Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 11, 2020

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 451-452: February 11, 2020

Episode 451 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 11, 2020 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 11, 2020 at 5:30pm. Topics: Voting & Elections & Cheating; election standards, voting machines, voter registration, early voting, Presidential primary, noncompetitive elections, broken political systems, ranked choice voting; Tree Cutting Moratorium extended. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

Episode 452 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 11, 2020 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 11, 2020 at 6:00pm. Topics: Welcoming Community Ordinance; Council rhetoric and misunderstanding; Charter Rights and Charter Wrongs; Foreign Policy Committee? history of and possible changes to City Council subcommittees; Full-Time City Council Aides, political patronage, Incumbency Protection Program; City Manager contract. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

February 2, 2020

Post-Candlemas: Little Nuggets from the Feb 3, 2020 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Post-Candlemas: Little Nuggets from the Feb 3, 2020 Cambridge City Council Agenda

groundhogHere are the little nuggets that I found comment-worthy this week:

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a home rule petition to the state legislature that would lower the voting age to sixteen (16) in municipal elections.

As I said last April when this idea had its day in committee: "As for lowering the voting age for municipal elections to 16 years old, my belief is that the minimum voting age should be the same across the entire Commonwealth and not vary from town to town. If you want to make the case for this, try to convince the state legislature to do it statewide or pursue other matters." As the City Solicitor notes in her message, the City Council submitted home rule petitions in 2002 and 2006 to be permitted to lower the municipal voting age to 17, and neither of those petitions was approved. The current petition asks to drop the voting age even lower.

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, recommending the appointment of the following person as a member of the Cambridge Housing Authority Board of Commissioners for a term of 5-years, as recommended by the Greater Boston Labor Council: Louis Bacci, III.

That makes two appointments to the Cambridge Housing Authority Board in as many weeks. As noted last week, the CHA Board is one of only two City boards where appointees require City Council confirmation, so the appointment of Louis Bacci (who presumably will succeed Anthony Pini) will likely be referred to the Housing Committee for a formal hearing – maybe even a two-for-one deal along with appointee Gerald Clark. [Members of Cambridge Boards & Commissions (updated Jan 24, 2020)]

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Mayor’s recommended appointments of the following member of the Family Policy Council, effective Feb 3, 2020 for the 2020-2021 Council term: Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon and School Committee Member Ayesha Wilson.

Resolution #4. Retirement of Mary Hart from her role as Chief Information Officer for the Information Technology Department.   Mayor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Mallon, Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Nolan, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Sobrinho-Wheeler, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Zondervan

Though it’s been corrected in the revised agenda, this resolution initially went in with 9 co-sponsors. Heaven forbid that there would have been a conspiracy among a majority of councillors in defiance of the Open Meeting Law on this purely congratulatory resolution. [Some rules are just plain silly.] I’m a bit curious if retiring "from her role as Chief Information Officer" for IT is the same as retirement from working for the City. In any case, look for the City Council to step up in their call for Municipal Broadband – especially in light of Communications & Reports #2 (below).

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to review the roles, responsibilities, and compensation of City Council Aides with an eye toward designating this as a full-time position.   Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Mallon, Councillor Carlone

I dispute the foundation of this Order, specifically the assertion that "This role has, in the ensuing years, greatly expanded and evolved, with Council Aides managing the schedules of their Council members, conducting constituent intakes and triage, planning and participating in Committee hearings, representing their Council member in public and private meetings, serving as liaisons between their Council members and other elected officials, and serving as an additional conduit between the municipal elected officials and their constituents, in addition to their originally outlined duties." Is the new practice of having stand-ins for city councillors something that should be celebrated and rewarded? City Council committees may need additional support to function optimally, but not individual councillors. Let’s also not forget that the primary route to a job as a City Council aide is to work in the election campaign of the councillor. Finally, I will note that efforts to grow this particular form of political patronage have often coincided with mayoral elections and proposed extensions of a city manager’s contract. Again, see Communications & Reports #2 (below).

I will also note City Hall parking that was once open to anyone working in City Hall (except for Monday evenings) is now exclusively for city councillors on all days and all hours regardless when any councillors are in the building.

Order #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Department of Public Works and any other relevant City departments to update the Council on the plans for the Cambridge Recycling Center.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Sobrinho-Wheeler, Councillor Zondervan

As one of the people who argued for the continuation of the Recycling Center after the City began curbside recycling (July 1991) and who recommended some of the features of the current setup, I’m quite interested in how this resource may evolve. Whether the City moves toward having a mobile Recycling Center or a better layout for the DPW Yard, this question is fundamentally linked to the long-term plans for the DPW Yard and whether it will remain at 147 Hampshire Street or be relocated. I sure appreciated being able to bring some heavy scrap metal there this weekend.

