Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 21, 2016

Back to Work (Really) – Monday, Feb 22, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:05 pm

Back to Work (Really) – Monday, Feb 22, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Committee Members
Ordinance Carlone (Co-Chair), Cheung (Co-Chair)
(committee of the whole)
Finance McGovern (Chair)
(committee of the whole)
Government Operations,
Rules, and Claims
Maher (Chair), Cheung,
Mazen, McGovern, Toomey
Housing Mayor Simmons (Co-Chair),
McGovern (Co-Chair),
Carlone, Devereux, Maher
Economic Development and
University Relations
Devereux (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Mazen, McGovern
Human Services & Veterans McGovern (Chair), Devereux,
Maher, Mazen, Toomey
Health & Environment Devereux (Chair), Carlone,
Kelley, McGovern, Toomey
Neighborhood and Long Term
Planning, Public Facilities,
Art, and Celebrations
Mazen (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Devereux, Maher
Transportation
& Public Utilities
Toomey (Chair), Carlone,
Cheung, Kelley, Mazen
Civic Unity McGovern (Chair), Devereux, Kelley,
Mazen, Mayor Simmons
Public Safety Kelley (Chair), Maher, Mazen,
McGovern, Toomey

Back to WorkNote: Much of this meeting’s agenda was originally set for February 8, but all City of Cambridge offices were closed that day due to snow. All of those items were carried over to the February 22 agenda.


The 2016-2017 City Council committee assignments have been announced by Mayor Simmons. There are also proposed amended 2016-2017 City Council Rules on the agenda for this week’s meeting. The proposed changes include uniformizing most City Council committees at 5 members and allowing for the possibility that some Roundtable meetings may be televised. One curious departure from tradition is that Mayor Simmons will co-chair the Housing Committee and also be a regular member of the Civic Unity Committee. In all my year’s of Council-watching, I don’t recall the Mayor being anything other than an ex-officio member of any subcommittees (other than committees of the whole) and certainly never a co-chair. I have to interpret this a strong desire of Mayor Simmons to continue work begun on these committees during the last term.

I’m especially pleased by the appointments to the Government Operations, Rules, & Claims Committee – especially with the City Manager’s contract discussion coming up (very) soon. The City Council must give notice of its intentions no later than March 1.

Other interesting items on this coming Monday’s City Council agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Sharlene Yang as the new STEAM Coordinator.

So much of the focus on STEM/STEAM has seemed like little more than political fashion, but if any of these efforts result in matching young people growing up in Cambridge with real opportunities in the local economy of today, it will all have been worth it. That said, a coordinator needs to have something to coordinate and it will be interesting to see if the required opportunities develop.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Sage Cannabis, Inc., to amend the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Overlay District Section 20.700 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance and Map.

Communications #8. A communication was received from Michael Dundas, Chief Executive Officer, Sage Cannabis, Inc., 13 Commercial Way, Milford, MA, regarding a status update on the zoning amendment petition APP 2015 #72 filed with the Cambridge City Clerk on Nov 9, 2015.

Order #3. That the zoning petition filed by Milford Medicinals, Inc. be placed on file.   Mayor Simmons

It’s hard to say where this matter is going to ultimately end up, but it’s important to note that the City Council and City staff spent a considerable amount of time on the current zoning that delineates two areas where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate. Has the case really been made that those districts are inadequate and that additional mini-districts have to be established whenever a medical marijuana dispensary wants to operate elsewhere? It’s also worth considering how the marijuana sales landscape will take shape in the event that the ballot question on legalization prevails later this year.

Resolution #18. Congratulations to the MIT-based members of the LIGO collaboration on their contributions to the observation of gravitational waves.   Councillor Cheung

Occasionally my worlds collide. The "chirp" of two black holes colliding was the talk in every corner of MIT on February 11. Even MIT President Rafael Reif was as excited as a kid at a carnival.

Order #5. That the amendment to the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to amend the provisions of the PUD-KS District set forth in Section 13.10 of the Zoning Ordinances and which includes a majority of the Volpe Transportation Systems Center site, be refiled as of Feb 9, 2015.   Councillor Carlone

This re-filing has been anticipated for some time, and now there will be an Ordinance Committee to work on it.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and other relevant City departments to study the benefits of a wellbeing index and plan for how it might be incorporated into various City planning processes, including the city wide Master Plan.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

Call me skeptical. I just read the following description of a wellbeing index: "The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is designed to be the Dow Jones of health, giving a daily measure of people’s wellbeing at the close of every day. With a daily measure, determining the correlation between the places where people work and the communities in which they live, and how it impacts their wellbeing, is now possible. Additionally, the index will increase an understanding of how those factors impact the financial health of corporations and communities." This seems to be in part a continuation of the spectrum of policies that Cambridge planners have been using for years in promoting transportation alternatives and integrating passive and active recreational opportunities wherever possible. My skepticism comes from the potential subjectivity of such a measure. I’m reminded how when various measures of cycling safety led to inconclusive results, a new "comfort index" was invented in order to justify specific policies regarding road design that some planners wanted. How shall we measure "wellbeing"?

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding how the decision to move these festivals out of Central Square was reached, what plans the City has to initiate other festivals in Central Square to replace these lost activities, and what can be done to return these festivals to Central Square.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

It would be great if the Central Square Worlds Fair could one day be revived, but these events don’t come cheap, and they don’t all yield benefits for the existing businesses in Central Square.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Public Works Department, and any other relevant City department to level the sidewalks and add new lighting to Carl Barron Plaza prior to any renovations taking place.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Any significant renovations to Carl Barron Plaza will likely be delayed until the River Street improvements happen a couple of years from now. That said, basic maintenance of the sidewalks and better lighting shouldn’t be delayed. One comprehensive improvement that could also be made now would be a jointly operated storefront abutting the plaza that would house a Cambridge Police substation, coordination of MBTA bus activities, an information kiosk, and the promised public restroom from the last Participatory Budget process. An outside public restroom (the Portland Loo) recently open in the Harvard Square area, but it would be so much better (and more secure) if such a facility in Central Square was done jointly with enhanced police presence. The plumbing will also be a lot simpler.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the progress made in acquiring the Vail Court property, including a financial impact statement and a plan to move forward in acquiring this property through eminent domain.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

The perennial sore thumb continues to throb. Non-friendly eminent domain takings are a huge hassle and don’t always end well, but this situation is ridiculous.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Clerk to communicate the City Council’s strong support of Harvard’s graduate research and teaching assistants to choose collective bargaining to the Harvard University administration.   Councillor Cheung

Some form of collective bargaining may make sense here, but being a graduate student teaching assistant is not a career option and should not be categorized the same way as long-term jobs are – unionized or not. More than anything else, this is really a test of the ethical standards of universities like Harvard, and any discussion of what constitutes fairness should also be extended to adjunct faculty for whom this often does constitute a career choice.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to seek permission from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for the use of two lanes (one in each direction) of Memorial Drive for non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians only and further to coordinate with the appropriate city departments to close two lanes to cars (one in each direction) on Memorial Drive on Apr 29, 2016, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Walk/Ride Days, and the kick-off of the 5th Annual Walk/Ride Day Corporate Challenge.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Mayor Simmons

Though there may be some popular appeal in doing something like this, the unfortunate reality is that the DCR "parkways" have become essential links between the urban core and major roads like the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 2. This includes the need for a through lane as well as a turning lane at numerous locations. Removing two travel lanes or even shutting these roads down altogether may be fine on weekends and holidays, but the road already operates at capacity during rush hour on working days. It is hard to imagine the DCR agreeing to such a road closure on a busy Friday. If so, perhaps the name should be changed from "Walk/Ride Day" to "Piss Off Thousands of Commuters Day." – Robert Winters

January 7, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut – Episodes 29 and 30

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 29 – originally broadcast Tues, Jan 7, 2014 at 5:30pm. Former School Committee member Alice Turkel was the guest (Part 1). Program hosted by Susana Segat and Robert Winters.

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 30 – originally broadcast Tues, Jan 7, 2014 at 6:00pm. Former School Committee member Alice Turkel was the guest (Part 2). Play-by-play of the 2014 Mayoral Vote. Program hosted by Susana Segat and Robert Winters.

January 6, 2014

Jan 6, 2014 – Inauguration Day

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:40 am

Jan 6, 2014 – Inauguration Day

The Inauguration of the 2014-2015 Cambridge City Council will take place today at City Hall beginning at 10:00am. After the ceremonial activities and the oaths of office, there will be just two items of business – the adoption of the Rules for the 2014-2015 City Council (usually just the formal adoption of the rules in effect for the previous Council) and the Election of a Mayor. The meeting will be conducted by City Clerk Donna Lopez until a Mayor is elected. If a Mayor is not elected at the Inaugural Meeting, the most senior member of the City Council, Tim Toomey, will serve as Acting Mayor until such time as a Mayor is elected.

There is a relatively good chance that a Mayor will be elected at the Inaugural Meeting this year. The major contenders are rumored to be Leland Cheung, David Maher, and Denise Simmons. If a Mayor is elected, the City Council will then proceed to the election of its Vice Chair (customarily referred to as the Vice Mayor).

