|Fall 2000 - The Busy Season||Issue 25 - Nov 5, 2001|
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This was a very busy season at the Council and many important matters were addressed. Perhaps the biggest item was the decision to site the expanded Main Library at the current Broadway site. Throughout the fall the Ordinance Committee met to receive testimony and discuss aspects of the proposed citywide rezoning package.
This purpose of this meeting was to vote on the zoning amendment to make a library an allowed use in every zoning district in the city, subject to the granting of a special permit by the Planning Board.
During public comment, Stash Horowitz suggested that the meeting “has a back-room quality about it,” and that a civic organization to which he belongs (Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods) never knew about the proposed amendment. He objected to the use of open space as an allowed space for a library and suggested it would open the door for a police station, etc. He was OK with having a special permit requirement for use of open space for a library since this would open the process to public comment, protest, etc. The alternative, he said, would be an ugly legal process.
John Pitkin noted that a majority of the Council voted in 1997 for a measure to create the additional Open Space districts. He said that it is always tempting to build on public open space and that the proposed amendment would allow Library use as of right, not via Special Permit - an end run around principals of zoning. He correctly noted that without criteria, it is difficult or impossible for the Planning Board to deny a Special Permit.
Sara Mae Berman expressed concern about the proposed zoning change. “In the last 100 years, almost every new school was built on public open space. The Longfellow was built on a site that was half open space. At the time, the land in back of the school was to be bought for a playground. The school was built in 1931 and it hasn't happened yet.” She suggested making the zoning change specific only to final sites where the Library might be built.
Hugh Russell of the Planning Board said that nobody on the Planning Board wants to preempt the Council’s role in selecting the library site but that this change might be seen by the public as doing so. He noted that without special criteria for the granting of a special permit, only general criteria could be applied, such as traffic impacts, continued operation of adjacent uses, nuisance or hazards, and impairment of the integrity of the district or an adjoining district. He suggested adding specific criteria to require that there be no substantial loss of open space.
James Williamson hinted at a hidden agenda in the change in the review process. “People in a neighborhood could prevail in court more easily if it could go before the BZA. The Council should be very watchful about diminishing the scope of public debate, scrutiny, and review.”
The ensuing City Council discussion on the zoning change focused on a proposed revision by Councillor Braude to accomplish the goal suggested by Hugh Russell. Councillor Born initially expressed her wish that the petition be allowed to expire and be re-filed, but this would have led to further delay of at least another three months. Councillor Reeves added, “I continue to have an open mind about this site selection. It has been narrowed down to two sites and information on both is on the way. What is the hurry to pass this legislation?” To this City Manager Healy responded, “The petition was filed some time ago by the City Council....The petition is not particularly complicated, but the Council could not vote on it on July 31 and has not met since then. This was reason for calling the special meeting. It could be re-filed, but this would be a waste of money on advertising.”
Councillor Sullivan followed. “As to why this is before us, this lies among us nine. The rush to do this was motivated by the last election. Everyone's literature spoke of the need to do this. Four sites are still under consideration and all of them would require some sort of variance....Nobody wants to make a decision because it's going to offend someone. This amendment allows us to build a library somewhere at some point. In the previous open space discussion, a whole lot of uses were allowed, including parking lots and more, but not a library.”
Deputy City Solicitor Don Drisdell explained that in the current table of uses, public recreation is a permitted use as is a fire station or a police station, but not a public library. He said it would be preferable to deal with this zoning change up front, before siting, since all sites will require a special permit for dimensional relief.
Michael Sullivan added, “Delaying a decision will cause delay in the library siting. Why not wait, as Newton did, until the year 2005 or more? We're wasting the public's time, especially those who served on the Library 21 Committee. The time is at hand to make our decision. This has been before this body for over 100 days. It's not rocket science. It's a one-page document.” Councillor Toomey added, “I've been waiting for a couple of years to vote.”
Bob Healy pointed out that the Council would need to vote on a loan order recommendation (6 votes), and possibly an eminent domain taking. “I've tried to not pit sites against each other - whichever site has six votes.” To this Toomey added, “Put something forward and see where the votes are. I'm ready to vote. I'll go with the majority, whatever it is.”
Councillor Reeves brought up the matter of how much money the delay has cost. “The Council may have cost the people $2 million by indecision. If I came from OZ, I'd think we could work together on his. I'd expect that we would be able to locate a library at a mutually satisfactory location. What was the original projected cost of the library?” To this, Healy responded that originally there was $15 million in the capital budget if there was no land acquisition, possibly $20 million. Councillor Born countered that the estimate from Rawn Associates was $26 million. Healy responded that it may have been $20 million in 1994 and that it could now be $25 million w/o land acquisition and $33-36 million if there was acquisition.
To this Reeves responded, “If I were a citizen and I realized that 6 years of indecision cost me $6 million and $2 million (from a state grant) that I could have had, all to satisfy who? This has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. Two sites and $7 million to get there. That is not good government. My greater concern is that the proposal before us is, in some niggling way, an attempt to make the library smaller. I, for one, am not going to support that. Planning Board members now feel they are involved in the library siting. I don't see why the economics don't drive the conclusion. There are some who will just have their way, even if there are only three of them. This is an attempt to again delay tonight. I was prepared to vote on this in 1994.”
Councillor Braude's proposed amendment called for requirement that in granting a Special Permit within an Open Space zoning district, the Planning Board shall find no significant reduction of open space or recreation area. If this is not the case, the Special Permit may be granted if the open space is replaced at an appropriate alternative location. The City Manager expressed concern about the proposed language, especially about what constitutes “significant” vs. “substantial” reduction of open space. “Who defines what an appropriate alternative location is? Who determines this? This could turn out to be the rationale for why library can't be sited due to cost of this relocation.” Councillor Maher added, “We really owe this to the people of Cambridge. I support preserving and acquiring the most open space possible. In no way will this open the floodgates for taking open space for City purposes.”
Councillor Davis: “It is time for the Council to start moving along, to be able to put it on our literature for the next campaign. I'd like to start this in a constructive vein. As for this evening's vote, I had some concerns. There is concern by many citizens about the use of open space. At the very least, we need to protect the open space if the current site is chosen. If Broadway is chosen, there will be a deleterious effect on the existing open space. I can live with this with the amendment about open space. Making this an allowed use is a good idea. Delay tactics are not what I'm about.”
Councillor Sullivan: “There is a need to move forward. On the amendment proposed this evening, there are some difficulties in the timing and the phrasing. There is some fear that a parking lot could be redefined as open space in applying this amendment. Councillor Born concurred and responded to Councillor Reeves, “You were willing to vote in 1994 and so was I. However, we would have voted differently. The ‘No Net Loss of Open Space’ policy should be affirmed.”
After a 20 minute recess, a brief discussion, and another 44 minute recess, the following compromise language was introduced: “Any dimensional or other relief shall be permitted by special permit. In granting the permit in an Open Space district, the Planning Board shall, in addition to other criteria of 10.43, find no substantial reduction in recreational and/or open space use, excluding parking areas and roadways. Where the Planning Board does find substantial reduction, the Special Permit may be granted upon assurance from the City Manager that he will offset that loss by increasing open space or recreation uses at another location, subject to necessary appropriation.”
When Councillor Sullivan moved ordination, Councillor Reeves asked, “Under our rules, if you don't vote YES or NO, what are the other options?” This was a rather odd statement considering the emphasis he had earlier placed on his desire to vote on this since 1994. Mayor Galluccio noted that the rules indicate that every member SHALL vote, though this was somewhat ambiguous. The zoning amendment then passed unanimously amidst many thanks to Councillors Sullivan and Braude for helping to move this to a successful conclusion.
Public comment at this meeting revolved mainly around the proposed Loose Moratorium to halt new construction in a portion of the Riverside neighborhood. The report of the Citywide Growth Management Advisory Committee (CGMAC) also arrived at this meeting in the City Manager's Agenda. Robert Travers and Bill Jones spoke very critically of a proposal to possibly change the name of what was the Maynard School. There was also a significant amount of testimony from people in North Cambridge opposed to using the former VFW Hall for affordable housing, including some prominent members of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee.
During the City Manager's Agenda, there was an interesting discussion about the bike lanes on Concord Ave. Councillor Born suggested there be a two-way bike lane instead of lanes on opposite sides of the street. “I'm all for bicycle lanes. I've supported them consistently. I'd like to support them here, but there are only 27 bicyclists using these lanes every day. To take away a whole lane of traffic for this? I may join Galluccio on this. Couldn't we accommodate 27 cyclists along the edge of Fresh Pond?” She also expressed some misgivings about the recently installed like lane on Hawthorn St.
The first of several Council discussions about a preservation easement for the “Fly Club”, one of the Harvard clubs, took place at this meeting. A minor tax abatement would be given in exchange for preservation of the facade and signage. Harvard has “clubs” instead of fraternities. Councillor Reeves noted, “Persons of my ilk were never Fly Club members. These Final Clubs are like secret societies. You get an invitation under your door that you’ve been ‘tapped.’ Women were excluded until recent years. Some clubs have closed and sold their resources. Some of them are relatively invisible. Others, like Fox and Fly are easy to see. Some are rich, others are not.” The matter was laid on the table (and stayed there for about a year).
