Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 6, 2019

More Monday Madness – May 6, 2019 Cambridge City Council Curiosities

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:29 am

More Monday Madness – May 6, 2019 Cambridge City Council Curiosities

The Nine will again convene to recite their ABCs. Here are a few things I thought looked marginally interesting:City Hall

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-143, regarding requiring a Business Entity’s Beneficial Ownership and Residential Real Estate Beneficial Ownership Transactions be Disclosed in all Cambridge Real Estate Transactions.

I would certainly like to know who is gobbling up Cambridge real estate and apparently there may be a way to get some of this information. I am a bit curious about the questions posed by our esteemed City Solicitor, specifically: "would it apply to both for-profit and non-profit organizations; would it apply to trusts, or only to corporations; and if the corporation’s beneficial owner is another corporation, would the disclosure of the name of that other corporation be sufficient?" My cynicism leads me to believe that no matter what disclosure requirement might be established there will always be a way to obscure things. That said, I am steadily becoming more distrustful of the City’s possible intent in getting hold of this information. It is becoming clear that our ever-controlling City Council has preferences regarding which entities should own property in Cambridge.

Applications & Petitions #5. A petition was received from residents at Thomas Graves Landing opposing PUD-8 by New England Development requesting Special Permit to exceed the 85′ height limit at CambridgeSide.

I honestly don’t know how to feel about all this. The Cambridgeside Galeria could use a little re-envisioning (though perhaps a less loaded term would be preferable). First Street is a failure by any standard, and shopping centers all over are being reinvented as mixed-use developments. The Galeria owners apparently are seeking heights up to 185 feet. Is that necessary or desirable in order to reinvent the complex? Is anyone in the City administration looking at the Bigger Picture (and I don’t mean height) that includes the Galeria complex, the not-too-distant Sullivan Courthouse development (assuming that doesn’t become a Million Dollar Per Unit Affordable Housing Contradiction), the future redevelopment of the Lechmere site after the Green Line Extension relocates the station, and what is sure to be a very different-looking McGrath/O’Brien Highway? [By the way, did anyone ever talk about any of this during the "Envision" process?]

Applications & Petitions #6. A Zoning Petition has been received from the Self Storage Group, regarding a revised Zoning Petition seeking to create the New Street Overlay District. Based on the feedback received concerning their earlier petition.

This is the 2nd pass at this.

Order #1. City Council support of bills opposing Weymouth Compressor Station/Fracked Gas.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I do have an opinion about this, but I’m afraid to say it publicly lest I have Mothers Out Front of my house holding signs.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Police Department and other relevant City staff on how media collected by hand-held photo/video recording devices is used, stored, and shared.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Siddiqui

Perhaps we can reinvent the Fusion Center as a suburban mall for people who don’t trust the government.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department and the License Commission to establish a "play streets" permit.   Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui

I actually like ideas like this. An easier solution would be to just post Do Not Enter signs at both ends of the street.

Order #8. Welcoming Community Ordinance.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux

As near as I can tell, this is mainly a rebranding of "Sanctuary City" as "Welcoming City" just to confuse the President.

Committee Report #1. 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 Apr 25, 2019 at 6:00pm in the Sullivan Chamber to continue discussion on the Affordable Housing Overlay District and other related matters.

This travesty is apparently not yet filed as a zoning petition. The proposed Order contained in the committee report says: "ORDERED: That the Housing Committee requests that the Chairs of the Ordinance Committee schedule hearings to further review and discuss the attached draft of the proposed citywide Affordable Housing Overlay District as prepared by the Community Development Department." It will be rammed through soon enough as a zoning petition and the clock will then start ticking.

Will there actually be any substantive discussions or just continuous streams of virtue signaling and innuendo directed toward anyone who questions the "wisdom" of this proposal to have different zoning codes for different players? Will there be a sunset provision or will this stand as a permanent policy to transform private property to "social ownership" in the Peoples Republik of Cambridge? Will this relieve our neighboring cities and towns from the burden of zoning modifications to permit multifamily housing? Inquiring minds want to know. The jury is still out regarding the minds of our elected councillors. – Robert Winters

UPDATE: Councillor Simmons amended the Order contained in the Housing Committee report to formally send the Subsidized Housing Overlay to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board as a zoning petition. Nobody objected. The clock is now ticking. The juggernaut continues.

The City Council also ordained the Accessory Dwelling Unit Zoning as amended on an 8-0-1 vote (McGovern ABSENT).