Later in the day (6:00pm), the 2014-2015 Cambridge School Committee will be inaugurated with the Mayor presiding.

Dennis Benzan
Benzan
Dennis Carlone
Carlone
Leland Cheung
Cheung
Craig Kelley
Kelley
David Maher
Maher
Nadeem Mazen
Mazen
Marc McGovern
McGovern
Denise Simmons
Simmons
Tim Toomey
Toomey

It’s Mayor Maher

It was a rollercoaster of a mayoral vote this morning, but the new City Council finally did get the job done. Here’s a rundown (using the initials of councillors and mayoral candidates in the tally):

EVENT DB DC LC CK DM NM MM DS TT RESULT
Ballot #1 DM LC LC DS DM DS DM DS DM Maher 4, Simmons 3, Cheung 2
Ballot #2 DM LC LC LC DM LC DM DS DM Maher 4, Cheung 4, Simmons 1
Simmons switch to Maher DM LC LC LC DM LC DM DM DM Maher 5, Cheung 4
Cheung switch to Simmons DM LC DS LC DM LC DM DM DM Maher 5, Cheung 3, Simmons 1
Kelley switch to Simmons DM LC DS DS DM LC DM DM DM Maher 5, Cheung 2, Simmons 2
Carlone switch to Simmons DM DS DS DS DM LC DM DM DM Maher 5, Simmons 3, Cheung 1
Mazen switch to Simmons DM DS DS DS DM DS DM DM DM Maher 5, Simmons 4
Simmons switch to Simmons DM DS DS DS DM DS DM DS DM Simmons 5, Maher 4
Benzan switch to Simmons DS DS DS DS DM DS DM DS DM Simmons 6, Maher 3
Mazen switch to Kelley DS DS DS DS DM CK DM DS DM Simmons 5, Maher 3, Kelley 1
Carlone switch to Kelley DS CK DS DS DM CK DM DS DM Simmons 4, Maher 3, Kelley 2
Ballot #3 DM LC LC DS DM DS DM DM DM Maher 5, Cheung 2, Simmons 2
Cheung switch to Simmons DM LC DS DS DM DS DM DM DM Maher 5, Simmons 3, Cheung 1
Carlone switch to Simmons DM DS DS DS DM DS DM DM DM Maher 5, Simmons 4

It is worth noting that at the end of Ballot #3, Denise Simmons could have once again changed her vote to herself (giving her a majority) but chose not to do so – perhaps due to the belief that this would lead to just another cycle of vote changes.

After Mayor Maher took the oath of office, the City Council then proceeded to the vote for Vice Chair. Though not initially unanimous for Dennis Benzan, Denise Simmons moved that the vote be made unanimous and there was no objection.

Congratulations to Mayor David Maher and to Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan! – RW

February 22, 2012

A Very Special Cambridge City Council Meeting – Feb 22, 2012

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,MBTA — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:20 pm

A Very Special Cambridge City Council Meeting – Feb 22, 2012
It’s Mayor Henrietta Davis and Vice Mayor Denise Simmons

Tonight The Nine shall meet to gather information and public testimony on the effects on Cambridge of the proposed MBTA cuts and fare increases and to develop a policy statement in preparation for the Feb 29 MBTA public hearing at the Senior Center City Hall. It is also expected that one or more additional mayoral ballots will take place at some point in the meeting. Perhaps MBTA also stands for "mayoral balloting tried again".

Today’s date coincides with the date two years ago when the previous mayoral impasse was broken and David Maher was elected mayor. Though I don’t recall the date in 1996 when Sheila Russell was finally elected mayor, I believe that impasse lasted longer. Since then, the dates were Jan 26, 1998 (Duehay, 3rd ballot), Feb 15, 2000 (Galluccio, 5th ballot), Jan 7, 2002 (Sullivan, 1st ballot), Jan 5, 2004 (Sullivan, 1st ballot), Jan 2, 2006 (Reeves, 1st ballot), Jan 14, 2008 (Simmons, 2nd ballot), and Feb 22, 2010 (Maher, 6th ballot). If this history is any indication, there’s a good chance this wuill be resolved tonight or at next Monday’s regular meeting. The 1948 mayoral marathon required 1,321 ballots before Michael J. Neville was elected mayor in late April.

It seems as though everyone who pays attention to the mayoral balloting has their own theory about what should happen or what might happen. I have my own theories as well. In fact, I have written out a scenario of how I believe this thing will ultimately play out. In the spirit of Werner Heisenberg, I won’t yet reveal my theory lest it influence the experiment. It will be revealed in 39 days. Hopefully, The Nine will have decided on The One by then. In the meantime, any mayoral ballots will be recorded at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750.

