Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 3, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 259-260: Oct 3, 2017

Episode 259 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 3, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 3, 2017 at 5:30pm. Guest: Manny Lusardi, Liaison for Immigrant Affairs (Vice-Mayor’s Office). Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 260 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 3, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 3, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: Elections, Harvard Square, Volpe Petition, property taxes. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 1, 2017

Preview of Oct 2, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:43 pm

Preview of Oct 2, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere are the choice items on this week’s menu:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2018. [Tax Rate Letter]

Highlights: The FY18 property tax levy is $389,080,359, an increase of $16,406,272 or 4.4% from FY17. The 4.4% property tax levy increase is below the FY17 increase of 5.1%, and slightly above the fiveyear annual average (FY14-FY18) increase of 4.19%. With approval of the recommendations, the ten-year annual average (FY09-FY18) increase will be 4.85%. The FY18 residential tax rate will be $6.29 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.20, or -3.1% from FY17. The commercial tax rate will be $14.81, which is a decrease of $1.31, or -8.1% from FY17. In FY18, commercial property owners will pay 65.4% of the property tax levy, the same share as in FY17. Consequently, residential property owners’ share of the FY18 tax levy is 34.6%, also the same as in FY17.

Based on the FY18 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 7.87%. Total commercial property values increased by 14.36%. The median percentage tax increases for residential properties will be 2.8% for single-family homes, 5.2% for condominiums, 0.7% for two-family properties, and 1.1% for three-family properties. For FY18, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $43,619,137,030 a 10.1% increase over FY17 values.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-66, regarding additional information requested on a Grand Junction Overlay District.

This responds to a City Council request last week for additional information. We first suggested the use of this RR corridor as a bicycle/pedestrian connection in 1999 when I served on the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee. Back then I saw it primarily as a way of providing direct access to the open space and fields of Magazine Beach for the people of East Cambridge. My view now is that this would also make housing options in East Somerville and Allston more attractive for MIT students and staff and for people who work in Kendall Square and along the corridor. I really hope this becomes a reality within the next few years.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the MIT Volpe PUD-7 Zoning Petition with suggested changes. [Letter][Revised Petition][Redlined Petition]

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 13, 2017 to continue discussion on a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Center site in Kendall Square.

I am cautiously optimistic that we may see ordination of some amended form of this zoning proposal before the expiration date at the end of October. Much depends on what commitments MIT is willing to make in the weeks before ordination (independent of the disproportionate demands of the Smith, et al. petition re: graduate student housing). This really could become a great space, and I hope the planners can find room for some fun attractions, e.g. a batting cage where people can take a few swings.

Applications & Petitions #2. A Zoning Petition has been received from Peter Kroon, et al., transmitting a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that would amend the Harvard Square Overlay District.

Read the petition and draw your own conclusions, but my read of this petition is that it wants to bring some of the best features of the recently ordained Central Square Restoration Petition up to Harvard Square, e.g. the transition from regulating "fast food" to instead regulating "formula businesses". It also prioritizes housing in the upper floors of any taller new buildings. (Don’t worry, there’s no towers expected anytime soon.)

Resolution #11. Congratulations to the Central Square Business Association for a successful Dumpling Fest and Central Flea.   Mayor Simmons

Special thanks go to Michael Monastime, the new Wizard of Central Square, for pulling off one of the biggest daytime attractions Central Square has seen in years.

Resolution #12. Congratulations on Bill Cavellini, Bernard LaCasse and the Cambridge Arts Council on a successful restoration of the "Beat the Belt" Mural.   Mayor Simmons

I wish I could have attended the dedication. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who helped.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City departments with the view in mind of implementing systems in Harvard Square.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung

The order contains a generally good list of suggestions for transportation and public amenities in the Harvard Square area. I hope that the inclusion of more bicycle lanes doesn’t translate into additional mistakes like the Brattle Street Lanes of Confusion.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested, in as timely manner as possible, to determine if Cambridge can legally assist DACA beneficiaries by collecting donations from individuals and organizations. Managing and dispersing such raised donations on a reimbursement basis to Cambridge DACA beneficiaries.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Cambridge works with plenty of nonprofits and religious entities that can provide the suggested services without running afoul of any state laws.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to create a volunteer bike registry program that can accept donations that will go to fund environmentally friendly projects in the City.   Councillor Toomey

I would register my bike in a heartbeat and agree to adhere to any and all traffic laws. (I already do.) That said, I don’t know that we would see much tangible benefit from such a voluntary program. If it could convince more cyclists to take more seriously their responsibilities as road users perhaps there might be some marginal benefit.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of subsidizing the rate of the “100% Green” option in the Cambridge Community Electricity Program to ease any financial burden that residents who want to use entirely renewable energy may feel when purchasing, using existing income thresholds such as the Fuel Assistance Program.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

This is a very slippery slope. Relatively few residents opted into the more expensive “100% Green” option because people generally make rational economic choices. Just because City officials feel that choosing this option is a worthy goal doesn’t mean that taxpayers should be subsidizing it. Buying groceries from the local market may be a worthy goal in support of local businesses, but many of us will still do much of our shopping at Costco and Market Basket. Should taxpayers pick up the difference if we do all our shopping locally? I don’t think so. – Robert Winters

September 19, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 257-258: Sept 19, 2017

Episode 257 – Cambridge InsideOut: September 19, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 19, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics: elections, endorsements, Harvard Square, Sept 18 Council meeting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 258 – Cambridge InsideOut: September 19, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 19, 2017 at 6:00pm. Guest: Cambridge School Committee candidate Piotr Mitros. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]
[Piotr Mitros Candidate Page]

August 8, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 247-248: August 8, 2017

Episode 247 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 8, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 8, 2017 at 5:30pm. Main topics included agenda items from the Aug 7 City Council meeting, especially the ordination of the Short-Term Rental Zoning Petition. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Episode 248 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 8, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 8, 2017 at 6:00pm. Main topics included agenda items from the Aug 7 City Council meeting, especially the MIT/Volpe Petition, controversy over segregated bike lanes, and an unsuccessful late effort to place a ballot question on the November ballot regarding publicly funded municipal campaigns. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

July 25, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 243-244: July 25, 2017

Episode 243 – Cambridge InsideOut: July 25, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast July 25, 2017 at 5:30pm. The main topic was the Cambridge municipal election and its many candidates as well as some history of Cambridge’s PR elections. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Episode 244 – Cambridge InsideOut: July 25, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast July 25, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included upcoming events and some observations re: Harvard Square activism. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

June 12, 2017

Coming up at the June 12, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:07 am

Coming up at the June 12, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

It’s a loaded agenda this week. Not so many Council Orders, but plenty on the City Manager’s Agenda and Committee Reports. Here are a few brief comments on some of these matters.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for authorization to transfer a leasehold interest in the property at 1-15 Vail Court to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust and to appropriation $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures to facilitate the abatement and demolition of the existing structures on the site.

The Vail Court project slowly moves along. In an ideal world there would be a more comprehensive plan for not only the Vail Court property but also the adjacent parking lot at Prospect St. and Bishop Allen Drive that could transform that whole block into something great. I haven’t heard anything lately regarding challenges to the compensation for the eminent domain taking.

Vail Court - 2013
Vail Court in 2013

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-4, regarding current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community.

The gift that keeps on giving. </sarcasm>

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-39, regarding a report on the City’s policy of conducting CORI checks on applicants of the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

As the Manager’s letter notes: "It is a state requirement that every staff person or volunteer who works with children in a licensed summer camp or a childcare setting must have gone thru the CORI process." Indeed, even those of us who teach at Harvard Summer School have to submit to this every year. However, as the letter says: "The CORI record results are not used in any way to deny young people an opportunity to participate in the Mayor’s Program." Seems fair enough.


