Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 24, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 265-266: Oct 24, 2017

Episode 265 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 24, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 24, 2017 at 5:30pm. Our guest was Emily Dexter, candidate for re-election to the Cambridge School Committee. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

Emily Dexter’s Candidate Page


Episode 266 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 24, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 24, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: Ordination of the MIT Volpe Petition, national party endorsements in nonpartisan municipal election. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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]

June 12, 2017

Coming up at the June 12, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:07 am

Coming up at the June 12, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

It’s a loaded agenda this week. Not so many Council Orders, but plenty on the City Manager’s Agenda and Committee Reports. Here are a few brief comments on some of these matters.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for authorization to transfer a leasehold interest in the property at 1-15 Vail Court to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust and to appropriation $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures to facilitate the abatement and demolition of the existing structures on the site.

The Vail Court project slowly moves along. In an ideal world there would be a more comprehensive plan for not only the Vail Court property but also the adjacent parking lot at Prospect St. and Bishop Allen Drive that could transform that whole block into something great. I haven’t heard anything lately regarding challenges to the compensation for the eminent domain taking.

Vail Court - 2013
Vail Court in 2013

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-4, regarding current or potential future public-private partnerships that could deliver an operational Foundry that consists of significant community space for the community.

The gift that keeps on giving. </sarcasm>

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-39, regarding a report on the City’s policy of conducting CORI checks on applicants of the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

As the Manager’s letter notes: "It is a state requirement that every staff person or volunteer who works with children in a licensed summer camp or a childcare setting must have gone thru the CORI process." Indeed, even those of us who teach at Harvard Summer School have to submit to this every year. However, as the letter says: "The CORI record results are not used in any way to deny young people an opportunity to participate in the Mayor’s Program." Seems fair enough.


Community Benefits $$

Manager’s Agenda #19. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following person as a member of the Community Benefits Advisory Committee for a term of three years, effective June 1, 2017: Kathryn Fenneman, Risa Mednick, Elizabeth Aguilo, Cibele Goncalves, Daniel Liss, Rowan Murphy, Amy Salomon, Geeta Pradhan, Susan Lapierre, Paul Parravano, Ellen Semonoff, Sandra Clarke, and Lisa Peterson (Chair)

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,728,500 from Free Cash to the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,366,506 from Free Cash to the Mitigation Revenue Stabilization Fund.

This represents the culmination of an idea that was first proposed some years ago – namely that instead of "mitigation" being worked out in what sometimes were side deals with individual councillors in order to gain their support, money is now to be deposited into the General Fund, worthy recipients and projects will be vetted by the advisory committee, and then ultimately voted by a majority of the City Council. I’m still not sure how this would work for donations of real property (as was the case with the Foundry Building).


A Bonanza of Planning Board Reports

Manager’s Agenda #22. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Zoning Petition regarding rooftop spaces in the Harvard Square Overlay District.

"…the Board believes that a more comprehensive examination of Harvard Square’s zoning needs, including community discussion, should be undertaken before implementing a single limited zoning change."

Manager’s Agenda #23. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the petition to rezone the block bounded by Third Street, Cambridge Street, Second Street and Gore Street from Business A to a new designation Business A-5.

"…the Board believes that this petition would benefit from additional study and input from the community to determine if it should stand alone or if there should be a broader vision for the area as a whole, and also to determine the range of impacts such change(s) might have. Some of this study may occur in the future as the Envision Cambridge process focuses on major corridors, including Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street."

Manager’s Agenda #24. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Observatory Hill Village (Mahon, et al.) Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 18, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by the Friends of Observatory Hill Village to establish the Observatory Hill Village Overlay District.

According to the petitioners, "the zoning petition was submitted to preserve the business residential mix [in this 3-block long stretch of Concord Ave.]. Developers have an economic interest and an incentive to replace commercial retail buildings with high end housing. This puts the businesses at risk." It seems likely that this petition is headed for re-working and re-filing.

