News from a very big week

photo-30.JPGIt has been a momentous week of civic activity in the City of Cambridge. Thank you to everyone who participated in meetings that were held on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and thanks as well to everyone who has followed along online and via email.

On Monday, the council met for six-and-a-half hours for our annual "midsummer meeting." I brought forward an ambitious policy order to help fund the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest, but unfortunately, some of my colleagues were not quite as willing to act on the issue. In the end, we passed a compromise order that asks the City Manager to work with Belmont, Arlington, and the Commonwealth to explore potential sources of funding to save the forest, and we also passed a second order that asks DCR to hold off on one of the final-remaining approvals for the project. 

There's been tremendous coverage of the Silver Maple Forest issue all week - on WGBH's Greater Boston television program, in Cambridge Day, in the Cambridge Chronicle, and also on my blog.
 
Other big events happened on Monday as well - the council voted to create an advisory committee to improve the process at the Planning Board, we voted to jumpstart the effort to preserve the Whittemore Ave. Community Garden, and we received the first update on the Citywide Master Plan process. On top of all that, we also adopted a Building Energy Use and Disclosure Ordinance, an early product of the Net Zero Task Force.

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City Manager to reach out to Belmont, Arlington to discuss Silver Maple Forest

Late last night, the City Council adopted an amended version of Councillor Dennis Carlone's ambitious policy order in support of the Silver Maple Forest. 

Five hours into a six-and-a-half hour meeting, Councillor Carlone moved to advance Order #4 to the floor for discussion with the City Manager, explaining that many fear the developer may be very close to cutting the precious trees. 

After some debate about Cambridge's role in the matter, Councillor McGovern offered a substitute motion, striking out at least a few parts of the original order, but nevertheless calling on the City Manager to hold discussions with fellow administrators in Belmont and Arlington and report back to the council. The vote passed, 8 to 0, with Councillor Carlone voting present.

The meeting opened with two and a half hours of generally superb public testimony, much of which was focused on the value and potential of the Silver Maple Forest, with many speakers making reference to heavy rains and flooding that occurred earlier in day. Cambridge resident Mike Nakagawa brought in color-coded maps to highlight the number of recent large projects in the Alewife Brook floodplain, and others noted the potential for STEAM-related programming at the forest.

After the meeting, Councillor Carlone expressed gratitude for the efforts that many have made to preserve the forest. "I am very proud of the thoughtful and well-conceived comments that we heard from local advocates this evening," Carlone said. "Cambridge is fortunate to have so many caring, forward-thinking residents," he added.

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Important Events This Week in the City of Cambridge

Dennis_Carlone_headshot.pngThere's a lot at stake in the City of Cambridge this week, with critical meetings taking place tonight, tomorrow night, and Wednesday afternoon. I invite you to join us at any and all of these important events.

Tonight, Monday, July 28, at 5:30 pm, the City Council will hold its annual midsummer meeting in a special location - the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at CRLS, 459 Broadway.

I have placed two items on the agenda for tonight's meeting -- Policy Order #2, which asks the council to support residents who want to rebuild the Whittemore Ave. Community Garden in North Cambridge -- and Policy Order #4, which asks the council to help fund the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest.

You can read more about the Whittemore Ave. Community Garden on this Change.org page, and you can read more about the Silver Maple Forest here on my blog. Also, last night, the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance did this blog post in support of both policy orders.

Members of the public wishing to testify in support of either order should arrive at the Attles Meeting Room and add their names to the public comment list prior to 6 pm. Public comment starts at 5:30 pm, but the sign up list is closed promptly at six. People who are not able to attend may also express their opinions by emailing the entire city council: council@cambridgema.gov and be sure to copy the City Clerk at dlopez@cambridgema.gov to have your comments added to the record.

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Cambridge to Consider Funds for Preservation of the Silver Maple Forest

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Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone introduced a policy order to affirm that the City of Cambridge is "ready, willing, and able" to contribute funds for the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest.

The 15-acre floodplain forest, parts of which are located in Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington, is a natural complement to the adjacent Alewife Reservation, but a developer is moving forward with plans to cut the trees and build a 299-unit housing complex on the site.

"Ecology teaches us that all land is not appropriate for urban development," Carlone said in a statement. "There are special places in this world, and by destroying our few remaining wildlife habitats, we become more isolated and less human," he added.

In addition to wildlife concerns, the loss of the forest has also raised questions relating to storm water management and flooding. Local advocates recently appeared before the Belmont Board of Selectmen to contend that permits for the project were based on outdated rainfall data. Meanwhile, Lesley University faculty have offered this economic analysis, arguing that the costs of future flooding will outweigh the value of the proposed development.