Community Benefits $$

Manager’s Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Community Benefits Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2017: Kathryn Fenneman, Risa Mednick, Elizabeth Aguilo, Cibele Goncalves, Daniel Liss, Rowan Murphy, Amy Salomon, Geeta Pradhan, Susan Lapierre, Paul Parravano, Ellen Semonoff, Sandra Clarke, and Lisa Peterson (Chair)

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,728,500 from Free Cash to the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,366,506 from Free Cash to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund.

This represents the culmination of an idea that was first proposed some years ago – namely that instead of "mitigation" being worked out in what sometimes were side deals with individual councillors in order to gain their support, money is now to be deposited into the General Fund, worthy recipients and projects will be vetted by the advisory committee, and then ultimately voted by a majority of the City Council. I’m still not sure how this would work for donations of real property (as was the case with the Foundry Building).


A Bonanza of Planning Board Reports

Manager’s Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Zoning Petition regarding rooftop spaces in the Harvard Square Overlay District.

"…the Board believes that a more comprehensive examination of Harvard Square’s zoning needs, including community discussion, should be undertaken before implementing a single limited zoning change."

Manager’s Agenda #23. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the petition to rezone the block bounded by Third Street, Cambridge Street, Second Street and Gore Street from Business A to a new designation Business A-5.

"…the Board believes that this petition would benefit from additional study and input from the community to determine if it should stand alone or if there should be a broader vision for the area as a whole, and also to determine the range of impacts such change(s) might have. Some of this study may occur in the future as the Envision Cambridge process focuses on major corridors, including Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street."

Manager’s Agenda #24. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Observatory Hill Village (Mahon, et al.) Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 18, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by the Friends of Observatory Hill Village to establish the Observatory Hill Village Overlay District.

According to the petitioners, "the zoning petition was submitted to preserve the business residential mix [in this 3-block long stretch of Concord Ave.]. Developers have an economic interest and an incentive to replace commercial retail buildings with high end housing. This puts the businesses at risk." It seems likely that this petition is headed for re-working and re-filing.

Manager’s Agenda #25. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation (no recommendation at this time) on the Zoning Petition regarding vacant or abandoned buildings.

The key sentence here is: "The Board also believes that the proposed fee structure needs to be reconsidered, especially in consultation with the Law Department as to the legality of certain of its provisions." Basically, the fee that was proposed is a clear regulatory taking and could never pass legal muster. Perhaps if they can replace that with something reasonable this petition could be re-filed and perhaps some good will come of it.

Manager’s Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the City Council Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 31, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to create a new chapter 4.60 to regulate short-term rentals (STR).

There may be some additional details to be ironed out prior to ordination, but this is the petition that seems destined to pass. It will likely be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting and enter the queue for ordination in a couple of weeks or at the Midsummer meeting in August at the latest. The petition expires Aug 29.

Manager’s Agenda #27. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Cockrill, et al., Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 24, 2017 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et al. to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.

This petition was apparently filed by industry people who favor the proliferation of short-term rentals with minimal regulation. It won’t be ordained and the City Council would be wise to just let it die without even being passed to a 2nd Reading. It’s interesting that the first signer after whom the petition is named doesn’t even support it. In the committee report Councillor Devereux suggests that in light of this fact the City should reconsider how petitions are named. In fact, there’s already an established precedent for this situation. In the year 2000 the "Yoder Petition" was renamed the "Tringo Petition" when Ralph Yoder stated that he no longer supported the petition that bore his name. The new name was derived from the second signature on the petition. Perhaps we should now refer to the "Cockrill Petition" as the "Stonehouse Petition" after the next valid signature on the petition, but for all we know he may not support it either. Seriously, the petitioners should really be taken to the woodshed for how they pushed this petition.


Manager’s Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-7, regarding an update on the City’s Community Choice Electricity Aggregation Plan.

I’m now almost convinced that this may be a good thing. I’ve been getting offers for several years now from energy companies who want me to sign up with them and lock in a reduced rate. The Eversource rate is then often later adjusted to be lower, so I’ve always told them to take a hike. Apparently, with the City’s arrangement I could go back to Eversource at any time if I don’t like the relative cost, so I suppose I’ll just go along. It’s an opt-out arrangement, so many of us will just allow laziness to prevail.

