City Council Agenda Highlights (1/23/17)

The agenda for the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, January 23 is posted online. Prior to our meeting’s regular 5:30pm start, we will hold a brief recognition ceremony to honor a young Cantabrigian, Isaiah Robinson, for his courage in helping his siblings and neighbors evacuate from the fire that tore through the Berkshire Street neighborhood in early December. The public is invited to attend the 5:00pm ceremony.

Below is my summary of the agenda’s notable items.

City Manager’s Agenda

#4 New Assistant City Manager for Finance named: David Kale will fill the position Louis DePasquale vacated when he became city manager. Mr. Kale is a lifelong Cambridge resident who worked in the City’s finance and budget offices and at the School Department before becoming Belmont’s Town Administrator four years ago. He will start work on March 13.

#5 K9 Rumba will remain a member of CPD: Our new interim Police Commissioner Brent Larrabee explains the department’s rationale for denying the request of K9 Rumba’s human partner to take the dog out of service upon retirement. The cost to the department to train a new explosive-detecting dog is estimated at $20-25K and it would be a couple of years until the new dog was fully trained. (These dogs perform at their best between the ages of about four and eight.) The memo also notes that our dogs are considered “regional assets,” and that if Rumba were retired so young it would set a poor precedent because another officer is about to retire and would ask to retire his four-year-old dog too, thereby taking two of the department’s five dogs out of service. Commissioner Larrabee states that this policy was explained to the officer-handlers at the outset and encourages the retiring officer to visit Rumba as often as he would like.

#6 New portrait of former Mayor Barbara Ackermann coming: A recent council order asked for a new portrait of the City’s first female mayor; the portrait in the Ackermann Room at City Hall stands out as being far less formal than any of the other mayoral portraits in City Hall. This manager writes that a portrait has been commissioned and will be unveiled this spring, but does not identify the artist. I would like to know more about the selection process.

#11 Gap funding for the Weekend Backpack Program: Gov. Baker pulled the funding rug out from under this popular program that benefits hundreds of food-insecure students in our public schools. A crowdsourcing campaign raised $75K but that’s about $35K short of the amount needed to cover last year’s program costs, so the City has agreed to tap into our Human Services General Fund to make up the difference. Going forward, the program will need to develop new funding sources to make up for the loss of state support.

#17 Planning Board Memo on Medical Marijuana Zoning: The Planning Board met on Jan. 3 to consider citywide zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries, and recommended that the existing medical marijuana zoning remain as is until the state laws are clarified for both recreational and medical use. There are two Ordinance Committee reports on this petition (Committee Reports #2 and #3 on the agenda). At the second Ordinance hearing, which took place a couple of hours before the Planning Board met, the petition was amended to stipulate that medical dispensaries and recreational marijuana facilities not be co-located. The first Cambridge dispensary will open soon, and there are two others in the permitting pipeline.

Applications and Petitions

#1 Downzoning petition for Mass+Main area: Former Mayor Ken Reeves, School Committee Member Richard Harding and a few others have filed a petition to downzone the “Mass+Main” area of Central Square, which was up-zoned in 2015 after a long and contentious process. They ask that the allowed height be reduced from 195′ to 150′ and that the amount of affordable housing be increased from 20% to 25%. This 11th hour petition comes when the residential tower portion of the project is set for its second hearing at Planning Board on Tuesday, and the smaller residential building on Bishop Allen Drive has just been approved.

Policy Orders

#1 TAKE ON HATE: This order from Councillor Mazen asks the city to go on record in support of the Campaign to TAKE ON HATE, which calls on all of us to oppose violence and discrimination against Muslims and Arabs in our community.

#2 Making it easier to offer live acoustic music: I sponsored this order after reading about a pilot program in Boston that will allow small businesses and restaurants to offer live acoustic music without applying for an entertainment license.

#3 Departmental restructuring?: This order follows up on a discussion at our last council meeting about whether the Community Development Department would be more effective if its organizational structure changed, say to separate the neighborhood and planning functions from its economic and business development activities. No question, CDD has a lot on its plate. The order cites Personnel and IT as other departments that might benefit from an organizational review, and I would add the Department of Public Works. This is no criticism of the staff within any of these departments. The order suggests bringing in an independent management consultant.

#4 Improve the AV system at the Senior Center: If you’ve ever attended a meeting of the BZA or the Historical Commission this order needs no explanation. At the last CHC meeting I attended people kept having to step over a power cord stretched across an aisle and the microphones kept cutting out. It was comical and irritating.

#5 Time limits on parking meters near Porter Square: Last year some of the parking meters around Porter Sq were changed to allow one-hour parking until 8pm (formerly the cut-off was 6pm, I believe). I think the rationale was to keep the meters turning over during the evening business hours and to prevent metered parking spaces from being used for overnight parking until after the peak evening business hours. An unintended side effect has been to make it more difficult for people patronizing restaurants to park at meters, since a dining experience may take more than an hour. This order asks for an assessment of the situation.

#6 Public-private partnerships at the Foundry: This order asks that the City look at potential public-private partnerships that would provide significant community space in the Foundry. I’m not quite sure what this is asking since the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority holds a 50-year lease on the Foundry and is currently in the process of drafting a new Request for Proposals for a development partner. The last RFP process fell apart because there wasn’t enough dedicated community space so one would hope that will change this time around. It may take a larger initial capital investment from the City than was originally anticipated.

#7 Invest in Cambridge through mini-bond program: This order asks for an update on the City’s new mini-bond program. There’s information abut the program in the City View publication that just went out by mail to residents.

#8 Next steps for Municipal Broadband Task Force?: There was a committee hearing last fall on the work of Phase I of the task force’s work, but this order asks for another update.

#9 Success of pop-up bike lanes: I sponsored the original order that launched this pilot and two pop-up protected lanes were installed late last year on Mass Ave. This order asks for a report on how we are measuring their success. The Council has received several dozen emails expressing supporting this pilot, which tells me that people on bikes appreciate the additional protection and want to see more of it.

Committee Reports

#1 Economic Development and University Relations Committee hearing on Harvard Square: I chaired this hearing, which brought together some of the major property owners for a candid discussion on the negative impact that soaring rents, changes in ownership, speculative investment and competition from online retail and chains are having on local merchants and the community. Read the committee report, which includes many communications from residents and a map showing ownership of parcels in the heart of Harvard Square. Or watch the video. I am continuing to work on this issue and to research options.

#4 Ordinance Committee hearing on Inclusionary Zoning: Normally committee hearings are allotted two hours, but this one lasted four hours! The debate revealed a division between the six members present to whether Planned Urban Developments (PUDs) ought to be subject to the new inclusionary requirement (15% on ordination and 20% starting June 30, 2017). We heard testimony from Somerville Alderman Matt McLaughlin that the Assembly Square PUD was required to increase its inclusionary percentage when Somerville’s requirement went up. Councillor Carlone, Mazen and I pressed for more clarity on the PUD issue; it’s important because hundred of units will be built as part of PUDs and freezing the inclusionary percentage at the level set back in 1998 would result in many fewer affordable units being built. We are still awaiting the Planning Board’s comments and answers to other questions about implementation procedures and tenant rules. There will be another hearing next month to try to iron out some of the remaining details.

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