Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 10, 2019

February Falderol – Feb 11, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda and OMFUG

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:37 pm

February Falderol – Feb 11, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda and OMFUG

In between bemoaning divine trees at Harvard and ordaining a Tree Tribunal, here are a few mundane Monday items up for City Council consideration:

Water MainManager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 19-08, regarding the Craigie Street Water Main break.

This is the kind of topic-specific response I especially like. For example: "The Cambridge water transmission and distribution system consists of about 185 miles of underground pipe, 4,450 valves and 1,800 hydrants (the “Water System”). All these pipes and appurtenances are documented in the City’s GIS system. Each water main is defined by its age (date installed), material, size and whether it is cement lined or not." And this: "CWD has replaced, repaired or added over 2,730 valves in the Water System since 1980 and has also formalized a valve exercising program." And this: "CWD has replaced/rehabilitated or improved about 43 miles of pipe within the Water System since 1992." And this: "In the 50’s and 60’s, all of the large transmission mains were cement lined. In the 90’s, about 9,500 feet of pipe were cement lined as well."

Cambridge residents should really try to get a basic idea of what it takes to keep the most basic elements of their city functioning – things like water, sewer, electric supply, natural gas infrastructure, roadways as well as things like rubbish disposal and recycling. Call it civic education.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-111, regarding a report on TNC vehicles blocking travel lanes.

TNC stands for "Transportation Network Company", a relatively new term necessitated by the advent of entities like Uber and Lyft that do all they can to distinguish themselves from the (regulated) taxi industry. By their account, they’re just referral services that connect customers to drivers. One big difference is that there is built-in accountability for taxis, e.g., you could lose your right to operate as penalty for frequent or egregious violations. In contrast, many TNC drivers are just people with a license to drive with no special requirements for either customer service, geographical knowledge of an area, or expertise in lawful driving. Bending and breaking rules are common. This response from Police Commissioner Bard is primarily about short-term blocking of bike lanes for pickup/dropoff of passengers. Designated curb space for this purpose would help, and some existing taxi zones should be re-purposed for this. I don’t personally buy the notion that brief stops in bike lanes endanger either cyclists or pedestrians, but it is an inconvenience and the prevalence of these TNC vehicles warrants better allocation of space. However, congested areas with competing needs will never operate like a Swiss watch and it’s foolish to believe they ever will. Everybody has to give a little.

Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, 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 Jan 9, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection” to amend section 8.66.40 entitled “Applicability” and by adding a new section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for other projects.” [THE QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER FEB 18, 2019.]

It will be interesting to see if any actual wisdom emerges from the Feb 14 hearing on this (which some hasty councillors wanted to prevent). This has never been as simple as "Thou Shalt Not Cut That Tree No Matter What", and property owners deserve some flexibility in managing their property. Even if a tree is not currently dead, diseased, or dangerous there are situations when removal is still the best long-term option, especially if the removal may lead to better-situated, healthier trees thriving in the long term.

Applications & Petitions #1. A Zoning Petition has been received from Stephen R. Karp, Trustee of Cambridge Side Galeria Associates trust to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by adding a new Section 13.100 to Article 13.00 of the Zoning Ordinance and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-8 District overlay that certain area (which includes parcels and portions of ways and streets) labeled as "PUD-8 district".

It would be premature to comment much about this, but I definitely will look forward to a revitalized First Street, greater permeability through the site, and more diverse uses (including some housing), and improved architecture. I’m looking forward to hearing what the Planning Board and Councillor Carlone (who was involved in the original planning and development of the site) have to say as this petition makes its way through the hearings.

Order #1. That the City Council go on record reaffirming its support of the homeless issues bills awaiting action in the House and Senate, and entreats its elected delegation in both bodies to actively work on moving these measures out of their respective committees on toward adoption.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

Order #2. City Council support of legislation that protects children.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons

Order #7. That the City Council go on record in support of an “Act relative to the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program” and an “Act to ensure right to counsel in eviction proceedings".   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

These three Orders encompass support for a range of proposals that shouldn’t be particularly controversial.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the Apr 23, 2018 Policy Order seeking additional funding for affordable housing concerns.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern

This Order really should be understood in the context of other housing-related proposals currently being considered. These include the "Overlay" proposal to facilitate the transfer of private property to public or quasi-public ownership, support for a real estate transfer tax either via Home Rule or enabling legislation at the state level to fund this property transfer, and other initiatives. The City’s policy seems to be centered on transferring as much privately-owned property into public or quasi-public ownership as possible. I’m not so sure that this is a very good long-term policy in spite of any short- or medium-term housing affordability issues.

