Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 4, 2019

The Last Thing on their Minds – Nov 4, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

The Last Thing on their Minds – Nov 4, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting

CountdownThis is your classic night-before-Election-Day City Council meeting where Council business places a distant second behind concerns about having all their incumbency protection ducks in a row. If this meeting goes beyond 6:15pm it will likely be because they were forced to listen to the repetitive whining of Public Comment. Anyway, here is my very short list of interesting items on this very short agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the creation of a new municipal Renewable Energy and Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) Reduction Revolving Fund (“Revolving Fund”) to serve the City of Cambridge’s (“City”) municipal energy aggregation, and adoption of the proposed new ordinance, Chapter 3.24, entitled “Departmental Revolving Funds.”

From the Manager’s letter: "The Aggregation adder is expected to raise approximately $650,000 annually, or a total of $1.3 million during the current supplier contract period (January 2019 – December 2020)." Proposed uses are: (a) Invest $1.3 million in a solar energy project located on a municipal building; and (b) Deposit income earned from the sale of generated Net Metering Credits annually into the Revolving Fund. Those funds would subsequently be used to finance other solar energy/renewable energy projects and all resulting GHG reductions would be attributed to the Aggregation’s participants.

Seems like a reasonable plan of action.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff on determining the most appropriate signage and messaging that would best educate cyclists on the importance of following traffic laws, particularly stopping at red lights, for their own safety and the safety of other cyclists and pedestrians.

30 out of 31 Communications in which cyclists recoil in horror because a City Council Order from last week suggested "signage and messaging that would best educate cyclists on the importance of following traffic laws, particularly stopping at red lights, for their own safety and the safety of other cyclists and pedestrians."

Only in Cambridge would a resolution calling for enhanced safety yield an avalanche of protest. The turf wars continue.

Resolution #5. Congratulations to Sekazi K. Mtingwa.   Councillor Simmons

Sekazi and I worked together at MIT. I did the math and he did the physics in the MIT Concourse program. I’m glad to see him getting the recognition.

Brattle RoundaboutOrder #3. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the Council by the end of this term on progress toward identifying a source of funding and a timetable for the design and construction of a modern roundabout at the Brattle-Sparks-Craigie intersection, to share the consultant’s 2017-18 report on the feasibility of a modern roundabout, and to schedule a community meeting in early 2020 to further discuss this project.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

I don’t know whether or not this is the best alternative for this intersection but it is an interesting proposal. I don’t like the way it "pedestrianizes" cyclists and I would likely just ride through the roundabout with the rest of the traffic. It’s a bit strange that the Council Order calls for a source of funding and a timetable for the design and construction prior to there being any decision on even doing such a redesign, but it’s fair to say that this isn’t the first instance of engineering via politics by this Council.

Order #5. Resolution in support of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW’S demands for a fair contract now.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon

Finish your thesis, kids. There are better opportunities than being an ABD (All But Dissertation) graduate student. I’ll add that it still seems funny that the United Auto Workers are representing Harvard Graduate students.

99 Items Awaiting Report (sung to the tune of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall")

Wouldn’t it be just marvelous if one of these weeks one of the councillors simply asked the manager to run through the list and say (a) which items he has no intention of reporting (possibly because it’s either moot or ridiculous); (b) which items somebody somewhere is actually working on; and (c) which items he considers to be timely and important. For example, should we all be waiting with bated breath on the future of wood-fired ovens or electronic device usage by City-elected officials? I thought that the request for "a comprehensive, independent planning, and parking study of the neighborhood and use of the First Street Garage" had already been completed. Would it be so difficult to report on the "feasibility of allowing small businesses to host live acoustic music performances without a license?" Can anyone shed any light on the proposed Outdoor Lighting Ordinance that has apparently gone missing? – Robert Winters

October 7, 2019

Never Mind Choice – Let’s All Ban Together – Oct 7, 2019 City Council Highlights/Lowlights

Never Mind Choice – Let’s All Ban Together – Oct 7, 2019 City Council Highlights/Lowlights

Here’s this week’s sampler of things interesting and/or infuriating (grouped as appropriate):

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the City Council zoning petition to amend Article 19.000 of the Zoning Ordinance regarding utility and infrastructure impacts of large development projects that require a Project Review Special Permit.