The real substance of this meeting are the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts. It’s not clear how much leverage the Cambridge City Council or the City of Cambridge has in this, but some kind of coherent response is needed. A major focus in Cambridge over the last decade or so has been on transit-oriented development and shifting away from dependence on automobiles. It would be a major setback to have this derailed by disincentives to public transit use, especially when calculations indicate that increases in efficiency and a very modest increase in the gasoline tax could resolve this. The state legislature also has an obligation to unburden the MBTA of the debt caused by mitigation costs related to The Big Dig. However this is ultimately resolved, it’s important that future MBTA financing be primarily self-sustaining so that we won’t be faced with similar threats every few years. – Robert Winters

February 18, 2012

Cambridge Mayoral Vote – 2012

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:50 am

The 1st Ballot for Cambridge Mayor took place at the Inaugural Meeting on January 2, 2012. The 2nd Ballot took place at the January 9 meeting and again no mayor was elected. The 3rd ballot took place at the end of the January 23 meeting with the vote identical to the previous vote.

At the January 30 meeting, there were three mayoral ballots.

One mayoral ballot took place at each of the February 6 and February 13 meetings.

A Special Meeting has been called for Wed, February 22 for the dual purposes of additional balloting for mayor and to discuss possible policy statements relative to the proposed fare increases and service reductions by the MBTA. It is not known which purpose will be taken up first or whether mayoral votes might take place at different points of this meeting.

If and when a Mayor is elected, the City Council will then proceed to the vote for Vice-Chair of the City Council (commonly referred to as Vice Mayor).

It is worth noting that in 1948 the Cambridge City Council required 1,321 ballots before electing Michael J. Neville as Mayor.

CouncillorBallot #1
(Jan 2)
Ballot #2
(Jan 9)
Ballot #3
(Jan 23)
Ballot #4
(Jan 30)
Ballot #5
(Jan 30)
Ballot #6
(Jan 30)
Ballot #7
(Feb 6)
Ballot #8
(Feb 13)
Ballot #9
(Feb 22)
Ballot #10
(Feb 22)
Vice-Mayor Ballot #1
CheungCheung (2)Cheung (3)Cheung (3)Cheung (3)Cheung (3)Cheung (3)Cheung (3)Cheung (3)Cheung (2)Cheung to Davis [4]
unanimous
Cheung to Simmons
unanimous
DavisDavis (1)Davis (1)Davis (1)Davis (1)Davis (1)Davis (1)Davis (1)Davis (1)Davis (2)DavisSimmons
DeckerDecker (2)Decker (3)Decker (3)Decker (3)Decker (2)Decker (2)Decker (2)Decker (2)Decker (2)Decker to Davis [1]Simmons
KelleyKelley (1)Kelley (1)Kelley (1)Kelley (1)Reeves (2)Reeves (2)ABSENTKelley (2)Kelley (2)Kelley to Davis [3]Simmons
MaherMaher (2)DeckerDeckerDeckerDeckerDeckerDeckerDeckerDeckerDavisSimmons
ReevesDeckerDeckerDeckerDeckerReevesReevesReeves (1)KelleyKelleyKelley to Davis [2]Simmons
SimmonsSimmons (1)CheungCheungCheungCheungCheungCheungCheungDavisDavisSimmons
ToomeyMaherToomey (1)Toomey (1)Toomey (1)Toomey (1)Toomey (1)Maher (1)Maher (1)Maher (1)DavisSimmons
vanBeuzekomCheungCheungCheungCheungCheungCheungCheungCheungCheungDavisSimmons

February 12, 2012

The Nine Mayor Problem – Feb 13, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:29 pm

The Nine Mayor Problem – Feb 13, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

The City Council took its 7th Mayoral Ballot last week even though one of the councillors (Kelley) was absent. It’s really getting ridiculous at this point, and maybe the councillors will soon realize that the choice has nothing to do with substance or leadership and everything to do with personal ego and aspiration. If common sense miraculously prevails, perhaps they’ll settle on a compromise [Hey, weren’t all of you satisfied with how David Maher handled the job last term?] and move on to the appointment of City Council committees, the business of representing the citizens, and just doing their job. Now there’s a concept! In the meantime, let’s refer to all nine of them as "Mayor" just to neutralize the false sense of importance.

It’s pretty much certain that there will be one or more mayoral ballots taken at this meeting. Hopefully they’ll settle this early in the meeting and we’ll have Council committees in place by the time of the following meeting (Feb 27). If not, their pay should be docked. Any mayoral votes taken at this meeting will be posted at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750.

