Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 8, 2019

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

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

These agenda items seem marginally interesting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 27, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 375-376: Feb 26, 2019

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:18 am

Episode 375 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 26, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 26, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Tree Removal Moratorium vote and politics; proposal for a total ban on all leaf blowers. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

Episode 376 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 26, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 26, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Trucks & Free Speech; proposed MBTA fare increase, tradeoffs, Uber/Lyft; The Return of Lodging Houses?; home ownership & responsibility; acoustic music licensing. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 26, 2017

End of the March – Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:45 pm

End of the March – Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

First Sign of SpringHere’s my take on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group, effective Mar 27, 2017: Abra Berkowitz, Robyn Culbertson, Ankita Deshpande, Timothy Hyde, Janet Si-Ming Lee, Sarah Rosenkrantz, Daniel Andrew Schofield-Bodt, Kenneth Taylor, John DiGiovanni, Bertil JeanChronberg, Frank Kramer, Peter Kroon, Sohail Nasir, Abhishek Syal, Thomas Lucey and Mary Flynn

This is shaping up like a classic turf war and I hope these appointees can get beyond that. Personally, I would just like to see an active use for the Kiosk that’s not all about the tourists – a place where the locals want to gather. My ideal would be something like Sullivan’s at Castle Island in South Boston, but I don’t suppose the Old Cambridge crowd could ever tolerate that much humanity.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the requirements of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that the City Council adopt an order for the Statement of Interest Form to be submitted to MSBA no later than Apr 7, 2017 for the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School located at 197 Vassal Lane.

The Putnam Avenue School is done and the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools are now under construction. This Statement of Interest concerns the next major renovation or replacement – the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School. Let’s hope there’s some state grant money available to help pay for the project.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance related to the growth and maintenance of “Running Bamboo”.

Alternatively, we could import pandas. City officials are just so resistant to creative solutions.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 16-64 and 17-9, regarding trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.

"DPW is proposing to expand the municipal recycling pick-up program on a trial basis to small businesses beginning in the spring/summer of 2018. It is proposed that this program will be made available to all small businesses throughout the City on a once per week basis, and will help reduce the cost to businesses in eliminating the need for them to contract with outside vendors as well as enabling the City to further increase the quantity of material diverted from the waste stream in the City. Funds are included in the FY18 budget to initiate the program."

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $1,000,000 from the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to the Public Investment Fund Water Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the replacement of water meters and meter transmitter units (MTUs).

Contained in the message is the following piece of good news: "In October 2016, the Council approved an appropriation to use $3.6 million from the Water Fund’s Fund Balance to purchase water from the MWRA to ensure an adequate supply of water to meet the needs of the community. The severity of the drought has lessened and the usable capacity in our reservoir system has stabilized. The City has not had to use MWRA water since the beginning of December and has only expended $1.6 million."

Manager’s Agenda #15. 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, 2017 and ending Mar 31, 2018.

According to the Manager’s report, the average triple-decker uses about 122 CCF of water per year. My triple-decker apparently uses nearly twice that and we’re generally pretty conscientious about water use. This past year I paid over $2850 and the report says the average for a triple-decker was $1590. Either something is amiss with the plumbing or the Manager’s figures or my water meter is reading a lot higher than it should. Actually, I just checked my records and it appears that the higher readings coincide with when the new meter was installed. Time to call the Water Department, I guess.

Order #1. City Council go on record urging the Governor to resist reducing funding for The Ride.   Mayor Simmons

It’s stunning just how backwards things are in this state and, in particular, the Boston Metropolitan Area when it comes to public transportation. I don’t doubt that there are some efficiencies to be had with The Ride and other services, but this hardly seems the place to close a budget gap.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Acting Police Commissioner with a view toward piloting a Cambridge Police outpost located in Carl Barron Plaza, to be ready for operation by Summer 2017.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

What should really happen is for the City and the MBTA and a Central Square property owner to create a multi-function site that can house a police substation, an MBTA facility for bus drivers and other personnel, an information center, a public bathroom, and maybe even a newsstand. That, of course, would take coordination, so I won’t hold my breath.

Order #6. That the City of Cambridge opposes H.R. 482 and S. 103, and calls on its representatives in the House and Senate to vote against these bills, and to exert influence on other representatives to oppose these bills and support the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in all efforts to affirmatively further fair housing and collect data to assess the progress of fair housing initiatives and inclusiveness of its communities.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

In addition to the many positive effects of the Fair Housing Act, there is also the unintended consequence that efforts to more equitably locate some social-service types of housing throughout the city have actually been hindered by this Act. There is no legal way to prevent the over-concentration of such facilities in a place like Central Square.

Order #7. That the City Council agenda be altered to create a section in the agenda between public comment and the City Manager’s agenda entitled “General Council Discussion,” where Councillors would be able to bring their colleagues up-to-date on projects in which they are engaged or ask for updates about projects that other Councillors are working on, even if these issues do not appear on the Council’s agenda or have never been the subject of formal City Council attention.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

In an ideal world, city councillors would actually be working on such projects collaboratively and in accordance with the Open Meeting Law via the various City Council subcommittees. If this were the case there would be no need to set aside a special time at City Council meetings to reveal what they’ve been doing out of public view.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 16, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Richard Harding, et al., to amend the Mass + Main Residential sub district and the Central Square Overlay District by amending Sections 20.307.8.1 (a) and (b) and 20.307.6.2 (a).