Order #8. Public Utilities’ Planning and public meetings.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

The Planning Board basically said in recommending against this petition that though they would like Project Review Special Permit applicants to provide information about energy needs, etc., they don’t believe it’s in their purview "to make findings with regard to infrastructure that is managed by state-regulated public utilities over which neither the City nor the developer have control." They also expressed concern that the proposed changes might prevent development projects that could otherwise improve existing infrastructure (as mitigation). The Board did acknowledge the value of receiving information on the overall impact of a particular project on the energy system and the cumulative impacts of new development but did not support precluding projects strictly on the basis of such information.

The context of this proposal is the proposed Eversource substation on Fulkerson St. and the fact that with new development comes the need for such facilities – unless you are of the belief that all new buildings can be built honestly "net zero". The fact is that most, perhaps all, buildings that are advertised as "net zero" still require energy off the grid. The "net zero" identification is achieved by creative accounting, i.e. by purchasing energy from renewable sources and by buying of energy credits. This doesn’t eliminate the need for the infrastructure to deliver the energy.

Order #8 seeks "to institute regularly scheduled, public conversations between the Planning Board and public utility representatives from Eversource, the Water Department, Comcast, Verizon, and any other appropriate entities, in order to keep the City and the public informed." That’s a good idea regardless how one feels about this specific zoning petition.


Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the votes necessary to seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue of the tax rate for FY2020.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Christopher Schmidt, regarding not using excess balances to lower the tax levy.

The FY20 property tax levy based on the approved FY20 Budget is $438,128,694, an increase of $28,318,833 or 6.9% from FY19. For comparison sake, the current national inflation rate is 1.7%. The FY20 Adopted Operating Budget increased by 5.7% over the FY19 Adjusted Budget. The FY19 levy was 5.3% over FY18.

The FY20 residential tax rate will be $5.75 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval – a decrease of $0.19 or -3.2% from FY19. The commercial tax rate will be $12.68 – a decrease of $1.03 or -7.5% from FY19. However, before you pop the champagne corks to celebrate the lower tax rate, note that assessed values continue to soar. Total residential property values increased by 9.9%, and total commercial property values increased by 15.6%, so the median tax bills (including the residential exemption) will all be jumping – 8.9% for single-family homes, 7.4% for two-families, 6.0% for three-families, and just the tiniest of increase of 2.8% for condominiums.

I find it interesting and somewhat alarming that at City Council candidate forums some incumbents and challengers continue to celebrate how flush with cash we are and that we should be substantially increasing spending. As the noted letter indicates this also appears to be the sentiment of the major players with endorsing organizations like ABC. There was even one candidate at a forum last night who proposed that the City simply buy up all residential housing in Cambridge and turn it into "social housing". At the signpost up ahead, The Twilight Zone.


Charter Right #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to determine whether it would be possible to allow a permitted area for serving alcoholic beverages on Danehy Park property during special community-wide events.

As I said when this was introduced – great idea, and consistent with policies that the DCR has adopted for some of its parks.


Unfinished Business #12. A Zoning Petition has been received from Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. et al proposing a Grand Junction Pathway Overlay District [Ordination Comes on or after Oct 7, 2019]

Communications #39. A communication was received from Joseph T. Maguire, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. regarding Amended Zoning Petition for Grand Junction Pathway Overlay District.

Alexandria is asking that the petition be allowed to expire so that it can be re-filed. This matter is also intertwined with the Eversource substation matter.


Applications & Petitions #2. An application was received from &Pizza, requesting permission for a sandwich board sign in front of the premises numbered 3 Brattle Street with a start date of Dec 1, 2019 thru Mar 31, 2020 and a start time of 11:00am and a end time of 11:00pm.

Applications & Petitions #5. A Zoning Petition has been received from Suzanne P. Blier regarding Harvard Square Zoning Petition.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Harvard Square Business Association and the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association to determine the feasibility of closing some portion of Harvard Square to vehicular traffic on a select number of days during the summer of 2020 to have open market-style events.   Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui

It is worth noting (and celebrating) that the freshly introduced Harvard Square Zoning Petition is the result of collaboration among residents and property owners who haven’t always been on speaking terms. Kudos once again to future Nobel Peace Prize nominee Patrick Barrett for helping this process along. We all want to see a Harvard Square revival – and not just for occasional one-day events. As for the sandwich board sign in front of &Pizza, I thought having one of the most prominent locations in the heart of Harvard Square would speak for itself – no extra signage required. I’ll add that really good pizza also speaks for itself.


Communications #2-6,12. Sundry communications re: "Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay".

Is anyone listening? Or are 5 councillors still biding their time in the hope that they can inflict this or worse on the city after January 1?

Communications #10. A communication was received from Gregg Moree, 25 Fairfield Street, regarding State Senator Sal DiDomenico clear evidence of him going to Florida without permission.

Unbelievable. Sometimes I feel that the requirement for candidacy should be something other than just 50 signatures.

Communications #13-36. Sundry communications re: support for bike lanes.

Basically all the same letter saying the same thing about how the priorities of one group of stakeholders outweigh all other considerations and there is one and only one way to make cycling safer.


Order #3. That the full City Council ask the City Solicitor to report back on the legal authority of the City to ban the use of natural gas in newly constructed buildings.   Councillor Zondervan

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor, Community Development, Public Works, Inspectional Services and any other related departments to review the proposed amendments regarding the prohibition of Natural Gas Infrastructure in New Buildings.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux

Committee Report #1. A report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux and Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chairs of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 25, 2019 regarding banning natural (fracked) gas infrastructure in Cambridge.

As I wrote elsewhere regarding candidates, some want to mandate change and remove choice. The better candidates want to encourage change and provide incentives. It’s a big difference. Some candidates think primarily in terms of bans and reducing options. Others believe in expanding choice and providing good alternatives from which to choose. I personally prefer using a gas stove. I also believe my natural gas heat is considerably less expensive than the electric alternative.


Relic of the Washington Elm
Circular box carved from a
piece of the Washington Elm
Washington Elm postcard

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Arts Council and the Department of Public Works, in conjunction with the Rindge School of Technical Arts, to determine the best re-use for the four honey locust logs from Inman Square to create public art for the community.   Councillor Zondervan

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 17, 2019 to discuss the preserved Inman Square tree trunks and receive input from the public on possible future uses of the wood, which is a public resource.

This is perhaps one of the tiniest of agenda items, but I really like the idea of using the wood from identified trees either as public art or as mementos. I have a little circular box made from the famous Washington Elm that once stood at Garden and Mason Streets. I have other pieces of that tree as well.


Order #5. That the City Manager have appropriate city staff review the proposed Welcoming Community Ordinance.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Mallon, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Committee Report #3. 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, 2019 at 3pm to discuss the Welcoming Community Ordinance.

This is basically just an updated version of the existing Sanctuary City resolution but in the form of an ordinance that specifically addresses how the Cambridge Police and other City departments should interact with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The City Solicitor expressed that Council should be careful when limiting a police officer’s discretion to enforce laws, and I agree completely. I do find merit in Sanctuary City principles in that I certainly don’t want people to stop reporting crimes or contacting the Fire Dept. or other services out of fear of being nailed for their immigration status.


Order #7. Fuel pump warning labels.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

Sign, sign everywhere a sign blocking out the scenery breakin my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Order #11. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to allocate more funds in the FY21 budget to Inspectional Services to help combat the city-wide rodent issue and report back on the feasibility of providing monetary compensation to homeowners who have had to self-finance traps and what funds could be allocated in the future to help homeowners buy traps.   Councillor Toomey

What about those of us who live next to a building where the property owner (and tenants) don’t properly address their rodent infestation even after the City has been contacted, fines have been issued, and the problems persist? Getting reimbursed for partially addressing problems on an adjacent property that spills over onto your own property hardly seems like a solution.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Budget Department, the Assessor’s Department and the Community Development Department to consider directing a portion of future PILOT funds into the Affordable Housing Trust starting in FY21.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

Earmarking funds in this way is generally a bad idea. Same goes for previous notions of dedicating cannabis-related funds toward purposes unrelated to its impacts. Priorities and needs change and restricting in-lieu-of-tax funds from universities to one purpose is short-sighted.

Order #15. That the City Council go on record in support of House Bill 3116, Senate Bill 2034, and the establishment of Governor Baker’s Low-speed Mobility Device Advisory Working Group as part of the Safe Driving Legislation, Senate Bill 7.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

This is a good idea and overdue. That said, if anyone thinks that electric scooters and skateboards are going to go a long way toward solving transportation needs, think again.

Order #16. Creating the Director of Arts and Culture Position.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Simmons

I have to seriously question the motivation for this Order. If some councillors have questions about how the Cambridge Arts Council prioritizes arts and cultural matters in the city, that’s a totally reasonable inquiry. If they believe that additional staff may be required, that’s also a reasonable thing to ask of the City Manager in the next Budget cycle. However, asking to create a highly specific "Director of Arts and Culture" position seems like these councillors are stepping way over the line into city management. Should the whole universe of how the City supports arts and culture be reviewed periodically? Absolutely, and the City Manager should regularly challenge the Arts Council and other City-supported entities (like CMAC) to be the best they can be. We currently have an especially good Executive Director of the Arts Council in Jason Weeks, and I fail to see how creating a separate and parallel position will in any way further any goals that may have been expressed as part of the recent Arts Task Force.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Economic Development division of the Community Development Department to retain a financial/economic analyst to conduct a confidential financial analysis of NED’s pro forma to inform the council in confidence on the value of the proposed upzoning.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

This may make sense in this specific case since the proponent has offered to provide this financial information, but I hope that we don’t go down the road of only approving projects after analyzing the books of the proponents. Ideally zoning should be about good planning and betterment for the city and not on how much profit is permissible in the long run.

Order #21. Proposed amendment to City Ordinance 1.12.040 regarding City Solicitor opinion on proposed ordinances.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Siddiqui

I don’t know if an ordinance change is necessarily warranted in this case, but it probably is a good idea to get the City Solicitor involved earlier in some of these matters rather than head down some roads leading to a dead end. – Robert Winters

September 16, 2019

Featured Items on the Sept 16, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:24 pm

Featured Items on the Sept 16, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here’s my first pass at what I think is the interesting stuff. See below for snarky comments and enduring wisdom.City Hall

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-56, regarding a report on the feasibility of constructing a quick-build complete streets project to provide separated bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, from Sidney Street to Putnam Avenue.

Perhaps the most important statement in the report is this: "It is also important to note that the continued success of Central Square as a vibrant and livable community hub for business, culture, and government relies on a delicate balance of different activities that go beyond transportation. Any planning related to complete streets and reconfiguring Central Square for the benefit of street users of all ages and abilities must take into account a broad range of factors and stakeholders, to avoid taking any actions that would change that balance in a negative way. We want to ensure that as we contemplate changes that serve our City goals related to promoting sustainable transportation and improving access to community resources and economic opportunities, we do not inadvertently make it more difficult to achieve other goals that we have related to Central Square."

I fully expect the velo-zealots will demand that only their concerns should be addressed and that all others should just get on board. Hopefully reason will prevail and we won’t have people boarding buses while cyclists weave through the line of passengers, or have every cyclist in town dialing up See-Click-Fix because somebody had to make a delivery and had no choice but to encroach on their turf.

Manager’s Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-69, regarding a report on the timeline and process for the Net Zero Action Plan 5-Year Review.

We all want energy efficiency but I seriously hope that the mandates don’t come crashing down on reasonable people living in older homes.


Manager’s Agenda #17. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to proposed amendments to the New Street Overlay District Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #7. A communication was received from Anthony Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone Co-Chair and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 26, 2019 to discuss a petition received from Self Storage Group, LLC to amend the Zoning Ordinance by creating a New Street Overlay District. ON OR AFTER AUG 18, 2019 THE QUESTION COMES ON ORDINATION

Unfinished Business #12. A communication was received from Anthony I. Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting a memorandum from Vice Mayor Devereux, regarding proposed amendments to the New Street Overlay District zoning petition.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk, Anthony I. Wilson, transmitting a memorandum from Adams and Rafferty, James J. Rafferty, P.C. regarding proposed Amendments and a related letter of Commitment for consideration by the City Council concerning the New Street Overlay Zoning Petition. The proposed Amendments consist of the addition of Sections 20.96.5 and Sections 20.96.6.

I have no particular opinion on this zoning petition, but it is worth noting that the Planning Board gave it a negative recommendation. The other thing worth noting is that it seems like standard operation procedure nowadays in Cambridge that no matter what the proposal you just promise to throw in a few "affordable housing" units and you’re good to go. Maybe even a tree or two if you still need that extra vote.