There are a few agenda items for this meeting, starting with the Big Ticket Items:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the rescission of $14,881,482 which is the balance of the loan order approved by the City Council on Nov 17, 2008 for renovations to the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS).

City Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation of an additional $6,515,000 to cover unanticipated costs related to renovations to the old police station at Five Western Avenue in Central Square. This appropriation will be financed through a loan order for $5,770,000 and a transfer of $745,000 in bond proceeds from the Radio Replacement project.

Unfinished Business #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the authorization to borrow an amount not to exceed $36,800,000 for the purpose of refinancing existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid. The question comes on adoption on or after Feb 13, 2012.

The first of these is good news – the CRLS renovations cost less than anticipated, but it was still a lot of money. The second is the reverse – the renovations of the old Police Station will cost another $6.5 million on top of the $14.5 million loan already authorized. The third is the refinancing Order passed two weeks earlier which is now up for final adoption.

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts.

There has been a lot of public reaction to the proposed substantial MBTA fare increases and service reductions. The theme running through much of this is that the debt loaded onto the MBTA by the state legislature is the main cause of its structural deficit: "The financial problem is compounded by the MBTA’s approximately $5 billion in debt, the majority of which is from the Central Artery/Tunnel project (CA/T). Transit expansion projects were included in the CA/T project to mitigate the traffic growth and environmental impacts caused by the greater capacity of the tunnel, as compared with the former elevated expressway. One third of current MBTA operating expenses pay for this debt service, meaning investments that would keep the system in a state of good repair and running reliably are repeatedly postponed." Without that debt, the current fares would cover most of the operations. The MBTA will hold a public meeting in Cambridge on February 29, 2012 from 6-8pm at the Cambridge Senior Center.

On the Table #1. The Wyman Street curb cut.

Regardless of the merits, this whole matter has become very tiresome. There must be some form of Solomonic wisdom that will satisfy the concerns of all parties. It’s a curb cut – not an international peace treaty.

Unfinished Business #2. Election of the Mayor and Vice Mayor

See comments above. Please end this absurdity.

Resolution #12. Retirement of D. Margaret Drury from the City Clerk’s Office.   Mayor Reeves

It would be nice to read the text of this Resolution online. Ironically, it is the policy of the City Clerk that only the Policy Orders are viewable online – not the ceremonial Resolutions. I’m sure there are many nice things expressed in the Resolution, but we can only guess.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to direct City staff to replace the words "approve" and "disapprove" with the words "support" and "do not support" or, as appropriate, by some other terms that will help clarify where relevant authority rests when considering curb cuts.   Mayor Kelley

This is the biggest load of semantic crap I’ve seen in the City Council in ages. Perhaps Mayor Kelley also feels that when a pollster calls asking if he approves of the President’s handling of the economy, this will automatically establish or extend federal economic policy.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the ownership status of the Cambridge Street overpass plaza and any relevant conditions of that ownership, to include responsibilities for maintenance, the ability to close off areas of the plaza to the general public and the power to grant location rights to food trucks.   Mayor Kelley

One of the joys of sticking around for a few years is that you can better appreciate the recurrence of events. I still have fond memories of Councillor Al Vellucci filing a virtually identical Order more than two decades ago. None of the sitting councillors have the flair of good old Al Vellucci. In applying pressure on Harvard University for some issue of the day, Al took to the Council floor telling of his vision of families from East Cambridge setting up victory gardens on the overpass where they could grow basil and other garden delights. I don’t recall if this led to any definitive statements about who was responsible for what, but my recollection is that the land is City-owned and that Harvard is responsible for maintaining it. Whether this extends to permitting food trucks to operate there (a very good thing, in my opinion) may be in that grey area that I’m glad still exists.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to ascertain the date or approximate date on which the shelter at Brookline and Erie Streets will be installed and report back to the City Council.   Mayor Simmons

Speaking of the recurrence of events spread over the years, this proposed bus shelter across the street from Mayor Simmons’ insurance company office has been the subject of so many Council Orders that I’ve lost count.

Order #8. That the City Council urges the Community Development Department to work with the Floating Rock and their landlord Just Mass LLC toward finding an equitable compromise that would be fair to both parties, and that would allow the Floating Rock to remain in operation in Central Square.   Mayor Simmons

This is an interesting new role for CDD – negotiating leases for commercial tenants. Better get in line, folks. As the gentrification of Central Square continues, there may be the need for many more such Council Orders and CDD intervention as familiar haunts are squeezed out in favor of more upscale venues.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the Council on the continuation of the Longfellow Community School Program and its companion program, the Longfellow Neighborhood Council.   Mayor vanBeuzekom

We were down this road before when the Longfellow Elementary School was relocated/merged with the Kennedy School in East Cambridge about ten years ago. The Community School Program was originally designed to more fully utilize public school buildings to provide additional community benefit, so in that sense it was somewhat logical to end the Longfellow Community School when the school was closed. However, over time each community school and its associated community council does assume a life of its own – independent of the physical building – and an argument could be made for its preservation even if the building closed. The Longfellow program was temporarily relocated and was preserved.