Order #9. That Rule 39, "Rules of Travel" under the “Rules of the City Council” hereby be amended to be titled "Rules of Travel and Other Council-Related Expenditures."   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey

The basic idea here is that some councillors want more flexibility in funds available to them for hosting constituents and similar purposes. Do they realize that this is the reason there is a City Council office with a budget and staff? When has it not been the case that a city councillor could simply ask the staff to make arrangements for such get-togethers?

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez transmitting a memorandum from Councillor Siddiqui, transmitting the submission of the Mayor’s Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement Jan 29, 2018 meeting minutes.

It will be interesting to see if this task force actually focuses on practical ways to address these difficulties.

Awaiting Report: 5 from 2016, 2 from 2017, 56 from 2018 (8 resolved this week), and 16 from 2019 (1 resolved this week).

That’s a total of 79 items awaiting a response with 9 of them addressed in this agenda. That’s better than most weeks. It really is ridiculous to be dragging along items from so long ago without a response. If there really is neither the need nor the willingness to act on some of these, a simple response to the effect of "Not now, Councillors" would be better than leaving so many of these things to moulder. Seriously, is anyone still all that fired up to modify zoning to restrict restaurants where a wood-fired oven is used? If the City would just come back with a very basic proposal for an Outdoor Lighting Ordinance, we could scratch a couple more items off the list. It’s a lot easier to respond to a shorter list. – Robert Winters

January 29, 2019

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 369-370: Jan 29, 2019

Episode 369 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 29, 2019 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 29, 2019 at 5:30pm. Topics: Proposed moratorium on tree removals; Jan 28 City Council meeting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 370 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 29, 2019 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 29, 2019 at 6:00pm. Topics: Bottled water; value of upzoning; public funding for municipal elections (again); Jan 29 City Council meeting. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

January 28, 2019

Picking through the pieces of the Jan 28, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Picking through the pieces of the Jan 28, 2019 Cambridge City Council Agenda

It's a twister!Here’s my initial selection of the agenda items that either I find interesting or which are sure to bring out a crowd:

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $175,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund a Climate Change Resilience Analysis which will focus on zoning recommendations.

Another $175,000 for a Climate Change Resilience Analysis? Didn’t we do this not so long ago?

Applications & Petitions #4. A Zoning Petition Has been received from Melissa Grippo and Christian Grippo, et al, requesting the City Council to vote to amend Section 5.30.11 of the Zoning Ordinance by adding the following sentence at the end of that section: “Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the Industry B District, a hotel use (Section 4.31.2), shall be governed by the second number (4.0) for purposes of determining the Maximum Ratio of Floor Area to Lot Area.”

I don’t know nuthin’ about it, but there’s now another zoning petition in the queue.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to review the City’s communications and emergency response policies and protocols related to flooding resulting from infrastructure failures.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley

Order #2. City Council support for I-90 Hybrid Plan with request for further review.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

BIG projects can be fun because when the scale of spending is large it creates opportunities to do some creative things around the edges of the necessary stuff. Envision that.

Order #5. City Council support of HD2395: An act to further provide a rental arrearage program.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Siddiqui

This is the kind of idea I can get behind – assisting people to get through a bad patch with some transitional assistance. It makes a lot more sense than some of the other proposals that have been floating around over the past year.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City departments to conduct a formal and professional financial assessment of the additional value created for the owner/petitioner by up-zonings for developments of more than 50,000 square feet.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

I suspect the motivation behind this is not just information-gathering. It sure seems like a prelude to extracting more "community benefit" money out of proposed developments – or maybe just creating a political basis for not granting zoning relief at all. Naively, I would still like to believe that zoning should be based on good planning rather than on who’s going to share the spoils.


Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, 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 Jan 9, 2019 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.66 entitled “Tree Protection” to amend section 8.66.40 entitled “Applicability” and by adding a new section 8.66.055 entitled “Procedure for other projects.”

Order #7. That the tree protection ordinance amendment discussed at the Ordinance Committee hearing held on Wed, Jan 9, 2019 and referenced in Committee Report #3 of Jan 28, 2019 be further amended per additional language.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

Basically, the sponsors want to enact a one-year moratorium on tree "removal permits" (where have we heard that phrase before) except for dead, diseased, or dangerous trees. This doesn’t seem to allow any discretion at all to property owners, and it treats ordinary small-scale homeowners just as harshly as those big evil developers. If you violate this prohibition they’ll make you pay into a tree replacement fund. I’m sure this committee report and order will bring out the troops to public comment, but there are some serious problems with this proposal.

Beyond the simple fact that there has not been proper legal notice (a moratorium is a lot stricter than a requirement to seek approval by the City Arborist), it also completely disrespects the rights of property owners to manage their own property. Furthermore, it would appear that the required payment for violating the moratorium will likely be well in excess of the cost of the tree removal. Most property owners would probably be OK with a reasonable ordinance that would dissuade them from wholesale deforestation of their property, but I seriously doubt whether there would be support for an ordinance that removed all discretion. Most property owners actually remove trees reluctantly and they certainly don’t want to have to appear before the Tree Tribunal whenever they are faced with such a decision.

This is a municipal election year and it’s pretty clear that some people are trying to make tree protection a defining issue for the upcoming election. So let me dabble in a little political calculus for you. There are two, maybe three city councillors who stand to gain politically by being the tree champions. The councillors who will be collecting those #1 Votes are the ones who already have them from those voters who are rallying around this moratorium proposal. Any other councillors will be getting a #3 at best, and those preferences will count for nothing. On the other hand, there are a lot of homeowners – and that includes a lot of environmentally-conscious homeowners – who will not be particularly keen about having their hands tied even though they probably won’t be reaching for the axe anytime during the next 12 months.

Every week it seems like the current City Council shows just how little faith they have in the people who elect them.

UPDATE: The City Council passed to a 2nd Reading the proposed revision to the Tree Ordinance included in the Committee Report (as amended in the report). Though there was spirited public comment favoring Order #7 – the proposed moratorium and punitive fines ($300/day) for removing a significant tree, the City Council voted 5-4 to send that proposal to the Ordinance Committee for an actual hearing and possible revision. This was really the only reasonable course of action, but Councillors Zondervan and Devereux apparently feel that discretionary tree removal, even by a homeowner, is the moral equivalent of murder. Councillors Kelley, Mallon, Simmons, Toomey, and Mayor McGovern voted in favor of due process; while Councillors Carlone, Devereux, Siddiqui, and Zondervan would have preferred immediate action without any public notice. There has never been any hearing where this punitive moratorium was on the agenda and where property owners could address their concerns. Councillors Zondervan and Devereux made it quite clear that they believe that informing people after a law is passed constitutes adequate notice. Democracy, representation, and due process apparently mean little to these councillors. – RW


Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the City Solicitor, in consultation with the Election Commission, to report back on the legality and constitutionality of the proposed “Cambridge Publicly Financed Municipal Election Program” and the “Cambridge Municipal Election People’s Pledge.”   Councillor Toomey, Councillor Kelley

Though I would like to see the legal opinion on these ideas, I still think they are ill-conceived for Cambridge municipal elections.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone Co-Chair and Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 29, 2018 to discuss Urban Form Recommendations from the Community Development Department.

Speaking of municipal elections….

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Co-Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui Co-Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Nov 28, 2018 to discuss the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay District and on the first annual Inclusionary Zoning report.

Here’s an idea – Let the City’s policy be simply to maintain the subsidized housing stock that already exists and add to it via Inclusionary Zoning. We’re already way ahead of the game compared to almost every other city or town in Massachusetts.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Mallon, transmitting notes from the meeting of the Mayor’s Arts Task Force from Jan 10, 2019.

These Arts Task Force minutes sometimes read like the psychiatrist’s notes at a wacky therapy session. How does that make you feel? – RW

January 12, 2019

What’s Coming Up at the Jan 14, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting?

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:16 pm

What’s Coming Up at the Jan 14, 2019 Cambridge City Council meeting?

Calendar - Jan 14, 2019Here’s my take on the interesting stuff this week:

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-126, regarding the River Street Infrastructure and Streetscape Project.

The basics: The outreach and design processes will occur throughout 2019 and into early 2020. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2020. $34 million has already been appropriated for the design and construction of sewer and drainage infrastructure improvements and surface enhancements on River Street between Memorial Drive and Central Square, including Carl Barron Plaza.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-120, regarding the focus of Envision Cambridge goals during community presentations.

If you read the infographic and fact sheet that’s meant "to clarify the 100% affordable housing overlay concept and address any misconceptions related to its potential implementation or impact" it becomes abundantly clear that the Community Development Department has already made its decisions and is now in the process of conducting an advertising campaign to sell it (even though it has received dismal reviews in most venues where it was presented – for good reasons).

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-97, regarding a report on updating vacant property database and reviewing strategies presented in the Storefront Vacancies Best Practices Report.

I just hope people understand that popup/activation/placemaking or art displays in vacant storefronts is a pretty lame substitute for the real thing. This is really about finding a new economic equilibrium between retail demand and the costs associated with occupying commercial space – and you can’t blame it all on Amazon. My own admittedly naive view is that for multi-story buildings with ground floor retail, that retail space should be re-conceived as something akin to the utilities in the basement – an essential part of the building that should not necessarily be viewed as a primary revenue-generator for the property. Let the upper floors pick up some of the tab.

Resolution #10. Retirement of Timothy MacDonald from the Water Department.   Mayor McGovern

Resolution #12. Retirement of Robert Reardon from the Assessing Department.   Mayor McGovern

Tim MacDonaldThis is a double-whammy for me personally. I have known Tim MacDonald for over 30 years – ever since I served on a Water & Sewer Advisory Committee appointed by then-Mayor Al Vellucci. Tim served as Manager of Water Operations and Director of Water Operations. Blessed with a sense of humor and good nature to go along with his experience and expertise, Tim has long been one of the greatest assets of the Water Department.

Robert Reardon may be one of the most qualified people in his field in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He’s also one of my all-time favorite people in City Hall. He could write a book on the political history of Cambridge. Maybe he should now that he’ll have time on his hands. I don’t know whether to congratulate him or to beg him to reconsider.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the appropriate City personnel to compile a report outlining how a prolonged Federal Government shut-down may impact the people of Cambridge.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Siddiqui

There are two sides to this inquiry. First, how will the lack of federal services and funds (for things like housing vouchers) affect residents who need those services and how many residents are affected? Second, how many residents of Cambridge have been furloughed from federal jobs? I’ll add that banks, landlords, utilities, etc. should really step up and grant time extensions on bills and maybe even extend low or zero-interest loans in lieu of paychecks since (I hope) we all know this can’t go on for too much longer.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Managing Director of the Water Department on whether the department is monitoring aged pipelines to prevent unexpected breaks and if information on the age of the pipes is readily available.   Councillor Toomey

This provides an appropriate follow-up to last week’s Order on the age and maintenance of the city’s water mains.

Order #5. That the Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning Committee hold a public hearing to explore the feasibility of Transit X and their potential to provide an affordable, equitable, safe, practical, congestion-reducing, and eco-friendly public transportation solution for our community.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

There was a guy going around maybe a year ago trying to sell people on this idea of mini-monorails running all over the city. It still seems a bit like something from a Fritz Lang film.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the City’s legal services providers on establishing a system of information-sharing and/ or alternative method for making available that data which may be of beneficial use to the City in analyzing displacement.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Carlone

Analysis is good, but please don’t unfairly punish small-scale owner-occupant landlords who are just trying to manage their modest investment. I grow increasingly suspicious every week of the City Council’s intentions. The Order provides a list of 46 outcomes of an eviction proceeding and not once does it make reference to an eviction being fairly carried out for justifiable reasons.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to explore the feasibility of designing the next iteration of the Cambridge Community Electricity program.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

If City intervention can land me a better deal on electricity, I’m all in. Otherwise, no thanks. – Robert Winters

December 19, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 363-364: Dec 18, 2018

Episode 363 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 18, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 18, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: One Way Zoning; Housing Choice Initiative; Suburban Zoning and Subsidized Housing. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 364 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 18, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 18, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Housing, continued; Cannabis Retail Ordained; City Clerk Donna Lopez to retire in May; Plan E in Lowell. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

December 16, 2018

The Misdirection of One Way Zoning – Just One Slippery Item on the Dec 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:09 pm

The Misdirection of One Way Zoning – Just One Slippery Item on the Dec 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Lately I find myself wondering if some of my local elected officials are either intentionally devious or just terminally dense. Zoning seems to bring on this wonder more than anything else. Three cases in point: (a) zoning for a cannabis future; (b) the so-called "affordable housing overlay", and (c) a late City Council order from last week (Charter Right invoked) supporting a state proposal to change the standards for passage of zoning amendments relating to some aspects of housing.City Hall

The latest stash of cannabis zoning changes is up for ordination this Monday. There has been a certain inevitability to this ever since Massachusetts voters legalized the sale of marijuana for recreational use. This is really about who can make lots of money from this newly legalized trade (and perhaps making sure that it’s not just the usual suspects), but each city and town has to give the OK and can decide if and where this can take place. This makes it a zoning matter. I suppose much of what the Council has proposed seems reasonable though I do fear an Acapulco Gold Rush. I have some concerns about the expansion of this trade into some of the lower scale mixed residential/commercial zones in Cambridge that might well be characterized as "mom ‘n pop" business zones, e.g. the BA-1 zones. I live in such a zone. Over the years it has hosted such businesses as a barber shop, a china-mending shop, second hand stores, a small grocery, a bike repair shop, a florist, a "spa" corner store, a coffee shop, a few small Montessori schools and a day care. A proposed amendment would allow cannabis sales in these zones – from "mom ‘n pop" to marijuana. I don’t really know any reason why this use should be added to such a district, but I did see that one councillor had knowledge that one pot dealer had designs on a location in a BA-1 zone and apparently that trumps all other considerations. I really hope they keep the pot shops in the larger scale business zones.

The "affordable housing overlay" proposal is not yet even in draft form as a zoning proposal but some councillors are already marking their calendars for all the necessary mileposts en route to ordination. The mayor even wove this into his "state of the city" address (or was it a 2019 campaign event?). It’s not yet clear whether the proposal has the necessary votes, but the public relations campaign is already well underway to slander all who might disagree. Opinion pieces have been written and all the world’s a twitter about how anyone who questions the specifics of the proposal is either a hopeless regressive (as opposed to a "true progressive") or worthy of one of several scarlet letters. One councillor has even created the false dichotomy that anyone who questions the proposal must be opposed to housing for nurses. By the way, Cambridge already has in excess of 7800 subsidized housing units (about 15% of all housing units) and the latest revision of the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance should yield on the order of about 18% of new housing being subsidized in some form.

Perhaps my prime objection to this proposal is the outright dishonesty of the proponents. There may be near-unanimous support for the goal of affordability in housing, but it’s not at all clear that most people support socialized housing (takeover of an increasing fraction of the housing stock by government or by entities operating on behalf of government) or whether they understand that this will only benefit those seeking housing from the government and will do nothing to address affordability generally (and may even exacerbate it). What’s currently being proposed is a plan that would permit a developer of 100% subsidized housing to build to a density up to 4 times what anyone else could legally build along with a reduction or elimination in setbacks from the lot lines and other requirements. The argument given is that this is necessary in order that these preferred developers can compete economically, but the rather obvious truth is that this also gives them the ability to effectively take property out of private ownership and into quasi-public ownership pretty much at will. The only limitation is their allotted budget, and it seems likely that this budget will grow once this little zoning hurdle is cleared. Oh, and if you have any objections you may as well keep them to yourself because all of this would be as-of-right. Let’s add that every residential property that goes from private ownership into "social ownership" contributes considerably less in property taxes, so the tax burden will shift onto the remaining residential owners or must be mitigated by additional commercial development.

The latest twist is a Late Order from Councillor Simmons asking her colleagues to sign on in support of Mass. House Bill H.4075, Act to Promote Housing Choices, that would, among other things, reduce the threshold for some housing-related zoning proposals from a two-thirds super-majority (6 of 9) to a simple majority (5 of 9). [Note: This bill has been superseded by Bill H.4290.] The zoning proposals subject to this lower threshold would be things like smaller lot sizes, higher density and multi-family zones, accessory dwelling units, and reduced parking requirements – things we already have aplenty in Cambridge. The latest revision also lowers the bar for subsidized housing and housing near transit. Our House Socialist (Rep. Connolly) is apparently holding out for more guarantees that the maximum amount of any housing produced would be removed from private ownership.

Under existing state law if there is objection from owners of at least 20% of the land affected by any zoning proposal then a three-quarter super-duper-majority (7 of 9) is required. The proposed law would raise the bar to 50% land ownership to push the threshold from simple majority up to the current two-thirds majority. One interesting twist is that a simple majority would be required to permit some of these housing options but a two-thirds majority would be required to reverse it, i.e. one-way zoning. The fact is that almost every zoning proposal in Cambridge over the last two decades that had any merit managed to pass with a super-duper majority and often with unanimous support even with the two-thirds requirement. So why the insistence that the threshold be lowered? My sense is that this House bill is targeting our suburban neighbors and their preclusionary zoning. However, my strong sense is that these towns may well maintain majorities to preclude any increased density or multi-family housing and once again the lion’s share of the burden of producing increasingly dense housing will occur in places like Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston, i.e. the opposite of what is intended in the legislation.

In fairness, it should be noted that the two-thirds super-majority requirement is not generally the standard elsewhere. My read of history is that the super-majority standard derives from the understanding that zoning is a form of police authority that affects property rights and this is at least in part intertwined with notions of constitutional rights – hence the higher standard. A better approach would be for the State Legislature to simply place limitations on what can be regulated by zoning. For example, they could start by not allowing absurdly large lot size requirements that prevent reasonable subdivisions. They should also require that all cities and towns permit some degree of multi-family housing and accessory dwelling units. If I were king I would also insist that there be at least one significant zone for apartment buildings in every city and town in Massachusetts. The singular focus on subsidized housing is shortsighted to say the least.

OK, now that I’ve said what I had to say, what’s on the agenda?

Charter Right #1. Airplane Noise Reduction Update on noise and vibrations from a concentration of low-flying airplanes originating at runway 33L at Logan Airport continue to disturb many residents.

I offer no opinion on this. I also grew up not far from LaGuardia Airport in NYC and acclimated to low-flying planes.

UPDATE: Councillor Kelley and Vice Mayor Devereux submitted competing substitute Orders and the matter was TABLED (MM).

Charter Right #2. City Council support of Bill H.4075, Act to Promote Housing Choices, which would allow municipalities across the Commonwealth to change some zoning rules via a simple majority vote. [Note: This bill has been superseded by Bill H.4290.] [Comparison of original (H.4075) and latest revised (H.4290) versions of Housing Choice Initiative]

See above.

UPDATE: After an extended discussion, this Order failed on a 4-4-1 vote.(AM,DS,TT,MM-YES; DC,CK,SS,QZ-NO; JD-ABS)

Unfinished Business #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a draft zoning petition concerning the regulation of cannabis establishments in the City of Cambridge in response to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-75.

Also see above.

UPDATE: The Cannabis Zoning was Ordained as Amended on a 7-1-1 vote (TT-NO; JD-ABS).
[Initial Petition Map] [Text as Ordained]

Order #1. That the City Manager confer with appropriate departments to advance the timetable for updating the Zoning Code’s Table of Uses and determine a frequency at which they can be regularly reviewed and updated.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Siddiqui

Sometimes I wonder if CDD operates on a geological time scale. This has been on the back burner for years.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff, including the City Electrician and the Director of the Commission for Persons with Disabilities, to determine if there is a safe and effective way for people to bring power to the curb and cross City sidewalks, to include running power cords under the sidewalk, to charge electric vehicles and, if so, how the City might best go about appropriately permitting and monitoring such activity.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

I’m sure there will be some creative solutions to this in the future, but I doubt that running heavy duty extension cords under the sidewalk will be among those solutions.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assessor’s Office on the topic of requiring that a business entity’s beneficial ownership be disclosed in all Cambridge real estate transactions.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

I doubt whether this is legal barring any discovery requirements triggered by something illegal. That said, I would love to know who’s behind all those mysterious LLCs. Other than curiosity, however, what exactly is the public’s interest in this information?

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 Oct 23, 2018 to discuss the status of the Harvard Square Kiosk.

Central Square should get a kiosk. Maybe then we can also get a 122-page report on what to do with it. – Robert Winters

UPDATE: City Clerk Donna Lopez informed the City Council that she will be retiring in May 2019.

Percentage of Subsidized Housing Units (not including group quarters) – September 2017
(source)

Community Housing Units Subsidized Units % Rank (of 351) Notes
Statewide 2,692,186 262,223 9.7%
Chelsea 12,592 2,434 19.3% 3  
Boston 269,482 51,283 19.0% 4  
Bedford 5,322 972 18.3% 5  
Cambridge 46,690 6,911 14.8% 11 ~7,800 of 53,000 currently
Burlington 9,627 1,283 13.3% 17  
Andover 12,324 1,637 13.3% 18  
Needham 11,047 1,397 12.6% 25  
Lowell 41,308 5,180 12.5% 26  
Canton 8,710 1,090 12.5% 28  
Lynn 35,701 4,435 12.4% 29  
Concord 6,852 804 11.7% 34  
Lexington 11,946 1,321 11.1% 47  
Lincoln 2,153 238 11.1% 48  
Dedham 10,115 1,104 10.9% 49  
Westwood 5,389 576 10.7% 55  
Randolph 11,980 1,280 10.7% 56  
Framingham 27,443 2,871 10.5% 59  
Natick 14,052 1,458 10.4% 61  
Wilmington 7,788 799 10.3% 64  
Malden 25,122 2,542 10.1% 65  
Braintree 14,260 1,382 9.7% 70  
Somerville 33,632 3,250 9.7% 73 statewide average
Quincy 42,547 4,096 9.6% 75  
Brookline 26,201 2,454 9.4% 78  
Woburn 16,237 1,419 8.7% 86  
Revere 21,956 1,780 8.1% 102  
Melrose 11,714 932 8.0% 104  
Winthrop 8,253 638 7.7% 111  
Newton 32,346 2,425 7.5% 115  
Waltham 24,805 1,834 7.4% 120  
Medford 23,968 1,694 7.1% 133  
Watertown 15,521 1,072 6.9% 136  
Saugus 10,754 732 6.8% 139  
Everett 16,691 1,061 6.4% 150  
Wellesley 9,090 573 6.3% 152  
Arlington 19,881 1,121 5.6% 163  
Stoneham 9,399 495 5.3% 176  
Wayland 4,957 254 5.1% 181  
Milton 9,641 481 5.0% 187  
Weston 3,952 167 4.2% 207  
Belmont 10,117 365 3.6% 231  
Winchester 7,920 244 3.1% 244  

Note: It must be pointed out that the figures above only show subsidized units. In many cities and towns there are many "naturally occurring" affordable units, i.e. apartments that simply have affordable rents. In addition, some tenants live in unregulated apartments but pay reduced rent due to such mechanisms as Section 8 vouchers. The figures above should therefore be understood only as a baseline.

December 12, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 361-362: Dec 11, 2018

Episode 361 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 11, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 11, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: New Central Square Police Substation; Central Square BID update; Surveillance Ordinance; Revised Street Performer Ordinance; 1899 Ordinances. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 362 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 11, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 11, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: City Hall landscaping; Late Order on “Act to Promote Housing Choices”, oddity of asymmetric rules for passing zoning ordinances, political consequences; Airplane Noise. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

November 28, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 357-358: Nov 27, 2018

Episode 357 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 27, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 27, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Late semester musings; Nov 26 City Council meeting – trees, curb cuts, councillor coddling, municipal facility upgrades, urban agriculture, outdoor lighting; Van Morrison and Astral Weeks. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 358 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 27, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 27, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Voter histories, targeting voters, publicly financed campaigns, age distribution of voters 2012-2018, voter turnout, supervoters, #1 voter fealty. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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