On the Table #1. A communication was received from Anthony I. Wilson, City Clerk, transmitting Part 4 of the report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a reconvened public hearing held on Sept 3, 2019 to continue discussions on a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create an Affordable Housing Overlay District.

I hope we never have to suffer through this again but it would be naive to think this is how it will play out. The ABC zealots are already attacking "those wealthy anti-housing people" as part of their election strategy. I personally feel this matter was tabled last week primarily so that its supporters and potential supporters could weather the November election and then ram it through afterwards without fear. The fact is that it remains a shabbily crafted attempt to rewrite all of Cambridge housing policy so that policy-makers don’t have to address the general issue of affordability of housing locally and regionally.

Unfinished Business #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the proposed Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance. ON OR AFTER APR 22, 2019 THE QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED

The Ordinance Committee hearing on this that was recessed in chaos will reconvene this Wednesday as they once again try to decide the winners in the "Who Wants to be a Millionnaire" sweepstakes.

Unfinished Business #8. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the License Commission and City Solicitor’s office to drop all charges against UpperWest and its owners, to reconsider UpperWest’s package store application, and to issue a public apology to UpperWest and its owners.

Councillor Zondervan may finally have his chance to express his undying love for some of the least likable people anywhere.

Unfinished Business #9. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to obtain a legal opinion from the City Solicitor regarding the License Commission’s authority with regard to the issuance, denial, suspension or revocation of liquor licenses in the City of Cambridge.

Go ask Nancy. I think she’ll know.

Unfinished Business #10. A Zoning Petition has been received from Ben LoVemere regarding that the City Council ordain the Zoning language set forth relative the Alewife Quadrangle Northwest Overlay District.

Unfinished Business #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board report with no positive or negative recommendations on the Alexandria Grand Junction Overlay District Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #13. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Police Commissioner, the Cambridge Carnival Committee, and the community to organize an alternative event to take place in Cambridge on the Carnival’s rain date, that will allow vendors to sell their products and potentially recover at least some of the costs.

While I think this is a good idea, the fact that violence has followed this Carnival is not something that can be ignored, and I seriously doubt if the organizers will be compensating the City for the additional police presence.

Applications & Petitions #2. A petition was received from Christopher Schmidt, regarding Upgrade Cambridge Municipal Broadband Petition.

Show me the books. Many of us would welcome additional options for Internet and TV service, but my greatest fear is that whatever technology is used to build such a network could become obsolete the day after it’s put in place.

Order #7. That the City Council urge the MBTA to take whatever emergency measures are necessary to fast-track repairs to the elevators in the Central Square and Harvard Square MBTA stations, and to share these plans with the City Council in a timely manner.   Councillor Simmons

You can add to this the work on the new entrance to City Hall Annex at 344 Broadway. It seems that the new construction standard is to do a week of work, walk away for three weeks, then rinse and repeat. Modest scale construction projects shouldn’t take an eternity to complete. – Robert Winters

June 12, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 401-402: June 11, 2019

Episode 401 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 11, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on June 11, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Central Square Business Improvement District (BID) approved; evolving transportation. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 402 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 11, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on June 11, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Candidate updates (before Patty Nolan announced), candidate requirements; big issues, candidate pages; zoning – infrastructure and obstruction, Eversource; echoes of the Parking Freeze. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

June 9, 2019

Items of Interest on the June 10, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Items of Interest on the June 10, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City Hall 2019This is something of a table-setting month – clearing out some lingering business and refocusing on some matters that are sure to be wedge issues in the municipal election – housing, bikes, campaign contributions, neighborhood flash-points. Resolving the details of the "Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance" will apparently continue at least through July and perhaps longer.

Perhaps the most significant piece of business is this 6:30pm hearing:
6:30pm   The City Council will conduct a public hearing to discuss the petition filed by Kenneth S. Barron, 614 Massachusetts Avenue, et al property owners, pursuant to MGL Chapter 40 section O petitioning that a Business Improvement District (BID) be established for the Central Square Business Improvement District.

It is likely that a vote will be taken at this meeting to establish the Business Improvement District. It seems to have broad support and may even get a unanimous vote.