Last month, a large crowd of residents gathered at the forest to protest the development plan. A photograph of that event is posted above, compliments of David Mussina. A similar protest was organized last winter and was attended by Councillor Carlone, his colleague Nadeem Mazen, and State Senator Will Brownsberger.

Councillor Carlone's Silver Maple Forest policy order will be on the agenda for the council's midsummer meeting on Monday, July 28, at 5:30 pm. Due to ongoing renovations in the Sullivan Chamber, the meeting will be held at CRLS in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway.

Members of the public wishing to testify in support of this order should arrive at the Attles Meeting Room and add their names to the public comment list prior to 6 pm on Monday. Alternatively, people may call the City Council office (617.349.4280) between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm on Monday and ask to be added to the public comment list for Order #4, the Silver Maple Forest policy order. People may also email the city council via council@cambridgema.gov and be sure to cc the City Clerk via dlopez@cambridgema.gov.

The full text of the policy order is available below...

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Councillor Carlone Calls for Transparency on Sullivan Courthouse Deal

Carlone_public_records_sullivan_courthouse.PNGCambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone has filed a Public Records request with the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM).

The request seeks to obtain the value of the winning bid for the right to redevelop the 22-story Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse, 40 Thorndike Street in East Cambridge, along with other information related to bidding on the much-debated project.

Click here to view and download a copy of the request.

In August, 2012, members of the East Cambridge Planning Team (ECPT) overwhelmingly voted to support an alternative plan that would have reduced the height of the existing structure and used it for housing. But later that year, DCAMM announced that development rights would be awarded to Legatt McCall Properties, based their offer to convert the building to a commercial office tower.

When the office design was presented to ECPT members on February 26, 2014, it was met with a vote of unanimous disapproval. Since that time, the developer has added terracotta to the facade, but nevertheless, ECPT members voted in opposition to the project yet again, most recently on June 25.

Meanwhile, the Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge has emerged to offer strong criticism and analysis, and the abutting James Green Condo Association has prepared for possible litigation.

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Introducing the Dennis Carlone, et al. Petition for City Council Project Review

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Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone introduced a major piece of zoning legislation on Thursday. The proposal would give elected officials an opportunity to provide oversight on large development projects for the duration of the Master Plan process, which is expected to run through 2016.

City Councillor Nadeem Mazen has signed on to the plan, as have individual leaders from a number of local residents' groups. The proposal (Petition #5, The Carlone Petition) is on the agenda for tonight's council meeting, which will be held in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway Street (where the School Committee usually meets) due to renovations at City Hall.

Article 19.000 of the Zoning Ordinance requires most large development proposals, typically over 50,000 square feet of gross floor area, to obtain a form of zoning relief known as a Project Review Special Permit. In Cambridge, these special permits are granted by the Planning Board, but in many other cities and towns across the commonwealth, special permit granting authority is also vested in city councils, boards of selectman, and other local legislative bodies.

Under the Carlone Petition, the volunteers on the Planning Board would continue to review these large projects in conjunction with the staff at the Community Development Department, who would then forward a report to the City Council, where a 2/3rd vote of approval would be required to grant zoning relief.

The City Council would also have the option of hiring independent experts to analyze Special Permit applications (at the developer's expense, per Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 44, Sec. 53G) and would be able to impose a wide range of conditions — to encourage affordable and middle-income housing, mitigate against traffic impacts and support alternative modes of transit, apply strong Urban Design guidelines, and more.

In addition, the council could take steps to modernize the public hearing process. Project submittals, reports and amendments should be posted on the city’s website at least two weeks in advance of any public hearing, and neighborhood groups should have the opportunity to make coordinated presentations and ask direct questions. Such measures would help level the playing field and bolster public accountability.

To be clear, the proposal does not apply to all special permits — only Section 19.20 Project Review Special Permits would be affected. In the first half of 2014, a total of three projects have come before the Planning Board to request this kind of relief. Two of these projects — the Sullivan Courthouse and 75 New Street — have been staunchly opposed by residents on either side of town — and both would ultimately require 2/3rds City Council approval under the Carlone Petition.

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Statement on Uber in Cambridge

Uber-Cambridge_1_.jpgLike many Cantabridgians, I recently learned that the License Commission will consider draft regulations for smartphone technology for taxicabs and limousines.

According to a blog post by Nick at Uber, the city's proposal would limit the operating capacity of successful, innovative services such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. While it makes sense for us to think about how these new services ought to be regulated, especially with respect to public safety, I do not think we should turn our back on ridesharing technologies, and I encourage residents to express their concerns to the License Commission this evening.