Order #5. Improvements to STR Ordinance to Enhance Compliance.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Perhaps this is what you get when you choose to have an ordinance go into effect on April Fools Day.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Councillor Simmons, transmitting a letter from City Manager Louis A. DePasquale, who is serving formal notice of his desire to enter into formal negotiations with the City Council to extend his contract with the City beyond January 2021.

I’m glad to see that Louis DePasquale wants to continue as City Manager. He deserves an extension simply on the merits of his job performance. That said, I can well imagine more than a few pet projects of individual councillors getting funded in this budget cycle. Just sayin’. – Robert Winters

January 21, 2020

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 447-448: January 21, 2020

Episode 447 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 21, 2020 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 21, 2020 at 5:30pm. Topics: Red Sox; campaign finance, money talks; Vacancy Recount – David Weinstein elected; Patty Nolan joins the 20,000 Club. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

Episode 448 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 21, 2020 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 21, 2020 at 6:00pm. Topics: Impeachment, judicial appointments; seeking a culture of compromise; Board vacancies, regulatory vs. advisory boards, Plan E limitations; proportional representation – proportional to what? Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

January 8, 2020

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 443-444: Jan 7, 2020

Episode 443 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 7, 2020 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 7, 2020 at 5:30pm. Topics: City Council and School Committee Inaugurations; Election of Mayor, Vice-Chair of City Council; School Committee & Cancel Culture; City Manager Contract on the horizon; Liberalism vs. Radicalism; Freakonomics in affordable housing, small business, and the Achievement Gap; money doesn’t solve everything. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

Episode 444 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 7, 2020 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 7, 2020 at 6:00pm. Topics: City Council priorities; return of Subsidized Housing Overlay proposal or alternatives; tenant protections and condo regulation; protection vs. control; zoning & development in Central Square, near Union Sq./Green Line Extension; Alewife possibilities, including multiple bridges. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

January 5, 2020

The Eve of Inauguration

Filed under: 2019 election,Cambridge,School Committee — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:02 pm

The Eve of Inauguration

City HallSun, Jan 5 – It’s the Eve of Inauguration of the 2020-21 City Council (10:00am start, City Hall) and School Committee (6:00pm start, Cambridge Public Library, Lecture Hall, 449 Broadway). Upon inauguration of the City Council, they will proceed directly to the Election of the Mayor (and then the Vice Chair should a Mayor actually be elected). There has been the usual chatter among residents (as well as some posturing of incumbents meant to suggest who might have disproportionate influence in the process) but other than the logic of those with high vote totals deserving an advantage in the selection, I have no specific information on how the vote will go. Often the person who is seen as delivering the decisive vote is rewarded by being elected Vice Mayor or getting choice committee assignments. I have attended these inaugurations every two years for a very long time and have generally found the mayoral maneuvering to be interesting, especially in trying to decipher which favors are granted to whom in exchange for votes. It would so much more interesting if there were actual horses being traded.

Whoever does end up with the five votes to become Mayor will then have the distinct privilege of becoming the 7th voting member and Chair of the School Committee. If the tone and focus of the upcoming School Committee is even remotely similar to the outgoing one, a prison sentence might be preferable to being Mayor. Perhaps with mostly new members things will be different. A Mayor who is capable of resolving differences rather than exacerbating them will help. Time will tell.

One City Council Committee appointment (by whomever ends up as Mayor) will be Chair of the Government Operations, Rules, and Claims Committee. We are now entering the final year of the contract with City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. The process of deciding whether to extend that contract or to seek a new City Manager has traditionally been shepherded by the Chair of Government Operations, though any route to five votes would be completely consistent with the Plan E Charter under which the Manager "shall hold office during the pleasure of the city council". As to the timing, the current contract states: "If the City intends to continue Mr. DePasquale’s employment beyond January 8, 2021, it shall give written notice to Mr. DePasquale on or before September 14, 2020, and initiate negotiations for a successor employment contract, which contract, if agreed to, shall become effective January 9, 2021. Absent agreement on a successor employment contract, this Agreement shall terminate on January 8, 2021." – Robert Winters

PS – At this time it appears to still be the case that Emily Dexter may not accept her election to the School Committee. If this does prove to be the case, her replacement will be officially determined later this month. I sincerely hope that this situation is somehow reversed, that the will of the voters is respected, and that a "teachable moment" is somehow recovered. There is an opportunity here for a new Mayor to actually show real leadership. Or not. – RW

City Councillors-Elect: Dennis Carlone, Alanna Mallon, Marc McGovern, Patty Nolan, Sumbul Siddiqui, Denise Simmons, Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, Tim Toomey, Quinton Zondervan