In the case of the Longfellow School, the building never went away. It was simply re-purposed for other school uses as well as for the temporary location of the Main Library during its renovation/expansion. It’s quite justifiable for the associated community school and the Longfellow Neighborhood Council to be preserved. It is, however, a fact that the identity of these community schools is often tied to the person who is in charge of the program – in this case, Penny Kleespies who recently retired. This is a natural time for the City and the City Manager to evaluate the future of the program.

I personally believe there is value in maintaining this community school and its neighborhood council with the understanding that it must identify what its future mission is to be. Mid-Cambridge is the most populous neighborhood in the city and this program has the potential to be a great benefit. The Longfellow building is currently moth-balled, and the Community School is not able to remain in the building (I’m not sure exactly where it is now operating). Next year (presumably) the King School will be temporarily moved into the Longfellow building while its current building is demolished and reconstructed. I assume that the King School’s community school program may come with it for the duration. This will then be repeated with two other schools later in the decade.

This does not bode well for the existing Longfellow Community School Program if the other programs move with their respective schools. If a community school program is to serve the local neighborhood, it seems to me that simply cycling several other community school programs through the Longfellow building does nothing for Mid-Cambridge. On the other hand, our brilliant School Committee saw fit to eliminate all elementary schools from the city’s most populous neighborhood when it closed the Longfellow School a decade ago.

I will not rally around the preservation of any program simply because it exists or because there is some sentiment to preserve somebody’s job. That’s the kind of patronage attitude that has corrupted the state and this city for years. I do, however, believe that if the whole purpose of community school programs is to "foster community" and provide a space and programming for local neighborhoods, then the city’s most populous neighborhood should not be denied this service.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department about developing a process which would require developers seeking zoning relief to build a model of the area impacted by the proposed developments prior to coming before the City Council for voting purposes.   Mayor Decker

This is already done with many, perhaps most, major proposed developments when they come before the Planning Board. Whether this should be required by the City Council is questionable. The architectural expertise is at the Planning Board, and if they feel the need for cardboard or styrofoam models (or pop-up books) for projects, that should be their call. City councillors are not elected to serve as architects. They always have the option of attending Planning Board meetings if they feel the need for a more enriched architectural perspective.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Mayor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee for a public meeting held on Sept 15, 2011 to discuss bike parking, enforcement, bike sharing and facilities.

There are a few odd topics from this meeting held 5 months ago and only now reported. For example:

"Ms. Seiderman noted that Cambridge parking meters do not, contrary to Mayor Kelley’s statement, have bike rings attached to them as City staff and drivers needing to access the meter heads can find attached bicycles difficult to get around." – This is a statement that needs to be challenged. Cyclists have been locking the bikes to parking meters for as long as there have been locks and parking meters. The possibility that someone cannot access the meter head due to a parked bicycle seems extraordinarily unlikely.

"Mayor Kelley stated that he is not a cycle track advocate." – On this we agree. With all the rhetoric about conflicts caused by bicyclists riding on sidewalks, it seems wrong-headed to set up "cycle tracks" on sidewalks that are guaranteed to significantly increase conflicts with pedestrians. This is what I see nearly every day on Vassar Street where those tracks are installed. It’s one thing to build separate facilities to parallel Memorial Drive or another highway, but they make little sense elsewhere where vehicular speeds are moderate. Children can and do ride on the sidewalk, but this is not the place for adults. – Robert Winters

February 5, 2012

Feb 6, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:36 pm

Feb 6, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Actually, there aren’t any. Councillor Kelley announced last week that he would not be at this meeting, so unless that changes, don’t expect a mayoral ballot to take place at this meeting. Also, two of the more controversial matters that were tabled last week via Charter Right were the following Orders from Councillor Kelley that likely have minimal support from his colleagues. Expect them to be "Placed on File under Rule 19" without action, or possibly be amended by substitution to introduce plans more suitable to the majority of councillors.

Charter Right #12. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three Council members to start the process of searching for and hiring a replacement City Clerk. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Davis on Order Number Four of Jan 30, 2012 submitted by Councillor Kelley.]