Here are a few other notable items for this week:

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Future of Mobility Implementation Blueprint Technical Advisory Group. The Advisory Group is expected to meet up to six times between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020: Yonah Freemark, David Keith, Steven Miller, Kathryn Carlson, Melissa Chan, Christopher Tassone, Roy Russell, Raymond Hayhurst, Ruth Allen, Jane Gould, David Block-Schachter, Zef Vataj, Will Dickson, Stephen Russell, James Cater, Bruce Kaplan, Megan Aki, Ilya Sinelnikov, Cambridge Housing Authority Rep (TBD). [Future of Mobility RFP]

This process is worth watching in that it is both necessary and potentially over-reaching. For some years now the City has been carrying out the goals of the Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance by promoting transportation modes (and infrastructure) as alternatives to motor vehicles. Independently, things like ride-hail services (like Uber and Lyft) and electric scooters have appeared and grown in popularity. Also, there are a lot more electric vehicles now on the road and how to charge them is a growing concern, especially for those without parking on premises. Autonomous (driverless) vehicles may be the next wave. This "Future of Mobility" process is apparently supposed to gaze into the crystal ball and make predictions and plans for how all these pieces can fit coherently together. Recommendations growing from this process might not all be about how to accommodate these new modes – they might also lead to restrictions on existing modes. In recent years there has been a trend of City plans being developed, blessed by compliant advisory committees, and then waved through by a City Council which rarely spends time considering any potential negative consequences of the latest "progressive" policy. Indeed, the RFP makes quite clear that this is not to be a "visioning exercise" by the advisory group, but rather a source of feedback for a process in which City staff has already stated very specifically in the RFP the models from which the hired consultant must work. The end product is likely to be at least as much about regulation and restriction as it will be about accommodation.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-15, regarding a report on who is purchasing buildings in Cambridge.

This is interesting information – though it’s not so easy to peer behind the curtain and identify what parties make up some of the LLCs (limited liability corporations), e.g. Invesco for several properties in the Alewife Quadrangle, or what the plans are for some of these properties. It’s also not clear what the City Council will do or even could do with this information.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $50,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account to support the cable television license renewal process.

Here we go again. The United States Congress thoroughly gutted the ability of municipalities to negotiate much of anything in local Cable TV franchises. We will once again be hearing about PEG (public access, educational, and governmental) since these are the only things that can be discussed. What really makes this whole process rather pathetic is that much of the revenue generated by these franchises now comes from Internet access and there is no legal requirement that any of that revenue should support the PEG needs.


Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to work with the local taxi industry and other interested parties to prepare a Home Rule Petition for the City Council to submit to the State Legislature that would address Cambridge-specific issues and give the City Council the ability to ensure TNCs operate in a safe and responsible manner.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Community Development Department, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and other regional partners such as the Central Transportation Planning Staff to explore the feasibility of partnering with a local research institution to conduct a study that determines how many ride-hail vehicles are on the roads during both on and off-peak times and their impacts on congestion and safety.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux

Perhaps the "Future of Mobility" consultants will have something to say about this, but my sense is that the proposal for a Home Rule Petition is likely more about protection of taxi medallion owners than it is about safety. As for the Order asking to bring in an army of traffic counters, I encourage anyone standing on a street corner or waiting for a bus to count the percentage of Uber/Lyft vehicles passing by at various times throughout the day. [Hint: It’s a lot.]


Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to establish a working committee to review the monuments, memorials, and markers throughout Cambridge to determine whether any of these commemorate those who were linked to the slave trade or engaged in other similarly shameful acts and to determine which individuals should be newly recognized with a monument, memorial, or marker.   Councillor Simmons

I just hope that there is a distinction made between those whose sole claim to fame was infamous (like rebel generals) vs. those who did great things but who engaged in bad practices that happened to be legal at the time. Erasing history is not the same as learning from it.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to meet with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and the property owners and management of the Fresh Pond Mall to identify additional traffic-calming and safety features and to discuss with the mall owner the potential for creating a formal street connection between Terminal Road and New Street.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

This is a long overdue conversation. Greater connectivity with enhanced safety would be a good thing in this entire area (especially if only those of us who live here know the secret connections).


Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the appropriate departments to televise and record the City Clerk interview meeting on June 17, 2019, starting at 2:30pm in the Sullivan Chamber.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Interim City Clerk Paula M. Crane, transmitting memorandum from Vice Mayor Devereux regarding a special public meeting for the City Clerk interviews.

The City Clerk position is one of only three for which the City Council is the appointing authority under the Plan E Charter. The other two are the City Manager and the City Auditor. I have no idea who has applied for the position or who the four finalists are, but I really hope the person hired is someone who really understands the city deeply and who can also be an asset to the City Council. The truth is that the City Clerk prepares City Council agendas very much like a playwright where the actors (the councillors) can freely improvise within the script. Also, the Council-related duties are only a fraction of the many essential responsibilities of the City Clerk’s Office.


Order #8. That the proposed Special Permit Criteria amendments to Article 19 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance (as attached) be referred to the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board for hearing and report.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

Committee Reports #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, former City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation & Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on May 22, 2019 to discuss with Eversource any plans it has for meeting the anticipated electricity needs of Cambridge businesses and residents by expanding capacity on land it owns throughout the City, with a focus on sites in East Cambridge (Kendall Square and Fulkerson Street).

It would appear that this zoning proposal and the Eversource matter on Fulkerson Street are inextricably linked. It’s a bit disturbing when zoning is used as a reactionary tool. Perhaps a better approach would be to require (with appropriate enabling legislation, if necessary) that all major utilities provide short- and long-term infrastructure improvement plans that address such things as capacity, maintenance of the existing infrastructure, and planning for emerging needs such as local solar generation and charging locations for electric vehicles (just to name a few). Conflating this with zoning seems a bit wrong-headed. It’s reminiscent of how the Parking Freeze was used to block commercial development – even environmentally sound commercial development – under the guise of environmental protection.


Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor to draft for discussion several ordinances to reduce or prohibit campaign donations from donors seeking to enter into a contract, seeking approval for a special permit or up-zoning, seeking to acquire real estate from the city, or seeking financial assistance from the city.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

It’s an election year. Some version of this proposal happens like clockwork every two years. The only thing that makes it interesting this year is how much money is now coming from people with a financial interest in the "100% Affordable Housing" Overlay proposal that would potentially deliver properties to various "non-profit" housing developers by allowing them to do things that others can only dream of. Any candidate-endorsing organization that receives contributions from these sources (and yes, I do mean ABC specifically) should be subject to the same restrictions as individual candidates. All of this is likely academic since the November election will likely be a memory by the time any action is taken on this proposal, if ever – so it’s really just posturing at this point.

Committee Reports #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, former 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 May 1, 2019 to discuss a petition to amend the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.16 entitled “Noise Control” by deleting sections 8.16.081-8.16.087 to prohibit the use of leaf blowers.

My proposal: Enact a Total Ban on Leaf Blowers only after loud sound systems in motor vehicles are banned. But seriously, don’t you think we put far too much effort into banning things? When did Cambridge give up on making an effort to convince people to use better practices? Sometimes we really do seem to be The Village of Control Freaks.

Committee Reports #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, former City Clerk transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Co-Chair and Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on May 21, 2019 to discuss the “City of Cambridge getting to Net Zero Action Plan: Fiscal year 2018 progress report” and to receive a general update on the Net Zero Action Plan.

I really hope that "Getting to Net Zero" doesn’t translate into a $3,000 repair in a residential building costing $30,000 or more in order to meet any new requirements. – Robert Winters

May 15, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 395-396: May 14, 2019

Episode 395 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 14, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on May 14, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Devereux announcement to not seek reelection; election-related matters, modifying the ballot, new candidates; candy and cannabis and Central Square. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 396 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 14, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on May 14, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: School Committee controversies and dysfunction; wrapping up the budget; Transportation planning vs. “quick build” for Mass. Ave.; controversy for political gain; State seal controversy; civic opportunities. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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

March 20, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 381-382: March 19, 2019

Episode 381 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 19, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 19, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Candidate update and some PR notes; counting bikes, proposed Cycling Safety Ordinance; the misuse of surveys; and Better Buses? Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 382 – Cambridge InsideOut: Mar 19, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Mar 19, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Plan E and the City Auditor; nominations for Outstanding City Employee awards; Faux Retail; Cambridgeside Galeria Re-Envisioned. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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