Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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

July 22, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 73 and 74 with Marc McGovern

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 8:53 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 73 with Marc McGovern (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on July 22, 2014 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 74 with Marc McGovern (Part 2)

This episode broadcast on July 22, 2014 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

June 30, 2014

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:29 am

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The curtain falls tonight on the FY2014 Fiscal Year as the City Council enters its Summer Recess – but not without a little controversy. Councillor Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone is the first signer of a new zoning petition that is almost guaranteed to bring some fireworks in advance of the July 4 holiday. The petition has near zero chance of ultimately passing but stands out prominently in its disrespect for the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, and previous Cambridge City Councils who have passed a variety of zoning petitions with detailed Special Permit criteria spelled out to guide the Planning Board in the granting of Special Permits under the Zoning Ordinance.

Monkey WrenchApplications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been 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.

The intent of this petition appears to be to enact an effective 30-month moratorium on all larger proposed developments in Cambridge by turning each project into a political football. Except for Councillors Carlone and Mazen (first and last signers), the signers of the petition consist almost entirely of principal players of the Cambridge Residents Alliance who have made no secret of their desire to enact such a moratorium. The essential component of the petition is the transfer of Project Review Special Permit authority from the Planning Board (where there is substantial professional expertise) to the City Council. Anyone who has ever witnessed the Planning Board working together to devise detailed conditions on the granting of a Special Permit should now imagine what this process might look like if conducted by the City Council as they play to the favor of their various political supporters. I shudder to think of it.

Fortunately, it appears that this misguided proposal has the support of only the two city councillors who signed it. Ideally, the City Council would just vote it down and declare it Dead On Arrival, but it’s possible that it may be formally referred to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee (co-chaired by Carlone) so that it can receive a proper funeral. As a zoning petition, it would require 6 of 9 city councillors to support it and that’s pretty much an impossibility unless they start lacing the Kool-Aid with hallucinogens.

Meanwhile the initial phase (Cambridge Conversations) of the upcoming review and possible revision of the City’s existing master plans has been met with expressions of satisfaction from most members of the public. Perhaps this is why Carlone and Company have chosen to toss a monkey wrench into the process. Political organizing thrives so much more when wrapped in controversy.

Communications #6. A communication was received from Rick Snedeker, 107 Clifton Street regarding a request for a Special Act Charter for Cambridge that does not include Proportional Representation.

This is included primarily for comic relief. This Snedeker fellow has now written a series of letters to the Cambridge Chronicle detailing his hostility regarding the structure of Cambridge city government and the way municipal elections are conducted. He believes that having 90% of ballots count toward the election of city councillors is more disenfranchising than a winner-take-all election where often fewer than 50% of ballots count toward the election of a candidate. That’s interesting math. He would have elections of ward councillors by simple plurailty vote with no runoffs or primary elections. This installment from Snedeker also calls for the Mayor and City Council to be able to dismiss any City department head by a simple majority vote. I can only imagine the thrilling City Council meetings when a department head says something not to the liking of the elected councillors.

Communications #11. Sundry communications were received regarding the East Cambridge Courthouse.

There are 38 individual signed letters plus an additional 74 petition signatures in support of the proposed redevelopment of the Courthouse building. The prisoners are now out of the East Cambridge Courthouse and the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Legatt McCall, the chosen developer, is imminent. While there is clear opposition to the proposed redevelopment from many residents, it’s pretty clear that this is not a unanimously held position. The Planning Board is expected to make a decision on the Special Permit for the 40 Thorndike Street proposal at its July 29 meeting (to be held in East Cambridge, most likely at the Kennedy-Longfellow School). Regardless what the Planning Board decides, it is very likely that lawsuits will follow.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on June 25, 2014 to discuss the ongoing out of school/STEAM working group research.

I’m sure the participants at this meeting meant well and I think we all want to see some good programs developed in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). The report, however, is remarkable in some of its convoluted quotes. Some of my favorites are these: "Councillor Mazen explained that it’s important for one subgroup to track other subgroup. People in this subgroup should ask other subgroups: Are we talking around the subject or are we addressing it?" and "Councillor Mazen confessed he isn’t opposed to having another subgroup but he feels that this can fall into other subgroups and can also be discussed by each subgroup." and "Councillor Mazen said he hoped next time will be an opportunity for everybody to work more circularly about a coordinator position".

