Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 18, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 339-340: Sept 18, 2018

Episode 339 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 18, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 18, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: 3rd CD recount result, the case for Ranked Choice Voting, recycling updates, electric scooters, retail and vacant storefronts. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 340 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 18, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 18, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Sept 17 City Council meeting, Inman Sq. configuration to move ahead, rainwater and flat roof zoning petition, Envision Cambridge updates (Affordable Housing Overlay, Super-Inclusionary Zoning, Environment Performance Incentive proposals), and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 16, 2018

Pre-Fall – Select menu items from the Sept 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:50 pm

Pre-Fall – Select menu items from the Sept 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallThe boys and girls return to the playground this week. Here are a few things that caught my eye.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) for FY2019.

80% housing, 10% open space, 10% historic preservation – same as every year. Not negotiable.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommended appointment of the following person as a member of the Cambridge Housing Authority for a term of 5 years: Elaine DeRosa

I cannot think of a better choice for this important appointment.

Committee Report #3. 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 Wed, June 20, 2019 to discuss the potential for a City-based Cannabis Social Equity Program, focusing on ways to reduce barriers to entry in the commercial Cannabis industry.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Cannabis Zoning Petition with suggested revisions and additional considerations.

I’m a little curious about this: "Board members suggested further study of whether mobile facilities could be allowed, given that a mobile facility operating on a temporary basis might provide lower barriers to entry for small businesses that cannot afford typical retail rents." Are they talking about pot trucks to go along with the food trucks? When I was a kid there was a Good Humor Man who got caught selling dope out of his ice cream truck. Nowadays they’d just call that economic empowerment.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following persons as a members of the Library Board of Trustees: Karen Kosko, Patricia Payne and Nancy Woods.

Excellent appointments all around.

Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from the Office of the Mayor McGovern requesting permission for a temporary banner across Massachusetts Avenue in front of City Hall promoting the Indigenous Peoples’ Day from Oct 3, 2018 thru Oct 15, 2018.

Most people just celebrate this as Day Off. No banner necessary.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Frances (DeGuglielmo) Tingle.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

Resolution #6. Retirement of Attorney David Sullivan from the Massachusetts State Senate.   Mayor McGovern

Resolution #29. Retirement of William"Bill" Dwyer from the Department of Public Works.   Mayor McGovern

One thing not everyone knows is that the Department of Public Works is a community with many people who work for decades, sometimes their entire working life, within DPW. Retirements of people like Bill Dwyer are a very big deal indeed.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department to establish a Senior Living Overlay District at the current site of Sancta Maria Nursing Facility to encourage and incentivize redevelopment specifically for continuum of care services.   Councillor Mallon

I think we’re starting to get a bit too prescriptive with Cambridge zoning, especially with the introduction of "overlay districts" for every imaginable use. Many of us would like to see opportunities for senior living or a place where artists can flourish. We would also like places to buy affordable groceries. Is the creation of an overlay district to dictate one use while preventing other potential good uses the right way to go? It’s one thing to classify land use as residential, commercial, industrial, etc., but how far down should this categorization go?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments and relevant housing partners to aggressively attempt to obtain, or help others obtain, the Santa Maria property for purposes of affordable housing.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern

Whatever happened to the idea of a relocated Public Works Yard? I’m not necessarily recommending this, but putting DPW on Concord Ave. and building mixed-income housing on the current DPW site isn’t a crazy idea.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Police Commissioner to increase enforcement of the Bike Lane Bill to keep our bicycle infrastructure free and unobstructed.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Does this apply to Really Bad Bicycle Infrastructure (RBBI)?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the tax status, zoning history, and sale of The Constellation Center’s Parcel C in Kendall Square.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey

Anyone who has followed this knew this Order would eventually come. That will be an interesting and likely fruitless journey down the road of Retroactive Zoning & Tax Classification. Looking forward would make a lot more sense, but I’m sure I’ll find the history interesting.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Economic Development Division to regularly update the vacant property database as well as review the strategies presented in the Storefront Vacancies Best Practices Report and report back on the feasibility of implementing these recommendations.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I testified recently at a follow-up meeting of this committee about the potential unintended consequences of encouraging "pop up" businesses to occupy vacant spaces at (presumably) much lower rents than nearby businesses. I can easily see a seasonable "pop up" store showing up and stealing all the holiday business away from an existing business. The temporary filling of a vacant store could then lead to another vacancy.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to provide a legal opinion on a Motion to Rescind.   Councillor Zondervan