Manager’s Agenda #34. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to be used to conduct geotechnical, and environmental services to support the site assessment for a Concept Plan to site the new school on Callahan Field and future Feasibility Study for the Tobin School project.

This could yield an attractive option to construct the new school adjacent to the existing school. The entire area used to be brickyards and then landfill.

Manager’s Agenda #36. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Department Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for the citywide curbside organics program.

If all goes well we could have citywide organics collection possibly by next April. This appropriation will provide for purchase of a rubbish packer and purchase and delivery of curbside bins, kitchen collector pails and other materials and services necessary to roll out the program to approximately 20,000 households (in addition to the 5,200 households on the Monday trash route that currently have organics collection).

Order #2. That the City Council condemn President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and urge Governor Charles D. Baker to publicly commit to ensuring that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts similarly adheres to the goals and ideals of the Paris Climate Agreement.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Nobody should be surprised by the introduction of this City Council order. My guess is that neither the Commonwealth nor the City will be changing any plans as a result of the bloviations of the current occupant of the White House.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to determine how Visual Preference Surveys (VPS) could be incorporated into the planning and zoning process.   Councillor Carlone

I did one of these surveys not long ago. It seemed like a useful exercise for things like building heights relative to street width and how retail fits in with residential. That said, I don’t know that it would be wise to make this a binding requirement so much as an advisory measure of public support for various options. I hate to think where we’d be if every proposed change was subject to plebiscite.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the License Commission with the intent of formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor license.   Councillor Toomey

The value of liquor licenses may go the way of taxicab medallions. I have sympathy for someone who sank a lot of money into the purchase of a liquor license from an existing license-holder, but the old phrase "caveat emptor" still applies. Taxpayers should not be asked to bear the lost value of something freely purchased by a willing buyer from a willing seller. Times change. The loss of value of a license in no way reduces the ability to operate a business profitably.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on May 22, 2017 to discuss the creation of a section in the agenda entitled “General Council Discussion;” and dedications to identify a suitable location site to honor the commitment to the City made by City Councillor and State Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. and to identify an appropriate building to dedicate to Richard C. Rossi’s decades of service to Cambridge.

I attended and gave testimony during the first part of this meeting. The topic grew out of a City Council order from Councillor Kelley to carve out a section in the City Council agenda where any councillor could inform his colleagues what he’s been working on in a manner that doesn’t violate the Open Meeting Law. What interested me is the emergent (and questionable) practice of some councillors holding unpublicized and essentially private meetings leading to policy proposals. There is a better way. Any councillor can give adequate notice and hold a public meeting of an ad-hoc committee (possibly with just one councillor) on any topic. Anyone interested in that topic could then attend and possibly provide useful input.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 23, 2017 to discuss a proposed Municipal Code amendment to Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.”

It looks like the City Council may finally be running with the Running Bamboo Ordinance. Now they’ll have start thinking about the next thing to be banned. – Robert Winters

May 9, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 225-226: May 9, 2017

Episode 225 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 9, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 9, 2017 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was our guest co-host this week. Topics included the death of former City Councillor Bob Moncrieff, vacancies on the Central Square and Harvard Square Advisory Committees, Participatory Budgeting, and the Outstanding City Employee Awards. Host: Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 226 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 9, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 9, 2017 at 6:00pm. Patrick Barrett was our guest co-host this week. Topics included the misbehavior of a city councillor at last week’s Budget Hearing; this week’s Budget Hearings; the AirBnB Question; and the issue of long-term vacant properties and how best to deal with them. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 1, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 209-210: February 28, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 209 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 28, 2017 at 5:30pm. Our guest was School Committee member Kathleen Kelly who spoke about the School Department budget, enrollment, and lots more. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 210 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 28, 2017 at 6:00pm. The main topic was the Feb 27 City Council meeting, including the unanimous ordination of the Central Square Restoration Petition. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

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