The License Commission will meet at 6 pm in the Basement Level Conference Room of the Lombardi Building, 831 Massachusetts Avenue, right next to City Hall.

Over the past 24 hours, my office has been flooded with calls, emails, and tweets from local residents who support this technology and oppose what many see as an attempt to outlaw a popular service. As Chairperson of the city council's Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, I intend to schedule a public meeting in the near future that will allow us to address these concerns in a public forum.

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A Big Milestone for Our City

The first phase of the Master Plan process is off to a strong start!

With facilitation from Kathryn Madden, a well respected planning professional, the Master Plan process has already engaged hundreds of residents from across the city over the past two weeks. Dubbed Cambridge Conversations by the city's Community Development Department, this is exactly how you start a planning process -- with an open conversation.

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People walk into these discussions with different perspectives, but as they talk about what's makes Cambridge special -- and what needs to improve -- they actually start working together to address many of the issues facing our city.

Will these exercises be enough to produce a comprehensive Master Plan? No, of course not. This is only the first phase, and many issues will require research and new alternatives. Nevertheless, I consider the start of the Master Plan process to be a big milestone for our city because it's enabling people to share ideas and find common ground on difficult issues.

The last big Conversation is scheduled for tomorrow, from 10 am until noon, at Cambridge College. Food will be provided, and it's actually a lot of fun. I encourage you to join the discussion and work with us to help shape our city's future.

If you can't make it tomorrow, don't worry. A number of smaller drop-in sessions are scheduled for the rest of the month. After that, we will begin to synthesize the points of discussion, and then it will be up to the city council's Ordinance Committee to help establish urban planning and community development priorities for the next two years, while the Master Plan process continues.

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Courthouse hearing to be held in East Cambridge

Last month, Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone drafted a policy order calling on the city to relocate the upcoming Planning Board hearing on the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment to a site in East Cambridge.

As a result of last month's order, the city has just announced that the meeting will be moved from the Citywide Senior Center to a location in the East Cambridge neighborhood. Right now, the Community Development Department is exploring options at the Kennedy-Longfellow School and the Multicultural Arts Center. This should make it easier for neighborhood residents to voice their concerns with the developer's application.

Earlier this year, Councillor Carlone submitted a policy order calling on calling on Legatt-McCall Properties and the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, "to work together in an expeditious and creative fashion to substantially reduce the height, traffic, and environmental impacts" of the proposal.

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Limiting Cambridge's Participation in the Secure Communities Program

On Monday, June 2, the Cambridge City Council will vote on a policy order to join the TRUST Act movement and limit the city's participation in Secure Communities, an opaque federal program that has led to the deportation of people who have never committed a crime.

The policy order was drafted by Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone and is being co-sponsored by Cambridge Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan and Cambridge City Councillor Leland Cheung.

Drawing on Cambridge's tradition of being a Sanctuary City, the order directs the City Manager, "to work with the Police Commissioner to ensure that only in cases where immigration agents have a criminal warrant, or Cambridge officials have a legitimate law enforcement purpose not related to immigration, will Cambridge Police comply with federal ICE detainer requests to hold persons solely for immigration purposes."

The policy will help ensure that Cambridge law enforcement officials are empowered to exercise their own discretion while seeking to limit the impact of this flawed federal program.

Presently, when a person is arrested in any city, including Cambridge, the standard booking procedure involves sending the arrestee's fingerprints and identifying information to the FBI. Under Secure Communities, that information is also shared with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). ICE may then issue a detainer request, asking the city to hold the person for up to 48 hours after posting bail or being ordered released by the courts.

While the data-sharing portion of Secure Communities is obligatory on all cities and states, localities still have the discretion to limit cooperation with certain detainer requests. Despite its status as a Sanctuary City, the City of Cambridge does not have a policy that explicitly limits cooperation with ICE detainer requests.

Last week, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone announced that he was taking action to join with a growing list of municipalities that have modified their policies to limit compliance with ICE detainer requests, and earlier this month, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Hass was quoted in a Huffington Post report that highlighted the confusion over the Department of Homeland Security's implementation of the program.

Members of the public wishing to testify on this matter are invited to participate in public comment at 5:30 pm on Monday, June 2. To sign up, call the city council office at (617) 349-4280 between 9 am and 3 pm on Monday, or just show up at City Hall and add your name to the list prior to 6 pm. Be sure to note that you wish to speak on Order #1. Each speaker will be given up to three minutes to testify. Alternatively, you may email all nine members of the council via council@cambridgema.gov

Councillor Carlone wishes to thank Laura Rotolo, staff counsel and community advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, for her support in the preparation of this policy order. The full text of the order is posted below...

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