Order #14. That the City Council rescind its vote of July 30, 2018 failing to send the climate safety (Brown, et al) petition to a second reading, thereby taking no action on the petition.   Councillor Zondervan

Our petulant Councillor Zondervan continues to stomp his feet in protest over the failure of the Nakagawa-Brown petition to be passed to a 2nd Reading. First he tried to file reconsideration, and now he wants to go for the legislative equivalent of annulment. I am not a lawyer (IANAL) and I have no prior knowledge of anyone ever looking to do pull a "Motion to Rescind" on a prior vote, but consider the ramifications of such a thing. A local legislature votes on a zoning matter (one way or another) and the matter is finalized. A property owner then happily goes to the bank to secure financing now that the road has been cleared. Then a month or so later the local legislature comes back and cries "Do Over" like that annoying kid who didn’t like the fact that the other kids prevailed in the ball game.

Committee Report #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 Aug 13, 2018 to discuss revisions to the proposed Municipal Code amendment to create a new chapter 12.22 entitled “Surveillance Technology Ordinance;” said revisions were submitted to the City Council on June 25, 2018.

The interesting aspect of this (at least to me) is the legal separation of authority under the City Charter. The City Council may be the body that sets general policies, but can you imagine the ensuing chaos of having the Cambridge City Council micromanaging how the Cambridge Police Department conducts its day-to-day operations or how it responds to an emergency situation? It’s one thing to set parameters and maintain a dialogue, but police investigations should not be arbitrarily constrained by people trained more in politics than in police work.

Committee Report #6. 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 July 23, 2018 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 10.17 entitled “Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance” in section 10.17.070 entitled “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers.”

I attended this meeting. My impression is that we have several elected officials who have never seen a fee increase or a tax increase that they didn’t embrace and celebrate. The simplest way to understand fees is to make clear the distinction with taxes. A fee pays for a service, and the money raised has to support that service. It’s not just another revenue source like a tax that can be used for whatever pet project a councillor wants to support. Personally, I find the notion of renewing a parking sticker every year a bit ridiculous. We accept it only because we’re familiar with the routine (and the long lines for some). A much better system would be to pay a one-time fee for a sticker that’s good for as long as you own the vehicle and still live in Cambridge. It would be easy to encode the sticker for easy verification against City databases. The only people waiting on lines would then be for new residents or new vehicles.

Committee Report #8. 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 Aug 8, 2018 to discuss City Council petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Article 5.000 as it relates to rainwater and flat roofs.

As an owner of a triple-decker with a flat roof, I completely understand the concerns about clogged drains and why someone might seek an alternative design. The ideas in this zoning petition have merit. The only issue should be how to ensure that one person’s cure is not another person’s cause of trouble, i.e. rainwater being diverted to an unwelcome place. – Robert Winters

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 337-338: Sept 11, 2018

Episode 337 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 11, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 11, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Sept 11 comments, modern campaign realities, Primary Election results, 3rd Congressional District recount, Ranked Choice Voting, and Bill Galvin. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 338 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 11, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 11, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: 3rd CD recount, the case for Ranked Choice Voting, shortcomings of top-two runoffs, Capuano-Pressley election outcome and dynamics, voter turnout, November election outlook, some history of Question 9 (rent control), return of the City Council, Inman Sq. redesign questions, Envision Cambridge updates – development scenarios and likely pushback, quadrupling density and the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay, and ignoring traffic issues. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

July 30, 2018

Endless Summer – July 30, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:30 am

Endless Summer – July 30, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallThe City Council’s one summertime Special Meeting is this Monday. The actual number of agenda items is not unusually high for a Midsummer meeting, but the 1001 page package of Council materials surely must have violated some City tree ordinance or another. The likely big draw will be the Nakagawa-Brown Petition (which goes by various other marketing names) – the latest in a multi-decade effort to slow new construction in Cambridge. There’s also a proposed ordinance for how to regulate marijuana sales in our emerging world of people neutralized by mind-numbing cellphones, apps that erode personal navigational abilities, and substances that dull your mind.

Here are the agenda items I found either interesting, refreshing, or ridiculous – with minimal comment:

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-57, regarding a report on launching a program during the summer months to activate the front lawn of City Hall in the afternoons with games.


Manager’s Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Douglas Brown, et al., Zoning Petition.

