Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 16, 2017

Notable Items on the Oct 16, 2017 City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:11 am

Notable Items on the Oct 16, 2017 City Council Agenda

Harvard Square - from an American Splendor story by Harvey PekarThe posted agenda is relatively light, but there may be more to come from MIT on the Volpe Petition which must be ordained no later than Oct 31. The items I found at least a bit interesting were:

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-78, regarding a Police Substation in Central Square.

It seems pretty clear that the Police Commissioner understands the need for police presence in Central Square. The issue is whether this is best accomplished with a fixed structure (whether it be a storefront or a stand-alone structure) or a more mobile presence. We should see a more detailed plan within the next several months.

Manager’s Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-80, regarding a report on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study.

Just some good information about what’s underway regarding open space. If, in addition, plans for the Volpe Center parcel proceed as proposed, the whole Kendall Square area will one day be dramatically improved and better connected. Better sooner than later.

Manager’s Agenda #21. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City Council’s draft Guiding Principles and Goals developed with the assistance of Big Sky Blue Consulting over the course of three public goal setting meetings held during this term.

I have to admit that I don’t put a whole lot of stock in these goal-setting processes, but it is interesting to see what the Council comes up with as a snapshot of current sentiments. The devil is usually in the details, and goal statements are generally light on the details.

Unfinished Business #7. An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 13.90 to Article 13.000 and amend the Zoning Map to add new PUD-7 District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Oct 16, 2017. Planning Board hearings held July 25, 2017 and Sept 12, 2017. Petition expires Oct 31, 2017.

There have been some indications that MIT may come forward at this meeting with some commitments and timelines – possibly including greater details on its current and future plans for greater on-campus housing options for graduate students and other affiliates. The expiration date of this zoning petition is October 31 and there are just two more regular Council meetings before then (Oct 23 and Oct 30) [corrected]. An additional Ordinance Committee meeting on this topic has been scheduled for Tues, Oct 17 at 2:30pm.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Arts Council regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways on certain streets in Cambridge, propose two streets to pilot as neighborways, and create a process by which a group of residents can request that their street be considered as future neighborways.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

This sounds interesting, but a few specific illustrations would be helpful. Just think how things might have played out if Cambridge Street residents and businesses were allowed to participate in a process like this instead of the "take it or leave it" approach the City took in reconfiguring that street with no real public process.

Order #8. The City Manager is requested to consult with relevant City staff to propose immediate and forward-looking measures to improve and prioritize conservation of Cambridge’s tree canopy before the Urban Forest Master Plan is in place.   Councillor Devereux

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 26, 2017 to follow up on Policy Order #2 of June 20, 2016 to discuss the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance and possible ways to improve this ordinance to protect the tree canopy while protecting individual property rights.

We all love trees, right? One assumption that seems to run through this report is that tree removal on a neighboring property is something neighbors necessary oppose, but there are cases where a resident may actually want a neighboring property owner to remove a tree. I happen to be one of those residents. If neighbors mutually agree that a tree should be removed would any of the proposed ordinances stand in the way of this? – Robert Winters

October 3, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 259-260: Oct 3, 2017

Episode 259 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 3, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 3, 2017 at 5:30pm. Guest: Manny Lusardi, Liaison for Immigrant Affairs (Vice-Mayor’s Office). Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 260 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 3, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 3, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: Elections, Harvard Square, Volpe Petition, property taxes. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 1, 2017

Preview of Oct 2, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:43 pm

Preview of Oct 2, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere are the choice items on this week’s menu:

Manager’s Agenda #1. 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 FY2018. [Tax Rate Letter]

Highlights: The FY18 property tax levy is $389,080,359, an increase of $16,406,272 or 4.4% from FY17. The 4.4% property tax levy increase is below the FY17 increase of 5.1%, and slightly above the fiveyear annual average (FY14-FY18) increase of 4.19%. With approval of the recommendations, the ten-year annual average (FY09-FY18) increase will be 4.85%. The FY18 residential tax rate will be $6.29 per thousand dollars of value, subject to Department of Revenue approval. This is a decrease of $0.20, or -3.1% from FY17. The commercial tax rate will be $14.81, which is a decrease of $1.31, or -8.1% from FY17. In FY18, commercial property owners will pay 65.4% of the property tax levy, the same share as in FY17. Consequently, residential property owners’ share of the FY18 tax levy is 34.6%, also the same as in FY17.

Based on the FY18 property assessment, total residential property values increased by 7.87%. Total commercial property values increased by 14.36%. The median percentage tax increases for residential properties will be 2.8% for single-family homes, 5.2% for condominiums, 0.7% for two-family properties, and 1.1% for three-family properties. For FY18, the total assessed value of taxable property in the City equals $43,619,137,030 a 10.1% increase over FY17 values.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-66, regarding additional information requested on a Grand Junction Overlay District.

This responds to a City Council request last week for additional information. We first suggested the use of this RR corridor as a bicycle/pedestrian connection in 1999 when I served on the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee. Back then I saw it primarily as a way of providing direct access to the open space and fields of Magazine Beach for the people of East Cambridge. My view now is that this would also make housing options in East Somerville and Allston more attractive for MIT students and staff and for people who work in Kendall Square and along the corridor. I really hope this becomes a reality within the next few years.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the MIT Volpe PUD-7 Zoning Petition with suggested changes. [Letter][Revised Petition][Redlined Petition]

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 Sept 13, 2017 to continue discussion on a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Center site in Kendall Square.

I am cautiously optimistic that we may see ordination of some amended form of this zoning proposal before the expiration date at the end of October. Much depends on what commitments MIT is willing to make in the weeks before ordination (independent of the disproportionate demands of the Smith, et al. petition re: graduate student housing). This really could become a great space, and I hope the planners can find room for some fun attractions, e.g. a batting cage where people can take a few swings.

Applications & Petitions #2. A Zoning Petition has been received from Peter Kroon, et al., transmitting a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that would amend the Harvard Square Overlay District.

Read the petition and draw your own conclusions, but my read of this petition is that it wants to bring some of the best features of the recently ordained Central Square Restoration Petition up to Harvard Square, e.g. the transition from regulating "fast food" to instead regulating "formula businesses". It also prioritizes housing in the upper floors of any taller new buildings. (Don’t worry, there’s no towers expected anytime soon.)

Resolution #11. Congratulations to the Central Square Business Association for a successful Dumpling Fest and Central Flea.   Mayor Simmons

Special thanks go to Michael Monastime, the new Wizard of Central Square, for pulling off one of the biggest daytime attractions Central Square has seen in years.

Resolution #12. Congratulations on Bill Cavellini, Bernard LaCasse and the Cambridge Arts Council on a successful restoration of the "Beat the Belt" Mural.   Mayor Simmons

I wish I could have attended the dedication. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who helped.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with appropriate City departments with the view in mind of implementing systems in Harvard Square.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung

The order contains a generally good list of suggestions for transportation and public amenities in the Harvard Square area. I hope that the inclusion of more bicycle lanes doesn’t translate into additional mistakes like the Brattle Street Lanes of Confusion.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested, in as timely manner as possible, to determine if Cambridge can legally assist DACA beneficiaries by collecting donations from individuals and organizations. Managing and dispersing such raised donations on a reimbursement basis to Cambridge DACA beneficiaries.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

Cambridge works with plenty of nonprofits and religious entities that can provide the suggested services without running afoul of any state laws.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to create a volunteer bike registry program that can accept donations that will go to fund environmentally friendly projects in the City.   Councillor Toomey

I would register my bike in a heartbeat and agree to adhere to any and all traffic laws. (I already do.) That said, I don’t know that we would see much tangible benefit from such a voluntary program. If it could convince more cyclists to take more seriously their responsibilities as road users perhaps there might be some marginal benefit.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of subsidizing the rate of the “100% Green” option in the Cambridge Community Electricity Program to ease any financial burden that residents who want to use entirely renewable energy may feel when purchasing, using existing income thresholds such as the Fuel Assistance Program.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

This is a very slippery slope. Relatively few residents opted into the more expensive “100% Green” option because people generally make rational economic choices. Just because City officials feel that choosing this option is a worthy goal doesn’t mean that taxpayers should be subsidizing it. Buying groceries from the local market may be a worthy goal in support of local businesses, but many of us will still do much of our shopping at Costco and Market Basket. Should taxpayers pick up the difference if we do all our shopping locally? I don’t think so. – Robert Winters

September 12, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 255-256: Sept 12, 2017

Episode 255 – Cambridge InsideOut: September 12, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 12, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics: Sept 11 City Council meeting, tax-financed municipal campaigns, Volpe Petition. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 256 – Cambridge InsideOut: September 12, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Sept 12, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: Volpe Petition, MIT graduate housing, candidate forums, endorsements. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 11, 2017

Fall Semester at the Sullivan School – Sept 11, 2017 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:41 am

Fall Semester at the Sullivan School – Sept 11, 2017 City Council Agenda Highlights

City HallThe City Council returns from Summer Vacation this week. In addition to appropriation requests for a wide range of essential programs, here’s a look at what seems interesting – at least to me.

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-45, regarding a report on formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor licenses, and Awaiting Report Item Number 17-72, regarding an update on the progress and plan to address the concerns relative to the sale of liquor licenses. [Reports from City Solicitor and License Commission Chair]

This City Solicitor’s response is pretty much what was logically expected. The final paragraph states: "Therefore, in my opinion, the License Commission has no legal obligation to provide compensation to alcohol license holders who may be experiencing a devaluation of their alcohol license on the private market. There may be ways that the License Commission could mitigate the devaluation of certain alcohol licenses, such as by exercising its discretion not to issue new alcohol licenses, but there is nothing of which we are aware that would require the License Commission to do so."

The true value of a liquor license is in the income it can generate in the normal course of business. It was never meant to be a retirement investment. Like taxi medallions and confederate currency, not all things were meant to have lasting value.

Manager’s Agenda #16. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as members of the Harvard Square Conservation District Study Committee, effective Sept 1, 2017: Christopher Mackin, Jerry Murphy, Christopher Angelakis, Jessica Sculley, William Barry, Joseph Ferrara and Kyle Sheffield.

Manager’s Agenda #18. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Central Square Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective Sept 11, 2017: Tahir Kapoor

Never underestimate the value of our volunteer citizen boards and commissions. Congratulations and thank you to all the appointees.

Charter Right #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a Non-Binding Public Opinion Advisory Question Petition filed with the Election Commission on July 14, 2017. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Cheung on Aug 7, 2017]

It’s likely that we’ll have more posturing on this issue at this meeting. It’s worth noting, by the way, that the mailing address for the petitioners is the business address for Councillor Mazen.

There is a worthwhile conversation to be had regarding various ways to level the playing field for candidates, but this is not the way to do it. For starters, the statement of the petitioners reads more like an accusation than a proposal. More importantly, the proposal asks voters to "buy a pig in a poke". There are no specifics provided – only that public financing of political campaigns is to be supported like motherhood and apple pie. I will simply suggest that if a voter understood this to mean that new candidates would receive a small stipend to get their campaign started there might be a fair amount of support. On the other hand, if the goal is to grant $50,000 to every candidate to waste in any way they see fit, it’s almost certain that voters would not support this. The details matter. It also matters that we use PR elections in Cambridge, and slates would certainly be formed just to aggregate money to support the slate candidates.

It’s worth noting that Communication #12 comes from Adam Strich, the person who delivered the signatures to the Election Commission for this proposed ballot question. His words should make clear where these petitioners are coming from: "It’s hardly a secret that more than a few councillors are in the pocket of special interests, big developer in particular. I would imagine, however, that you didn’t enter into public service aspiring to become corporate stooges and shills. But whatever idealism you may have had was gradually eroded by the realities of local politics – in particular, by the need to maintain a war chest large enough to fund the practically endless campaigning required of you. All of that is completely understandable; I’m not here to judge. I would hope, though, that you retain some sense of unease regarding this state of affairs, and that such feelings would lead you to embrace the opportunity to provide public funding for municipal election campaigns, so that you can finally serve the hardworking residents of this great city, rather than your current robber baron overlords. Thank you."

Councillor Toomey has a somewhat different view. See Order #23. Perhaps throwing even more money into the furnace of municipal election campaigns isn’t really the answer.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Christopher D. Smith, et al., to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding sections and provisions to Article 13.000 regarding Graduate Student Housing Production Requirements.

Some candidates and advocates have been referring to this as the MIT graduate student petition. However, it didn’t come from the MIT Graduate Student Union and, in fact, 4 of the 16 signers are new City Council candidates hoping to exploit the controversy. Most people will agree that MIT should be providing more housing for graduate students and possibly for post-docs. In fact, MIT agrees. How much graduate housing is appropriate is open to question and should not be prescribed in zoning. Most MIT graduates have preferred to live off-campus and generally choose to do so as long as they can find a place where they can afford the rent. Hopefully MIT can provide greater clarity regarding its plans to build more graduate (and undergraduate) student housing – both how much and where – between now and the vote on the Volpe Petition. Perhaps a Memorandum of Understanding can be signed with some commitments. That would be the better approach.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to streamline recording and transcription requirements in line with those currently in place for the Planning Board for the Board of Zoning Appeal and the Historical Commission.   Councillor Devereux

There does come a point of diminishing returns. Is it really that important to have a play-by-play of every discussion regarding dormers, paint colors, and types of shingles?

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to update the City Council on a Police Substation in Central Square.   Mayor Simmons

I’ll once again say that a multi-service space for police, MBTA workers, and public information – with a public bathroom – would have been the right approach. Separate little huts for each of these purposes isn’t the best plan. We could, however, use a little more police presence in Central Square regardless.

Order #10. That the City Manager update the City Council on progress for the goal of 1,000 New Affordable Units by the end of the decade.   Mayor Simmons

If you factor in all the Inclusionary units in the pipeline we might actually be doing pretty well. However, the greater problem is not the number of regulated "affordable units" so much as the general loss of affordability in market housing, and that can only be solved regionally. I hate to break it to you Cambridge, but you cannot house the world unilaterally.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update on the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Study.   Councillor Toomey

This is useful information in the ongoing discussion of the Volpe Petition. What will the Big Picture be for residents and workers navigating their way through the greater Kendall Square area when everything is built out?

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff to identify and share with the City Council possible solutions to regulatory or legislative gaps on the local or state level that would help clarify how emerging types of conveyances can most safely and effectively be incorporated into Cambridge’s Urban Mobility planning and infrastructure investments.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Police Commissioner and the Fire Chief with the view in mind of creating and developing city wide alternate routes for fire apparatus and emergency police vehicles in an emergency situation that would avoid travel routes where there is backed up traffic.   Councillor Toomey

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of procuring additional fire apparatus, especially rescue vehicles and ambulances, in the East Cambridge and the Port area.   Councillor Toomey

Every day I see how some of the City’s well-intentioned roadway reallocations effectively choke some roads, make it more difficult for buses and delivery vehicles to navigate, and make it virtually impossible to pause to pick up or drop off people or goods. Curb access is disappearing even as the need for improved curb access is increasing in a world of online shopping, Uber and Lyft vehicles, and a variety of new modes of transportation. The only thing the Traffic Department (a.k.a. the Department of Wishful Thinking) seems to prioritize is novice cyclists. I shudder to think what we’ll have to contend with when there’s either snow or a motor vehicle breakdown. The City is rapidly removing all flexibility in the roads. Pretty soon the only way a driver will be able to yield to an emergency service vehicle will be by running down some "flexi-posts".

Order #21. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor, the City Assessor and the Community Development Department to prepare a Municipal Transfer Fee Ordinance and, if required, an appropriate Home Rule Petition, to implement a municipal transfer fee on sale of all residential, commercial and institutional properties where the buyer pays 1% of purchase price on any amount in excess of $2.5 million and an additional 4% of the purchase price on any amount more than $5 million.   Councillor Toomey

Order #22. City Council support of H.3512 in the Massachusetts Legislature, allowing Massachusetts to obtain a fee on large real estate transactions that will be put towards affordable housing endeavors.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

There may be some merit in these proposals, but as long as the focus remains exclusively on raising more revenue to regulate even more housing while not solving the affordability question more generally, this is all just pissing in the wind.

Order #23. Establishment of a "Cambridge Municipal Election People’s Pledge" program.   Councillor Toomey

This "modest proposal" does manage to make a few interesting points – most significantly regarding the amount of money being spent this year and in recent years on some municipal election campaigns. While some candidates speak ill of money from "developers", some of these same candidates have a political base encompassing the loftier socio-economic classes and are graced with $500 and $1000 checks like the falling of autumn leaves. It’s also interesting how many candidates pay big money or campaign managers and even pay people to canvass for them. That’s not how things used to be done. Candidates had actual supporters for many of those tasks. Maybe the dirty little secret now is that some campaigns only have as much support as they can purchase.

I can’t say that I support all of Councillor Toomey’s proposals in this "People’s Pledge", but some of them do have some merit. In the meantime, we can settle on disclosure – making abundantly clear where campaign funds come from and how efficiently those funds are spent. Let the voters judge.

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 Aug 2, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a new Planning Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-7) over the area known as the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center site in Kendall Square.

I’ll simply say that if the current City Council cannot settle this with a good outcome by the Oct 31 expiration date, then perhaps they should be judged accordingly a week later. There are some great opportunities here if these nine councillors can earn their pay and create those good outcomes. – Robert Winters

August 29, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 253-254: August 29, 2017

Episode 253 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 29, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 29, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included Hurricane Harvey and resiliency of cities, the Volpe Petition and a related new petition. Hosts Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 254 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 29, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 29, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included some history of the Plan E Charter and some of the realities of PR elections. Hosts Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

August 1, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 245-246: Aug 1, 2017

Episode 245 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 1, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 1, 2017 at 5:30pm. The main topic was the final list of candidates for the 2017 municipal election. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Episode 246 – Cambridge InsideOut: Aug 1, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 1, 2017 at 6:00pm. Main topic: campaign finance, MIT/Volpe Petition. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

February 22, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 207-208: February 21, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 207 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 21, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included the potential effect of national politics on the Cambridge municipal elections, the current minibond sale, and the recent update by MIT about plans for the Volpe site. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 208 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 21, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included the recent Roundtable meeting of the School Committee and City Council, the current field of candidates in the Cambridge municipal election, and some highlights from the Feb 13 Cambridge City Council meeting, especially the discussion of Inclusionary Zoning and Planned Unit Developments (PUDs). The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

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