Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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 26, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 383-384: March 26, 2019

Episode 383 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 26, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 26, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topic: The Old Middlesex Canal. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 384 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 26, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 26, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Middlesex Canal; Mar 25 City Council meeting; Plan E and Proportional Representation – proportional to what? Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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 13, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 379-380: March 12, 2019

Episode 379 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 12, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 12, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Fresh Pond/Mt. Auburn walk invitation; Housing Overlay proposal and Housing Committee meeting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 380 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 12, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 12, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: New City Council candidates; national politics; PR election realities; Zero Waste Plan; upcoming events. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 5, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 377-378: March 5, 2019

Episode 377 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 5, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 5, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Housing – Overlay proposal and background, Envision, condo conversion, and rent control; municipal election topics; defining Central Square; task forces; River Street. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 378 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 5, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 5, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Condos continued; task forces; River Street; defining Central Square; AAA bond ratings; new Council candidates; national politics. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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]

January 29, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 369-370: Jan 29, 2019

Episode 369 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 29, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 29, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Proposed moratorium on tree removals; Jan 28 City Council meeting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 370 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 29, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 29, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Bottled water; value of upzoning; public funding for municipal elections (again); Jan 29 City Council meeting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

January 28, 2019

Picking through the pieces of the Jan 28, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Picking through the pieces of the Jan 28, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

It's a twister!Here’s my initial selection of the agenda items that either I find interesting or which are sure to bring out a crowd:

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $175,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund a Climate Change Resilience Analysis which will focus on zoning recommendations.

Another $175,000 for a Climate Change Resilience Analysis? Didn’t we do this not so long ago?

Applications & Petitions #4. A Zoning Petition Has been received from Melissa Grippo and Christian Grippo, et al, requesting the City Council to vote to amend Section 5.30.11 of the Zoning Ordinance by adding the following sentence at the end of that section: “Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the Industry B District, a hotel use (Section 4.31.2), shall be governed by the second number (4.0) for purposes of determining the Maximum Ratio of Floor Area to Lot Area.”

I don’t know nuthin’ about it, but there’s now another zoning petition in the queue.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to review the City’s communications and emergency response policies and protocols related to flooding resulting from infrastructure failures.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley

Order #2. City Council support for I-90 Hybrid Plan with request for further review.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

BIG projects can be fun because when the scale of spending is large it creates opportunities to do some creative things around the edges of the necessary stuff. Envision that.

Order #5. City Council support of HD2395: An act to further provide a rental arrearage program.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

This is the kind of idea I can get behind – assisting people to get through a bad patch with some transitional assistance. It makes a lot more sense than some of the other proposals that have been floating around over the past year.

Order #6. 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.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

I suspect the motivation behind this is not just information-gathering. It sure seems like a prelude to extracting more "community benefit" money out of proposed developments – or maybe just creating a political basis for not granting zoning relief at all. Naively, I would still like to believe that zoning should be based on good planning rather than on who’s going to share the spoils.


Committee Report #3. 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.”

Order #7. That the tree protection ordinance amendment discussed at the Ordinance Committee hearing held on Wed, Jan 9, 2019 and referenced in Committee Report #3 of Jan 28, 2019 be further amended per additional language.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

Basically, the sponsors want to enact a one-year moratorium on tree "removal permits" (where have we heard that phrase before) except for dead, diseased, or dangerous trees. This doesn’t seem to allow any discretion at all to property owners, and it treats ordinary small-scale homeowners just as harshly as those big evil developers. If you violate this prohibition they’ll make you pay into a tree replacement fund. I’m sure this committee report and order will bring out the troops to public comment, but there are some serious problems with this proposal.

Beyond the simple fact that there has not been proper legal notice (a moratorium is a lot stricter than a requirement to seek approval by the City Arborist), it also completely disrespects the rights of property owners to manage their own property. Furthermore, it would appear that the required payment for violating the moratorium will likely be well in excess of the cost of the tree removal. Most property owners would probably be OK with a reasonable ordinance that would dissuade them from wholesale deforestation of their property, but I seriously doubt whether there would be support for an ordinance that removed all discretion. Most property owners actually remove trees reluctantly and they certainly don’t want to have to appear before the Tree Tribunal whenever they are faced with such a decision.

This is a municipal election year and it’s pretty clear that some people are trying to make tree protection a defining issue for the upcoming election. So let me dabble in a little political calculus for you. There are two, maybe three city councillors who stand to gain politically by being the tree champions. The councillors who will be collecting those #1 Votes are the ones who already have them from those voters who are rallying around this moratorium proposal. Any other councillors will be getting a #3 at best, and those preferences will count for nothing. On the other hand, there are a lot of homeowners – and that includes a lot of environmentally-conscious homeowners – who will not be particularly keen about having their hands tied even though they probably won’t be reaching for the axe anytime during the next 12 months.

Every week it seems like the current City Council shows just how little faith they have in the people who elect them.

UPDATE: The City Council passed to a 2nd Reading the proposed revision to the Tree Ordinance included in the Committee Report (as amended in the report). Though there was spirited public comment favoring Order #7 – the proposed moratorium and punitive fines ($300/day) for removing a significant tree, the City Council voted 5-4 to send that proposal to the Ordinance Committee for an actual hearing and possible revision. This was really the only reasonable course of action, but Councillors Zondervan and Devereux apparently feel that discretionary tree removal, even by a homeowner, is the moral equivalent of murder. Councillors Kelley, Mallon, Simmons, Toomey, and Mayor McGovern voted in favor of due process; while Councillors Carlone, Devereux, Siddiqui, and Zondervan would have preferred immediate action without any public notice. There has never been any hearing where this punitive moratorium was on the agenda and where property owners could address their concerns. Councillors Zondervan and Devereux made it quite clear that they believe that informing people after a law is passed constitutes adequate notice. Democracy, representation, and due process apparently mean little to these councillors. – RW


Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor, in consultation with the Election Commission, to report back on the legality and constitutionality of the proposed “Cambridge Publicly Financed Municipal Election Program” and the “Cambridge Municipal Election People’s Pledge.”   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley

Though I would like to see the legal opinion on these ideas, I still think they are ill-conceived for Cambridge municipal elections.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone Co-Chair and Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 29, 2018 to discuss Urban Form Recommendations from the Community Development Department.

Speaking of municipal elections….

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Co-Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui Co-Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Nov 28, 2018 to discuss the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay District and on the first annual Inclusionary Zoning report.

Here’s an idea – Let the City’s policy be simply to maintain the subsidized housing stock that already exists and add to it via Inclusionary Zoning. We’re already way ahead of the game compared to almost every other city or town in Massachusetts.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes from the 4th meeting of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force from Jan 10, 2019.

These Arts Task Force minutes sometimes read like the psychiatrist’s notes at a wacky therapy session. How does that make you feel? – RW

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