Even if someone has lingering objections to the Mass+Main project, this is an absurd way to go about expressing those objections long after that train left the station. – Robert Winters

May 5, 2016

Joint Statement of Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and Cambridge City Manager Richard C. Rossi Regarding the Green Line Extension

Filed under: Cambridge,MBTA — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 5:00 pm

Joint Statement of Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and Cambridge City Manager Richard C. Rossi Regarding the Green Line Extension

May 5, 2016

Somerville sealToday the Cities of Somerville and Cambridge Massachusetts are pleased to make this important announcement of our continued support for and commitment of new funds to bridge the funding gap that will allow the construction of the Green Line Extension Project (GLX) to move forward.

It is our understanding that MassDOT has completed its review of the GLX and developed a new cost estimate, and that on Monday, May 9, MassDOT will transmit information for review and evaluation by the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors that includes a revised budget and plans and a statement of need for municipal governments hosting the GLX to contribute funding. Based on that understanding, we are prepared to make a recommendation that our municipalities assist the state in the funding solution for this project.

We would like to thank the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the interim design team for their swift but careful scrutiny of the project plans and budget, their commitment to the inclusion of public and municipal feedback, and their diligence in developing a new strategy for moving forward. Should the FMCB approve their expected recommendation to construct the GLX, residents of the Commonwealth will reap the benefits of the team’s critical effort for decades to come.

Cambridge sealIt is our understanding, however, that without firm financial commitments from our municipalities that the GLX could be canceled and the Commonwealth would forfeit not only its $996 million federal New Starts grant award, but an estimated $700 million in “sunk costs” of the state’s $996 million share of the project. Additionally, the fulfillment of the public needs that this project was designed to meet would remain unrealized.

The purpose of the GLX is to improve regional air quality as required by legally binding resolutions, reduce roadway congestion, encourage sustainable economic growth, and provide a convenient means of public transportation for Massachusetts residents, workers and visitors. To ensure that these needs and goals do not go unmet, the cities of Cambridge and Somerville intend to seek to expand their financial partnership with the Commonwealth to construct elements of the GLX program, subject to and contingent upon approval by the Cambridge City Council and the Somerville Board of Aldermen.

It should be noted that both the cities of Cambridge and Somerville have previously invested significant funds and resources in sunken costs in support of the GLX project, including the City of Somerville’s investment of more than $8 million for land acquisition and other infrastructure, that have relieved the Commonwealth of several specific required project costs. Similarly, the developers of the North Point area are investing tens of millions of dollars in improvements that support and enable the GLX to occur. Expanding this financial partnership is an extreme and unprecedented arrangement for a state infrastructure project. Despite the fact that our cities bear no responsibility for the cost overruns that brought the GLX to this moment of crisis, we will seek to support the Commonwealth by expanding our cost-sharing role. The Green Line is that important to our communities, our region, and our state.

It is our understanding that the new cost estimate for the GLX will retain core program elements including seven light rail transit stations including a spur to Union Square, a Vehicle Maintenance Facility, a Community Path, and related utility upgrades. With that clear understanding, it is our intention as Mayor of the City of Somerville and City Manager of Cambridge to recommend to the Somerville Board of Aldermen and the Cambridge City Council that our cities commit to underwriting project costs for specific, tangible elements that would deliver meaningful public safety and quality-of-life benefits for our residents.

After discussions with the state, the needed value of new financial participation in the GLX for the City of Somerville is projected to be $50 million and the value of the City of Cambridge’s contribution is projected at $25 million, including financial contributions from the North Point developers, to close the funding gap. Again, any contribution will be subject to Board and City Council approvals.

Furthermore, it is our intention to work, alongside MAPC, with Governor Baker’s administration and the cities’ state and federal delegations to seek legislative action on new and refined “value capture” tools capable of supporting new infrastructure investments around Massachusetts. In addition, we request that the Commonwealth establish a baseline tracking framework for future Infrastructure Investment Incentive (I-Cubed) state tax revenue accruals generated by transit-oriented development around the GLX, so as to not preclude a formal application to use eligible I-Cubed revenues to offset Cambridge’s and Somerville’s proposed municipal contribution, if they choose that option.

It is clear that the Commonwealth is shifting to a new paradigm for major transportation infrastructure investments. Across the nation, many states have established predictable and equitable frameworks for local value capture financing in state transportation projects. As we work toward that goal, Somerville and Cambridge will stand with the Commonwealth to advance the state of the art. We do so with the expectation that this is truly a new precedent for statewide policy, and that our communities will not be held to higher standards than other Massachusetts municipalities seeking state and federal financing for roadway, transit or other infrastructure projects.

Additional Comment from Massachusetts Area Planning Council:

“I want to congratulate the Cities of Cambridge and Somerville for making this unprecedented municipal commitment to help fund a critical state transportation project,” said Metropolitan Area Planning Council Executive Director Marc Draisen. “The Green Line Extension will have a significant, positive impact on our region in terms of jobs created and retained, new housing units created, and increased transit access for tens of thousands of residents. Cambridge and Somerville have shown a willingness to help invest in a project that will benefit themselves and their neighboring municipalities. We applaud them and MassDOT for working together to create this opportunity to advance this project.”

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

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

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