Charter Right #13. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three City Council members to start the process of setting up a City Council review of the City Manager and to start the discussion with the City Manager of his intentions. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Davis on Order Number Five of Jan 30, 2012 submitted by Councillor Kelley.]

Unfinished Business #15. That the matter of the election of the Mayor and Vice Mayor be referred to Unfinished Business. Jan 30, 2012 ballot #4 (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker three votes; Councillor Kelley one vote and Councillor Toomey one vote) ballot #5 taken (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker two votes; Councillor Reeves two votes and Councillor Toomey one vote) ballot #6 taken (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker two votes; Councillor Reeves two vote and Councillor Toomey one vote)

That’s pretty much it until next week. It will be more interesting to see what happens Tuesday night at the School Committee meeting when they are expected to vote on the "Academic Challenge Plan" that’s part of the ongoing Innovation Agenda implementation. Will the School Committee vote in favor of mediocrity? Probably. Or maybe they’ll delay the vote. – Robert Winters

January 30, 2012

Only 1,318 Ballots To Go – Jan 30, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:10 am

Only 1,318 Ballots To Go – Jan 30, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Though not the longest of agendas, there are a few hot items that could provoke either some interesting debate or a hasty exercise of the Charter Right. There’s also the unresolved matter of electing the Chair of the City Council, i.e. the Mayor. Here are the items that drew my interest this week:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a draft amendment to the GLBT Ordinance increasing the maximum number of commissioners from fifteen to twenty.

Often it’s been the case that City boards and commissions draw too few (acceptable) candidates, but in this case the GLBT folks received enough good applicants that they felt an ordinance change was warranted to increase the number of members on this advisory committee. It’s always good to see a growth in civic interest. More people should apply for City boards and commissions.

Manager’s Agenda #2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 – Various grant-funded appropriations to the Dept. of Human Service Programs.

These items tend to come in bunches and are often not highlighted because the City of Cambridge has become so routinely successful in securing these grants and supporting these programs. We really do have some great people working for our Department of Human Services Programs under the leadership of Asst. City Manager Ellen Semonoff.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for $67,000 to the Public Works Grant Fund Salaries and Wages account ($22,590) and to the Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($44,410) to research, plan and possibly implement a Pilot Curbside Food Scraps Collection Program for Residents to be accomplished in two phases.

This is one of those Back to the Future things. As many of you know, Cambridge once had citywide food waste (garbage) collection where the old "honey wagon" would make the rounds collecting the buckets from back yards all around the city with the collected material destined for pig slop or other uses. The concrete-lined, steel-capped pits from those days can still be found in many Cambridge yards. The piggery days are long gone, but the wisdom of recycling organic waste for composting (and greenhouse gas reduction) remains. This is an undoubtedly good initiative to consider, though its economic viability remains unclear. A pilot program, if feasible, would be a welcome start. That said, many of us have been composting most of our kitchen and yard waste in our back yards for many years and will continue to do so.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the authorization to borrow an amount not to exceed $36,800,000 for the purpose of refinancing existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid.

Louis DePasquale and the Finance Department are always on the job getting the best deals for taxpayers. It almost makes you want to forgive Louis for being a life-long avid Yankees fan.

On The Table #1 and #2 – The curb cuts at 37 Lancaster St. (#1) and at 9 Wyman St. (#2).

I imagine both of these curb cuts will be approved either at this meeting or pretty soon, but these applications (as well as our never-ending stream of zoning petitions) do serve to highlight the degree to which residential and commercial development proposals bring out the passions of abutters and others living near to these developments. It’s often not the curb cut itself that sets people off, but rather the belief that the developers are pulling a fast one and have not been entirely honest about their ultimate intentions. For example, in the case of the Wyman Street curb cut, there is a belief that ultimately this mammoth single-family structure that claims the need for entries on two different streets will one day become something entirely different. In truth, abutting residents and city councillors have very limited tools for influencing most projects, and zoning is often a very blunt instrument.

Unfinished Business #3 – The Election of a Mayor.

It’s possible that the City Council could resolve this before February, but if neither of the two 3-vote candidates (Cheung and Decker) or those who are supporting them relent, this could go on for many more weeks. Ultimately, if this drags on too long, those councillors who are committed to neither of these candidates could peel off a couple of votes from one or both of them to elect someone else. Several days ago I discovered a series of Harvard Crimson writings from The Great Mayoral Marathon of 1948 in which it took 4 months, 35 sessions, and 1,321 ballots before the City Council managed to assemble 5 votes to elect Mayor Michael J. Neville. The Crimson writers gave very entertaining accounts of the marathon. You can read them at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1796. If there is a mayoral vote at this meeting, the results will be posted at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to contact Sagewell, Inc. with the view in mind of providing a city-wide thermal analysis to Cambridge residents and report back to the Council within two weeks in time for an early winter 2012 thermal scan.   Councillor vanBeuzekom, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Davis

This is a welcome Order. When the Cambridge Energy Alliance was established a few years ago amid lots of fanfare, there was plenty of discussion about how to best advise and assist residential and commercial property owners in order to move toward the goal of a far more energy-efficient city. Perhaps the early excitement can be revived if more effort goes into showing where the improvements are most needed and just how much money there is to be saved.

Order #4. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three Council members to start the process of searching for and hiring a replacement City Clerk.   Councillor Kelley

Order #5. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three City Council members to start the process of setting up a City Council review of the City Manager and to start the discussion with the City Manager of his intentions.   Councillor Kelley

Order #6. That the City Clerk and Deputy City Clerk develop an interim plan for the City Council as it relates to the retirement of the City Clerk; such plan to include whatever reassignment of duties and responsibilities are required to carry out the operations of the City Clerk’s Office during this interim period.   Councillor Maher

These three Orders deserve comment as a group in that they concern two of the three people appointed by the City Council under the Plan E Charter, namely the City Clerk and the City Manager (the other being the City Auditor). Insofar as City Council subcommittees should be undertaking the responsibilities outlined in Councillor Kelley’s Orders #4 and #5, perhaps this is the best argument for why this City Council should elect an actual Mayor with the authority to appoint these committees. Normally, this would fall to the Government Operations & Rules Committee.

Regarding Order #5, the City Manager’s contract stipulates that "In the event written notice is not given, by either party to this agreement to the other six months prior to the termination date as hereinabove provided, this agreement shall extend on the terms and conditions as herein provided for a period of one year." Since the termination date of the current contract is September 30, 2012, this means that the City Council and the City Manager have until the end of March to make their intentions known. Since Councillor Kelley is the only councillor who voted against the Manager’s contract in 2009 (and voted Present on the previous 2006 contract), it seems somewhat aggressive that he should be the one proposing the procedures now.

Councillor Maher’s Order #6 is more constructive. City Clerk D. Margaret Drury has announced that her last day at work will be February 29 – just one month from now. The smooth operation of the City Clerk’s Office is vital for residents and for the City Council and, as Councillor Maher points out, Deputy City Clerk Donna Lopez has 42 years of experience working in the City Clerk’s Office. This Order would appoint Donna Lopez as Interim City Clerk of Cambridge, effective March 1, 2012. It is hard to imagine any councillor objecting to this Order, except possibly for the purpose of removing the term "Interim" from the title.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back with recommendation on zoning changes for the Sullivan Courthouse and neighboring parcels.   Councillor Toomey

As many have pointed out, if the former use of that building had not been as a courthouse, it is unlikely that it would have been built at its current height. Several city councillors have suggested that there be a reduction in the height if and when the building is redeveloped or replaced, and some of these ideas are included in the Order. One could argue that Councillor Toomey’s Order does not go far enough in specifying to CDD what zoning changes might be most appropriate. If, upon analysis, the CDD finds the specifications to be economically unsound, they presumably would recommend compromise zoning language.

Order #8. City Council support of Senate Bill S.772 which expresses the desire for the United States Congress to draft a Constitutional Amendment in response to the Citizens United decision.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Decker

I’ve had numerous conversations recently about this court decision and all of the money that has flowed into political advertisement as a consequence of the decision. The campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution to reverse the effects of the decision seems to be based on the underlying belief that most voters are idiots. That is, when subjected to misleading mass media political advertising, they will simply accept as fact whatever rubbish is broadcast. They must therefore be prevented from such bad influence, and if it takes a constitutional amendment to do this, then so be it.

Maybe voters are not predominantly idiots. Perhaps, as these well-funded rubbish campaigns become more common, voters will develop the ability to tell the difference between fact and fiction, and the more millions that are spent, the more these advertisements will be seen as entertainment rather than information. Needless to say, many people are now getting their information, whether accurate or not, from a dizzying array of web sources most of which are not affected in any way by the Citizens United decision. Personally, I’m more concerned by threats to regulate speech on the web than I am by the ability of corporations to advertise political rubbish.

Communications and Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, regarding the subject of the late resolutions not being read.

In principle, I have to agree with Councillor Kelley on this one. The full text of ceremonial resolutions is not now publicly available but, for goodness sake, if you are going to pass a death resolution when somebody dies, you should at least have the courtesy to read the person’s name. Personally, though I don’t see the need to print the full text of ceremonial resolutions, it should be publicly available on the City web site. – Robert Winters

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