Order #13. That the City Manager, with input from Mayor McGovern and the City Council, is requested to appoint an advisory committee to work through resiliency elements raised during the Envision process and through the Brown petition and report back to the City Council, with the input of the appropriate City agencies and departments.   Councillor Toomey

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 June 27, 2018 to discuss the Zoning petition received from Douglas Brown et al to amend the zoning Section 20.70 Flood Overlay district and creation of a new Section 22.80 – Green Factor.

An enormous number of letters of formal opposition to the Nakagawa-Brown Petition.

The protest letters may represent a sufficiently high percentage of the affected land area that a super-duper majority of 7 of 9 votes would be needed for this zoning amendment to pass. [If you need my 0.07 acres to cross the threshold, let me know.] That said, it probably couldn’t muster 5 votes and will likely be allowed to expire without coming to a vote. There may be a few ideas contained in the petition that could be useful if revised and brought up in a different context, e.g. incentives for better use of privately owned open space and/or recommendations for greater resiliency in building infrastructure. The worst aspect of this petition, in my humble opinion, is that it is being sold as a "climate safety petition" as if the goal was to protect people when it’s primarily about limiting growth (which is a perfectly rational goal, but just be honest about it). Some of its supporters have even gone so far as to suggest that failure to pass this would be "immoral".

By the way, it’s not just the possibility of derailing the renovations to the Miller’s River Apartments that makes this petition problematic, and a few nit-picky amendments to carve out exceptions won’t make it any better. This petition would throw an enormous percentage of the city’s buildings into nonconformity and could turn even the most basic building modifications into an expensive legal nightmare. There’s also an apparent belief that property owners are incapable of making rational economic choices, e.g. taking steps to minimize future costly damage due to heavy rains or storm surges. The petitioners have apparently decided that only they can ensure your personal safety.


Update: Based on concerns that this proposed zoning amendment would jeopardize funding for the Millers River renovations as well as other proposed affordable housing projects, the City Council chose to move the petition to a 2nd Reading for the purpose of having that vote fail (which it did on a 4-5 vote with Councillors Carlone, Devereux, Kelley, and Zondervan voting to pass to a 2nd Reading and Councillors Mallon, Siddiqui, Simmons, Toomey, and Mayor McGovern voting against passing to a 2nd Reading). This not only ends the life of this petition but also prevents its reintroduction for the next two years. After the vote, Councillor Toomey made a motion for "Suspension of the Rules for the purpose of Reconsideration hoping the same will not prevail" – a parliamentary move to finalize the vote. That first requires that the Rules be suspended which requires 6 votes, and it failed on a 5-4 vote with those who had voted against passing to a 2nd Reading voting for Suspension of the Rules. That leaves open the possibility that one aggrieved councillor may file for Reconsideration of the vote – a pointless gesture that would most likely lead to a hastily scheduled Special Meeting solely to vote on Reconsideration which would yield no change in the outcome – only delay. [PS – Councillor Zondervan turned out to be that aggrieved councillor who filed for Reconsideration. The only problem is that, as I suspected, under Robert’s Rules of Order (not this Robert) a member has to be on the prevailing side of a vote in order to be able to file for Reconsideration. In this case the prevailing side was the vote NOT to pass to a 2nd Reading, so Councillor Zondervan was ineligible.]

It was pointed out over and over at the meeting that most of the elements of the petition with any merit were already in discussion and being considered both within City departments and City task forces and as part of the Envision Cambridge process. – RW


Manager’s Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a draft zoning petition concerning the regulation of cannabis establishments in the City of Cambridge in response to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-75. [Cannabis Zone Map]

My prediction: Legal marijuana shops will sell the expensive stuff and the riff raff will still buy from other sources. Also, let’s face it – so-called "medical marijuana dispensaries" were always intended to be a first step toward recreational pot shops. I hope they can at least bring back the Peter Max posters and lava lamps from the head shops of my youth.


Manager’s Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-14, regarding a report on applying for a Targeted Brownfields Assessment grant for Jerry’s Pond.


Three rambling and incoherent communications regarding Magazine Beach from the inevitable Robert LaTrémouille.

Five communications from the ever-colorful Peter Valentine – who always means well.