Exactly how does one "work more circularly?" Does it involve beating around the bush? I’ll have to consult with my subgroup about this. – Robert Winters

Note: Due to construction in the Sullivan Chamber, this City Council meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at 459 Broadway (CRLS).

June 16, 2014

Reports, Responses, and Requests on the June 16, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:29 pm

Reports, Responses, and Requests on the June 16, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Welcome to the Peoples RepublicThis week’s agenda is dominated by a long list of reports from the City Manager. Of the 36 items on "Awaiting Report", we can now scratch off 15 of them. The City Council will, of course, continue to pile on more requests before they vacate for much of the summer.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-47, regarding a report on enforcement of ICE detainers against persons who may be wanted for immigration purposes.

After all the impassioned testimony at the meeting when this Order was introduced, Commissioner Haas’ words say it best: "In many respects, the practices of the Department go beyond the scope of the City Council Order…"

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-21, regarding a report on the implementation of a city-wide job fair for Cambridge residents.

This was a great initiative from Vice Mayor Benzan. The event is scheduled for Wed, Oct 8, 2014 from 10:00am to 1:00pm at the IBM Innovation Center, 1 Rogers Street at Charles Park.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-41, regarding the feasibility of push cart vendors and local artists both at Carl Barron Plaza and similar places in Central Square.

It never ceases to amaze me just how complicated it can become to carry out an otherwise simple initiative. Perhaps the most unsatisfying aspect of the proposed pilot program is that no food vendors will be permitted "due to limits on Peddler Licenses within 300 ft of a Common Victualer License and the Fast Order Food Cap in Central Square." I was really looking forward to picking up a pretzel or a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and mustard on the street in Central Square. Regulations be damned!

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-42, regarding a report on relocating the Planning Board hearing on the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment to a site in East Cambridge.

The Planning Board public hearing for 40 Thorndike Street will be held in East Cambridge, but the date and location has not yet been determined. The word at a recent meeting of the new Neighborhood Assn. of E. Cambridge was that the likely date would be July 15. [Note: During the City Council meeting, Iram Farooq from CDD suggested that July 29 is the likely date, but this has not been finalized.] The remaining prisoners in the jail are expected to leave (rather than escape) in the next week or two and it is anticipated that the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth and the designated developer Leggat McCall will be completed immediately following the closing of the jail. Though many have argued that the Commonwealth should have assumed greater responsibility for the environmental remediation of the property and possibly even the demolition of the existing building, it would appear that state involvement will cease with the transfer of the property. After that it will all be in the hands of the developers, the Planning Board, the various neighborhood groups, and the courts.

Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-50, regarding a report on an update of the City’s composting pilot program.

Some highlights: Total collected to date, almost 30,000 lbs, (after week 9) averaging 3,270 lbs/wk (1.7 tons) over 555 participating households. From the pre-pilot trash run, the average household had 18.75 lbs/wk of trash. Composting reduces that ~33% to 12.1 lbs/wk. 64% of households now produce one bag of trash or less per week. 78% noticed they have less trash, 50% say their trash weighs less and 45% say that their trash smells better. So far, so good.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-37, regarding a report on the feasibility of painting green all designated bike lanes on all major streets.

The Bottom Line: "Our current policy is to install colored pavement markings at locations where it may be necessary for a vehicle or pedestrian to cross a bicycle facility. We believe reserving these special colored markings for conflict zones really emphasizes the importance of the location and indicates to all users that they need to give this area greater attention and proceed with caution. If all lanes were colored – we would lose the opportunity to differentiate these special locations of heightened importance." Makes a lot of sense.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-46, regarding an analysis and assessment of the position of Aide to the City Council.

The manager is recommending that the salary for these positions be increase by $3200, effective in FY14 (the current fiscal year). The original Order called for making these full-time positions, but the Manager’s response only speaks of a salary increase. The committee report on this matter called for analysis of these positions but was not sufficiently explicit about what analysis should take place – even though the issue of the legality of the fundamentally patronage jobs was questioned at the hearing.