May 1, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 391-392: April 30, 2019

Episode 391 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 30, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 30, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Affordable Housing Overlay proposal; broken zoning; the value of building market rate housing; luxury housing that isn’t; virtue signalling and politics. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 392 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 30, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 30, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Retail vacancies – right and wrong solutions; problematic zoning; amateur cannabis regulation; Freakonomics. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

April 24, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 389-390: April 23, 2019

Episode 389 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 23, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 23, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: FY2020 Budget; Central Square Business Improvement District (BID) petition filed; cities reshaping themselves. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 390 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 23, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 23, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Webster Ave. bike alternatives; Eversource substation and misperceptions of risk; Courthouse opportunistic politics; cannabis proliferation; no-excuse absentee voting, lowering voting age, and non-citizen voting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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]

April 8, 2019

For What It’s Worth – Select Items on the April 8, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

For What It’s Worth – Select Items on the April 8, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

These agenda items seem marginally interesting:

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,280,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Library Extraordinary Expenditure account to support the creation of a new STEAM creativity zone, The Hive, at the Cambridge Public Library.

I have been a mathematics teacher for decades and currently have many future engineers in my MIT classroom, so of course I think this is a great step forward. On the other hand, I am also mindful that when computers became standard in households and we were supposedly entering a "paperless society", inkjet printers proliferated and more paper was wasted than ever before. On the other hand, digital media killed off much of print media – less paper I suppose, but overall maybe not the best thing. Right now, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) is all the rage (as it should be), but will STEAM initiatives actually accomplish the desired goals or will we just have another facility or program that’s not well-utilized? It’s all in the details and implementation. Is mathematics proficiency in the Cambridge Public Schools really where it should be? Will this initiative help? I sure hope so.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Department of Human Services to develop a plan for implementation of a City-Wide Workforce Development Consortium.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons

The goal behind this order may well be the single most important goal expressed during the otherwise uninspired "Envision Cambridge" exercise. Matching people growing up in Cambridge to the economic opportunities all around us matters more than all the virtue-signaling, intrusive other initiatives that have been thrust to the forefront. Earning a good income will open more doors and provide economic security than anything else. This obviously requires people to be qualified for those jobs. See above. Wishful thinking is not empowerment.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to compile a full accounting of streets, schools, and public buildings that may be named in honor of those who have ties to the American slave trade, and to work towards renaming all of these streets, schools, and buildings as soon as possible.   Councillor Simmons

I just want to know what the new names will be for Jefferson Park and Jefferson Street.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works to provide an update on the small business recycling program pilot indicating any recalibration or reconsideration of the proposed program that may be necessary and any plans for expansion.   Councillor Toomey

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works to provide an update on the feasibility study of expanding curbside composting program to small businesses and non-profits by the end of 2019.   Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon

I will once again remind everyone that Councillor Toomey has the longest record for supporting recycling initiatives in the history of Cambridge, and he practices what he preaches.

MBTA Red LineOrder #9. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to review whether the MBTA is out of compliance with the amended MBTA/BCIL settlement agreement through the delay in completion of the elevator replacement and concurrent hazardous condition of the stairwells related to Central Square.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon

Each major T Station should have a dedicated stationmaster who advocates for the needs of their respective stations. Instead, we get red-jacketed "ambassadors" who spend more time chatting with each other than assisting passengers. The problem with the MBTA is their own bureaucracy. Bureaucrats should try paying more attention to bricks and stairs and elevators and all the other things that passengers deal with every day. This is not rocket science.

Order #18. That the City Council go on record in support of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW’s demands for a fair contract now, with fair wages, benefits and a fair and neutral procedure for adjudicating workplace harassment and discrimination.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

I think some people have the mistaken perspective that being a graduate student is a career. Fairness yes, but in perspective. Get your degree and move on.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Co-Chair and Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Co-Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Mar 5, 2019 to continue discussions on the Affordable Housing Overlay District.

The juggernaut continues even as my respect for city councillors plummets. A bad proposal is still a bad proposal even if you believe "we have to do something." – Robert Winters

April 2, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 385-386: April 2, 2019

Episode 385 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 2, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 2, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: The Subsidized Housing Overlay proposal; political misrepresentation. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 386 – Cambridge InsideOut: Apr 2, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Apr 2, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Municipal candidates; rent control and tenant displacement; upcoming events; a word on applying to serve on City Boards & Commissions; political uprisings/opportunism in East Cambridge. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 25, 2019

A Few Items of Interest – March 25, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:13 am

A Few Items of Interest – March 25, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Peoples Republic of CambridgeIt is getting more difficult every week to watch and listen to this City Council, but here are a few things that have at least some interest::

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-114, regarding bicycle signage on Brattle Street.