Manager’s Agenda #25. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation (no recommendation at this time) on the Zoning Petition regarding vacant or abandoned buildings.

The key sentence here is: "The Board also believes that the proposed fee structure needs to be reconsidered, especially in consultation with the Law Department as to the legality of certain of its provisions." Basically, the fee that was proposed is a clear regulatory taking and could never pass legal muster. Perhaps if they can replace that with something reasonable this petition could be re-filed and perhaps some good will come of it.

Manager’s Agenda #26. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the City Council Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.

Committee Report #4. 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 May 31, 2017 to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to create a new chapter 4.60 to regulate short-term rentals (STR).

There may be some additional details to be ironed out prior to ordination, but this is the petition that seems destined to pass. It will likely be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting and enter the queue for ordination in a couple of weeks or at the Midsummer meeting in August at the latest. The petition expires Aug 29.

Manager’s Agenda #27. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation not to adopt the Cockrill, et al., Petition on Short-Term Rental Housing.

Committee Report #6. 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 May 24, 2017 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et al. to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.

This petition was apparently filed by industry people who favor the proliferation of short-term rentals with minimal regulation. It won’t be ordained and the City Council would be wise to just let it die without even being passed to a 2nd Reading. It’s interesting that the first signer after whom the petition is named doesn’t even support it. In the committee report Councillor Devereux suggests that in light of this fact the City should reconsider how petitions are named. In fact, there’s already an established precedent for this situation. In the year 2000 the "Yoder Petition" was renamed the "Tringo Petition" when Ralph Yoder stated that he no longer supported the petition that bore his name. The new name was derived from the second signature on the petition. Perhaps we should now refer to the "Cockrill Petition" as the "Stonehouse Petition" after the next valid signature on the petition, but for all we know he may not support it either. Seriously, the petitioners should really be taken to the woodshed for how they pushed this petition.


Manager’s Agenda #29. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-7, regarding an update on the City’s Community Choice Electricity Aggregation Plan.

I’m now almost convinced that this may be a good thing. I’ve been getting offers for several years now from energy companies who want me to sign up with them and lock in a reduced rate. The Eversource rate is then often later adjusted to be lower, so I’ve always told them to take a hike. Apparently, with the City’s arrangement I could go back to Eversource at any time if I don’t like the relative cost, so I suppose I’ll just go along. It’s an opt-out arrangement, so many of us will just allow laziness to prevail.

Manager’s Agenda #34. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $750,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to be used to conduct geotechnical, and environmental services to support the site assessment for a Concept Plan to site the new school on Callahan Field and future Feasibility Study for the Tobin School project.

This could yield an attractive option to construct the new school adjacent to the existing school. The entire area used to be brickyards and then landfill.

Manager’s Agenda #36. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Works Department Public Investment Fund Extraordinary Expenditures Account for the citywide curbside organics program.

If all goes well we could have citywide organics collection possibly by next April. This appropriation will provide for purchase of a rubbish packer and purchase and delivery of curbside bins, kitchen collector pails and other materials and services necessary to roll out the program to approximately 20,000 households (in addition to the 5,200 households on the Monday trash route that currently have organics collection).

Order #2. That the City Council condemn President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and urge Governor Charles D. Baker to publicly commit to ensuring that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts similarly adheres to the goals and ideals of the Paris Climate Agreement.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Nobody should be surprised by the introduction of this City Council order. My guess is that neither the Commonwealth nor the City will be changing any plans as a result of the bloviations of the current occupant of the White House.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the Planning Board to determine how Visual Preference Surveys (VPS) could be incorporated into the planning and zoning process.   Councillor Carlone

I did one of these surveys not long ago. It seemed like a useful exercise for things like building heights relative to street width and how retail fits in with residential. That said, I don’t know that it would be wise to make this a binding requirement so much as an advisory measure of public support for various options. I hate to think where we’d be if every proposed change was subject to plebiscite.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the License Commission with the intent of formulating a plan that will provide relief and fair compensation to liquor license holders that have been impacted by dramatic devaluing of their liquor license.   Councillor Toomey