There was some discussion about the future uses of the building at 57 Inman St. and whether a complete gutting was called for. Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi said that a complete redesign may be necessary to make it easier for public access and workflow. The estimated cost will be $5-7 million and make take two years to complete. The relocation of some of the offices to 238 Broadway is also problematic because of the plan to tear down that building as part of an open space plan.
On the matter of open space planning in Area 4, Councillor Reeves recalled a discussion on an earlier zoning proposal for the area of Broadway and Moore St. in which affordable housing was promised and a “community benefits package” was negotiated with the neighborhood. Control of the money from that negotiation is not in the hands of the City, but rather in the hands of a few select residents, a questionable arrangement at best.
David Maher suggested that the mayor appoint a task force of councillors to look at some of the issues involved in a municipal facilities plan. “We have many buildings in which the purpose we do not understand. Maybe we should sell some in order to purchase others.” Mayor Galluccio did appoint this task force.
On the Citywide Rezoning Petition, Councillor Born called this “some of the most exciting and challenging work we'll take up, the most important since I've been on Council, save possibly for the end of rent control.” The Ordinance Committee laid out plans for meetings to take up (a) changes in FAR; (b) new housing districts; and (c) parking and transportation. She said that the final date for action by Council will be Feb 12, so there would be five months to make these important decisions. [The majority of the proposed changes were, in fact, ordained at the Feb 12, 2001 Council meeting and the excluded portions affecting eastern Cambridge and the Alewife area were ordained, as amended, in subsequent months.]
The Loose Petition was passed to a 2nd Reading.
Councillor Toomey introduced an order asking the City to look into increasing the homeowner exemption (in assessed value of their property) from 20% to 30%. Somerville successfully filed home rule legislation to allow them to do this and it was signed by the governor.
There was extensive discussion in response to concerns raised by residents about spraying for the West Nile Virus.
Councillor Reeves expressed some concern about not being credited in the press for his involvement in community meetings in the Riverside neighborhood and in Cambridgeport. Speaking of the press, “They seem to speak to some councillors and not others. If a given reporter doesn't happen to call me and if they don't attend the meeting, they need to call everyone who was at the meeting. Reporting is so unlike what happens. This new notion that one person represents Cambridgeport.... I've been representing Cambridgeport for ten years and get tons of votes there.”
A late order from Councillor Toomey demanded that any renaming of Maynard School should involve name of Joe Maynard in the selection process. Councillors Reeves, Davis, Braude, and Decker voted against the order.
Public comment at this meeting focused principally on the proposed extension of the IPOP (Interim Planning Overlay petition) and the Main Library siting. The inevitable Robert LaTremouille continued his conspiracy theory involving the Urban Ring, the MDC, and the Charles River white geese. It was also noted that Lisa Kocian, a well-liked and talented reporter from the Cambridge Chronicle, had taken a job with the Boston Globe.
There was discussion on the “No Net Loss of Open Space Policy” of the previous week's meeting on adding a library as an allowed use in an Open Space district. Councillor Born moved that this previously adopted policy be reaffirmed but this was met with resistance from Mayor Galluccio and Councillors Sullivan and Toomey due to concerns that it might impact a proposal for a West Cambridge youth center on Glacken Field on the Fresh Pond Reservation. Councillor Decker questioned why it should be necessary to reaffirm a policy that had already been adopted.
In response to a call for further discussion of a municipal facilities plan, Mayor Galluccio appointed Councillors Born, reeves, and Maher to take up this task. High on the list is the future of 57 Inman St and proposed renovations of City Hall.
There was Council discussion on yet another order concerning the proliferation of graffiti throughout the city. Another order, another reference to the Graffiti Hotline that goes unanswered, and continued inaction on the issue. The word is that responsibility will be transferred from Public Works to the Police Department.
There was more testimony from North Cambridge residents opposed to putting in affordable housing in the N. Cambridge VFW building. The usual red flags were raised about added traffic congestion (from a handful of units of housing?) and an alternative proposal to tear down the building and replace it with a park - “a commemorative to Tip O'Neill or someone”. Joseph Joseph of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee argued that “Every single building in the city does not have to be used for affordable housing.” He claimed that Neighborhood 11 has 17% of the city's affordable housing and that the City is only locating affordable housing in the same area over and over again.
Mayor Galluccio again brought up the proposal to build a youth center on Glacken Field at Fresh Pond, something that will likely require approval from the state legislature and the Conservation Commission. There are some who would argue that the proposal violates the Fresh Pond Master Plan.
Councillor Toomey had a very interesting order calling for the acquisition of a significant amount of underutilized land in Kendall Square now owned by NSTAR. Toomey noted that the land has long been vacant and that its acquisition could lead to nighttime activity in Kendall Square (good idea), a possible 450-900 units of housing with 30% of it affordable (another good idea), and a significant amount that could be devoted to open space (a third good idea). He also argued that it could connect Kendall Square to the East Cambridge neighborhood. [I believe some of these ideas eventually made it into the Eastern Cambridge Planning Study (ECPS) and into the Zoning for that area.]
City Manager Healy noted that there were
several votes before the Council,
similar to previous years.
If approved by the Dept. of revenue, the tax rates (per thousand of assessed valuation after exemptions) would be $9.21 residential (now $9.64), and $23.39 commercial (now $25.16). The levy adopted earlier in the year was $179,200,000. With additional state aid, this increased to $178,500,000 and represents an 8.8% increase over the previous year. New growth will absorb $8.8 million of the increase.
Treasurer Jim Maloney noted that had there been only 50% of the construction over the last ten years, there would have been higher residential taxes and fewer services. He said that capital siting issues could lead to another 8% increase next year and that it would be better to be at 4-5%. he also made the rather interesting observation that for the first time the total number of condos exceeds the total of one, two, and three family properties. There has been a significant shift in the last ten years. Condos now account for more than 50% of all assessed residential properties when you exclude those buildings with four or more units.
Councillor Decker went out on a limb in discussing the tax question. “People may not see the connection between services and taxes. Some people during public comment said they would pay more in taxes. I would support increasing taxes.” She then joked about not getting elected again. “There is room to look at increasing taxes because our tax rate is so low. You can't pick and choose who will have to pay those taxes.”
This meeting opened with a presentation to Robert Neiley, who retired in August 2000 from the Historical Commission after 34 years and over 400 meetings since 1966. He was presented with the Commonwealth Award by the Boston Society of Architects for the Cambridge Historical Commission. Credit must be given to Mr. Neiley and others like him who give their time freely for these important civic matters and who rarely receive the credit they deserve for their selfless dedication to their community.
Many people spoke at this meeting in support of the Loose Petition for a construction moratorium in the Riverside neighborhood and of the need for time to establish a functioning neighborhood group to respond to proposed developments and to participate in planning for that neighborhood. The most significant testimony came from former City Councillor and State Representative Saundra Graham who said, “I have lived in Riverside all of my life. It has changed dramatically, all because of Harvard University. We now have access to the river, but to lose any more is very painful for all of us. Harvard needs to put open space on the Mahoney site and environs. There are students playing basketball all day into the evening, but no people that I recognize as community people playing at Corporal Burns. This moratorium is very important to us. Riverside has never had an opportunity to study ourselves, never any assistance. Harvard is now dividing the community. Riverside doesn't end at Putnam Ave. Banks Street has always been part of Riverside, even if we called it Kerry Corner. My community has been dealing with Harvard since the 1950's. Since 1970 you'd think Harvard would have learned its lesson. They never come to talk about anything. It's time for us to do something for ourselves. Pass Loose Moratorium. The City should give us some money to do a planning process. Take Riverside seriously. Pass Loose and pass some money. We also want quality of life. We have been a patient community, but we will be patient no more.”
Once more there were protests from North Cambridge against the proposed affordable housing at the VFW building. One resident even went so far as to say, “Cambridge has enough housing.” In his typically insulting tone, Joe Joseph said, “You have insulted the senior community in North Cambridge. When you set priorities, you should not make it exclusive for affordable housing. This building should be a senior building. After the two years of your term are up, how would you like people to remember what you did?....Do not make this an argument about who's more in favor of affordable housing.”
The Loose Petition and Riverside Neighborhood Study
Councillor Sullivan opened the discussion by proposing an amendment to allow alterations within the footprint of existing structures. Councillor Davis emphasized the need for a planning study, saying “The neighborhood has waited for a long time.” Unanimous support for the moratorium was never in doubt. The only issue at hand was the manner in which the proposed study would take place and if it would be adequately funded and appropriate staff provided. Councillor Reeves was more specific. “Riverside has a very unique character - its people and its architecture. There are some historically black streets since last century, such as Kinnaird St. where stevedores once lived that unloaded ships... In 1990, Riverside did begin to get its study. It took 3 to 4 years to study and 3 to 4 years to publish it. As a councillor, I was asked to leave the study meetings. We can't fund the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee and East Cambridge unless everyone gets the same opportunity. There is a need for resources. Others have had their own newsletters funded through public and private funds. I went to a Riverside meeting and asked the City to provide support staff. The person who came from CDD was unable to speak to any zoning details. There is insufficient staff support.”