The City’s transportation planners acknowledged that they did at one point consider restoring the one-way section of Brattle Street to two-way operation at reduced speed, but they chose instead to go with only the segregated two-way bike lane. The problems associated with this configuration are many, especially at the Brattle Square end, and all the signage in the world will not cure them.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2019 and ending Mar 31, 2020. [Manager’s Letter] [Order]

Continuing the pattern of the last several years, there will be no increase in the water rate, but there will be a 7% increase in the sewer rate yielding an overall 5.2% increase in the water/sewer combined rate.

  Annual
Consumption*
FY19
Water Rate
FY20
Proposed
Water Rate
FY19
Sewer
Rate
FY20 Proposed
Sewer Rate
Block 1 0 – 40 CcF $3.02 $3.02 $11.00 $11.77
Block 2 41 – 400 CcF $3.24 $3.24 $11.63 $12.44
Block 3 401 – 2,000 CcF $3.44 $3.44 $12.49 $13.36
Block 4 2,001 – 10,000 CcF $3.65 $3.65 $13.45 $14.39
Block 5 Over 10,000 CcF $3.96 $3.96 $14.30 $15.30

*All rates are per CcF. CcF is an abbreviation of 100 cubic feet. One CcF is approximately 750 gallons.

Charter Right #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]

Ripe for misinterpretation.

Applications & Petitions #2. A Zoning Petition has been received from Hemenway & Barnes LLP. on behalf of Verizon New England Inc., seeking to amend the Zoning Map to certain provisions of Article 20 of the Zoning Ordinance to allow the creation of a "Ware Street Innovation Space" Overlay District. Note that Ware Street is the only property affected by this petition.

This seems like a good idea for this seriously anomalous old telephone switching building on Ware Street, but it does seem odd that this change is being proposed via zoning petition rather than by seeking a variance. I expect we will again have to be tutored on what is and what is not considered "spot zoning".

Order #6. That a Roundtable meeting be scheduled for Tues, Apr 9, 2019, at 5:30pm in the Sullivan Chamber, City Hall, for the purpose of discussing the Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay proposal.   Mayor McGovern

This aberrant "Overlay" proposal that would trash all expectations associated with zoning districts across the city continues like a runaway train. The whole concept is based on a perversion of zoning that says that certain parties may play by one set of rules while others must play by a different set of rules. Zoning is really all about managing expectations, and if this proposal passes all such expectations will change whenever a property changes hands. If you think that the maximum height and density in an area will shape what can be built, you will have to abandon that expectation and accept the fact that you will no longer have a right to even object. Furthermore, if you have issues with this proposal expect to have your reputation trashed as easy as ABC. There are good cases to be made for allowing some additional density where it makes sense, but those are not before this City Council.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City staff to examine the need and possibility of implementing the Pilot Displacement Preference program in Cambridge, especially when new housing is constructed in an existing neighborhood where displacement is occurring.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

There may be some worthwhile ideas embedded within, but the bottom line is that this City Council apparently doesn’t believe that people can sort things out without their intervention, and that the composition of neighborhoods in Cambridge, Boston, and elsewhere should never change.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to double the annual funding (from the FY19 Adopted Budget) over the next 3 to 5 years to reach a combined total minimum of $30 million per year (plus any additional use of “Free Cash”) in the areas of Affordable housing construction, tree canopy, Preschool enrollment scholarships/space, Central Square revitalization and Cultural Arts District and the arts in general.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

Take note of the fact that part of the sales pitch for the "Overlay" proposal is that it would yield only modest changes based on available funding. In advertising this is known as the "soft sell". This Order asks that this funding be dramatically increased. Furthermore, there are also proposals pending for a Real Estate Transfer Tax that could potentially lead to even more dramatic increases. The "Overlay" proposal would permanently lock in place a mechanism by which privately-owned residential property will be transitioned to "social ownership" and a future where access to much of the city’s housing will be done via application to the local government.

Deed restrictions on such housing translate into the fact that they pay only the bare legal minimum in real estate taxes, so that tax burden will be transferred to the remaining unregulated housing. The remedy for that may well be to significantly increase commercial development. I will be very surprised if any of the current group of councillors even discuss these long-term effects. They really should scrap the whole concept and start from scratch. – 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]

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