The value of liquor licenses may go the way of taxicab medallions. I have sympathy for someone who sank a lot of money into the purchase of a liquor license from an existing license-holder, but the old phrase "caveat emptor" still applies. Taxpayers should not be asked to bear the lost value of something freely purchased by a willing buyer from a willing seller. Times change. The loss of value of a license in no way reduces the ability to operate a business profitably.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, for a public hearing held on May 22, 2017 to discuss the creation of a section in the agenda entitled “General Council Discussion;” and dedications to identify a suitable location site to honor the commitment to the City made by City Councillor and State Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. and to identify an appropriate building to dedicate to Richard C. Rossi’s decades of service to Cambridge.

I attended and gave testimony during the first part of this meeting. The topic grew out of a City Council order from Councillor Kelley to carve out a section in the City Council agenda where any councillor could inform his colleagues what he’s been working on in a manner that doesn’t violate the Open Meeting Law. What interested me is the emergent (and questionable) practice of some councillors holding unpublicized and essentially private meetings leading to policy proposals. There is a better way. Any councillor can give adequate notice and hold a public meeting of an ad-hoc committee (possibly with just one councillor) on any topic. Anyone interested in that topic could then attend and possibly provide useful input.

Committee Report #2. 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 May 23, 2017 to discuss a proposed Municipal Code amendment to Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” by adding a new Chapter 8.69 entitled “Running Bamboo Ordinance.”

It looks like the City Council may finally be running with the Running Bamboo Ordinance. Now they’ll have start thinking about the next thing to be banned. – Robert Winters

April 19, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 131-132: April 19, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 131 (Part 1)

Episode 131 – Cambridge InsideOut. This episode was broadcast on April 19, 2016 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest and Robert Winters is the host. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study, several housing-related bills before the state legislature, and good old Central Square. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 132 (Part 2)

Episode 132 – Cambridge InsideOut (Part 2). This episode was broadcast on April 19, 2016 at 6:00pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest and Robert Winters is the host. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study, several housing-related bills before the state legislature, and good old Central Square. [On YouTube]

December 9, 2015

Cambridge InsideOut – Episodes 95 and 96 with Patrick Barrett

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:00 am

Cambridge InsideOut this week featured a conversation with Patrick Barrett.

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 95 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 8, 2015 at 5:30pm. Topics included current zoning petitions in Kendall Square and the municipal streamlining bill introduced by Governor Baker. Patrick Barrett is the guest. The host is Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 96 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 8, 2015 at 6:00pm. The main topics were the Barrett Petition and Central Square. Patrick Barrett is the guest. The host is Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

August 21, 2015

City of Cambridge Selects Utile Architecture + Planning team for Citywide Plan

Filed under: Cambridge,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 4:40 pm

City of Cambridge Selects Consultant for Citywide Plan
Utile Architecture + Planning team selected to run multiyear process

Cambridge NeighborhoodsAug 21, 2015 – Today, Cambridge Officials announced that an interdisciplinary team led by Utile Architecture + Planning (Utile) has been selected for the Cambridge citywide planning project. “The City is looking forward to embarking on this important citywide process with Utile,” said Richard C. Rossi, City Manager. “This multiyear effort is a major investment that the City is making in the future of our community. Residents, business employers and employees, property owners and developers, institutions, non-profit organizations, and many other stakeholders will be active participants in this process and a key component to ensuring that the citywide plan reflects the values of our community. I want to thank the other highly qualified and respected firms that participated in our selection process.”

The other finalists in the City’s selection process were Sasaki, and Perkins + Will.

On July 27, 2015, the finalists made presentations to and answered questions from the public in an event held in the Sullivan Chambers in City Hall. Following the public presentations, the City’s Selection Committee conducted a multi-day evaluation process that resulted in City Manager Richard C. Rossi accepting the recommendation to hire Utile. Over the next few weeks the City will be working with Utile to finalize a contract, including financial arrangements, for the public process that will begin this fall.