The councillors took turns taking shots at Harvard for the way they've brought proposals forward. In some cases, residents only learned of Harvard's plans by accident. Councillor Born told of one person learning of Harvard's plans at a cocktail party in Paris. The Loose Petition passed 8-0 with Mayor Galluccio voting Present.
On a related order calling for a new planning study for Riverside, Councillor Reeves suggested $250,000 for the study and Councillor Toomey suggested even more. The order passed and the City Manager did respond a month later with an initial allocation of $100,000 with more to follow.
Councillor Decker raised the issue of the membership and function of the Central Square Advisory Committee (CSAC) and her desire to see it be more relevant to the Central Square of today. She called for identifying groups from Area 4, Cambridgeport, and Mid-Cambridge that have been speaking for Central Square. CDD Director Beth Rubenstein explained that the the CSAC is a creature of the Central Square Overlay zoning district and that it only meets in response to development projects in that area. Responding to this, Councillor Reeves read from the preamble of the defining legislation of the overlay district and its reference to “creating a forum,” a far different interpretation that merely responding to development proposals. He noted his role in the “Commission to Enhance Central Square Now” from the early 90's. “It concerns me that there are a lot of new developments with new tenants and this is not a zoning matter. Somebody should have a good plan. The CSAC would be the group with the most knowledge. They should not only meet when there are zoning changes. Now more than ever, we need a place at the table for emerging voices. Central Square is really a work in progress.”
Councillor Decker recalled that at the last meeting of the CSAC, a large part of the discussion centered on public drunkenness and whether the benches in front of Libby's Liquor should be removed or repositioned. Police sergeants were there and among the things not being discussed were issues around development. She suggested it was time to reexamine the scope of committee.
Councillor Born recalled that just a few years ago there was the Central Square Neighborhood Coalition (CSNC) which “went poof over the Holmes project.” Councillor Reeves added, “The CSNA was very effective in being a voice and was destroyed by a schism over the Holmes Project. People who took it over have not offered anything now. There is nobody minding the store while a lot is going on. The CSNC involved itself a lot in the day-to-day stuff of who was moving in. This may be the time to recreate what it was. There is a need to understand how these schisms sometime end up not benefiting the people. The CSAC has institutional interests. Nobody is looking out for Central Square in the close way that the CSNC did before.”
Councillor Davis spoke about the value of multi-family building inspections that are now done on a five-year schedule and the significant impact of fires on affordable housing. “At $200,000 per affordable unit, doing these inspections will have a financial benefit.” The Manager noted that there may be a correlation between increased fires and the use of candles in the home.
Disposition of the North Cambridge VFW
David Maher opened up this can of worms with reports of people in North Cambridge feeling left out of the decision-making process on the future of the VFW Hall. He noted that some at the North Cambridge Senior Center had expressed a need for more space. To this Councillor Reeves responded that the information people have on the VFW and on the proposed Mass. Ave. median redesign is not factual. He explained that the 2050 Mass. Ave Senior Center existed as a very small center and when the Central Square Senior Center was built, this was left open as a satellite and was not meant to be large. “ It sounds like some people just don't want the housing. Certain people come in here after the fact and claim to have not been part of process. Will further talking get us to a conclusion.”
Marjorie Decker was refreshingly frank. “Sometimes there are destinies and not everyone is going to show up on the train. The Council has directed City staff to promote affordable housing. Some in North Cambridge come here to fight against affordable housing at every meeting. I take it personally when I'm told that I'm not listening. I am. Six meetings over eighteen months gave people opportunity. How do we get those in North Cambridge who don't want affordable housing to accept affordable housing? I'm going to make the tough choice tonight. We have an affordable housing crisis.”
Mayor Galluccio expressed a similar perspective. “There is a nearly unanimous vote for housing at the VFW site, so it's disingenuous to ask for more input. This provides six affordable homeownership opportunities...Some ground floor space is to be provided for community use. The youth centers are empty all day long. Why can't they be used for senior purposes?” [Good point. The same efficiency argument applies equally well to school buildings, youth centers, and senior centers across the city.]
Kathy Born added her sentiments. “Given the commitment by Council, it would be unwise to hold this up any longer. I'm proud to be a part of moving us forward on affordable housing. There are few locations that cannot be successfully reused for housing. When we see the curtains in the windows, I'll feel proud for what we have done.” Henrietta Davis said much the same. “We should look at other opportunities for seniors in North Cambridge. I too feel it would be disingenuous and dishonest to say this should be used for anything but housing. My vote backs the Affordable Housing Trust and their efforts.” The Council voted unanimously to transfer the property for use as affordable housing.
The public comment at this meeting was definitely the highlight of the show. Starring were those who testified emotionally on both sides of the proposed landmarking of Shady Hill Square, a privately owned open space around which twelve garden-style dwellings are clustered. Council discussion on the matter was delayed by charter right and the matter remains unresolved a year later.
Eight property owners, many of them very long-term residents, spoke in favor of the historical designation. One showed a 1915 rendering of Shady Hill Square and called it an example of enlightened urban planning. There are five duplexes and two singles, each of which sits on a small lot and share the center for a very economical use of two acres. Ten of twelve householders endorse the Historical Commission's proposal to landmark all twelve houses. Every homeowner would be subject to the designation. Only the owner of the two houses at the corner, Mrs. Epstein, objects to the designation, but she is also the owner of the central green space and it would restrict her right to build on the land.
Councillor Reeves said, “This lady owns this property. I would ask people why this should be landmarked rather than paid for. It suggests taking property without compensation.” A lawyer for Ms. Epstein said she offered to sell it for $600,000 and the other property owners declined the offer. They instead offered $150,000 and when that was not accepted, they went to the City Council. Ms. Epstein and her husband moved into the property in 1958 as tenants and bought the entire property in 1971, fixed it up and sold the lots to the neighbors. She testified that the individual houses are now worth at least $700,000 to upwards of a million dollars.
Councillor Born remarked on how rarely an historical designation comes before the Council. She noted that she once considered buying one of those units in 1970 and that they were pretty expensive at that time. “If this were developed today, the green would be under communal ownership of all the owners. Ideally, this property should be jointly owned. A purchase based on the real developable value would be ideal.” Councillor Maher concurred and asked Mayor Galluccio to mediate the dispute.
Councillor Decker had a memorable quote on the subject. “You all have captured the attention of nine city councillors. I grew up in public housing. You want your City Council to be thoughtful and not to act out of political pressure. I question the right of private property to begin with.” To this Mayor Galluccio remarked, “Wait 'til she buys a house.”
There was considerable discussion among councillors, City Treasurer Jim Maloney, and Mr. Healy on the potential local impact of Questions 4 and 6 passing on Election Day 2000. It was estimated that this would cause a reduction of at least $5 million in state aid as well as reductions in the education budget. It would likely require a slowdown in the capital budget with likely impacts on the City's affordable housing programs. Since Cambridge is below it levy limit, another option would be to raise local taxes to compensate.
One light moment at this meeting occurred while discussing a resolution congratulating the performance of the CRLS crew team at the Charles River Regatta. Mayor Galluccio commented, “Maybe the Council can have a boat out in the river with the Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee.”
There was also some discussion of what should be done to find a permanent home for the Community Learning Center. One proposal would site it as part of an expanded new Main Library. Another proposal would make use of relatively cheap rental space at the Blessed Sacrament or St. Mary's buildings in which the City had already paid for much of the building improvements. Councillor Decker further noted that the Blessed Sacrament building has already been sought by charter schools.
The City Manager presented cost estimates for siting the expanded Main Library at either the current Broadway site or at the Prospect Street site with one of four options. One of the more complicated issues appeared to be parking - how much was needed at each site and at what cost, and whether the City should pay an exorbitant price for replacement parking for the (privately owned) Prospect St. and Bishop Allen lots.
School Committee member Nancy Walser presented a letter cosigned with School Committee members Denise Simmons and Alice Turkel that expressed concern about possible disruption and other negative effects at the high school should the Broadway site be chosen. This letter became the basis for a very ugly joint Council School Committee meeting on November 16. Councillor Reeves interrogated Ms. Walser at the microphone about the high school redesign that he claimed had never been revealed. Mayor Galluccio had to intervene.
A range of testimony was given by Bill Barry, Karen Carmean, Sue Butler, Fran Wirta, Mary Platt, John Pitkin, Joan Pickett, Roy Bercaw, Sara Mae Berman, Guillemine de la Coste, Nancy Nyhan, Tom Stohlman, Peter Valentine, Kathryn Erat, Ladine Lavoy, Elie Yardin, John Gintell, Bill Jones, Robert Winters, Tara Kahn, Bob Richards, Jane Richards, Vera Cohn, Paul Rachauk, and Tony Gomez-Ibanez. While it is true that more people spoke in favor of the Prospect Street site, passions ran deeply on both sides of the debate.
