City Council Agenda Highlights (12/11/17)

The Cambridge City Council will hold its penultimate meeting of the 2016-17 term on Monday, December 11 at 5:30pm. As the term winds down the agenda is dominated by responses from the city manager to prior policy orders and to end of the year allocations. The agenda is online. Here is my summary of items of interest.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 COLA Increase from city retirees: The Retirement Board and the City Manager are recommending an increase in the base amount on which the cost of living adjustment is calculated, which would cost the city about $300K in FY19. For a retiree the increase would be $60 annually. The median retirement benefit is $24K/year. The base amount would rise from $14K to $16K.

#3 City manager’s authority to appoint members of the Historical Commission: This memo from the City Solicitor defends the City Manager’s absolute power with respect to appointments to boards and commissions and personnel decisions. Councillor Kelley had asked for clarification of some ambiguous language in the city’s municipal ordinance, which he felt gave the Council the power to approve members of the Historical Commission. The Solicitor refutes this claim and reminds us that under our Plan E charter a councillor could face criminal penalties for participating in the appointment or removal of city officers and employees. This remains confusing because it appears that the ordinance is in conflict with the charter with regard to the CHC. I’ll be interested to hear what Councillor Kelley says since he posed the question.

#4 Harvard Sq Kiosk final landmark report: The Historical Commission’s final report recommends that Council vote to designate the Kiosk as a landmark. The report gives a detailed architectural and social history of the Kiosk and includes many photos, showing the Kiosk’s evolution in appearance and use since it was constructed in 1928 as the entrance to the subway station. During the Red Line’s extension and the associated reconfiguration of the plaza, the Kiosk was saved from demolition; it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Following the construction of the current T entrance in 1984, ownership of the Kiosk was transferred to the City from the MBTA, and the building was adaptively renovated and repurposed as a newsstand, replacing an undistinguished looking newsstand that had stood next to the headhouse for decades. The Kiosk’s future use will be decided through an ongoing public process with a working group and a consultant. The City Manager just announced that the architecture firm of Touloukian Touloukian, Inc. has been selected for the restoration and renovations connected with its future use. The Kiosk Working Group next meets on Wed., Dec. 13 at 6:30 at the Citywide Senior Center.

#5 & #6 Hubway funding and new stations: These two appropriations, totaling about $930K, reflect funds received from developers for Hubway bike share stations as part of their menu of traffic mitigation programs. There are currently 49 stations in Cambridge, and about 15 more will be added with these funds. Among the 10 potential locations not connected with a new development project are Mt Auburn St near the Star Market, the King Open School and “outer” Huron Ave (maybe that means near the youth center and golf course). The list also includes the Alewife Quad area. Many people have requested a Hubway at Fresh Pond Mall but it is private property, and we’d need the cooperation of the landlord to put one there. However the proposed Wheeler St project near the Trader Joe’s and CVS would include a bike share station. Hubway has an interactive map where you can see existing locations and suggest new ones.

#7 Planning for potential loss of federal funds: This memo comes in response to the suggestion to create a public fund to make up for the possible loss of federal grant funding as a result of our remaining a Sanctuary City. The City Manager would prefer to take a wait-and-see approach, noting that not all grant-funded services and programs can legally be replaced by general funds.

#8 Lighting for dog parks: Lights at dedicated and shared-use dog parks would help extend the hours they are used, especially at this time of year when it is already dark by the end of the typical work day when many people would like to be able to take their dogs to the park. (The same desire for late afternoon and early evening lighting could exist for tot lots. but that question was not posed in the originating order.) Aside from lighted playing fields and basketball courts, most parks are not intended for use after dusk, and the memo notes that some off-leash areas are near homes where the lighting and after-dark activity might not be so welcome. The memo suggests considering lighting only at the dedicated off-leash parks (there are 3 currently: Danehy, Giacobbe/Pemberton, and Pacific; Binney and Rogers will have future dedicated off-leash areas).

#9 Update on Incentive Zoning Fees: The incentive zoning fee assessed on large commercial and institutional developments was increased to $12/sf in 2015 and now stands at $14.95. In Sept. 2018 the fee will go up by $1 plus a CPI adjustment. Revenues are assessed at the time of the building permit and collected when the project seeks a certificate of occupancy, and the first project at the $12 rate is expected to be completed in FY19. The Council will have to set a schedule for any future increases, as the annual increases required in 2015 ordinance do not go beyond 2018. We need to get started on a new nexus study in 2018, so the rate doesn’t get stuck at $15/sf indefinitely (before the 2015 increase the rate was $4.58 and had only increased by the CPI since its inception in 1988). It would have been helpful if the memo had included the square footage of each development approved since the adoption of the 2015 increase, and had estimated the amount that will be paid into the Affordable Housing Trust.

#10 Snow removal on bike lanes: The DPW Commissioner explains at length what efforts will be made to keep the various types of bike facilities reasonably clear of snow. The priority remains plowing streets to ensure emergency vehicles can pass and then removing snow from high-traffic sidewalks near transit and around schools and public buildings. We have some smaller equipment that will be used to clear bike lanes once the streets and sidewalks are passable. DPW also will temporarily remove some of the plastic flex-posts on protected lanes in advance of storms to make plowing easier. To that end, the fixed posts on Brattle St will be replaced with temporary bollards this weekend. My sense is that without hiring more workers and investing in more small plows and bobcats to remove plowed snow from the bike lanes, it may be messy riding for a few days after a significant storm. Most cars can handle a fair amount of snow, ice and slush, but that’s harder on two wheels. The standard for clearing bike lanes for safe travel may actually be higher than we have had to meet for cars and that may require a bigger budget.

Unfinished Business

#8 Beekeeping Zoning: We may vote on the zoning regulations for beekeeping as an accessory use in compliance with regulations set by the Health Department, which would issue a permit after holding a public hearing and collecting the annual fee ($50 for the initial year’s permit and $25 to renew).

Policy Orders

#2 Resolution in support of Senate Bill on notice of combined sewer overflows: I submitted a resolution in support of Senator Pat Jehlen’s bill (S.448), which requires notice to residents within one hour of a combined sewer overflow. CSOs occur after heavy rainfall overwhelms the capacity of unseparated sewer and stormwater infrastructure and the make rivers and streams unsafe for human contact. The recent sewer separation projects in Cambridge have greatly decreased the number and volume CSOs but the Alewife Brook and Mystic River remain at risk

Committee Reports

#1 Harvard Sq Zoning Petition: There is a report on the Ordinance Committee’s first hearing on the petition. The Planning Board will hold a second hearing on the petition on January 2.

Communications from City Officers

Councilor Kelley conducted his own research into reports of speeding on Lexington Ave by spending a half hour one weekday morning clocking the speed of 59 cars going from Huron to Brattle. He determined that 22% of cars were going between 25-33mph. But no one was recorded going faster than 33 mph, which is actually pretty fast considering that this section of Lexington runs two ways and is quite narrow when cars are parked on both sides, as they often are. Had he spent his time on the downhill one-way section of Lexington he might have seen more speeding. Since our police can’t be everywhere at once and we don’t use speed cameras for enforcement, maybe we should allow councillors with radar guns to give speeding tickets or at least warnings? :-))

Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:

Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for up to 3 minutes on any agenda item except for communications from other members of the public. You may call 617-349-4280 on Monday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign in when you arrive (before 6:00 pm). To submit written comments, please email and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at Your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next regular Council meeting.

City Council meetings are televised on Channel 22-CityView and live-streamed on the City Council’s website. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the city’s Open Meeting Portal.

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA