friend, Jurina Vellucci, to ALS. Knowing how many people are suffering from ALS, we felt compelled to participate in a large scale way to help create awareness and to contribute to research for a cure.”

Ms. Vellucci was an employee at the King Open School (and the former Harrington School) who lost her four year battle with ALS last week.

Joining them will be several Cambridge School Committee members, City Manager Richard C. Rossi, several city department heads and City Hall staff.

Vice-Mayor Dennis Benzan and Councilor Marc McGovern were recently challenged by former Cambridge City Councilor and Massachusetts State Representative Marjorie Decker. The Mayor’s office seized the opportunity to make it a group challenge on the lawn at City Hall, and to help create awareness of ALS. The Cambridge contingent will be challenging another local city to do the same.

The ice and buckets will be generously donated by Acme Ice on Kirkland St. in Cambridge. Eric Law, owner of Acme Ice can be reached at 781-420-1332.

For additional information, please contact Alanna Mallon in Mayor David Maher’s Office at 617-349-4327 or email amallon@cambridgema.gov.

July 27, 2014

Midsummer Night’s Distraction – July 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 3:37 pm

Midsummer Night’s Distraction – July 28, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City SealThe City Council returns briefly on Monday for its only meeting of the summer. Due to renovations to the Sullivan Chamber, this meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway, CRLS. Here is a sampler of items of interest:

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $133,437.51 funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to the Grant Fund Police Salary and Wages account ($97,423.51) and to the Grant Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance Account ($36,014) which is a reimbursement of expenditures related to the 2013 Marathon Bombing during the week of Apr 15, 2013 through Apr 24, 2013 and will be used to offset overtime costs and to purchase a Morphotrak system used for identifying latent finger prints.

Though there isn’t really anything controversial in this, I’m reminded of an appropriation a few months ago to cover costs associated with bomb-sniffing dogs that led to concerns about excessive police presence. In the end, most of us just got to pet Kevin, a very nice and very talented police dog.

Manager’s Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to zoning text prepared by the Community Development Department in regard to a request made by the Ordinance Committee at its June 9 public hearing on the Chun, et al. Zoning Petition, which proposes amending the zoning in the Cambridge Highlands neighborhood.

Nothing special to say here – just that maybe third time’s the charm. This is the Chun III Petition.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-71, regarding a report on the feasibility of streamlining the permitting process for one-day permits for food trucks visiting Cambridge for special events.

I suppose some steps have to be taken to ensure public safety, but I remember being a youngster in New York when all you needed was a low-cost vendor’s permit and you could just park a cart along a road and sell hot dogs and other tasty stuff. I did that for a part of a summer and never once had to deal with regulators, inspectors, the fire department, or anyone else for that matter. When did eveything get so damn complicated?

Manager’s Agenda #35. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-52, regarding a report on New Street improvements.

Not long ago, a City Council proposal to improve New Street was assailed by those who felt that improvements would facilitate the approval of new housing on that street – even though their original complaint was about the dreadful state of the street. Solution = Problem (to some). I hear that some paint has been applied to the street to better guide the traffic. The proposed improvements will be better still. The horror!

Manager’s Agenda #37. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, request support from the City Council of my intention to submit an application for funding under the Commonwealth’s Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (referred to as the "I-Cubed" program).

The report provides some explanation. "The I-Cubed program provides a mechanism for funding public infrastructure associated with economic development projects. It relies on new state tax revenues derived primarily from new jobs associated with the project to pay debt service on the bonds which are issued by the Commonwealth to fund the infrastructure." The application is for future development in the NorthPoint area.

Manager’s Agenda #38. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Cambridge Conversations: Preliminary Summary of Process and Input.

The report covers only the initial "conversations" phase of the larger "Master Plan" process and mainly consists of a compilation of impressions expressed by residents. Some have suggested that the whole process may take several years.

Manager’s Agenda #39. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to actions I am taking in light of the July 16, 2014 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the case of Merit Construction Alliance v. City of Quincy as it relates to the Responsible Employer Ordinance.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to determine if there are other options for requiring apprenticeship programs and to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on how to proceed in ensuring these programs remain part of the Cambridge Employment Plan.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

The Order is in response to the fact that the court decision renders some of the City’s legally mandated apprentice programs unenforceable. Ideally, voluntary compliance with the intent of that law could still provide the same benefits.