The City Manager assured everyone that should the Broadway site be chosen, the Central Square Branch Library would remain. He also noted that with the most recent design at Broadway, about 9900 sq ft of open space would have to be replaced elsewhere. Construction at the Prospect St. site would require more underground construction and that there would be property tax implications.
Councillor Reeves, still feeling slighted by the mayor's intervention during public comment, asked whether he would be permitted to ask questions. “Maybe we should have elected officials not talk at all.” He reminded everyone of the long history of coexistence of the high school and library within 100 feet of each other. He then elicited a response from the City Manager about the cost differential between the Broadway option and the Prospect St. options. The Manager responded that the Prospect St. options would somewhere between $11 million and $20 million more expensive than Broadway.
Ken Reeves: “It took us years to invest $10 million in affordable housing. One of our jobs is to look at cost....This notion that you can build a building without disruption if fiction. Frederick Douglass said, ‘Without disruption there is no progress.’ I don't want to demonize people, but I would like to resume the high respect for logic. Some people really believe it would be better in Central Square but they also opposed building the high school. We had the Library 21 Committee and looked at 21 million sites, after their report some said it was not the right process, so we had more processes. Then we hired more consultants. Then some said it wasn’t the right survey. Then they said we needed more information. Information is a good thing. We cannot vote tonight because we have to have some more meetings. Nobody knows what will happen with the high school, yet three members of the School Committee say it will harm the plan. There has never been a plan. At this moment, I want to get a public library and I'm ready to make a choice, a holiday gift. I do believe that I may not be able to withstand more process.”
Michael Sullivan quipped, “I was neither married nor had children when this started. Now I have two children.” He made clear that he has supported the Broadway site for some time. With somewhere between an $11 million and $20 million cost differential, he asked his colleagues to look at the Budget Book and to ask the question of how much debt we can afford to float. “Where would you make the cuts? Sewer construction? It can't happen. $15.685 for parks and recreation? $2 million for open space acquisition? Affordable housing's allocation of $4.5 million? From where will the money come? I believe the best site is the present site. This is the one site where I can take my kids, get a book, then sit out on the green grass. 44% of users use the children’s library. If you choose the Prospect St. site, you're taking the books away from the kids and ending family time.”
Councillor Davis made clear that the Council vote on Library siting was imminent, “in time to put a bow on it and put it under the tree.” She did express concern about possible impacts on the high school and a desire to hear from School Committee members about the issues. Mr. Healy, when asked to compare the space requirements of the various options, stated that the Broadway option called for 89,985 sq ft, and that the two main Prospect St. options called for 94,000 sq ft and 109,000 sq ft if the Community Learning Center were incorporated into the design.
Councillor Born made the case that the true cost differential between the Broadway and Prospect St. sites was considerably less that the figures quoted by the Manager. She also brought up the additional complication that the Broadway site would be subject to review by the Mid-Cambridge neighborhood Conservation District Commission (MCNCDC).
Councillor Braude focused on the Library project as a century-long investment and that in this context the cost differential is being overstated. Councillor Toomey noted that the cost of the proposed new police station would exceed that of the library proposal.
Galluccio - “The issue of the school is very important to me. I used the library when I was in high school. Students were not allowed in the library during the day and it was not set up for student use. The issue we all need to overcome is the use of space within school buildings. They are islands unto themselves. We are not using these buildings to the greatest extent possible...We need some leadership working with the School Department to make that library welcoming to young people. I have concerns about the construction phase, but I'd like to look beyond that. When CRLS was reconstructed, that was even more complicated. Make sure heavy construction is during the summer. There is an enormous benefit for a new library at the high school - a brand new library and recreation at War Memorial. I think you should be able to walk from the high school right into the main library. Regarding the Community Learning center, when you have an entire school building available, it makes sense to utilize that space for adult education. I was very attracted to a Central Square location at the 7-11 site and the Post Office. I'm not so excited about the Prospect St. site. It's not $9 million better. It's disingenuous to talk about the ancillary benefits for the high school until we address the interrelation. Our seniors should have better access to our Youth Centers. It's like a taxicab - you run those buildings all the time and get maximum use out of them.”
Upon question from Councillor Reeves about the City's cost to build a private garage for replacement parking for the Prospect St. site, the Manager estimated a cost of between $8.7 and $10.9 million just to build their parking.
This meeting opened with special presentations to the 2000 CRLS Boys Volleyball Team (who won the state title in the spring) and the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee which was represented by members Albe Simenas, Robert Lindamood, Dave McGowen, Anne Strong, Dick Brown, and Robert Winters. Councillor Born commented that the Green Ribbon Committee had done much more than expected, a thorough and professional job. She also noted the important role that GIS played in the work of this committee. She asked the City Manager to set up a permanent committee similar to the Affordable Housing Trust.
Public Comment at this meeting was dominated by a group calling for a home rule petition to grant immigrants the right to vote in the local Cambridge (School Committee) elections.
Councillors Braude, Davis, Born, Decker, and Sullivan spoke in clear support of the petition. Councillors Toomey, Maher, and Mayor Galluccio spoke in opposition and Councillor Reeves was absent. Only Councillor Sullivan's deciding vote in favor came as a surprise and the matter was passed and sent to the state legislature on a 5-3 vote after a series of unsuccessful amendments by Councillor Toomey.
****beginning of unsolicited comment****
I have to comment on a little matter of language that has bothered me for some time. On the City Manager's Agenda, Councillor Reeves removed two items for “Charter Righting.” Councillor Braude then asked whether one of these was already “charter-righted.” Mayor Galluccio noted that it had been “Charter written” by Councillor Born. I've heard other councillors say that they “charter-wrote” an agenda item. Seriously, how did the term “Charter Right,” the right to delay discussion of an item of new business until the next regular meeting, ever get so butchered by the Cambridge City Council? I would be much happier if they would start “exercising their right under the Charter” rather than kicking the crap out of the English language. For starters, “right” is not even a verb in this context and even if it were, I don't believe its past tense would be “written.” Grumble, grumble, gripe.
While I'm at it, is there anywhere else in the world where people “talk around issues of diversity?” One would think that “talking around an issue” would mean that you were being evasive. Maybe this is actually the case. I propose that our elected officials, especially those on the School Committee, consider talking directly to issues or about issues rather than around them.
****end of unsolicited comment****
There was an interesting discussion between councillors and Election Commissioners regarding a home rule petition that would change the basis on which the percentage of registered voters needed for an initiative petition or referendum to be placed on the ballot or approved. As Rusty Drugan explained, “This redefines the voting universe in response to the Motor-Voter Law and only applies to Cambridge-specific petitions. It does not change the distinction between active and inactive voters. It only alters the universe of voters in determining percentages to the number of active voters only. We now have 30% of voters listed as inactive.” Councillor Toomey inquired about the procedures used in removing inactive voters from the rolls. Drugan responded, “We are at a very high level now. Many of these inactives are actual voters...We had a major purging a year ago. We need two consecutive missed state elections in order to remove. The state could adopt alternative criteria. When it fluctuates between 20-30%, then we do a purge, and it builds up again.”
Mayor Galluccio correctly noted that lower income groups, immigrants, and those with English as a second language are less likely to vote and less likely to fill out the census. This makes them more likely to be put into inactive status. Commissioner Darlene Bonislawski responded that about 500-1000 inactive voters are restored to active status each year, most after a presidential election, a relatively small percentage. The home rule petition passed unanimously but was unlikely to meet with success on Beacon Hill.
This meeting was probably the low point of this entire Council term. Members of the Cambridge School Committee faced what at times seemed like the Spanish Inquisition. The original purpose was to have a workshop discussion among councillors, school committee members, the superintendent, and the high school principal. The meeting opened with Councillor Sullivan nastily stating, “I wish some members of the School Committee would welcome comments on the part of the Council when it comes to representing their constituents or their children.” It went downhill from there.
City Manager Healy responded to questions on the potential construction schedule by stating that an 18 to 24 month construction schedule should be expected regardless which site was chosen. The job would be bid so that the heaviest and most disruptive work would be done during the summers.
Much of the discussion centered on the perception and possible reality that high school students were not welcome in the Main Library building. This was denied by the superintendent and the principal, though they did acknowledge that students were not permitted in the library during school hours. They stated that there was a good working relationship between school library and City library.
Ken reeves observed, “I have been looking forward to this discussion, an intellectual discussion of the potential benefits of a first quality municipal library to the younger learners in our midst. We should have invited Galbraith and that ilk to be part of the discussion. A letter from three members of School Committee seemed to suggest that there is no benefit in proximity to the library. We should have lots of interrelation between the library and the high school. Will the computer make the library obsolete? No, it just gives the information in a different form. The Internet is great, but there is a digital divide. The high school library used to feel like a ghost town. When budgets were cut, they decided that you did not need a full-time librarian. The Main Library fills up by 9-10am. What could the Cambridge Public Library offer the high school? How can we have more cross-fertilization?”