“The Utile team brings a deep understanding of local planning issues and a fresh, creative approach to public engagement,” said Lisa Peterson, Chair of the Selection Committee. “Using a rigorous, data-driven process, the Utile team will complement and augment the capacity of City staff to develop a strategic framework to address a broad range of issues including mobility, housing, land use, urban design, environment, social equity, economic development, and open space.”

The planning process that will be kicked off this fall will span multiple years and will include a robust community engagement process.

“Cambridge’s citywide plan will create a shared vision for the city, develop policy and design goals and actionable recommendations to guide future changes in the city,” said Iram Farooq, Acting Assistant City Manager for Community Development. “The end result of this process will be a shared vision on how Cambridge can remain livable, sustainable, and equitable not just for the current generation, but also for generations to come.”

The citywide planning process aims to integrate and build upon the City’s existing policies, programs, and initiatives through an inclusive, wide-reaching process that looks beyond traditional planning efforts to guide future change in Cambridge. During the multi-year process, early action items and pilot projects may be identified and launched. [Read Utile Proposal (22.6MB PDF)]

The planning process will examine a broad range of issues, including mobility, housing, land use, urban design, environment, social equity, economic development, and open space. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks about the public process that will begin this fall!

For more information, please visit the project page on the Community Development Department’s website, or email CambridgeConversations@CambridgeMA.gov.

Utile is a 40-person, Boston-based planning and design firm. Built like a think tank, the firm thrives on solving complex problems in intelligent and pragmatic ways. From theoretical issues that frame policy to the practical implementation of architectural commissions, Utile develops a rigorous research-based approach for finding the best solutions. Utile specializes in unique regulatory, political, and design challenges, and is committed to the revitalization of the American city through proactive planning and design that bridges public and private jurisdictional boundaries.

June 15, 2015

Noteworthy items on the June 15, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:10 am

Noteworthy items on the June 15, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

City HallThere are some substantial reports from the City Manager and some interesting Council Orders on this week’s agenda.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-97, regarding a report on the MLK School construction compliance with the Cambridge Employment Plan.

Normally I don’t care at all about this sort of bean counting, but I did find interesting the following facts in the Manager’s report:

(1) The Cambridge resident worker hours on the MLK project totaled 3.8% which is less than the required goal of 25%. However, the Cambridge resident population of workers skilled and/or experienced in construction trades has been less than 2% making this requirement virtually impossible to meet. [Perhaps it’s time to revise that goal.]

(2) The minority worker hours on the MLK project as of Apr 30, 2015 totaled 32.6% which is above the goal of 25%.

(3) The women worker hours on the MLK project as of Apr 30, 2015 totaled 1.0%. U.S. Census data reveals that women in Massachusetts skilled in the trades is less than 2%.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to recommendations of the Cambridge Off Leash Working Group regarding off leash dogs in Cambridge.

The discussions about how best to accommodate our canine friends have been going on for a decade. Dog owners actually comprise a pretty effective political lobby in Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt, with suggested changes, the Carsharing Zoning Petition.

This has generated some concerns recently as well as some alternate proposals on how best to accommodate carsharing, e.g. using some on-street resident parking spaces for this purpose. This zoning petition is specifically about off-street spaces and the Planning Board recommends that off-street lots should maintain at least 75% of their spaces for privately owned vehicles and that only lots with a minimum of 4 spaces may accommodate carsharing vehicles. However, the Planning Board also recommends that these limits can be waived via a Special Permit on a case-by-case basis. The theory here is that by making carsharing more easily available the number of privately owned vehicles should decrease thereby relieving some of the demand for on-street spaces.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appropriate zoning language for recommended changes to the Incentive Zoning provisions, as requested in Council Order Number 6 of May 18, 2015.

