Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 9, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 387-388: April 9, 2019

Episode 387 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 9, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 9, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Red Sox Home Opener; Destination Watertown; Livable Cambridge forum; Courthouse & other political opportunism; candidate updates; cycling safety ordinance; Beware of Zealots; the Wisdom of Kelley. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 388 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 9, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 9, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Graduate student realities, unionization; adjunct faculty exploitation; university relations; workforce development; STEM/STEAM initiatives; trades; rocket ships and science and mathematics. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 31, 2019

Preview – April 1, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Preview – April 1, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

City Hall in RedThese days I don’t know whether to watch or simply look away as this City Council behaves in ways that sow the seeds of doubt in even the most ardent supporters of the Plan E Charter like me. As much as I believe in proportional representation (PR) and Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) I find myself asking the simple question: Proportional to what? I am seriously doubting if I have any representation at all, and there isn’t all that much promise among the emerging new candidates, some of whom are just waiting to feed at the trough of the latest iteration of political action committees (PACs). I sincerely hope that some new candidates emerge who actually understand the ins and outs of Cambridge and who are not just ready to ride the latest round of hot button single issues. So far most of the new candidates look like they were printed on a 3D-printer at the Bernie Sanders clone factory.

Meanwhile, these agenda items stand out:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from City Engineer Katherine Watkins, to eliminate and rename certain streets in the Northpoint/Cambridge Crossing area.

I have a mild fascination with the naming (and renaming) of streets. I like these recommendations, especially the theme represented by streets named for Harriet A. Jacobs and Gertrude Wright Morgan. For those who don’t already know, there’s a very strong theme in Cambridgeport based on the War of 1812. You can look it up.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $300,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Extraordinary Expenditures account which will support the expansion of the curbside organics program to 13+ unit households in FY20 and be used for the purchase of collection bins and outreach efforts.

It will surprise no one to learn that I’m happy to see this, but beyond organics collection there are some troubling realities in recycling these days. American investment in materials recovery (new technology, better processing facilities, and better end markets) has to increase now that we can no longer count on dumping our low quality recycled materials in places like China. Cambridge residents may also soon have to learn to be a bit more thoughtful in how they handle their recyclable waste. Ease of disposal is nice but quality markets for recyclable materials is nicer.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-61 regarding a report on commissioning a public art piece, statue or memorial that would commemorate the dedication of women in Cambridge to passing the Nineteenth Amendment.

I am very glad to see this moving along. Please give consideration to Central Square as a potentially ideal location for such public art.

Manager’s Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-12, regarding a report on legality and constitutionality of the proposed "Cambridge Publicly Financed Municipal Election Program" and the "Cambridge Municipal Election People’s Pledge", and Awaiting Report Item Number 18-136 regarding a report on submitting a proposal that candidates would agree to not accept donations from persons outside of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. [Legal Opinion]

Our City Solicitor really does her homework when researching these questions. Even if there is some merit in public financing of local campaigns (and I am not yet convinced), I have never known the proponents to consider all the consequences and potential problems associated with their proposals.

Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-01, regarding a report on the recently adopted regulations of the short-term rental revenue and the necessary steps to impose and access the revenue from the excise and community impact fees. [Legal Opinion] [Chart of Taxes]

Manager’s Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the proposed Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance. [Draft Ordinance]

I’ll leave these to the wisdom of councillors or the lack thereof.

Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 27, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title Twelve entitled “Streets, Sidewalks and Public Places” by adding a new Chapter 12.22 entitled “Cycling Safety Ordinance” ON OR AFTER APR 8, 2019 THE QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED

I have no doubt that this will be ordained even though I seriously disagree with the concept of mandating road design by ordinance.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of retired Cambridge Police Officer Edward "Eddie" Burke.   Councillor Toomey

One of the great things about living in Cambridge for a long time (even if you weren’t born here) is that you get to know a lot of people in the Cambridge Police Department, the Cambridge Fire Department, and the Department of Public Works. This also means that you share in the heartbreak when people you’ve come to know pass away. My condolences go to Eddie’s entire extended family.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate departments to provide more information and analysis as it relates to the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay District.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I am glad at least some city councillors are asking questions about this. I served on the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group that supposedly recommended this proposal, and I asked many questions and raised many concerns about this from the first moment the proposal was presented. I attended every meeting and spoke at every one of them. I was resolutely ignored, and not because my concerns were off the mark. The outcome had been determined when the appointments were made and before the committee ever met.

Some things can be amended to make them better. Other things need to be discarded so that something better can be found. This entire concept should be discarded. Has anyone considered the possibility that Inclusionary Zoning was a pretty good idea and that maybe you should just be happy with that?

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to ensure that the Housing Committee hearing scheduled for Apr 25, 2019 be televised and livestreamed, to ensure that as many people as possible will have the opportunity to view this hearing.   Councillor Simmons

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to ensure that the Housing Committee hearing scheduled for Apr 16, 2019 be televised and livestreamed.   Councillor Simmons

These meetings have been little more than Bad Theater – more of a competition between mailing lists of those wishing to pack the meetings than anything substantive.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City, Department of Conservation and Recreation, and MassDOT staff, as well as with representatives of the communities through which the Minuteman Bikeway passes, to review infrastructure designs and investigate ways, to include speed limits, enforcement, striping, construction projects, signage and education efforts, to maximize safety for all users of these regional bike-related amenities.   Councillor Kelley, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

This Order follows the recent head-on bicycle collision that fatally injured an Arlington man. Sure, put up signs and lay down paint and maybe bolt some plastic poles to the ground, but this still comes down to people learning to travel responsibly. This goes beyond hardware and regulations.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to televise and record the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee hearing scheduled for Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 4:00pm.   Vice Mayor Devereux

The purpose of this public hearing is to discuss the logistics and feasibility of implementing early voting in City Elections and to discuss the possibility of pursuing a Home Rule petition to lower the voting age to City elections to 16 years old. As to the former, it may have a marginal benefit but it will likely come at a considerable cost. Furthermore, there’s a chance it will somewhat bias the municipal election toward areas where early voting sites are located. As for lowering the voting age for municipal elections to 16 years old, my belief is that the minimum voting age should be the same across the entire Commonwealth and not vary from town to town. If you want to make the case for this, try to convince the state legislature to do it statewide or pursue other matters.

Order #12. That the City Council go on record in enthusiastic support of H.2865, “An Act to Establish a Net Zero Energy Stretch Code.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

Even if every single suggestion in such a revised code is a good idea, there is little doubt that the costs to anyone doing a renovation will be substantial. Perhaps a lot of people will choose to adhere to stricter standards because of the long-term savings, but I have never been a big fan of absolute mandates except for the purpose of safety. – Robert Winters

March 20, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 381-382: March 19, 2019

Episode 381 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 19, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 19, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Candidate update and some PR notes; counting bikes, proposed Cycling Safety Ordinance; the misuse of surveys; and Better Buses? Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 382 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 19, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 19, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Plan E and the City Auditor; nominations for Outstanding City Employee awards; Faux Retail; Cambridgeside Galeria Re-Envisioned. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 18, 2019

Pre-Spring Fling – Select Items from the March 18, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Pre-Spring Fling – Select Items from the March 18, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallHere’s my first pass at what seems comment-worthy:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the bi-annual City of Cambridge Resident Telephone Survey for 2018. [Manager’s message] [aggregate responses] [longer report]

The wording of the questions and the meaning of the choices can have a tremendous effect on surveys such as this. For example, if the question "What do you think is the single most important issue facing the City of Cambridge today—the one that affects you and your family the most?" simply lists one option as "Affordable housing/housing", then it’s not at all surprising that this will be the overwhelming first choice. However, does this mean access to subsidized housing or, more likely, does this mean that most renters feel that their rent is higher than they would like it to be and that most buyers feel that purchase costs are much higher than they would like it to be? This is an important distinction because this survey may be used to justify only the expansion of subsidized housing without addressing what most people actually meant by their response in the survey.

Order #2. Reappointment of James Monagle as City Auditor.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

Good choice. Do it.


Bikes, Buses, Scooters & other Transportation:

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-142, regarding a report on efforts to educate cyclists about riding safety and sharing the road especially at intersections.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant staff about updating the bike data count chart, along with other data tables and charts, in the Cambridge Bicycle Plan to reflect 2016 and 2018 data.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant staff to report to the City Council on how the data collected from the Broadway Eco-Display is used to inform the City’s transportation planning efforts and to address the possibility of installing additional Eco-Display counters at the highest trafficked bicycle locations to provide more comprehensive information about bike use and other vehicles such as scooters.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City Staff and report back to the City Council on the status of any micro-mobility pilot programs or partnerships in Cambridge.   Councillor Kelley

I’ll be interested in seeing the requested data (with appropriate documentation to support its validity). I have come to believe that when you start factoring in such things as weather, the need to run multiple errands, electric vehicles and micro-cars, TNCs, and various micro-mobility options, as well as age/condition, we may conclude that Cambridge is not actually located in The Netherlands and that the choice of bicycle transportation may have a natural upper limit no matter how many flex-posts you bolt to the road.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 26, 2019 to discuss the MBTA’s Better Bus Project report as it relates to proposed changes to bus lines and service throughout Cambridge.

If Better Bus means little more than Cutting Corners then there’s not a whole lot to like here. I do, however, think that folding the CT1 into the #1 Bus with more frequent service is a good idea, but only if they can finally solve the problem of Bus Bunching.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 27, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title Twelve entitled “Streets, Sidewalks and Public Places” by adding a new Chapter 12.22 entitled “Cycling Safety Ordinance”.

The key question I would have asked is whether or not this proposal unnecessary restricts the ability of the City Manager and City Departments from using good judgment and appropriate discretion in deciding how future road projects should proceed. As near as I can tell, everything that was and is on the table came from just one lobbying group. Then again, that seems to be the way this City Council operates.


Order #5. Thanks to Mayor McGovern and all members of the Harm Reduction Commission and the Cambridge Opioid Working Group for their leadership and service and that a Human Services and Veterans Committee hold a future hearing to receive an update on the recommendations in these reports and on efforts in Cambridge to address substance use disorder and the opioid crisis.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon

Prelude to the Mayor enabling a "safe injection site" to be located inevitably in Central Square to supplement the existing Needle Exchange and other sites enabling IV drug users to flock to Central Square. Wouldn’t it be great if we instead concentrated on things that helped to attract families with children to Central Square?


Housing-Related:

Order #8. City Council endorsement of the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon

This Order seems to be setting up for the case to be made that current Cambridge zoning is too restrictive and must be changed to allow for significantly increased density. Note the sponsors. It is curious how the extremely strict zoning restrictions of the suburbs and exurbs are somehow being invoked to make the case that Cambridge, with one of the highest population densities and highest proportions of subsidized housing in Massachusetts, is somehow comparable to Weston. Mendacity seems to be the new official language of Cambridge.

Order #13. City Council support for fully funding the Section 8 Housing Choice Tenant-Based Voucher Program.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

Good idea and more to the point than what is otherwise being discussed these days.

Order #14. That the City Manager direct the appropriate City staff to examine the need and possibility of neighborhood preference in Cambridge in the short and long-terms.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Siddiqui, transmitting the submission of the Mayor’s Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement Feb 24, 2018 meeting minutes.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Zondervan, transmitting a memorandum regarding "Affordable Housing Overlay Initial Thoughts".

I’ll be adding more than just my "initial thoughts" on this soon. This juggernaut really needs to be stopped and reconsidered.


Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 13, 2019 to receive an update on the progress to date on the retail strategy plan and vacant storefront initiative.

Faux Retail is apparently The Future. – RW

Update: Councillor Toomey exercised his Charter Right to delay all of the City Manager’s Agenda until the next Council meeting (March 25). The only other consequential thing in the meeting was the back-and-forth posturing of Councillors Zondervan, Siddiqui, Mallon, Carlone, Devereux, and McGovern over Councillor Zondervan’s "initial thoughts" memo on the Public Housing Expansion Initiative, a.k.a. the "Affordable Housing Overlay". Vice Mayor Devereux handled herself rather well. Councillor Mallon argued in favor having her own Maple Ave. be a preferred site for new Public Housing. Councillors Kelley, Simmons, and Toomey wisely remained silent.

February 19, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 373-374: Feb 19, 2019

Episode 373 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 19, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 19, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Putnam Ave. fire; Cambridge Fire Department (Thank You!); death of Paula Sharaga; Feb 11 City Council meeting; infrastructure. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 374 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 19, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 19, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Infrastructure – water, sewer, electric; Tree Ordinance & proposed Moratorium; Robert’s Rules & The Joy of Walking Out. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

February 10, 2019

February Falderol – Feb 11, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda and OMFUG

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:37 pm

February Falderol – Feb 11, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda and OMFUG

In between bemoaning divine trees at Harvard and ordaining a Tree Tribunal, here are a few mundane Monday items up for City Council consideration:

Water MainManager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-08, regarding the Craigie Street Water Main break.

This is the kind of topic-specific response I especially like. For example: "The Cambridge water transmission and distribution system consists of about 185 miles of underground pipe, 4,450 valves and 1,800 hydrants (the “Water System”). All these pipes and appurtenances are documented in the City’s GIS system. Each water main is defined by its age (date installed), material, size and whether it is cement lined or not." And this: "CWD has replaced, repaired or added over 2,730 valves in the Water System since 1980 and has also formalized a valve exercising program." And this: "CWD has replaced/rehabilitated or improved about 43 miles of pipe within the Water System since 1992." And this: "In the 50’s and 60’s, all of the large transmission mains were cement lined. In the 90’s, about 9,500 feet of pipe were cement lined as well."

Cambridge residents should really try to get a basic idea of what it takes to keep the most basic elements of their city functioning – things like water, sewer, electric supply, natural gas infrastructure, roadways as well as things like rubbish disposal and recycling. Call it civic education.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-111, regarding a report on TNC vehicles blocking travel lanes.

TNC stands for "Transportation Network Company", a relatively new term necessitated by the advent of entities like Uber and Lyft that do all they can to distinguish themselves from the (regulated) taxi industry. By their account, they’re just referral services that connect customers to drivers. One big difference is that there is built-in accountability for taxis, e.g., you could lose your right to operate as penalty for frequent or egregious violations. In contrast, many TNC drivers are just people with a license to drive with no special requirements for either customer service, geographical knowledge of an area, or expertise in lawful driving. Bending and breaking rules are common. This response from Police Commissioner Bard is primarily about short-term blocking of bike lanes for pickup/dropoff of passengers. Designated curb space for this purpose would help, and some existing taxi zones should be re-purposed for this. I don’t personally buy the notion that brief stops in bike lanes endanger either cyclists or pedestrians, but it is an inconvenience and the prevalence of these TNC vehicles warrants better allocation of space. However, congested areas with competing needs will never operate like a Swiss watch and it’s foolish to believe they ever will. Everybody has to give a little.

Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 9, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection” to amend section 8.66.40 entitled “Applicability” and by adding a new section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for other projects.” [THE QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER FEB 18, 2019.]

It will be interesting to see if any actual wisdom emerges from the Feb 14 hearing on this (which some hasty councillors wanted to prevent). This has never been as simple as "Thou Shalt Not Cut That Tree No Matter What", and property owners deserve some flexibility in managing their property. Even if a tree is not currently dead, diseased, or dangerous there are situations when removal is still the best long-term option, especially if the removal may lead to better-situated, healthier trees thriving in the long term.

Applications & Petitions #1. A Zoning Petition has been received from Stephen R. Karp, Trustee of Cambridge Side Galeria Associates trust to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.100 to Article 13.00 of the Zoning Ordinance and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-8 District overlay that certain area (which includes parcels and portions of ways and streets) labeled as "PUD-8 district".

It would be premature to comment much about this, but I definitely will look forward to a revitalized First Street, greater permeability through the site, and more diverse uses (including some housing), and improved architecture. I’m looking forward to hearing what the Planning Board and Councillor Carlone (who was involved in the original planning and development of the site) have to say as this petition makes its way through the hearings.

Order #1. That the City Council go on record reaffirming its support of the homeless issues bills awaiting action in the House and Senate, and entreats its elected delegation in both bodies to actively work on moving these measures out of their respective committees on toward adoption.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

Order #2. City Council support of legislation that protects children.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

Order #7. That the City Council go on record in support of an “Act relative to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program” and an “Act to ensure right to counsel in eviction proceedings".   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

These three Orders encompass support for a range of proposals that shouldn’t be particularly controversial.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the Apr 23, 2018 Policy Order seeking additional funding for affordable housing concerns.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

This Order really should be understood in the context of other housing-related proposals currently being considered. These include the "Overlay" proposal to facilitate the transfer of private property to public or quasi-public ownership, support for a real estate transfer tax either via Home Rule or enabling legislation at the state level to fund this property transfer, and other initiatives. The City’s policy seems to be centered on transferring as much privately-owned property into public or quasi-public ownership as possible. I’m not so sure that this is a very good long-term policy in spite of any short- or medium-term housing affordability issues.

Order #9. That Rule 39, "Rules of Travel" under the “Rules of the City Council” hereby be amended to be titled "Rules of Travel and Other Council-Related Expenditures."   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey

The basic idea here is that some councillors want more flexibility in funds available to them for hosting constituents and similar purposes. Do they realize that this is the reason there is a City Council office with a budget and staff? When has it not been the case that a city councillor could simply ask the staff to make arrangements for such get-togethers?

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Siddiqui, transmitting the submission of the Mayor’s Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement Jan 29, 2018 meeting minutes.

It will be interesting to see if this task force actually focuses on practical ways to address these difficulties.

Awaiting Report: 5 from 2016, 2 from 2017, 56 from 2018 (8 resolved this week), and 16 from 2019 (1 resolved this week).

That’s a total of 79 items awaiting a response with 9 of them addressed in this agenda. That’s better than most weeks. It really is ridiculous to be dragging along items from so long ago without a response. If there really is neither the need nor the willingness to act on some of these, a simple response to the effect of "Not now, Councillors" would be better than leaving so many of these things to moulder. Seriously, is anyone still all that fired up to modify zoning to restrict restaurants where a wood-fired oven is used? If the City would just come back with a very basic proposal for an Outdoor Lighting Ordinance, we could scratch a couple more items off the list. It’s a lot easier to respond to a shorter list. – Robert Winters

February 4, 2019

Save the Groundhogs – Feb 4, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:03 am

Save the Groundhogs – Feb 4, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

groundhogResearch indicates that the groundhog population in Cambridge has reached an historic low. The consequences in terms of city planning will likely be devastating. While contemplating this impending disaster, consider the following items up for discussion as we enter the last six weeks of winter.

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, requesting that the City Council vote to accept Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 64N, Section 3 (“G.L.c.64N, §3”), which is the state law that allows municipalities to impose a local excise tax of up to 3% on retail sales of cannabis within the City.

Into the General Fund, please. No earmarks.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-104, regarding a report on a list of streets where it is recommended that the speed be reduced to 20 MPH.

If you look at the map, this is pretty close to a citywide 20mph speed limit.

Addendum: Sign, sign, everywhere a sign; Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind; Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign? Apparently there are over 400 streets that will have to get a 20mph sign because, you know, state law. You can’t paint it on the roadway, and you can’t just post the whole city as 20mph with the roads (including numbered highways) with slightly high speed limits being the exception. Logic vs. legislation.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City departments to conduct a formal and professional financial assessment of the additional value created for the owner/petitioner by up-zonings for developments of more than 50,000 square feet.

The information will be interesting and useful, but I’m still concerned about the quid-pro-quo aspect of zoning for sale whether it be for cash or subsidized housing units.

Addendum: The Mayor amended the Order to also assess the added benefit to the City associated with upzoning. I pointed out to the Mayor after the meeting that similar analysis should accompany downzoning petitions as well. About 20 years ago downzoning was all the rage and this definitely reduced the value of many properties. Some of the upzonings in recent years simply added back the height/density that had been taken away.

Resolution #5. Retirement of Paul Burke from the Cambridge Police Department.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mallon

I have met many members of the Cambridge Police over the years, and Paul Burke ranks among my most favorite. Happy trails, Paul, and I hope to see you around town.

Order #1. Dedication sign in honor of Tom and Ray Magliozzi.   Mayor McGovern

Ray worked on my VW Bus once, but he’ll never admit it. Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe.

Order #3. That the City Manager confer with Eversource and the appropriate City departments to undertake a series of studies and analyses related to finance, health and safety, building design, and long-term electricity needs before the construction of a substation in East Cambridge.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Siddiqui

Anyone who has ever dealt with Eversource knows that they rarely do long-term planning – just reaction to developments being built, so let’s just look at this as a way of assisting them. I’m sure they do need the new substation. The only question is where it should be located.

Addendum: There were concerns expressed during Public Comment and by some city councillors regarding potential adverse health effects associated with the electromagnetic fields adjacent to major electrical infrastructure such as the one proposed on Fulkerson Street. I wonder if they are aware that there are several high voltage underground transmission lines criss-crossing the city. Should we all run for the exits?

Order #5. That the Central Square Massachusetts Avenue sidewalk maintenance/repairs and replacement tree planting become part of the River Street/Barron Plaza project to bring Central Square back to the original circa 1990 intent.   Councillor Carlone, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon

Sure, fix up the sidewalks of Central Square and then some. I’m not sure that the "1990 intent" is necessarily the appropriate standard. There have been many reconfigurations of the sidewalks and streets of Central Square over the years and not all have been for the best.

Order #6. City Council support of traffic safety bills SD.847/HD.1653, SD.1461 and SD.1383/HD.1534.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

The most significant of these (to me) is the setting of a safe passing distance of vulnerable road users, including cyclists. Nobody should get buzzed by a ton or more of flying steel, and that includes people standing on the sides of roadways. I also like the use of red light cameras, but you know all too well this will lead to hours of pointless debate about the evils of surveillance and the inalienable rights of scofflaws.

Order #7. Proclaim Feb 12, 2019 as Darwin Day in Cambridge.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

You can use the opportunity to announce the Darwin Awards.

Late Order #12. City Council support of “An Act promoting housing opportunity and mobility through eviction sealing (SD 526 and HD 3815 HOMES).”   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

The concern expressed in the Order is that if a tenant files a complaint against a landlord it will go on the tenant’s "permanent record" and may make renting more difficult in the future. That’s a perfectly reasonable concern, though I don’t have much sympathy for repeat offenders.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 12, 2018 to discuss formation of a city commission dedicated to providing a forum for exploring and addressing the concerns of undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate and other post-high school students in Cambridge.

I wish I could have attended this hearing, but I was busy teaching some of the very same people this proposal is about. I do wonder if the students the City Council hears from are really a representative sample. I somehow doubt it.

Addendum: Several councillors chimed in on this. I have to say that forming a commission of young people that deliberates only about things of concern to young people seems awfully self-serving. A much better perspective (and one expressed by some councillors) was the importance of aggressive outreach to younger people who might serve on the whole range of City Boards & Commissions – maybe even some new ones. My suggestion is that we create the Board of Fun and charge it with coming up with ways to make Cambridge more fun for people of all ages. I can’t imagine the Planning Board ever generating plans for miniature golf and/or batting cages. It took the Charles River Conservancy to bring the skate park to North Point.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Kelley regarding Tree Removal Comments.

Councillor Kelley makes some good points in his memo. The real problem, however, is the complete inflexibility of the moratorium proposal some councillors are backing. The inability last week of four city councillors to understand the meaning of due process continues to stun me. Will blind zeal rule the day or will an adult legislator emerge with a thoughtful compromise that provides some flexibility for homeowners faced with difficult decisions? The hearing on Feb 14 should be very telling. – Robert Winters

January 6, 2019

Kicking Off the New Year – Jan 7, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:42 pm

Kicking Off the New Year – Jan 7, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Jan 7, 2019 Cambridge City Council meetingThe beginning of a municipal election year often features some table-setting, i.e. framing some of the issues that are bound to play out as we work our way to the November election. If bike lanes were the AOC of 2017, then trees, battles over density, and the next round of challenges to property ownership are taking the early lead in the 2019 rhetorical derby. Here are some of the agenda items that drew my attention this week.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Bob Richards.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

Bob passed away on December 19. He has been a long-time friend and neighbor, one of the founders of the Antrim Street Block Party – the longest in the city, a CRLS teacher, and a dependable ally on the Ward 6 Democratic Committee. The phrase "he will be missed" is often said, but I will really miss the frequent conversations Bob and I have had over many years – and not all about politics.

Order #1. Creating Gender X on Cambridge Birth Certificates.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

I have lived in Cambridge now for over 40 years and can honestly say that I identify as a True Cantabrigian. I have even been accepted by many native Cantabrigians as something more than a carpetbagger. That said, my birth certificate identifies me as a New Yorker. I would like the option to have my birth certificate revised to better reflect my current identity.

Order #4. Accessing revenue generated from new short-term rental legislation.   Mayor McGovern

This is a timely Order now that the Commonwealth passed short-term rental legislation late in the previous session.


Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes of the 3rd meeting of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force.

Order #5. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council and Department of Finance to allocate a percentage of hotel/motel tax revenue and adult use cannabis tax revenue to the arts in the FY20 budget.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

Order #6. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council, Traffic and Parking Department, Community Development Department, and Central Square Advisory Committee to establish the Central Square Improvement Fund and allocate no less than 25% of funds generated to the arts.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

Order #7. That the City Manager work with the Cambridge Arts Council and Community Development Department to make the appropriate updates to the City’s 1% for arts ordinance.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

As a long-time booster for Central Square, I suppose I should be thrilled with these Orders – and I am, but with reservations. I dislike the whole idea of earmarking revenues generated from specific activities for the exclusive use of very specific purposes – even if these purposes are things I support. Why should revenue generated by the cannabis industry be dedicated for arts purposes rather than early childhood education (just to give one example)? Why should 25% or more of a proposed Central Square Improvement Fund be dedicated toward arts projects? This is reminiscent of the whole Foundry Kerfuffle where some councillors felt that this building should be dedicated toward very specific arts-related purposes but other councillors had different priorities.

There is something of a "cutting the line" in all this – proposing specific earmarking before other priorities have been considered. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this, e.g. there have been and continue to be proposals to earmark revenue for the purpose of buying up residential buildings and properties solely for use as subsidized housing. Priorities do change from year to year.

As for the One Percent for the Arts Ordinance, some revision may be in order, especially in regard to the rather harsh division between the commissioning of outside artists and the artistic talents of some of the people actually building publicly-funded projects. However, the rather simple math is that because a fixed percentage of the project funding is to be dedicated toward artistic components of a project, then as projects become more expensive the money dedicated for art rises proportionately.


Order #8. Support Green New Deal.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui

Translation: This Order proposes to reject the plans proposed by the new House Democratic Leadership (Nancy Pelosi and Co.) in favor of a proposal from a newly elected member of Congress (AOC-NY). The Order also suggests corruption among Ms. Pelosi’s leadership team ("will include legislators who have accepted contributions from or who have themselves made significant investments in the fossil fuel industry"). Please, councillors, edit out some of the WHEREAS’s before voting on this symbolic Order.

Order #9. Water Mains Age and Maintenance Update.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

The requested report is one I will definitely look forward to reading. Yes, I am an Infrastructure Geek. It says so on my birth certificate.

Order #10. City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to prepare a draft Home Rule petition for a Real Estate Transfer fee.   Councillor Carlone, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

Insofar as this might cool down speculative investment in Cambridge real estate, I might be supportive. I do not, however, agree that any revenue generated should be dedicated exclusively toward the acquisition of property to be turned into subsidized housing. [See above remarks re: earmarking.] There is, however, a larger issue. Last year opened with a "Right of First Refusal" proposal to lay a heavy hand on who would have first preference in purchasing residential property put up for sale. Last year ended with the non-support of a state initiative re: housing growth and changes in the threshold for certain zoning changes based on concerns that there should be greater tenant protections (which often translates into greater restrictions on property owners). Councillor Siddiqui at one meeting referred to about 150 additional measures that could be considered in this vein. It is not at all surprising that property owners become concerned about all this – including many landlords who might otherwise be supportive of some of these proposals.

Here’s a suggestion: How about the City Council make a Declaration to the effect that "The City Council shall pass no law infringing on the rights of small property owners to engage in the ordinary business of renting their property in accordance with general laws." If small property owners were not (justifiably) fearful that their local City Council was planning to make their lives especially difficult, they might be a lot more supportive of proposals floated by the Council.

Order #12. Amendment to the Municipal Code to create a new Chapter entitled "Cycling Safety Ordinance".   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

Translation: This Order proposes to mandate via Ordinance that whatever the aspirational Cambridge Bicycle Plan (or any plan superseding it) says, then the City must implement those plans on any City-owned street under the City’s Five-Year Sidewalk and Street Reconstruction Plan unless there are extraordinary reasons for not doing so. It’s amazing how wish lists becoming mandates [see Envision] has become the foundation for How We Do Planning in Cambridge.

Order #13. Volpe Project Updates.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I will look forward to hearing more about this. As the Order points out: "As a federal facility, the new Volpe Center will not be subject to the zoning or special permit requirements set out in the PUD-7 Zoning District that the City Council created in October 2017."

Order #14. Major Public Building Projects Selection Committee Representation.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

We are once again nibbling away at the edges of the Plan E Charter. This Order proposes that there be "at least one City Councillor on the Selection Committee for any major public building project." In short, the Order wants to have an elected councillor involved in the awarding of City contracts. Red Flag.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Zondervan and Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Co-Chairs of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 4, 2018 to discuss reviewing the preliminary LiDAR-based canopy study results from Apr 1, 2018 and to discuss potential reasons for the precipitous decline in our tree canopy and any other related matter.

There is a related campaign being floated to declare a Moratorium on the cutting of any tree on private property above a relatively low caliper except for reasons of safety. I actually do have very good reasons to cut down a significant tree in my yard, so give me at least a week’s warning before you declare any Moratorium so I can take care of things. – Robert Winters, Native Cantabrigian

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