Manager’s Agenda #41. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendment to Chapter 6.04 of the Cambridge Municipal Code (the "Animal Control Regulations").

Those who fail to scoop the poop may soon have to pick up or pay more. Other proposed changes include giving Ranger Jean at Fresh Pond the authority to enforce all aspects of the Animal Control Regulations. Does this include speeding, lane violations, or failure to yield to smaller dogs?

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office 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 June 24, 2014 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code entitled "Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance." The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 14, 2014.

This matter was passed to a 2nd Resolution at the June 30 meeting and is now in the queue for ordination. As this is not an especially onerous regulation, it could well be voted and approved at this meeting.

Resolution #11. Resolution on the death of Seth Teller.   Councillor Toomey

I knew Seth primarily via email and only met him briefly a few times. In addition to being a popular professor at MIT, he was recently very involved in organizing opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike Street (which will have its next hearing at the Planning Board on Tues, July 29). People who involve themselves in Cambridge civic affairs may often line up on opposite sides of an issue, but they are all players on the same field. When someone dies so unexpectedly, it leaves a void that crosses all lines.

Resolution #36. Resolution on the death of Kensley David.   Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to devise and implement a system that will require the City to publicize and convene a community meeting within 72 hours of any catastrophic event – including but not limited to murders, shootings, or other similar episodes – that could impact public safety or the perception of public safety.   Councillor Simmons

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Police Commissioner and report back to the City Council and the community on the specific number of additional police officers that will be assigned to patrol Area IV neighborhoods, whether this increased police presence will be in place through the winter months, and what other additional measures will be undertaken by the Police Department in Area IV.   Councillor Simmons

Kensley David was the young man who was recently murdered on Windsor Street. The two Orders are in response to this tragedy.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to resume negotiations with Mr. Fawcett regarding the Whittemore Avenue Community Garden and to explore the possibility of securing this space by eminent domain.   Councillor Carlone

Many of us would love to see this community garden restored and made a permanent part of the city’s inventory of community gardens. It’s worth mentioning, however, that over the years there have been a number of such community gardens on private property that were voluntarily made available to residents thanks to the generosity of the property owners. One such garden on Putnam Ave. some years ago was at the center of a controversy when new housing was proposed for that lot. Would that property owner have ever made the lot available for a community garden if he knew that one day it would prevent other uses on that lot? Let’s hope that in the present case some mutually acceptable agreement can be reached.

Order #4. That the City Council go on record affirming its support for the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest.   Councillor Carlone

Yeah, sure, let’s have another resolution. Many of us would like to see open space like this preserved, but these orders are getting tiresome. It’s interesting that the language of the Order is directed toward the property owner "sending him our warmest regards" but also calling for taking "any and all legal steps necessary to prevent the City from providing any water or sewer connections to the proposed Silver Maple Forest development site". That’s something of a mixed message. The "Silver Maple Forest" is the 15.6 acre site of a controversial development project along Acorn Park Drive in the Alewife area located at the intersection of Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments regarding the loss of on-street parking spaces as well as the loss of a handicap parking space in Municipal Lot #8 as a result of the reconstruction/reconfiguration of Western Avenue.   Councillor Toomey

My greatest concern about the Western Avenue reconfiguration has been that in order to accommodate bicycles on the sidewalk it would lead to dangerously narrowed lanes in the roadway that would endanger those of us who prefer to cycle on the roadway rather than on the sidewalk. There is still much work to be done before the road is completed, but recent visits have only confirmed my fears. This roadway will be worse for both motor vehicles and bicycles, and I fully expect less safety for pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with community experts, local universities and the Cambridge Water Department to produce a research study determining the possible harmfully effects of continuing to fluoridate the city’s water supply.   Councillor Mazen

I don’t really know that fluoride is needed in the water supply in this day and age when every toothpaste has all the fluoride needed to provide any necessary dental health benefits. That said, I do love the alarmist language in the order like "adding industrial-grade fluoride chemicals to the public water supply". The Order calls for a research study but already contains the conclusions that "Fluoride is classified by the FDA as a drug, not a nutrient, with many side effects and known neurotoxicity and therefore it is not appropriate to add to a city’s water supply" and "More than 33 studies have reported an association between fluoride drinking water concentration and reduced IQ." Having consumed lots and lots of fluoridated water over the last 59 years, I can only imagine how brilliant I might have been had I only abstained from consuming this toxic beverage known as water.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process while also determining ways to make the special permit process more understandable and transparent to the public and look for opportunities to provide greater public involvement and engagement.   Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Simmons