As the report states, "The intent of these proposed changes is to implement changes recommended by the recently completed Incentive Zoning Nexus Study." Specific changes include:

• Removing the current special permit trigger so that housing contributions would be made by all projects with 30,000 or more square feet of uses subject to the Incentive Zoning provisions;

• Expanding the definition of an incentive project to add seven new uses for which housing contributions would be required (in addition to the current uses of office, lab and retail): hotel/motel, radio/TV studios, institutional, health care, social services, light industry/wholesale, and heavy industry;

• Increasing the contribution rate to $12 per square foot [from the current $4.58], with an annual rate increase of $1 per year over the next three years;

• Making automatic the annual adjustment of the contribution rate based on changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI);

• Requiring that the City initiate a periodic reevaluation of the housing contribution by initiating an updated nexus study after three years;

• Eliminating the current deduction of the first 2,500 square feet from the calculation of the contribution;

• Establishing a definition of a “Middle Income Household” and adding language to make clear that the Affordable Housing Trust can use resources generated to assist Middle Income Households.

Order #1. Zoning Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance for the area along Walden Street near the intersection of Garden Street and extending through the intersection of Sherman Street currently zoned Business A be rezoned to a newly created zoning district entitled Business A-4 and add a new Business A-4 line to Section 5.33.   Councillor Cheung

If eventually ordained, this new zoning designation will respond to some of the issues raised by a proposed residential development at the former Masse’s Hardware site(s). It’s interesting that the proposed maximum residential density would actually be higher than is currently the case, though there would now be minimum front and side setbacks that do not exist under the present zoning. I have been told that the affected parties are agreeable to this new zoning.

Order #4. That the City Council meeting scheduled for Mon, June 29, 2015 be and hereby is cancelled after consultation with the City Manager so that a joint public hearing between the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee be held at 6:00pm in the Sullivan Chamber to discuss the zoning petition to amend Section 13.10 to change the development controls in the Planned Unit Development at Kendall Square (PUD-KS) Overlay District; said majority of the area of the PUD-KS is occupied by the Volpe Transportation Systems Research Center operated by the US Department of Transportation.   Mayor Maher
[Petition text] [Summary of major proposed changes] [All currently proposed zoning amendments]

The process for this zoning amendment is uniquely different than just about every other petition due to the many constraints associated with this being a federally-owned property. There are time constraints based on the current presidential term as well as financial constraints inherent in the federal law that allows this arrangement in which revenue generated from the rest of the site must cover any costs associated with constructing a new building for the Volpe Transportation Center on the site. This may also impose some limitations on the lofty goals expressed by some regarding the percentage of affordable units to be mandated as part of any residential construction. One variable that could relieve some of those constraints is the allowance of greater height and, not surprisingly, this has some people bent out of shape about the possibility that the tallest building in Cambridge might grow from this zoning. The unusual procedure of having a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Board (rather than completely separate parallel processes) is also not setting well with the same people, but in this unique situation it seems warranted.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

People may not like the advertising, but there are indications that Hubway may not be economically sustainable without it.

Order #6. That the City Council go on the record condemning Harvard Towers Corporation for neglecting to reach out to the City of Cambridge to determine if there are ways to mitigate the negative repercussions on the City’s housing market stemming from the mass eviction of tenants of 295 Harvard Street.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

This building (built in 1962) contains 111 apartments, and tenants were given very little warning that they all have to be gone by Aug 31, 2015. The building is just a block away from where I live and nobody in my neighborhood seems to even know what is ultimately planned for the building.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of permitting cyclists to advance simultaneously with the pedestrian "walk" signal and to to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of piloting bicycle-specific signal faces at the Cambridge-Hampshire St intersection.   Councillor Mazen

Many cyclists already do start moving with the walk light (not me), but I have to say that this is really more about convenience than about safety. When motor vehicles and bicycles are both stopped at a traffic light, all parties are aware of each other and there’s little or no conflict when the light changes. The greater hazard is from moving vehicles turning in front of moving cyclists and from cyclists positioning themselves in the roadway in ways that are fundamentally unsafe, i.e. passing a potentially turning vehicle on the right.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff or the appropriate departments on the feasibility of legally requiring supermarkets and other food seller and resellers to donate leftover food to donation centers in order to cut down on food waste.   Councillor Mazen