Library Director Susan Flannery responded, “As a former high school librarian, I'm very interested in this. The two librarians meet at least monthly. We are now advertising for a young adults librarian, 7th through 11th grade. The plans for the new main library would have space for young adults. It is now down with the babies and is not particularly inviting. We would have private homework rooms, a computer training center, and quadruple the number of available computers. If we had more computers, 60% said they’d use the library more. Some come with their class. Regarding kids not being allowed during school day, nothing at the library would prevent them from entering.”
During a discussion about security concerns with the less visible locations around the school and library, Mayor Galluccio quipped, “Joe (Grassi), Marjorie (Decker), and I spent four years trying to avoid security there.”
Alice Turkel defended the letter that she cosigned with fellow School Committee members Denise Simmons and Nancy Walser, saying, “There was never an intention to say that there was no benefit to proximity to the library. The loss of open space is the major point for me. Access to the kind of resources available at a library is available elsewhere. It's just a 15 minute walk to a Prospect St. Main Library. If I were to truly believe the current site was the best long-term site, inconvenience would not be the main thing. Our students can have almost all the advantage regardless where the library is located.”
School Committee member Fred Fantini didn't mince words. “I thought the library decision would be made by the Council. You don't need six others.” On the aforementioned letter, he said, “I find it to be inaccurate and libelous. The facts should dictate the decision. The City has spent a lot of money on this issue...When my colleagues said they did not prefer a library next to the high school, maybe they would prefer a bowling alley. A library means democracy, an important institution to be treated with respect. I hope the Broadway site is selected. I am in pain that others have been given promises and discomfort...The War Memorial can be renovated if the library is put there...Shame on all o’ youse if you can't make a unanimous decision on this.”
CRLS Principal Paula Evans read her letter on the subject. “Students don't use the library during the day. Disruption will severely impede our teaching and learning. When the groundskeepers use leaf blowers, teachers complain about the noise. I can only imagine the havoc construction would cause. A new library would wall off hundreds of students at a time. One of the current strengths is the ability to use the open space. I would hate to see us become more urbanized that we already are. We are working hard to make the high school a place of teaching and learning.”
School Superintendent Bobbie D'Allessandro added, “You're trying to serve all citizens of Cambridge. We have an excellent library in our high school and an excellent rapport with the City library. This city values education, so I would expect the City to make the construction time as easy as possible. We may expect facility growth of the high school in the future. This is an opportunity for the School Department to capture the entire site.”
In response to questions from Councillor Born on what might be anticipated if the School Department were to take the entire site, including the current Main Library, D'Allessandro suggested an arts center, space for professional development, offices, and space for a technical arts program. Paula Evans added that there could be regular exhibition of student work, expanded dance and drama programs, community meetings for each of the small schools, and after-school programs. She expressed serious concern about potential construction impacts. “One small ongoing construction project is still going on and is causing a terrible racket. The building is poorly insulated for sound. There is bus noise and fumes. We are in the midst of major changes in pedagogy and content and I worry about this putting people over the edge.”
Larry Aronson said, “When I first heard about this, I freaked. I recall the reconstruction of Broadway. Machinery in the building makes noise. It sounds like we're whining, but you literally can’t hear when you're trying to get all the kids to talk. This is by the Arts Building. There will be music going on during all of this. I remember Anthony Colossimo's murder, the issue of where the fencing is, where people go. These are things you really have to think about. I hear that you'll lose 60 parking spaces during construction.”
Ken Reeves: “I will pretend I'm a man from Mars. Here's what I've heard. We've been focusing on the Broadway site. I don't want to question peoples' intellectual objectivity. Any construction project has disruption. We've moved whole buildings and no one talked about impact bargaining. The logic eludes me. When BBN built a new building, more people came. The letter from the School Committee says we believe the impacts will work against the redesign. When Nancy Walser said this will hurt the plan, I pointed out that there was no plan. I went to a high school with 5000 kids on 10 floors. There was dance taught by a contemporary of Martha Graham. The band rooms could move. It's possible. What is really failing me is the statement that we see no benefits from having the library built next to the high school. In the pantheon of intellect, I want the high school principal to know why kids not permitted in the library.” Ms. Evans responded, “It's part of compliance with state law. The students must be in class during those hours. They do not have the free time to do it.”
Reeves continued. “I'm saddened that all the intelligence and creativity concludes that you can't build this because of the inconvenience. In the world I live in there are burdens and there are benefits. Could we see some water in the glass? It doesn't have to be half full. This letter is incendiary to logic.”
Tim Toomey: “I'm disappointed. I've preferred the current site and Kendall Square site. Now its down to Broadway vs. Prospect St. I'm trying to keep an open mind. I'm amazed at where we're at. The discussion is only going to me, me, me, me. We are living in a city and it's going to be noisy at times. Students generate noise at lunch. Impact bargaining? I'm very disappointed to hear that brought in here tonight. About following the letter of the law under Education Reform, I hope you'll do the same regarding the MCAS in making sure that all the students take that test. Regarding Anthony Collossimo, nobody knew him more than I did. Those issues are going to be worked out. The leadership shown here by the School Department here tonight has been very disappointing. If peace and quiet is all there is, send them to a suburban high school. This discussion is changing my view about where the site should be. It's an urban setting and we have built schools all around the city. There are alternatives. The Knafel Center is being built, yet I saw nobody from the high school at those meetings. I have concerns about Prospect Street. You can't get down Prospect Street or Inman Street at 7:30pm at night and there are safety concerns at Prospect Street.”
Mike Sullivan: “I apologize to our guests for the tone and tenor of this meeting. Much of the tone is responding to misinformation cunningly calculated by members of the public. Lack of valuable open space? It's mostly to be built on a driveway. The school policies predate Bobbie D'Allessandro and Paula Evans. Concern about the noise? Stand at the proposed Prospect Street site. It's nonsensical.”
Councillor Davis expressed her concerns about the construction issues and the impact on MCAS. “To minimize the problems of noise, you can’t make it go away. I hate to think that when we ask people to come here we are going to punish them. This is a repressive atmosphere. As far as the bus noise goes, it is illegal for them to be idling outside the windows. When school buildings were put together, people were so unhappy with what we gave them for a campus, that's why the music rooms went underground. This would take away what little open space there is. What do we think of as the high school campus? When we put a building in the way, where is the campus under this plan.” When asked about where students would be able to congregate on the high school campus, Mr. Healy said, “Behavior adapts to space available. People will just modify their behavior.”
Davis then pursued the question of room for future high school expansion. Architect Dennis Carlone said that if the high school were to expand, they would have to do it elsewhere or consume the tennis courts. Councillor Sullivan pointed out that the current high school was built to house between 2600 and 2700 and there are now only about 2100 students.
Nancy Walser responded to criticism about the letter she had cosigned. “I stand by this letter. We would not be meeting were it not for this letter. Prospect Street is a mere four or five blocks away. One of my first votes on the School Committee was on restructuring and my thought in writing this letter was on the children and the declining enrollment. This will have some negative effects. They are powerful and potentially very negative at this crucial time in the high school's history. We haven't even begun talking about vocational education. The Superintendent works 90 hours a week. There are limits. We are working them to the max right now. The success of the restructuring is more important than proximity to the library. I do feel a little beat up from this.”
School Committee member Joe Grassi said, “I have taken a position to not take a position. I leave it up to the Council. My thought is that if anything needs to be done to mitigate impacts, we can work through all these issues. We can operate a high school adjacent to construction. The cost factor is a huge issue. Maybe School Committee has to make up some of the difference. I feel that high school students having access to the library would be an additional resource.”
Tim Toomey: “I wasn’t there when they picked that site for the high school. I always thought this was the wrong place. We could move the high school to North Point and sell the area to Harvard at a large profit.”
Ken Reeves: “We added 55 acres at Danehy Park. There was a building where there is now Joan Lorentz Park. I think it's a dog run. I don't think that huge sign should be there. I am shoved into a context where people want a library but we don't want a building. The letter got us here. There is the commerce of ideas. If you write it, defend it. I think the Superintendent and the Principal should have been forced to answer questions about things they did not propose. Mr. Healy should have got beat up tonight. He's been carrying the water for a long time. I'm just asking for some intellectual honesty.”
Marjorie Decker: “This is what we get elected to do. We walk out of this room and we let it go. I'm not leaving here with such hard feelings...I want to have a more active role in the design.”
Kathy Born: “It's so emotional because it's about visions of what this library could be. The schematic design is as nice as you could have. It's just not the vision that I have. I see tall and glassy and in the middle of the city. I have a vision of the high school having this whole area as its campus. The sign that marks the high school is on the side of the high school. I want to see a playing field where Joan Lorentz Park is now and boys playing football.”