A message circulated by Councillor Kelley summarizes things rather well: "If one believes that Councillors should have personal assistants (often former campaign managers, donors, neighbors or other campaign supporters) then this pay raise may make sense. If you believe, as I do, that this extra layer of expensive bureaucracy gets in the way of Councillor-to-Councillor communication, has no professional standards or requirements in hiring, results in confusion as more political appointees get involved in issues and gives incumbents a massive City-funded leg up on challengers, you may wish to oppose the suggestion that assistants get a $3200/year pay raise, bringing the compensation for this part-time job up into the 50K range."

Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-54, regarding the feasibility of installing a large screen television to show the World Cup Matches.

Look for a large screen television showing the World Cup Matches to appear in the Lafayette Square area around Sat, June 28 and continue through the final round which ends on Sun, July 13. It should be a fun time in Central Square – unless the wrong team loses or the right team wins in which case let’s hope the police are ready to manage the crowds.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department to determine the legality and if feasible, the institution of a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance for the City of Cambridge, with special provisions for small businesses. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Amended Order Number Seven of June 9, 2014.]

As I stated last week, it seems perfectly clear that without enabling legislation from the state legislature, the City of Cambridge does not have the authority to institute its own minimum wage law. It also seems pretty certain that any Home Rule authority granted by the legislature would most likely require approval by local voters. This initiative has more to do with political organizing than anything else. Meanwhile the state is proceeding with what will likely be a successful enactment of a revised state minimum wage law (with some exceptions) somewhere around $11 per hour.

Resolution #12. Congratulations to Katherine Watkins on being appointed as City Engineer/Assistant Commissioner for Engineering for the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Excellent choice of a well-deserving and thoroughly qualified engineer and a wonderful person. We are really lucky to have people like this working for the City of Cambridge.

Order #5. That the City Council go on the record in opposition to any type of casino project in the Greater Boston area whether constructed and managed by Mohegan Sun or Wynn Resorts.   Councillor Mazen

It’s not our call and I seriously doubt whether anyone charged with making the decisions will take this Order seriously.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all appropriate city departments on the feasibility of allowing zoning data such as special permits, variances, and building permits to be available on the City’s Open Data Portal.   Councillor Cheung

This is a good idea and it reminds me of an Order from Councillor Kelley some time ago calling for the tagging of all data relating to a given property across various City databases so that a person could get a complete picture. It’s probably also worth saying that now that we have the City’s Open Data Portal we will likely get another request every week for something else that should be included in the publicly accessible data. This will likely keep a lot of people busy for a long time.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a communication from Councillor Nadeem Mazen requesting the approval of the City Council to attend the 10th Annual International Fab Lab Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

It’s interesting that the conference that Councillor Mazen wishes to attend with City support just happens to overlap substantially with what he does in his own personal business/employment. Perhaps this will start a trend. Councillor Simmons can have the City pay for her attendance at a conference of independent insurance brokers because, well, Cantabrigians need insurance. Councillor McGovern can attend a conference of social workers because, well, there’s a need for social work in Cambridge. Councillor Carlone can attend a conference of architects on the City dime because, well, we have a lot of nice architecture in Cambridge. You get the picture. – Robert Winters

June 9, 2014

Open data, bottle bans, and minimum wages – Interesting items on the June 9, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:19 am

Open data, bottle bans, and minimum wages – Interesting items on the June 9, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

In addition to 17 all-important birthday resolutions from Councillor McGovern and various other business items, there are the following items that piqued my interest:

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-13, regarding a report on putting information on traffic enforcement, accidents and parking tickets online in a format that would allow electronic data analysis by the general public. [In particular: On June 4, the City launched its new open data site (http://data.cambridgema.gov). This web based tool will be ever evolving; current datasets will be updated with new information on a regular basis, new data sets will be published as they come available, and datasets requested by the public will be reviewed and made available when feasible.]

The new data site is pretty interesting and the promise of it being "ever evolving" is bound to please many who are just itching to crunch some numbers. So far I’ve only scouted out the Assessing data which is a big improvement over the existing tool that’s been on the City website for a number of years. You can sort on any of the fields and export data in 8 different formats. You can even check out the location of all the fire hydrants in the city.

Manager’s Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-18, regarding the Foundry Building.

The essential elements of this communication consist of a possible timeline for redevelopment of the Foundry building, a framework for a cooperative arrangement with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and a list of the next few opportunities for public input.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare a draft ordinance that will limit the sale of single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter or less in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mazen and Vice Mayor Benzan

The proposed ban on plastic bags is still pending under Unfinished Business and our restless City Council certainly can’t let too much time pass without banning something. However, in spite of the co-sponsorship by four councillors and the magnificent expertise of their personal aides, I honestly can’t tell what exactly they wish to ban other than the fact that it will be a container that holds less than one liter. The language in the Order prominently refers to "non-carbonated beverages, water, iced tea, juice and sports drinks" in one section referencing to state’s proposed Updated Bottle Bill, but there is a later reference to "limiting the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter or less." The specific directive in the Order says only "to prepare a draft ordinance that will limit the sale of single-serving PET bottles of 1 liter or less." So, does this refer only to bottled water or to all of the other non-carbonated beverages? Does it ban smaller-size carbonated beverages as well? There is a reference to "expansion of alternative water sources, including public drinking fountains" that might lead one to believe that only bottled water is covered under this proposal, but that’s not what the Order actually says. Surely eight people could have drafted an Order that’s as transparent as water.

Ban or no ban, many people will continue to stock up at Market Basket in Somerville. Clever marketing people may also come out with a new 1.01 liter bottle to allow people to refresh themselves. Meanwhile, I’m taking bets on what next this City Council intends to ban.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department to determine the feasibility of instituting a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance for the City of Cambridge, with special provisions for small businesses.   Councillor Mazen

Despite what may have occurred in places like Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Fe, it seems perfectly clear that without enabling legislation from the state legislature, the City of Cambridge does not have the authority to institute its own minimum wage law. It also seems pretty certain that any Home Rule authority granted by the legislature would most likely require approval by local voters. Maybe that’s really the intention of the sponsor – the tried-and-true political organizing tool of a ballot question.

The only way a proposal such as this might make sense would be as a statewide proposal. The proposal also focuses almost exclusively on wage earners who are covering the costs for a household (which is where a "living wage" is meaningful). There are a lot of other people working jobs only to generate some extra spending money, including many students working in various campus jobs. Is the proposed $15/hour minimum wage appropriate across the board? Probably not. In any case, enacting this in one relatively small city could do more harm than good. – Robert Winters

June 4, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 61 and 62 – News and Commentary

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 61 – News and Commentary (Part 1).

This episode was broadcast on June 3, 2014 at 5:30pm. Co-hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. The main topics we touched on were (1) upcoming events [including the Cambridge River Festival in Central Square (June 7) and the Citywide Dance Party (June 27)], (2) a proposal “to prohibit the use of wild and exotic animals in traveling shows and circuses”, (3) the migration of fish in the Charles River, (4) the upcoming Democratic convention, (5) updates on several municipal election reform proposals). [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 62 – News and Commentary (Part 2)

Broadcast June 3, 2014 at 6:00pm. Co-hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. Topics include (1) “Cambridge Conversations” conducted by Community Development prior to future “master plan” process, (2) a variety of matters relating to Central Square including the possibility of pushcart vendors and food trucks, (3) proposal to build low/middle income housing on a Central Square parking lot, (4) possible future uses for the Cambridge DPW Yard, (5) updates on the disposition of the Sullivan Courthouse and the prospect of future lawsuits, and (6) the approval of the FY2015 Budget and upcoming City Council meetings. [On YouTube]

June 2, 2014

On the Menu at the June 2, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,campaign finance,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:53 pm

On the Menu at the June 2, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting:

Money!The central item on this week’s agenda is the approval of the FY2015 Budget.

Unfinished Business #6-12: Public Investment loan authorizations totaling $15,405,655. In addition to funds for a variety of other essential investments, this sum includes $9,205,655 for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, stormwater management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the City’s Western Avenue and Agassiz areas as well as the Sewer Capital Repairs Program and public toilet installation at Harvard Square.

Committee Reports #1-3: Finance Committee reports for public hearings held on May 8, 2014, May 15, 2014 and May 21, 2014 relative to the General Fund Budget ($488,932,550), the Water Fund Budget ($13,964,275), and the Public Investment Fund ($16,548,370) for the City of Cambridge for Fiscal Year 2015.

Perhaps the only loose end is the tempest over the Cambridge Health Alliance plan to merge its Psychiatric Emergency Service (PES) and main emergency room at Cambridge Hospital. As is often the case, the submitted Budget will likely be passed with little or no change.

Reconsideration #2. [Order #13 of May 19, 2014]: That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Election Commission, and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance to determine the feasibility of publicly funded elections for Cambridge, taking into account models for implementation from other municipalities as well as the exploration of new publicly funded models. Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone [Order Adopted as Amended, Reconsideration Filed by Councillor Mazen; Motion to refer to Gov’t Operations approved on a 5-3-1 Roll Call vote with Benzan, Cheung, Simmons, Toomey, and Maher voting YES; Carlone, Mazen, McGovern voting NO; Kelley ABSENT]

Communications #7-62 (56 in all): Sundry communications regarding public financing of elections.

This is a bizarre choice on the part of Councillor Nadeem "Occupy" Mazen. Introducing the May 19 Order to look into the possibility of public funding for Cambridge municipal elections was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and the matter was appropriately referred to the Government Operations Committee for further discussion and possible action. The content of the Order was not amended at the previous meeting, so the objection here is purely about whether the matter should have been referred to committee. Apparently, Councillor Mazen wants this matter to only be discussed before the full City Council during its televised regular Monday meetings and he feels so strongly about this that he filed for Reconsideration and organized an email campaign to have his way. I expect there will be some public comment on this, but it’s hard to imagine a majority of the City Council reversing its sensible choice to refer this matter to the committee where it belongs. My sense is that Councillor Mazen would prefer to have the discussion "out in the streets", but he will likely have to settle for "in committee".

The matter of publicly funded municipal elections is interesting for a number of reasons, though it’s not at all clear whether any are applicable in this context. The chief motivations seem to be (a) lowering the barrier for entry for candidates, (b) increasing the ideological and socio-economic diversity among candidates, (c) expanding the range of policy positions put before the electorate, (d) making elections more competitive, and (e) reducing the influence of private contributions on both candidates and officeholders. Well, at least this is what is contained in the text of the Order.

In Cambridge it only takes 50 valid signatures to be a municipal candidate, so there is effectively no barrier for entry. What a candidate does after entry is another matter. Councillor Kelley and School Committee member Fantini run very effective campaigns on very little money simply be maintaining effective communication with their potential voters. Other candidates choose to hire "rent-a-campaigns" from a variety of companies such as Sage Systems and, yes, this requires money. It’s noteworthy that the incumbent candidate who spent the most in the 2013 election was defeated, so it’s clearly not just about the money.

As for ideological diversity among the candidates, anyone who attended any of the 2013 candidate forums will attest to not only a diversity of opinion but also a diversity of competence. It’s also important to emphasize that in a PR election it’s possible to target your campaign to ultimately achieve the 10% of ballots (14.3% for School Committee) necessary for election, but you do have to be a match for some constituency. In this regard the barrier to election is not nearly so high for candidates representing diverse points of view. Proportional representation facilitates diverse points of view. I worry that public funding in a PR election might translate into a group getting a dozen or more people to run as a slate where the individual candidates receive public funds and then pool their resources to fund their slate. There is clearly a lot of detail that warrants further discussion before wandering down this road.

The real problem in the Cambridge municipal elections is the difficulty in getting a less-than-interested electorate to spend a minimum amount of time getting familiar with the candidates. It’s also not so appealing for a resident to actually choose to be a candidate – and this is not primarily because of the associated cost. I get the feeling that the role of campaign contributions from people associated with real estate interests may be a major factor in why some people might support publicly funded elections, but if we are to question this practice then we should also raise questions about money from unions, money from outside of Cambridge, and money from various other sources having nothing to do with municipal governance. The fact that campaign managers are subsequently hired as "Council Aides" should also be on the list of practices in need of closer scrutiny. If there’s any one reform I would welcome it would be a cap on spending, but that would almost certainly run afoul of constitutional rights.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to proposed amendments to the Tobacco Ordinance (Chapter 8.28, Restrictions on Youth Access and Sale of Tobacco Products and on Smoking in Workplaces and Public Places). This amended ordinance includes recommendations previously transmitted to the City Council on July 29, 2013 and includes additional amendments that have subsequently been added. [Read Report]

While I imagine the proposed amendments will ultimately be supported, I expect there will be some lively discussion in the Ordinance Committee specifically on the proposals (a) to prohibit smoking in all parks and municipal open space, and (b) to prohibit smoking in all outdoor seating areas adjacent to restaurants where food is served.