Many, if not most, food markets already do this to some degree. Facilitating food donations and composting programs would be more helpful than simply mandating that it be done. This means addressing the need for adequate transportation, scheduling, and other logistics.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with total amount of funds currently in and total expected to be in the Community Benefits Funds account as well as the origins of the funds and any expenditures to date.   Councillor Toomey

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $88,430 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used for consulting fees to conduct a community wide needs assessment relative to our Community Benefits plan. The requested amount is two-thirds of the total cost of the needs assessment ($132,430 total). With a vested interest in the outcome, the Cambridge Community Foundation has made a substantial financial commitment of $44,000 to cover one-third of the total cost (see Agenda Item Number 15). This is the first step regarding the further development of a plan to distribute funds earmarked for Community Benefits. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Number Fourteen of June 1, 2015.]

This matter has been stewing for a number of years and it’s about time that the City Council moved things in the direction of a resolution and a system for handling these funds and putting them toward productive use. – Robert Winters


The Upshot (the morning after): On Manager’s Agenda #1, most of the councillors chimed in about their disappointment that the dreams of past Councils regarding apprenticeships in the trades have not been realized. Chalk it up, perhaps, to the changing demographics of Cambridge or maybe to the fact that many young residents don’t understand that well-paying careers in construction, law enforcement, and other areas are actually available to them (Benzan).

There was some public comment on the Carsharing Zoning Petition (Manager’s Agenda #20) – mostly concerns about the possibility of disruptive activity associated with this commercial activity taking place in residential neighborhoods. One deficiency in the petition is that it doesn’t address the possibility that a resident with off-street parking might choose to park on the street in order to derive income by leasing their off-street space to a carsharing company. If that were to happen, there really should be a complaint-driven revocation process written into the regulations.

The recommended changes to the Incentive Zoning provisions that were the subject of Manager’s Agenda #21 are now a zoning petition that will be scheduled for Ordinance Committee and Planning Board hearings.

The Council spent far too much time discussing the propriety of cancelling their June 29 meeting in favor of a Joint Special Meeting with the Planning Board (not a Roundtable, so there will be no fixed time limit and public comment will be permitted) to discuss the Volpe zoning petition. The Special Meeting was eventually unanimously approved with the possibility that a brief Regular Meeting might also be scheduled in the event that there is any pressing regular business.

The Council voted 8-1 (Mazen voted No) on Order #8 to open the possibility of advertising on Hubway bikes as a means of ensuring the economic viability of the program.

The Council expressed their condemnation of the actions of the owners/managers of Harvard Towers (295 Harvard St.) in evicting all residents (111 apartments) with very short notice and no information on their future plans for the building.

April 13, 2015

Taking a Look at the April 13, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Taking a Look at the April 13, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Founding FathersHere are a few items that might prove interesting:

Reconsideration #1. Councillor Toomey notified the City Clerk of his intention to file reconsideration of the vote taken on Mar 30, 2015 to refer to the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee City Manager Agenda #18 and Calendar #8 as amended regarding the Pearl Street Reconstruction Project.

It’s anyone’s guess where this will end up, but it did seem odd that this Order would be referred at the last meeting to a committee whose Chair will likely be hostile to it. There really is a need to review some of the boneheaded projects that have been trotted out under the "Complete Streets" banner, but it’s doubtful that committee action will lead to anything other than politicizing this. A better term would be "Dysfunctional Streets" to describe road designs that provide no actual additional bicycle safety while rendering streets dysfunctional, e.g. Vassar Street where trucks have no other option than to park on sidewalks, a stopped vehicle brings all traffic to a standstill, and where the safety of any cyclist choosing to ride in the road is greatly compromised. While driving on the newly-choked Western Avenue the other day I got to witness first hand how even the simple act of parking a car can turn Western Ave. into a one-lane, highly congested road.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommend on the reappointment of Christopher Bator to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority for a 3-year term, effective Apr 13, 2015.

This is not controversial – just an opportunity to once again marvel at how the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority has pivoted over the last few years from being nearly irrelevant to becoming the vehicle of choice for some really important initiatives.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine what types of traffic, parking, and other citations the city has legal jurisdiction over and to confer with the appropriate city departments to institute a day-fine policy in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

This is a ridiculous proposal. A day-fine is "a fine tied to an individual’s daily income". This proposal suggests that people whose reported income is low should pay less for parking violations or speeding tickets. The Order notes that "License suspensions and legal fees resulting from unpaid citations have been shown to have a disproportionately negative effect on low income individuals and households." There’s an even simpler solution – don’t park illegally or drive at excessive speeds that endanger others.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council at the next regular meeting with an update on the Citywide planning process (Master Plan) including next steps and a timeline.   Councillor McGovern

My sense is that when this Magical Master Plan is eventually decided (and I really am interested in the requested timeline), there’s a good chance that it won’t fulfill the hopes and dreams of those who have come to believe that all clocks must be stopped until it’s in place.

Order #9. That Article Six of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance entitled "Off Street Parking and Loading Requirements and Nighttime Curfew on Large Commercial Through Trucks" be amended in Section 6.20 entitled "Off Street Parking Regulations" to include information in "Carsharing Provisions." [attachment]   Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Simmons

Order #12. That the City Council refer to the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board, for hearing and report, an amendment to the Zoning Ordinances in Section 20.300 "Central Square Overlay District" regarding the granting of Special Permits in the Central Square Overlay District.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

Order #14. That Article 13 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinances entitled "Planned Unit Development Districts" be amended in section 13.53.2 of 13.50 entitled "PUD-4, PUD-4A, PUD-4B and PUD-4C Districts: Development Controls" by striking out the first sentence and substituting in place thereof the following new sentence: The minimum size of the Development Parcel within PUD-4B shall be two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) square feet.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung and Councillor McGovern

This is a rare thing indeed – three City Council zoning petitions introduced in a single meeting. Almost all zoning petitions tend to originate with either property owners/developers who want to build something or with activists trying to block something from being built. It has become rare for the City Council to initiate the process, and here we hit the trifecta! I’ll wait to hear more explanation of the motivation behind Order #9 and Order #14. As for Order #12, I was at first intrigued at what seemed to be an acknowledgement that providing incentives for new housing in Central Square might be a good direction consistent with some of the C2 recommendations from a couple of years ago. Then I read what Councillor Carlone wrote on his blog. Apparently the primary purpose of the zoning proposal in Order #12 is to remove the argument occasionally heard in regard to the ongoing Normandy/Twining petition that if housing cannot economically be built at Mass & Main (Lafayette Square) then an office or lab building would be the default option.

This chess move by Councillors Carlone and Mazen and their sponsors would affect the entire Central Square Overlay District in regard to any Special Permit application for Additional Height. There may be some merit in this proposal but it’s also quite possible that it will have some unintended consequences. Either way, it’s being introduced at this time apparently as an attempt to derail the Normandy/Twining proposal. Having a broader conversation about delivering new housing in the Central Square area is consistent with the C2 recommendations, but one really has to raise an eyebrow when those now suggesting this are the same people who have squelched that conversation in the past. Besides, as we have heard the naysayers chant time and time again, how can we do anything without first having The Master Plan? [sarcasm intended] – Robert Winters


Update: Order #12 Failed on a 1-7-1 vote (Mazen YES via speakerphone; Carlone ABSENT). I don’t recall it having ever happened that a proposed zoning amendment was defeated when introduced without even being formally referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board. This was a stunning rebuke of Councillors Carlone and Mazen (and their supporters). – RW

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