This is, in my opinion, the real centerpiece of this meeting’s agenda. The Carlone Petition introduced at the June 30 meeting would politicize all Special Permit development projects over a certain size. It’s a dreadful proposal. There is, however, a perception in some quarters that the current Planning Board procedures for hearings and decisions on Special Permits do not permit adequate public review and input. Whether true or not, this Order proposes that the City Manager form an advisory committee comprised of residents, business leaders and planning professionals to advise the City Manager and staff on ways to improve the Planning Board process. One simple revision that would make a lot of sense would simply be to have a proponent first bring in a concept and solicit public input prior to coming in with a fully-designed development proposal. Subsequent meetings would then benefit from this early feedback from the public.

If the City Council has any wisdom at all, they will pass this Order and ask that the City Manager move quickly to form this advisory committee and propose useful procedural changes at the Planning Board (which may soon see one or more new members). This could make things better for both residents and Planning Board members. This would be far better than disempowering the Planning Board and turning every development proposal into political theater before the City Council.

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and reach out to the principals at Vecna to work with them and assist the company with its plan to create new retail and open space opportunities which could significantly add to the vitality of this growing area of Cambridgepark Drive.   Mayor Maher

One of the most positive trends I’ve noticed over the last year or two is that ground-floor retail is being regularly characterized as a community benefit. It wasn’t all that long ago that only open space and "affordable housing" were seen as community benefits. Nowadays there is a lot of emphasis put on "place making" and that’s a very good development.

Order #20. That the City of Cambridge joins with our fellow citizens, municipalities and elected officials across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in calling for a boycott of Market Basket stores in the spirit of unity with current and former employees of Market Basket   Mayor Maher

As a regular Market Basket shopper, I do hope there’s some kind of resolution soon. However, I don’t think it’s good that elected officials or elected bodies are calling for boycotts. That’s a decision best left to individuals.

Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate departments and explore the feasibility of creating a Cambridge City Youth Council that will represent the youth population of the city and serve as an advisory board to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

I thought we already had such an advisory board – the Kids’ Council. Their charge may be to coordinate services relevant to Cambridge youth, but advising the City Council could be added to that charge. Having a new, separate group seems a bit redundant. Modifying the existing Kids’ Council seems like a simpler and more effective idea.

Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Community Development Department on the feasibility of producing a Cambridge Sustainability Plan with stated priority goals to complement Cambridge’s Master Plan.   Councillor Cheung

I’m inclined to say that the policy goals contained in the Growth Policy Document (1992) coupled with the 2006 update is the Cambridge Sustainability Plan and it’s a pretty good one. I would expect a few revisions to grow out of the next process but it’s not like we have to revert to Square One.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee for a public hearing held on June 11, 2014 to explore the way forward for a shared use with a rail and trail path along the Grand Junction Corridor.

All good ideas, so let’s get things moving. I would especially like to see some fresh ideas on how best to connect to the Somerville Community Path.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office, 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 July 2, 2014 to discuss the Timothy R. Flaherty, et al. zoning petition requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge to expand the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, MMD-1 to encompass 61 Mooney Street.

No comment – just the observation that Planning Board report has been received and with the Ordinance Committee report this matter could now be moved to a 2nd Reading putting it in the queue for ordination in September.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Leland Cheung transmitting information on The Rush to Build Walkable Urban Grocery Stores.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. regarding his appeal of a public records denial with the Division of Capital and Asset Management and Maintenance regarding the sale price of the Sullivan Courthouse.

Both of these communication have a relationship to the Legatt McCall proposal to redevelop the former Courthouse building at 40 Thorndike St. One of the benefits touted by the developer would be a new neighborhood grocery store to be located on the ground level of the First Street Garage. Regarding the sale price of the Courthouse property, I doubt whether that will be made known until the final transfer of title has taken place. As of this past Tuesday, no papers had been passed. It was anticipated that the transaction would be completed soon after the prisoners were evacuated from the jail and that took place last month. Perhaps we’ll learn more at the July 29 Planning Board hearing. – Robert Winters

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress