Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 6, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 351-352: Nov 6, 2018 w/Patrick Barrett

Episode 351 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 6, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 6, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Central Square, Business Improvement District (BID), Formula Business Ordinance and the Central Square Restoration Petition, Envision Cambridge. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 352 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 6, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 6, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Nov 5 City Council meeting highlights, Envision Cambridge, First Street Garage & Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 31, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 349-350: Oct 30, 2018

Episode 349 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 30, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 30, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: World Champion Red Sox, Oct 29 City Council highlights, trees!, proposal for early voting for municipal elections. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 350 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 30, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 30, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Growth Policy Document, Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group, middle-income housing, property assessments and FY19 tax bills, parking $ in Cambridge property, vacancy rates. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 29, 2018

A First Look at the Oct 29, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

A First Look at the Oct 29, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallHere’s my first pass at the interesting stuff up for discussion at this week’s meeting:

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $67,179.02 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to support additional tree plantings in the Gore Street Neighborhood.

What is notable is that the street tree that was lost has been appraised at $67,179.02. I’d love to learn more about how that figure was derived. Especially the two cents.

Charter Right #1. That the Chairs of the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing on Tree Protections and the Chairs of the Health & Environment Committee schedule public hearings on Tree Protections and the preliminary results from the Ordinance Committee hearing.

There are good ways and bad ways to do this. As a side note, I heard that the tulip tree on Cambridge Street that was at the center of a controversy almost two decades ago (with at least one person chaining herself to the tree) was removed recently due to internal rot. Some have suggested that this may have been helped along, but in any case the tulip tree is no more.

Charter Right #2. The City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Community Development Department to provide a written timeline of what specific steps must take place in order to take a final vote on the Affordable Housing Overlay legislation.

Communications #6. Sundry communications received relating to opposition of City Envision proposal.

My sense is that very few people know much about the proposed Subsidized Housing Overlay proposal and its provisions to permit neighboring properties to be redeveloped as subsidized housing as of right a) at densities up to four times what is allowed under current zoning, b) with minimal setback requirements, c) and with no objections permitted. The proposal is a severe departure from the Growth Policy Document that has been successfully applied for nearly 25 years. The Overlay proposal was panned at the Planning Board for many reasons. It does nothing to address the housing affordability problem as most people understand it, i.e. the difficulty most people have in finding an affordable place to own or rent without being forced to apply to a government agency for housing.

Communications #3. A communication was received from Charles Hinds, President East Cambridge Planning Team, regarding the disposition process of the First St. Garage.

The First Street parking garage is there largely because it served the needs of the Courthouse. The primary reason it has been underutilized (hence the available surplus of parking) is because the Courthouse has been closed for some time. Sure, some things have changed in the interim and perhaps in an ideal world the Courthouse building would be scaled down more than is proposed, but courts have ruled that the re-purposing of the Courthouse building may proceed as planned.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on offering early voting in City Council and School Committee elections.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

As much as I want everyone to vote (I’m one of the only 116 Cambridge voters who has voted in every citywide Cambridge election since 1997), I really don’t see how the substantial increased cost of this proposal is justifiable. Unlike state and federal elections, the Commonwealth won’t be picking up the tab. It really is very simple to vote in municipal elections on Election Day and absentee voting could simply be expanded to achieve the same goal.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update on any current discussions or plans for extending the Alewife Greenway Bike Path from Alewife to Sherman Street.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

This is a great idea. In fact, if the path switched over to the north side of the tracks at Sherman Street, you could extend it all the way to Porter Square with the added treat that you could pass under Walden Street through the old cattle pass.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff and report back to the City Council on the status of the Cambridge Street Bicycle Safety Demonstration Project and on any efforts to assess how successful the project has been and what lessons the City may learn from the project that may help inform street allocation and design decisions elsewhere.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff and report back to the City Council on opportunities and plans to increase signage or other communication efforts to help ensure that all users of Brattle Street between Eliot and Mason Streets understand the cyclists may be using Brattle Street in the opposite direction of prevailing motor vehicle traffic.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to include protected bicycle infrastructure along the entire length of River Street as part of the FY20 River Street Redesign project.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

All of these are covered under the City’s "Listen Zero" policy regarding bicycle accommodation. There were and still are better ways to re-envision traffic flow on Cambridge Street, and Brattle Street should have been made into a two-way "slow street" from Mason St. to Eliot St. connecting to Mt. Auburn St. As for River Street, there is no way on earth that safer bicycle accommodation won’t be a central part of the plan, and this is one location where traffic calming and some separation of cyclists from traffic (including drivers just off the Pike who have not yet mentally slowed down) is completely justified.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair and Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 27, 2018 to discuss stormwater management best practices and get an update on how Cambridge will be impacted by the EPA’s new Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, which took effect on July 1, 2018.

I’m highlighting this report simply because I think that every Cambridge citizen should learn more about the "hidden city" under their feet, i.e. the infrastructure that we depend on every day. We should have regular citizen seminars on this.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair and Councillor Quinton Y. Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Oct 9, 2018 to was to receive an update on progress towards Zero Waste goals and to discuss successes and challenges of the citywide composting and recycling programs to date.

Two words – Recycle Right. If you want to ensure the economic viability of recycling you have to be mindful of the eventual end markets. Recycling is a lot more than throwing things into a blue (or green) container.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 2, 2018 to discuss a petition filed by the City Council to amend the zoning ordinances in Articles 2.000, 4.000, 6.000 and 11.000 and to establish provisions for Cannabis Uses.

I really hope the City Council reconsiders the proposal to allow pot shops to open as of right in all of the City’s BA-1 zones [base zoning map]. These include many of our small "mom ‘n pop" mixed residential/commercial zones. [Full disclosure – I live in a BA-1 zone, but I’m directly across the street from a school and have a day care and two Montessori schools as neighbors, so I’m within the buffer zone.] This is fundamentally different than allowing pot shops along a BA corridor like North Mass. Ave. [BA-2] or Cambridge Street east of Inman Square [BA], though I’ll leave it to residents along those corridors to chime in for themselves. The Western Ave. corridor is primarily BA-3. A proposed Order in this committee report calls for allowing adult use (recreational) pot shops as a use as of right in all BA-1, BA-2 and BA-3 districts. Another proposed Order would reduce the buffer zone around schools and other youth facilities from 500 ft. to 300 ft.

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

This meeting was mainly just introductions, but it’s worth keeping an eye on where this Task Force is headed. – Robert Winters

October 24, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 347-348: Oct 23, 2018

Episode 347 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 23, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 23, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Baseball, Envision Cambridge, some history (Cambridge ECO, CCLN, Parking Freeze, Growth Policy Document, Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance, housing policy changes, Concord-Alewife Plan, Master Plan), Chapter 40B, Subsidized Housing Overlay proposal. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 348 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 23, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 23, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Envision Cambridge, middle-income housing, Central Square murals, formula business regulation. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 17, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 345-346: Oct 16, 2018

Episode 345 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 16, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 16, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Baseball, Oct 15 Council meeting, Inman Square, Subsidized Housing Overlay controversy, Envision Cambridge. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 346 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 16, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 16, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Zero Waste Report, urban design & retail (creating active storefronts), Central Square, upcoming events. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 15, 2018

Notable items on the Oct 15, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:07 am

Notable items on the Oct 15, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallHere’s my first pass at the interesting stuff up for discussion at this week’s meeting:

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $160,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will fund an expansion of free food programming for Cambridge youth.

Expanded Free Breakfast & Lunch in Cambridge schools and pre-schools courtesy of Mother Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to support the completion of the Inman Square Intersection Improvements Project.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting memorandum regarding Inman Square Redesign Project.

There are some who still feel that the plan needs revision (including Councillor Kelley), but the judge isn’t going to look at the twenty-seven 8 x 10 colored glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-76, regarding a report on Linkage fee as part of the Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.

Another study coming. At least this time there will also be effort expended to measure the impact of new nonresidential development on employment opportunities for Cambridge residents (could there be a positive impact?). Currently any linkage fees exacted from new development go toward subsidized housing. Some might argue that the greatest deficiency in how these nexus studies and associated linkage fees work is that they do little to address the lack of access for existing residents to jobs in all these new bright shiny buildings, and building additional subsidized housing without such access to employment isn’t necessarily the best strategy.

Charter Right #1. That the Envision Cambridge draft recommendations should be reviewed by the entire City Council in respective committees.

As I have said previously, handing a laundry list of suggestions from Envision Cambridge working committees to each of the City Council committees hardly seems like the best path toward comprehensive planning (you know – the Master Plan). Maybe they just want the Faster Plan.

Order #1. That the City Manager confer with the City Solicitor’s Office on the legal question and the feasibility of placing a condition in public bidding documents prohibiting municipal contractors from displaying any signage—other than company markers and contact information—on vehicles.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

Though I don’t know for sure (really, I do), I believe this Order came about because somebody snapped a picture of a cement truck that had "Make America Great Again" on it.

Order #4. That the Chairs of the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing on Tree Protections and the Chairs of the Health & Environment Committee schedule public hearings on Tree Protections and the preliminary results from the Ordinance Committee hearing.   Councillor Zondervan

I may just have to take down sooner than later that problematic ash tree in my yard that’s leaning on my roof. Otherwise, if a new ordinance is passed I may need a lawyer and an additional check.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to investigate the queries posed by the Economic and University Relations Committee for a City-Based Cannabis Social Equity Program.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

Cast me out from the community, if you will, but I simply cannot wrap my head around a policy that gives preferential treatment to relatives of people convicted of drug-related crimes. Ensuring that the new dope industry provides economic opportunity broadly, i.e. "social equity", is one thing, but getting nailed for dealing dope under previous laws should not provide an advantage over those who lived within the law.

Committee Report #1. 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 Sept 27, 2018 to discuss Affordable Housing Overlay District.

The juggernaut continues. I spoke my mind on this subject at the most recent meeting of the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group (which really should be renamed the "Subsidized Housing Working Group" based on the fact that they never addressed housing generally). As I have stated repeatedly, it’s certainly true that people want housing to be affordable in the sense that a typical person or family can find a place to buy or rent within their budget, but this is not the same as advocating for a dramatic increase in subsidized housing (of which Cambridge already has a significant amount when you add up all the Housing Authority properties, Inclusionary housing units, etc.). Indeed, I think an argument can be made that the singular focus on subsidized housing may be contributing to the non-affordability of housing generally. The best affordable housing program ever conceived was the proliferation of multi-family housing, and that involved no government subsidy at all.

Better ideas would be to permit multi-family housing in all zones, adjust allowable densities to better reflect the existing built environment, and work regionally to increase the overall housing stock. As I stated at the very first meeting of the Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee, constructing many housing units in Somerville’s Union Square, in Everett, in Allston, and elsewhere will do more toward making housing more affordable in Cambridge than anything. Only when people have options can they make rational economic choices. It is the shortage of available better options that allows housing costs in Cambridge to rise unchecked.

Committee Report #2. 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 Sept 12, 2018 to discuss Storefront Vacancies Best Practices.

Though I suppose I like the idea of "pop up" art in vacant storefronts, it’s a poor substitute for actual retail. On a related matter, current state law requires all new marijuana stores to obscure the views into these establishments (kinda like a speakeasy in the prohibition era). The crappy response has been to propose putting artsy stuff in the front windows. There are better approaches. My proposal is to create arcade-like shallow retail operations on these frontages. How about a hot dog vendor? A newsstand (if anyone still buys newspapers/magazines)? Maybe just a simple water bottle filling station. How about just creating a recessed area with an awning where a local vendor can sell hats, scarves, or trinkets? There are plenty of other good ideas. I would make the same proposal for other "formula businesses" to create active, low-cost, retail opportunities. – Robert Winters

October 3, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 343-344: Oct 2, 2018

Episode 343 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 2, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 2, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Baseball, zoning & housing affordability, property taxes, tax rates, tax classification, tax levy. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 344 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 2, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 2, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: affordable housing, Envision Cambridge end game, the changing face of Central Square. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 25, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 341-342: Sept 25, 2018

Episode 341 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 25, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 25, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Charter Rights and Wrongs, opioid lawsuit, Sancta Maria salvation, zoning & housing affordability, property taxes, tax rates, tax classification, tax levy, assessments. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 342 – Cambridge InsideOut: Sept 25, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 25, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: time travel, Middlesex Canal, Constellation Center and future possibilities, resident permit parking fees, street cleaning/towing, current zoning petitions. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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