There was continued discussioin at this meeting about funding for the Riverside Neighborhood Study. Ken Reeves spoke on an order calling for up to $250,000 for planning in Riverside. The Manager responded with initial funding of $100,000. To this, Reeves said, “Is your response responsive?” Healy answered that an emerging Riverside neighborhood group will have representation on the study committee and the $100,000 may be supplemented with further monies. “We can get the process started for that sum of money. You need to have a balanced group of business, resident, and institutional representatives. The Council amount was only an estimate and so is my amount.”
Reeves explained that there had been no neighborhood group in Riverside and that he got them together. He expressed the expectation that the neighborhood would get the help when it needed it. “Do you envision the neighborhood having access to funds to support their desires?” Mr. Healy responded in the negative. “We're not in the business of funding neighborhood groups.”
Reeves: “The Riverside process is different since there was no prior group. You choose who the voices of the neighborhood are? The last study is largely unknown in the area. The purpose of the order was to provide community organizing help, to learn about zoning, have beverages, etc. There was money available from the Community Oriented Police pot. It is your feeling that the neighborhood should not get the support?” Healy answered that the group could get technical support from the Community Development Department, but that the City cannot just pass money out.
Councillor Davis noted that one of the Council goals was to support neighborhood groups. “There is a desire to sustain and support neighborhoods. I'm especially interested in this because when these calls are not heeded we get extreme responses. Without City support, people will do what they'll do, e.g. moratoriums.”
Tim Toomey again brought up his proposal to create a City website area where candidates could submit material for publication. He claimed that the state has OK'd this and suggested that the City have this set up in time for the Nov 6, 2001 municipal election. Mike Sullivan pointed out that the original response from the state OK's links only and that there is a problem with using City money to directly promote candidacies. Toomey disputed this and argued that his proposal is about affording candidates equal access, particularly those without the sophistication to maintain a website. He also took a shot at the website of the Cambridge Civic Journal.
Marjorie Decker was somewhat less than charming when she added, “There were some things on ‘that website’ that could be questioned as libelous. It was very much a political website. I would be very interested in hearing the City Manager's response. Maybe we should reevaluate the links that are there.” The matter was tabled.
Postscript (Nov 5, 2001)- This issue of links to candidate websites was not mentioned whatsoever during the 2001 election season. The City provided no links to candidate sites, though an interested resident could follow an existing link to the Cambridge Civic Journal to gain access to all available links to known candidate websites. In fact, free candidate websites were made available to any municipal candidate. Only one candidate took advantage of this.
Councillor Toomey also brought up the possibility of Cambridge using touch screens for future Cambridge elections. He claimed they were not adopted when the elections were computerized because the technology was too new. [In fact, high cost and maintaining an audit trail were the major issues.] Jim Braude concurred that this would be a good idea and suggested that the Government Operations Committee look into a whole range of technologies. Ken Reeves spoke nostalgically about the old hand count at the Longfellow School. Clearly the scandalous 2000 Presidential Election was guiding many of the sentiments of the councillors (and much of the country, for that matter).
Reeves asserted that “In every Cambridge election we have 2 or 3 thousand people, at least, whose ballots are spoiled and whose votes are not counted. We need to help them.” [In fact, Reeves was way off the mark here. The actual number of invalid ballots numbers a few hundred and that number did not change when the transition was made from the hand count to the computerized count. I have the data to prove this.]
Kathy Born: “When the idea of touch screens was first raised, we were concerned that these systems were too high-tech for some residents. Our resident survey says that 80% of residents regularly use the Internet, a wake-up call....A lot of those Florida people who double-punched would have benefited by having a machine give feedback and double-check with the voter. I was told that any stray mark of a black pen would disqualify a ballot.”
Kathy Born raised the issue of what it would cost to make the current Main Library ADA-compliant should we not build new Main Library at that site. She noted that at the Broadway site, the original J-scheme would have had ramps within the building. The existing Main Library is about five feet above the grade and you'd need a 75-100 foot ramp to make this up or an elevator could be installed. She made the case that this is one advantage to building a new building on a new site.
Mike Sullivan spoke on the cost differential between potential Library sites, again noting that if the Community Learning Center were to be incorporated into the building the resulting gap would be $20 million. Kathy Born again made her case that there are many ways to cut up the cost differentials. She stressed the need to have hard figures before a decision could be made. “We are all eager to fulfill our campaign promises. There have been a lot of requests for information, but this is not another delaying tactic. I am aiming for an informed decision.”
A tedious discussion followed on when a vote would take place. Mayor Galluccio noted, “The meeting is scheduled for a vote. Unless there are enough members who want to vote, there won't be a vote. It's left to the democratic will of this body. I will vote to vote that evening (Dec 11).” Ken Reeves reminded his colleagues that to site you need five votes, to appropriate needs six votes, but that needn't happen the same night. “If we delay this, nothing brave happens in the election year.”
This meeting brought us a report on the potential end of the Parking Freeze, a report on the effect on residential taxes and City finances of certain taxation and budget strategies, word on the City providing COBRA benefits for domestic partners in light of the negative court decision on this matter, more discussion on Councillor Toomey's quest for a City website area for candidates, a committee report on possibilities for acquiring additional open space in East Cambridge and expansion of Ahern Field, and the first of several Ordinance Committee reports on the Citywide rezoning.
On the question whether the domestic partners of City employees would be permitted to apply for COBRA benefits, the Manager reported that the insurance carriers have agreed to allow them to participate. Because of the court decision that struck down the benefits portions of Cambridge's domestic partners legislation, Mr. Healy said that a state legislative remedy is the only avenue left. He noted that the judge was lenient in allowing coverage to Jan 31. In resp[onse to a question from Councillor Reeves, Mr. Healy explained that the acronym COBRA stand for “Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, but it doesn't make a damn bit of difference. A person must pay 102% of the rate, all out of pocket, to the same insurer and can do this for up to 36 months.”
Councillor Reeves drew attention to the fact that a group of ten taxpayers initiated the lawsuit at the behest of a group in Washington, DC. and that some of these people were clergy. “I'm stunned by this action on other people's lives.”
During yet another discussion on the Main Library siting and if and when a vote might take place, Reeves said, “Information is good. At some point you wonder when there will be enough information to get people to vote. There's an $11 million cost differential, but some people are saying this is not true. School Committee members brought a letter saying that a library would provide no benefit to children. You cannot come here and say that putting children near books provides no benefit.” Councillors Decker, Born, Davis, and Braude protested Reeves remarks. Jim Braude suggested that people find out what the School Committee members actually had to say rather than what Reeves alleges that they said.
Councillor Reeves noted the Nov 15, 2000 wedding of Margaret Mary Hayes and former Cambridge City Councillor William Holland Walsh.
This meeting opened with public comment. Bill Jones said, “I saw the first city manager, Colonel Atkinson, in 1942. If Bob Healy leaves, the City will go down the drain. He's done more for public housing than anyone. People should stop all their bitching.” John Gintell objected to the process and the lack of public notice of this meeting. He added, “It's important to evaluate the city manager, not to hire and fire him but to reward what he does well and to correct that which he doesn't. Uses your goals as a basis of evaluation. Do the evaluation earlier in the future. The exit and notification aspects of the contract could be improved.”
Government Operations Committee Chair Jim Braude explained the process to his Council colleagues. Mike Sullivan noted that the Council's goals and objectives for the Manager have been met or exceeded. He then moved for a two-year extension of the contract to June 30, 2003 (with notice by Dec 31, 2002).
In response to further questions from Councillor Reeves on the process, Sullivan answered, “Councillor Reeves is correct in saying that there have been different ways we've done this in the past. At one time, five councillors would just do it . My motion is to extend the contract and to amend a few of the particulars regarding salary and retirement. My colleagues have expressed a desire to vote on the contract this evening.”
Reeves: “I have never had occasion to vote on the Manager's contract without knowing what one of you think about this. There may have been great intent behind the process but I don't know where it went. Mr. Manager, I do intend to vote for you. I'm ashamed of us. There's a need for a deliberative process to discuss the pros and cons. This is truly new. There is something that has changed fundamentally. The role of committee chairs has changed in a major way. Chairs now negotiating with groups, putting their meetings on TV for face time. No longer do they just schedule meetings. There used to be some basic humility about the quietness of the process.”
Jim Braude: “If there are flaws and inadequacies, I am to blame. The reason for this meeting is not to get TV face time. The content of any negotiations are not as momentous as some may think. The much more serious discussion is on whether contract should be extended. This is the purpose for which this meeting was called. It's better to have a full and open discussion at this meeting rather than at a Government Operations meeting in which only a few people attend. On the matter of an annual review, this has not happened - it's our fault.”
Marjorie Decker: “This is a very serious responsibility, one of the most serious we are given charge of. I met with the Manager and expected that there would be a follow-up meeting as part of this process. I am prepared to vote tonight and I will vote to extend his contract.”
Councillor Toomey objected to the motion to have just the two chairs of Finance and Government Operations negotiate the contract. “I am perplexed at how this arrived here this evening. My good government friends talk about process, process, process. It's best to put the interests of the city forward. I started this a year ago when I announced my support of Galluccio as mayor. We've made progress. The City in much better shape than most cities and towns. I'm glad to give Mr. Healy a two year contract extension. He's done the job and he deserves it.”
Ken Reeves: “The theory in this Council-Manager form of government is that the Council and Manager would work as a team. I don't feel a lot of that. My dream has been to have a relationship where we're all working together on the same thing. I would love to have a several-hour discussion. While I have disagreed with you, I have always respected your abilities as a manager. Nobody loves Cambridge more. We evaluate the performance of the one person that drags the city forward. This is not an ample opportunity to have the best discussion. One of nicest things I ever did was to have dinner with the city manager and councillors of Santa Monica. Their manager always comes to the League of Cities meetings because they couldn't imagine being there without him. With the end of rent control, so much of what was liberal has gone to the right. There is a need for councillors and the Manager to be more like equals. Often the Manager acts as the conduit, taking the temperature of the group. The thing I most don't want is to have this process be held hostage to the library issue. That would be a great shame. I hope that in the future process we could have a little more group decision-making.”
Mayor Galluccio: “This was one of the more extensive processes I've been involved in and I applaud Councillor Braude for taking it on. I approve of the initiatives shown by the committee chairs. The temperature has been taken. The vast majority of members support this city manager. The question is whether we take a vote to extend his contract or not and under what terms. The opportunities for interaction with the Manager have only increased.”
Mike Sullivan: “This is not something that has happened in a vacuum. Discussions began in June and July and continued into September. Everyone knew what the process would be. I'm prepared to vote on the contract tonight. It's not rocket science. We should not abide by the automatic rollover provision but stand up and be counted.”
Kathy Born: “I came here prepared to vote on the Manager's contract tonight. Notice was delivered by a police officer and I don't know how anyone could have missed it. I was a little baffled to realize that I had never even seen the contract by this morning. After seven years on the Council, I think we've come long way. I think I could call it teamwork. I'm proud of what we have accomplished and our way of doing business. I give Councillor Braude credit for organizing the evaluation. On the matter of increasing Council effectiveness, I think it's like night and day in comparison with seven years ago.”
Henrietta Davis: “There has been significant progress in meeting the goals we established. The Manager deploys resources to support our goals. Cambridge is winning another award as best employer from the Women in Transportation Board... Vision is our job and the Manager is here to help us achieve it. We need professional assistance. That's why you're here.”
Councillor expressed dissatisfaction with the process. “I think process is very important. This is a very serious issue. The process that we use should not be taken likely. It's about something. Most of us went to the National League of Cities workshop. The theme was ‘get it out and move on to the next thing.’ I still have high standards for the communication that should take place on this Council... I'm disappointed with how the committee behaved on this. There is no framework in which to have this discussion. I came here this evening knowing I would vote for your contract. I've appreciated the fact that your door is always open and that you always make the time to meet me. I don't want to have a manager that yes's me.”
On these concerns about process, Councillor Braude said, “I have tried to be as sensitive as I can be. However, I'm stunned when I hear that a more open process would be a committee meeting with only five people invited and no public. On the negotiations, I supported Councillor Sullivan's proposal that he and I engage in negotiations. It's not that we would go in and cut a check. The criticism about the lack of openness in the process is garbage. Having said that, I'm in the unusual position that I don't believe in the city manager form of government. On the contract, there are two sets of people who judge the Manager. One is us and the other is the public. The citywide survey and community meetings show that we have work to do but that there is overall satisfaction with the level and quality of services... I have worked with city, state, and federal governments for most of my adult life and I have never come across a team of more competent middle and upper level managers than I've seen in this City. Some of the credit goes to the person who was wise enough to hire them. It's time for a serious discussion of whether the city manager form of government is the best system for the City.”
Councillor Sullivan moved to amend the Manager's contract to extend the date to June 30, 2003; that the compensation be raised to $164,500; and that a one-time pensionable payment of $5000 to be paid prior to Dec 31, 2000. He noted that when the City looked for an MIS Director at $90,000, they found that they couldn't go below $100,000. The Hospital Director was at $100,000 and is now at about $260,000 with a bonus on top. He explained that the one-time payment is in conjunction with recent vote of the School Committee to do this for the Superintendent. The retirement benefits are based on the average of last three years of employment. Money would be paid at an hourly rate after employment is terminated in case there is continuing litigation, etc. He noted that some civil lawsuits have a three-year statute of limitations. “State, federal, and municipal government have a hard time retaining good managers. This is a fair and reasonable contract.”
Jim Braude noted that the Council had voted themselves a 25% pay raise and that this raise is less than half that. To this, Councillor Toomey responded that “maybe the raise should have been the same as ours. I thought the raise was a very small increase from $147,000 to $164,500.” He made a point of not voting for the pension provision of the contract extension.
The City Council voted unanimously to extend the Manager's contract as stated.
Public comment on the long-awaited vote on Library siting was received by George Metzger (Central Square = CS), Peter Baptiste (CS), Elie Yardin (CS), Jim Roosevelt (Broadway = B), Vici Solomon (B), Sara Mae Berman (CS), James Williamson (CS), John Pitkin (CS), Bill Jones (B), Karen Carmean (CS), Joan Qualls Harris (B), young Sophie Myers and friend Olivia, Jonathan Myers, Gerald Bergmann (CS), Nancy Woods, Albert Puell, Nancy Nyhan (B), John Gintell (CS), Vince Dixon, CRLS Asst. Principal Caroline Hunter, John Dietrich (CS), and John Tagiuri (CS).
Councillor Sullivan moved to site the Main Library at the current Broadway location. Councillor Born followed with a substitute motion to site it at 65 Prospect Street. Councillor Davis and the Manager went back and forth on cost implications with Davis expressing dissatisfaction with the shifting nature of the cost estimates. Councillors Sullivan and Born joined in the fray. Throughout the discussion were suggestions that the cost comparisons may have been slanted to get Broadway approved and that the actual costs would be much higher than the estimates.
Councillor Braude focused on the relative capacity of the two sites. “Broadway cannot meet the need. If this was a 60-40 proposition, I'd be happy to be the 6th vote. It's not. Broadway is more like a suburban library, the other is more accessible to low income people. Central Square is open at night. Traffic problems need to be addressed at either site. Proximity to the high school has been quoted as a rationale for Broadway, yet in the ultimate of ironies, the people closest to the students, every high school staff person, said the high school would be better served without the library expansion there... Where can the library do the most things for the most people? Central Square.”
Mayor Galluccio explained his reserved approach to this issue. “As a new mayor it was important to not take a lead on either site. Part of the value in voting for me as mayor was to shut me up. Cost has not been my focus. We could only speculate on cost. Both sites would provide ample space.” Noting how the paths were laid out on Broadway to thwart organized sports, he said, “We should look at that again. We should put the track facilities right there. The non-visionary thing is to not spend the money at all.”
Councillor Sullivan called the question on substitution (Prospect Street). It failed with Councillors Born, Braude, Davis, and Decker voting YES, and Councillors Maher, Reeves, Sullivan, Toomey, and Mayor Galluccio voting NO.
Once the certainty of the Broadway site was
established, Councillor Born introduced several amendments to the main motion:
(1) and (2) were approved 8-1 with Toomey voting NO.
Councillor Decker offered an amendment calling on the City Manager to report back to the Council prior to final design approval on improving transportation, including possibility of shuttle service, to and from library. This was approved on the same 8-1 vote.
Councillor Sullivan then moved the main motion as amended by Born, Decker. It passed on a 7-2 vote with Councillors Braude and Davis voting NO.
The big issues and actions at this meeting were: (1) the defeat of the proposed local condo conversion law; (2) the loan order for the library; (3) establishment of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Conservation District; (4) establishment of the Marsh Neighborhood Conservation District; (5) announcement that the water treatment plant was now being tested and that it will be back in operation by early March with an appropriate celebration; and (6) adoption of the FY02 Council Goals.
The Loan Order for $31,785,495 for the Main Library was passed to a 2nd Reading.
The Harvard Square Neighborhood Conservation District with related zoning changes was ordained unanimously. The Cambridge Historic Commission will serve as the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission.
The Marsh Neighborhood Conservation District was also ordained unanimously.
The recurring topic of the Cambridge St. tulip tree made an appearance. Councillor Reeves asked about public vs. private trees and made note of a disturbing call from the physician who owns the land with the tulip tree. Bob Healy noted that the tree is maybe one-eighth her tree. Councillor Braude observed that the City Council has placed restraints on private property time and time again when it comes to the public good and that this is not some great precedent. To this, Reeves responded, “If I have a tree in my back yard and I have to pay taxes, then I will decide what is to be done with my tree. This may be part of the New Cambridge.”
The Council unanimously authorized an additional $3,500,000 loan order for Fresh Pond Water Purification Plant. The cost will be factored into the water rate. Deputy City Manager Richard Rossi stated that testing was happening now and that the plant was to open in early March. Water already being taken up to Payson Park. He promised a nice ceremony and tours. Councillor Born noted the beauty of the new building perfectly reflected in the water of Fresh Pond.
The extension of the IPOP to be coterminous with the Citywide Rezoning Petition (Feb 12) was ordained unanimously. Councillor Born noted that the Alewife Petition was set to expire and moved that it be re-filed upon expiration.
The Local Condo Conversion Law is Defeated
Councillor Born moved that the proposed local condo conversion law be taken up for ordination tonight. She moved that it be amended in accordance with a Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services (CSLS) communication. This proposal has been discussed in and out of committee for a very long time. The debate was on whether the matter should be passed to a 2nd Reading. It never even made it to a vote on ordination.
Ellen Schacter (CSLS) made a statement on the latest compromise proposal. Jim Braude took the opportunity to rip into a communication on this matter from the Small Property Owners Association (SPOA) as intentionally misleading. Ms. Schacter stated that there is little incentive for landlords to follow the existing state law that speaks to the same issue.
When asked by Councillor Reeves whether CSLS could help someone in a condo conversion setting under the state law, Schacter responded that landlords will empty their building first and that CSLS would have no way to determine an intent to condo the building. Councillor Decker commented that due to limited funds for legal assistance, 3 out of 5 who are eligible are turned away. “Accessing an attorney is not as easy as it would seem. Pro se litigants are clogging the courts.”
Reeves explained that the ordinance would require the City or the landlord to inform tenants of the state protection and includes a requirement that information be provided to the City in a certain way and that the right of refusal shall be extended to nonprofits before the condo may be sold on the open market. Schacter responded, “We built in these differences to make it more workable. We have no power if we have no way to make landlords give notice. A permit system gives us ability to ensure that notice is given.” The proposal would require a four year notice period. State law says two years, extendable to four if comparable housing is unavailable. Schacter explained that “comparable housing” meant comparable in size, rent, tenure, and location - a tall order in today's housing market.
Reeves: “Four years is a long time. I'm worried about comparable housing. This begins to change the landlord-tenant dynamic. If I were coming from OZ, seems like an old nightmare that was in here.” While acknowledging that with this duration it was starting to look like rent control, he characterized the SPOA claims as not helpful. “I have a need for peace. I want to protect people but not unnecessarily burden others.”
Braude: “The opponents proclaim that the removed planks can be put back in by regulatory authority. This is not true. Regulations help to effectuate the law. They do not implement new laws... I see this as a very modest proposal... The opposition is constantly raising this rent control thing.” [Note - Anyone familiar with the history of the Rent Control Board would likely say otherwise. Braude did state in his election campaign that he would prefer to restore rent control. It is a widely held belief among opponents of this proposal that it is just a foot in the door. They want to stop it cold right here and now and they feel that this should be done by all means necessary.]
Marjorie Decker characterized SPOA criticism as “right out lies” by the Schlomings (who write the SPOA newsletter). “They said they believed in the state law. Their newsletter just lied... I'm disgusted that SPOA has lied about my position. They do their members a disservice. Some SPOA people are smart people, but they do a disservice when they lie to their members. This does not prevent condo conversion. If it did I would not support this. Condos are one of the few opportunities to buy a home. As someone who is looking at condos and who grew up in public housing, I would not support something that stopped condo conversion. This allows tenants to stay in the community that they built. This requires that the landlord be honest. The state law already does this. This provides an opportunity to maintain residency and buy your home. It does not control what they can ask for the condo. I get 20-30 phone calls every 2-3 days from people I grew up with who are desperate to stay in this community... It kills me that there is so little that we can do. This is one opportunity. How many people will be saved by this ordinance? Not many since they won’t be able to afford the asking price. We are providing a small window. This is not the solution. It's only a small step. People can have a difference of opinion, but be honest. Even if people know it's their legal right, they don't have the resources to fight it. They can't access attorneys. I do not normally rant on about an issue. I try to stay level headed. To those who come here and badger us, you have nine people here who care about affordable housing.”
Kathy Born thanked Decker for her passionate speech and moved the amendments. Mayor Galluccio announced his intention to vote against all amendments and the main motion. Councillor Reeves expressed his wish that the amendments had been taken up one at a time. “It would have showed compromise. I don't know what to do here myself.” He expressed concern about how the law would operate.
David Maher spoke about the road taken by this proposal through the Ordinance Committee. “Councillor Born and I heard the presentations and there were concerns expressed by councillors. The issues were Council concerns, not SPOA concerns. The proponents did compromise but at the end of the day there was still a 25 page ordinance out there. This looming ordinance was something that people feared. As a property owner I understand that after years of rent control this could be fearful. It was out there and it's in this room tonight. There was a fundamental difference. We never got into too many of the issues. It is not the will of the Council to go further with this. I can’t fool people and vote for amendments when my intention is to vote against this... We should let opinions be known and not string people along.”
Mayor Galluccio thanked Councillors Maher and Born for their attempts to find a compromise. “When I first came here, rent control was over. Landlords wanted their records back from the rent control. The fear is of any information being held by the City and emotions run high.” He expressed his feeling that the existing state law would be sufficient if tenants had the information about it.
Mike Sullivan: “I will not be supporting this... Our affordable housing goals are hurt by this proposal. I agree with Councillor Reeves that there will be a cost in re-igniting talk about rent control. We must be careful in the wars and battles that we wage.”
Councillor Davis noted that she started out with mixed feelings about this proposal. “As time passed and I heard from people who would remain tenants, I saw the need for additional protections. We now have demographic information on condominium conversion - 375 converted units in 1999, more than any year since 1985. Decreasing the rental housing opportunities has an irrevocable impact. 77% of the units converted are in buildings of four units and over. We could do a lot.” She accused the SPOA newsletter of purposely inflaming people. “The claims that this would cover buildings of two units got people upset. It's up to us to defend what's true. This is an opportunity to do something about affordable rental housing. The red flags were aided and abetted right here in this chamber. Consult this data. Look at the facts.”
Reeves: “It would be very easy for me to be the fifth vote to pass this to a 2nd reading. There is no sixth vote. I could make a wonderful pretense of my own honor in this. I have many, many questions about it. I've never made a vote here that I didn’t believe in. There is too much uncertainty about how this would operate. This would fuel SPOA fully, all at the cost of peace in the city. I probably politically should take the cheap seat and be the fifth person to pass it and when it goes down for the lack of a sixth vote I would have cover. I didn't come here to get cover. Some cities got rid of rent control early and passed condo ordinances. Nobody is talking of their successes. I feel badly about this because I'm going to pay the price. I had no constituent that called me up asking me to do something on this. I'm very tempted to make the cheap vote, but I don't think it would be the right vote.”
Answering questions from Councillor Toomey, Schacter noted that the situation is different in cities that abolished rent control earlier and claimed that in Somerville this has led to long-term affordable opportunities. She explained that in Somerville, their ordinance goes much farther than what is proposed here. She said that not that many conversions are happening now in Somerville and that the much higher number in Cambridge is because the removal ordinance under the rent control system prevented conversions for so long. Toomey said, “We can't put the whole City budget into affordable housing. People can't afford to live in Cambridge or Somerville. It's driven by the market. We would be holding out a false promise to some tenants who would not be able to afford these prices. Should we handcuff a private owner who has to sell because of an illness in the family and deprive them of their property rights? I have a major concern with that. The 4-6 family property owners were the ones that were hurt. They provide affordable rents and have for years. These are people in their 60's and 70's and 80's. A widow with a four or five-family would be impacted by this. We have stepped up to the plate and funded affordable housing more than any other city. We have acted quite responsibly. There are a lot of circumstances beyond our control driving these prices. We've now required in zoning 1500 sq ft per unit when it used to be 1200 sq ft, so we are shortchanging housing. Meanwhile Harvard pays their money managers $16 million apiece.”
Councillor Davis responded that maybe the four unit requirement was too low. “We could set this higher and still capture a lot of units.”
Reeves: “There is this other strange feeling I have. It was an arbitrary decision when rent control was implemented to cover unoccupied units over a certain number of units. I feel conflicted voting to put this on four-families when many of us have one, two, and three families. I hesitate to go up. Ask those with rental units to think twice about raising their rents.”
Kathy Born bemoaned the loss of multifamily rental housing. She characterized it as “the classic route for affordable housing ownership for moderate income people.”
Councillor Davis noted that if the proposed ordinance was confined just to buildings with 13 units and over, we'd capture 58% of the condominiums. She said, “Let's keep it alive. Let's keep talking.”
Alas, keep talking they did not. The proposal died on a 4-5 roll call vote with Councillors Born, Braude, Davis, and Decker voting YES, and Councillors Maher, Reeves, Sullivan, Toomey, and Mayor Galluccio voting NO.
There was a late communication from an associate of Councillor Reeves asking for a curb cut on Ellery St. Councillor Davis exercised her charter right to delay its approval. To this, Councillor Reeves testily responded, “When a neighborhood president signs off on it, that's supposed to mean that the neighborhood signs off on it.” When Davis noted that the charter right is nondebatable, Reeves responded, “Miss Davis, I thank you for that one and I'll return the favor.”
It's fair to say that not all business at the Cambridge City Council is love and kisses.
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