Resolution #15. Urging members of the Cambridge community to participate in the Charlene Holmes memorial walk on June 3rd, 2014.   Councillor Cheung

I’m grateful that some people are keeping this matter in the public eye. To the best of my knowledge there have been no arrests in the murder of Charlene Holmes even though many have suggested that the killer may be known to witnesses of the murder.

Order #1. That the City Manager work with the Police Commissioner to ensure that only in cases where immigration agents have a criminal warrant, or Cambridge officials have a legitimate law enforcement purpose not related to immigration, will Cambridge Police comply with federal ICE detainer requests to hold persons solely for immigration purposes.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung

Cambridge follows Mayor Curtatone of Somerville. Even if this change in policy is a good idea, it would be very helpful to hear the perspective of the Cambridge Police Department prior to implementing such a policy.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City Personnel and with the Central Square Business Association in order to establish a Central Square Action Team that will be charged with recommending and helping implement strategies that will help Central Square to capitalize on and enhance its designation as a Cultural District in the months and years to come.   Councillor Simmons

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of installing a large screen at a central location, like Lafayette Square, in order to project a number of soccer matches involving the United States and countries that are representative of the Cambridge resident population and determine the feasibility of granting special permits to food trucks and other food vendors during the duration of these games.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of developing units of up to 100% affordable, middle-income, senior, and family housing units at the corner of Bishop Allen Drive and Norfolk Street and a plaza in Central Square with affordable food and retail space.   Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

The potential of Central Square appears to now be a high priority for some of our city councillors. On a related note, the Cambridge River Festival will take place this Saturday, June 7 from noon to 6:00pm in Central Square (due to construction along Memorial Drive). Order #13 will require a lot more discussion – especially in the context of the range of recommendations presented during the recent K2C2 process.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an update on the City’s composting pilot program.   Councillor Toomey

I’ll be interested to see the numbers, but the pilot program was only recently begun and it’s doubtful whether the data will be sufficiently informative to draw any conclusions at this point.

Order #6. That the City Manager confer with the Community Development Department, the Public Works Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and any other relevant City Departments to discuss ways in which the city can improve the design of New Street for both pedestrians and vehicles, and report back to the City Council with recommendations.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone and Mayor Maher

I wandered around the New Street area after spending the afternoon at the very well-attended Fresh Pond Day event on Saturday. This Order addresses what the obvious deficiencies are for this street – insufficient sidewalks, very poor parking practices, and the basic fact that it was not originally laid out as a typical residential street. Contrary to the general alarm about new housing being developed on New Street, I would characterize the housing built to date as maybe being a little on the bland side but I simply cannot fathom why people see this moderate scale housing as constituting some kind of a crisis. If some features of the street, the sidewalks, and the parking are reconfigured, and if laws regarding blocking the public (pedestrian) way are enforced, this could be a dandy residential street right across from the city’s biggest park. Then again, actual solutions do often get in the way of political organizing.

Order #8. That the City Manager confer with the Community Development Department to work with local banking institutions to ensure financing opportunities are available for residents wishing to purchase shares in limited equity cooperative housing within Cambridge and also research and explore options for expanding the limited equity cooperative housing stock with Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

I remember when limited equity coops were all the rage during the rent control era. I’d be interested to see just how many of them were actually established and if all of them are still active. It may be a good alternative today and could potentially provide some of the affordable housing that City officials desire with minimal need for City involvement. I’d love to hear what objections the banks may have to financing them. Perhaps it’s the potential difficulties associated with the restrictions on re-sale, but surely this is something the lawyers and banks should be able to work out. Buying into a limited equity coop may not be for everyone, but it’s probably a good option for some.

Order #10. That the City Manager confer with the Cambridge Community Development Department and the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department on the feasibility of creating designated parking stalls for food truck vendors in areas that allow them to sell their food but not harm established brick and mortar restaurants, and proactively finding spots on private roadways willing to host food trucks, and to compile a comprehensive list that offers clarity and certainty on available and suitable locations.   Councillor Cheung

Having once worked on a hot dog truck as an adolescent, I hope we can find a way to accommodate a wide variety of food vendors – trucks, carts, stands, etc. The Order refers to "culinary entrepreneurs" and "restaurant quality food." I do hope this includes such things as hot dogs, bagels, pretzels, sausages, and maybe even a cold fizzy drink on a hot day.

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