Resolution #7. Retirement of Ellen Shacter from the Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

Resolution #18. Resolution on the death of George Teso.   Councillor Toomey

Resolution #19. Resolution on the death of Richelle Robinson.   Councillor Simmons


Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council for an update on the Grand Junction Overlay District in September.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate staff from the City, MassDOT, the Federal Railroad Administration, the MBTA and any other organization with jurisdiction over the Sherman Street train crossing and related train traffic with the goal of implementing whatever street and intersection changes are necessary to get this area re-designated a “quiet zone.”   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Toomey

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City departments on what attempts were made to discuss with Lesley University or the Episcopal Divinity School about purchasing the property for affordable housing development and the results of any such discussion.   Councillor Toomey

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City departments to establish an action plan to work with the City’s Community-Based Organizations to create a network of summertime evening programming to reduce the threat of violence in the City’s public spaces in 2019 and beyond.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Mallon

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to adopt a policy of replacing any failed 4000K LED streetlights with warmer alternatives as opportunities arise, and offering shielding/filtering upon request from nearby residents whenever possible.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

I want those LED lights that keep changing colors.

Order #15. That the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts, and Celebrations Committee hold a hearing before October to discuss the various events being planned for Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2018 and ways to properly observe the holiday in a way that promotes the culture, history, and diversity of Native American peoples during future years.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Zondervan

This Order really makes me yearn for a cannoli from the Cafe Roma Pastry Shop on Hanover Street in the North End.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff to determine the navigational editing capabilities of the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Mallon

I continue to marvel at just how quickly the ability of human beings to navigate or even know where they are has degenerated thanks to their "smart" phones and their "smart" cars.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to contract with an outside survey company to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of inclusionary tenants’ experiences, with a particular emphasis on biased practices.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

Must be that video.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on May 15, 2018 to discuss the development of an Affordable Housing Overlay District plan.

Committee Report #4. 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 10, 2018 to discuss the first annual report from the Community Development Department as called for in the updated Inclusionary Zoning ordinance.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on June 19, 2018 to review the whole licensing and permitting process and to discuss ways to make it more efficient.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on June 13, 2018 to was to receive an update on the Short-Term Rental Ordinance #1397.

Committee Report #7. 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 May 23, 2018 to discuss an Arts Overlay District ordinance that would achieve the goals of creating and preserving spaces for the arts in the Central Square Cultural District.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Mayor Marc McGovern, appointing Councillor Mallon as chair to the newly formed Mayor’s Task Force on the Arts.

April 22, 2018

Budget Season Returns – Featured Attractions on the Apr 23, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:14 pm

Budget Season Returns – Featured Attractions on the Apr 23, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Budget Season!On this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the FY19 submitted budget and appropriation orders.

The Bottom Line is that the total proposed FY2019 Budget is $622,477,255. That’s up 5.3% over last year’s FY2018 budget of $591,057,460. You may want to take a longer view at the multi-year comparisons. The largest budget increases are actually in the Executive Department (City Manager’s Office) with a 21.1% one-year increase. The budget for the Mayor’s Office jumped by 11%.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $5,000,000 to provide funds for the Municipal Facilities Improvement Plan.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $650,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects, and a new boiler at an Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $61,500,000 to provide funds for various water pollution abatement projects, including construction of sewer separation, storm water management and combined sewer overflow reduction elimination improvements within the The Port neighborhood, and the River Street neighborhood.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $21,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks.

In addition to the Operating Budget, the City also each year seeks authorization to borrow significant amounts for various capital projects (presumably at very favorable interest rates thanks to our multiple AAA bond ratings). This year’s loan authorizations total $88,150,000.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Public Investment Fund account to fund snowstorm related road repairs and capital equipment.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a supplemental appropriation of $2,475,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to fund snowstorm related expenses associated with snow plowing and snow removal contracts, salt, other materials, repair costs.

Winter doesn’t come cheap. In addition to the amount already budgeted for FY2018, there are these $3,475,000 supplemental appropriations. You can See It and Click It, but it costs money to Fix it.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-23, relative to repairs to the Harvard Square Portland Loo and methods to prevent service interruptions in the future.

Whoever thought a bathroom would turn into a winter research project. I still think we should have found a way to integrate these bathrooms into existing buildings with actual heating systems.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Election Commission effective May 2, 2018 for a term of four years: Victoria Harris

Congratulations to Victoria Harris. Unlike some years, the City Manager had several qualified candidates from which to choose. Congratulations also go to outgoing Commissioner Polyxane Cobb who did an outstanding job during her time as an Election Commissioner.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Arts Council Advisory Board for a term of three years, effective May 1, 2018: Olivia D’Ambrosio and Michael Monestime.

Two more outstanding appointments. I do, however, have to make one correction. Contrary to the narrative provided, Michael Monestime and his family now live in North Cambridge, a.k.a. the suburbs, though he’s still our Man in Central Square.

Applications & Petitions #5. A Zoning Petition was received from Douglas Brown Et Al, regarding Zoning petition that aims to balance the future health and safety impacts of climate change.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this petition. There was supposed to be a petition filed several weeks ago that went by the name "The Pause Petition" that sought to put all new construction in the Alewife area on hold. That proposed Moratorium was endorsed by the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee (NCSC), the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance (FPRA), the Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR), Green Cambridge, and the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CResA). It was met by a harsh response from the folks from A Better Cambridge (ABC) and others who saw it primarily as a mechanism to stop the building of new housing and, in particular, "affordable housing". Soon thereafter, the moratorium morphed into this new petition wrapped in green, i.e. "Zoning Amendments for a Flood and Heat Resilient Cambridge". Some parts are cribbed from the preliminary recommendations being developed for Alewife as part of the Envision Cambridge process, but there’s little doubt that a significant goal of this petition is to make it a lot more difficult to build in some areas – particularly the Alewife area.

In addition, there is a very prescriptive 2nd half of this petition that seeks to introduce a "Green Factor" to rule over any new construction requiring a Project Review Special Permit under Section 19.23 of the Zoning Ordinance [50,000 gross sq. ft. or more in all applicable zoning districts – except Business A, Business A-1, or Business A-2 districts where the threshold is 20,000 gross sq. ft.]. This Green Factor "uses a value based system to prioritize landscape elements and site design that contributes to the reduction of stormwater runoff, the improvement of urban air quality, mitigation of the urban heat island effect, and improved well-being of residents and visitors." Without surveying all built properties in the city, I think it’s a fair guess to say that very few of them would have a "Green Factor" that would satisfy the wishes of the petitioners. However, it’s already the case that most new significant building proposals in Cambridge that go before the Planning Board go to great lengths to factor environmental benefits into their plans with the possible exception of those built in dense urban settings (such as the major Squares).

My sense is that this will play out politically in such a way that instead of the "Pause Petition" being spun as blocking housing, this new Petition will be spun as something only a climate-change-denier could oppose. But that’s just politics. Personally, I think the petition should be divided into two separate petitions – one dealing with potentially flood-prone areas (and specifically parts of the Alewife area) and another that focuses specifically on the sustainability stuff citywide. I do think the "Green Factor" approach is overly prescriptive, but it would not be a bad outcome if a handbook of recommended standards grew out of this exercise – even if it was separate from the Zoning Ordinance.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and any other City departments to work with the MBTA to address the above listed necessary improvements to the Harvard Square Station Tunnels while they are being renovated.   Vice Mayor Devereux

The "above listed improvements" involve temporary relocation of stops, minor schedule adjustments, increased foot traffic in Harvard Square, repaving of bus tunnel roadways, hopefully better lighting and seating in the bus tunnels, general repair and restoration, and maybe even restoration of some of the artwork. To this you can add the current T elevator work that’s going on there (as well as in Central Square).

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City staff to ensure that an additional commitment of $20 million from the City’s budget is devoted over the next five years toward the City’s efforts to preserve and create affordable housing units.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

As I often point out, the term "affordable housing" is a euphemism for regulated housing obtained by applying either to the Cambridge Housing Authority or similar agency. It is not the same as addressing the goal of affordability of housing in Cambridge and in the greater Boston area.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to contact the Constellation Charitable Foundation to receive an update on plans for the Parcel C in Kendall Square and when development can be expected to begin.   Councillor Toomey

Based on the press release last week, that’s a question best addressed by whatever party buys the property. When that sale happens the Constellation Charitable Foundation will be out of the picture.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City Staff, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Friends of Poorman’s Landing, and the East Cambridge Planning Team to ensure the timely repair of Poorman’s Landing.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

In addition to the letter and the pages specific to Poorman’s Landing, the recently published (Jan 2018) Cambridge Riverfront Plan is worth the read.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to produce a report for use by the Housing Committee that contains information pertaining to the appropriate language for the creation of an Affordable Housing Overlay District.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

I repeat – The term "affordable housing" is a euphemism for regulated housing obtained by applying either to the Cambridge Housing Authority or similar agency. It is not the same as addressing the goal of affordability of housing in Cambridge and in the greater Boston area.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 22, 2018 to gain a better understanding of the extent of the City’s digital divide and to explore possible ways to increase digital access.