School Committee Members-Elect: Mannika Bowman, Emily Dexter, Alfred Fantini, Jose Luis Rojas Villarreal, Rachel Weinstein, Ayesha Wilson

December 17, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 441-442: December 17, 2019

Episode 441 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 17, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: On Elections & Vacancies; The Departure of Councillors Craig Kelley & Jan Devereux; Karp Petition and East Cambridge development, Contract Zoning a.k.a. “Let’s Make A Deal”; Mall Tales and Mini-Retail. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

Episode 442 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 17, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 17, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Harvard Square Zoning Petition – how zoning might help retail.; Form-Based Zoning – Citywide Somerville Rezoning; Finding the “Sweet Spot” in zoning density. Hosts: Patrick Barrett, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

November 24, 2019

Turkey Trot – Nov 25, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Turkey Trot – Nov 25, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

Turkey TrotPerhaps we should call this the Lame Turkey Session and give the ducks a break. Here are a few agenda items that caught my eye:

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,924,594.18, associated with Education First’s EF 3 Building, SP#328) from the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund to the Public Investment Public Works Extraordinary Expenditure account which will be used to support utility work associated with the Port Project and were paid by Education First to fulfill their Inflow and Infiltration requirement.

This is what "mitigation money" is supposed to be all about – actual mitigation and infrastructure improvement. Contrast this with the current practice of granting upzoning not for the sake of good planning but for cash and prizes – and, of course, subsidized housing units. At least the proposal to glue subsidized housing units onto a self-storage facility didn’t fly. Mark my words – this is only going to get weirder in the next City Council term.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-140, regarding Harvard Square plaza area safety improvements.

During my four decades in Cambridge I have seen the Harvard Square pedestrian environment reconfigured several times – each time under the belief that nirvana had been achieved. The last iteration was the "Super Crosswalk" that apparently was never all that super. The next iteration is coming. No matter the outcome, we will be assured that congestion and delay is not a negative consequence but is instead good for us and we should shut up and be grateful – and all parties involved will continue to bend the traffic laws as they see fit.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $107,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance Other Ordinary Maintenance account as initial support of the recommendations of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force regarding the Central Square Cultural District.

Yippee! Money for Central Square! Now if we could only categorize sidewalk repair and improvements to the T station as "art" we’ll be all set.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-122, which requested a legal opinion on the License Commissions authority.

This is by far the most important item on this agenda. Though this legal opinion merely states what many of us have known and understood all along, it should put to rest some of the outrageous misunderstandings that have been circulating. That said, I read an opinion today that it was somehow problematic that a quasi-judicial body like the Cambridge License Commission can act without micromanagement by the City Manager – even though any decision of the License Commission can be appealed. Imagine how outraged people would feel if it was suggested that the Planning Board should not issue or deny a Special Permit without the approval of the City Manager. Ultimately the City Manager is "the appointing authority" and could appoint only yes-men (and yes-women) to all the City’s Boards and Commissions as well as the Police Commissioner and Fire Chief, but that practice would likely head south pretty quickly. City Solicitor Glowa’s legal opinion is both impressive and timely, and I hope it puts to rest some of the falsehoods from the Lower Port to the Upper West.

Committee Report #1 & Committee Report #2. A report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 26, 2019 and Nov 14, 2019 to discuss the petition by Stephen R. Karp, Trustee of Cambridgeside Galleria Associates Trust, to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a Section 13.100 that creates a new PUD-8 District and to amend the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge by adding the new PUD-8 District, which District would include the property located at 100 Cambridgeside Place (currently zoned in the Business A and PUD-4 Districts).

I do hope that the City Council passes some version of this zoning amendment solely because I think we could a lot do better in that corner of the city than what exists now, and some reconfiguration of the Cambridgeside Galleria should be part of that. However, I find aspects of the committee report to be problematic, e.g. "the Petitioner will pay the City $50 million dollars in mitigation funding" and "what would happen to the proposed community benefits if the Petitioner decided to proceed under their current zoning" and "she felt that the height and massing could be appropriate depending on the community benefits." In short, approving changes in zoning should be primarily about good planning and not about any "quid pro quo". Unfortunately, this brand of zoning negotiation as commodity trading is not exceptional in Cambridge these days – and it may only grow worse. – Robert Winters

November 13, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 431-432: November 12, 2019

Episode 431 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 12, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 12, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Municipal election results; effectiveness of slates; role of major issues (if any); what’s next. Hosts: Robert Winters, Patrick Barrett [On YouTube] [audio]

Episode 432 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 12, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 12, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Election last details; Harvard Square Zoning Petition; where do we go from here. Hosts: Robert Winters, Patrick Barrett [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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