I’m sure this will get a lot of play during the upcoming Budget Hearings, but the bottom line is still The Bottom Line – the related proposal that the City should build its own municipal broadband system is a very expensive proposition. Furthermore, the jury is still out on whether exposing the City to this financial risk is even a wise approach. Everybody wants alternatives to the Comcast monopoly, but there may be better ways to achieve this.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 21, 2018 to discuss the implementation of the Short-Term Rental Ordinance.

It doesn’t help that AirBnB seems to be sending the message out to all of its "hosts" to join them in their lack of cooperation.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 18, 2018, to discuss confirming the City’s Manager’s selection of Margaret Drury as a member of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA).

Slam dunk easy call on the reappointment of our most esteemed former City Clerk Margaret Drury to the revitalized Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a communication from Dosha E. Beard, Executive Secretary to the School Committee, transmitting a copy of an order from the School Committee recommending the FY19 General Fund Budget of the Cambridge Public Schools be adopted in the sum of $191,069,500.

This represents a pretty steady 31% of the City’s Operating Budget (just in case you were wondering). – Robert Winters

March 27, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 299-300: March 27, 2018

Episode 299 – Cambridge InsideOut: March 27, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on March 27, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: March 26 City Council meeting, Central Square Arts Overlay, Rooming Houses, and other housing issues. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 300 – Cambridge InsideOut: March 27, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on March 27, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics include short-term rental regulation updates, Housing Committee priorities, citizen activism for municipal broadband. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 26, 2018

Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:33 pm

Preview of Mar 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City Hall postcardHere’s my take on what looks interesting this week.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as new members of the Planning Board for a term of three years, effective Apr 2, 2018: Nikolas Bowie and Corinne Espinoza

Though it doesn’t say it in the communication, both of these appointments are as Associate Members of the Planning Board replacing Ahmed Nur and Thacher Tiffany.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-18, regarding a report on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance.

Two notes:
(1) As Commissioner O’Riordan states: "We have heard from businesses concerning the cost of alternative products. For example; at a Harvard Square establishment, one service item increased in cost from $0.03/unit to $0.50/unit. In North Cambridge another retailer indicated that their new containers cost three times more after the ordinance went into effect."
(2) Plasticware that is marketed as "compostable" is, for all intents and purposes, not actually compostable (except under very specialized conditions).

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-19, regarding Central Square pedestrian signals.

The proposed modification seems like a good plan that will not unnecessarily add to traffic congestion while providing a degree of additional safety and clarity.

Manager’s Agenda #5. 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, 2018 and ending Mar 31, 2019.

The water rates are again held constant as the sewer rates continue to soar. The projections indicate that in the coming years the water rates will start to rise slightly and the sewer rates will moderate somewhat. It’s worth reminding everyone that most of these costs are fixed costs, so as people do a better job at conservation the rates inevitably have to rise to cover the fixed costs.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to explore the possibility of accepting the City of Boston’s invitation to join their intergenerational housing pilot program.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

People have been doing this since the dawn of time – renting rooms to younger people who can lend a hand as they benefit from decent rents, but it’s definitely an idea that deserves promotion.

Order #2. That the City Manager conduct, compile, and publish an inventory of all City-owned vacant buildings and lots with the City’s plans for them, if any.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Devereux

Two words – Land Bank. This same concept was floated by then City Councillor Ed Cyr (and possibly others) about 25 years or so ago using the term "Land Bank". It inevitably led to a conflict among different priorities, esp. open space vs. "affordable housing", though there was at least one case in which a proposed site provided parking (and a turnaround) for a very congested dead end street. I’m sure there are some sites that should be made available for housing (whether "affordable" or just plain housing), but I’d hate to see the perception of "crisis" lead to the stifling of all other alternatives.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to appoint an appropriate City representative to work with the Historical Commission, the Veterans Services Department, representatives of the Cambridge African American Heritage Trail, Cambridge Historian Jon Hill, and any other appropriate parties in an effort to place markers on the graves of Mr. Cato Freeman and Mr. Neptune Frost at the Old Harvard Square Burial Ground, a marker for Mr. Agrippa Hull on the Cambridge Common, and markers for any other early unsung patriots of color that we may yet determine have been hidden in the shadows of history for far too long.   Councillor Simmons

This is a great idea. It’s probably also a good time to review and refurbish some of the historical markers all around Cambridge. We could also use an updated guide book for walking tours in both the Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Cambridge Cemetery highlighting the many significant people buried in these cemeteries.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development, the Executive Director of the Cambridge Arts Council, and the City Solicitor with a view in mind of drafting of an Arts Overlay District ordinance that would achieve the goals of creating and preserving spaces for the arts in the Central Square Cultural District.   Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

While I think this is a good idea, I hasten to add that there are a lot of people who need or would want "live/work space" who you might not necessarily label as "artists".

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the Community Development Department to compile a list of single family homes which could be purchased by the Affordable Housing Trust and converted to Single Room Occupancies or Housing Cooperatives.   Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

I think that the concept of Rooming Houses or Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residences is something that fell out of favor over the years but which might again make some sense in this age of micro-units, short-term rentals, and people choosing to live with relatively few possessions. That said, I’d hate to see this used as a pretext for the City to relentlessly buy up the city’s housing stock. The fact that this Order specifically asks to "compile a list of single-family homes available on the market in Residential A1, A2, and B zones" seems rather politically motivated. Wouldn’t it be better to simply provide some financial and other incentives to property owners to configure their properties so as to address current needs?

Order #9. City Council opposition to any legislation that would remove or limit the options of municipalities to pass local ordinances regulating short-term rentals to include accessing tax revenue similar to what is done with hotels and motels.   Councillor Kelley

This was at the center of the discussion at last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting on the subject of the City’s regulation of short-term rentals. Briefly, the industry people (AirBnB) wanted to influence legislation now on Beacon Hill to permit taxation on short-term rentals by amending it to remove local regulatory controls as a precondition for accepting the potential revenue. This crooked attempt was apparently thwarted in the House, though the bill is now before the Senate and will likely have to go through a conference committee prior to its final passage and, presumably, the Governor’s signature. – Robert Winters

Extra: Summary of what the House did last week on the AirBnB bill.
AirBnB is in favor of being taxed, but came out in opposition to the state registry where their hosts would have to share their personal information. The amendment referenced above in regard to Order #9 and referred to as amendment #11 in the House bill) was directed at the proposed (and now on hold) City of Boston regulations on short term rentals which would regulate them according to how many days a host rented out units. This amendment was apparently never seriously considered and will likely not have much support in the Senate either. It came from an industry lobbyist (possibly representing a short term rental group called StayAlfred).

Much of the work up to this point on other short term rental bills has been to tax them like hotels. This bill introduces a whole new tax structure for short term rentals and the Senate may return to that structure.

Summary of the current bill

  • The bill would require the Department of Revenue to maintain a short-term rental registry, record the name of each host and the address of each unit they offer, and give the department the authority to charge a "reasonable fee" for registration. An "easily searchable and regularly updated" list of unit addresses — without the host’s name — would be published online.
  • Rentals would be taxed at levels ranging from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how many units a host offers. Residential hosts renting two or fewer units would be taxed at 4 percent, investor hosts with three to five units would have a 5.7 percent tax, and professionally managed hosts renting six or more units would face an 8 percent tax per rental, under the bill.
  • Cities and towns would have the option to impose local excise taxes of up to 5 percent for residential hosts, 6 percent for investors, and 10 percent for professionally managed hosts. Communities that opt for the local tax would need to adopt ordinances or bylaws requiring any residential units offered as short-term rentals first undergo a safety inspection, the costs of which would be charged to the host.
  • Half of the local tax collected from professionally managed hosts would need to be dedicated to "programs addressing either local infrastructure needs or low- and moderate-income housing programs," according to the bill. A Rep. Kevin Honan amendment adopted Thurs, Mar 22 would require that at least 25 percent of that tax money be distributed to low- and moderate-income housing programs.
  • The taxes in the bill would kick in a year after the bill’s effective date and would not apply to units that rent for less than $15 a day.

Also, an amendment was adopted that provides:
“Any city or town that has a safety inspection program in place as of the effective date of this act may deem any previously completed inspections of residential units to be in compliance with this requirement.”

This should avoid the need for duplicative inspections for hosts who register with Cambridge and then must also register to comply with state law.

March 20, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 297-298: March 20, 2018

Episode 297 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 20, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on March 20, 2018 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest. Main Topics: Tenant Right of First Refusal, Envision Cambridge. Host: Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 298 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 20, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on March 20, 2018 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest. Main Topics: Envision Cambridge, Central Square. Host: Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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