Tag Archives: Cambridge City Council


Clarence The Clown Cries Foul!

Much has been said about the vigor and unseemly haste with which seven members of the Cambridge City Council voted last Monday evening, May 18th, to approve the Normandy/Twining (N/T) proposal to build an unprecedented 195’ tower in Central Square.

2014-2015-City-Council-web-500When told this final version of the agreement, officially an ‘amendment by substitution,’ with its last minute language changes, had not yet been read or even proofread to ensure completeness and adherence to previously agreed terms, the councilors waved away any concern.

“Hey!” one of them cried out, “if it’s good enough for Mark, Al and Tony…” referring to developers Mark Roopenian, Alex Twining and their attorney, former City Councilor Anthony Galluccio. “…then it’s good enough for the Cambridge City Council!”

“Right on!” another agreed. “Where do we sign?”

Shouting down objections from Council members Carlone and Mazen, who pleaded for a week’s delay in order to read and thoughtfully respond to this latest draft agreement, the seven councilors quickly voted “Aye!” and Mayor David Maher abruptly declared “So moved!” sharply gaveling in the council’s approval.

Barely had the echo of the gavel’s harsh retort subsided before certain oddities written into the agreement began to emerge for inspection.

First among the agreement’s controversial clauses was language that transferred to city ownership a still-undetermined percentage of N/T’s newly zoned surface parking lot after 5 years, as agreed, but shockingly in exchange for two city-owned parking lots and one city park “to later be determined.”

clownUpon later investigation it was learned the language transferring ownership of the parking lots and city park to N/T was accidentally retrieved from a DPW proposal of possible summer venues for Clarence the Clown and His Talking Jackass, a popular outdoor children’s entertainment.

When asked why the size of N/T’s gift deed transfer was still left uncertain in the agreement, Attorney Galluccio explained, “Obviously it depends on how many Cadillacs, Hummers and pickup trucks we have in the lot; something we won’t know until the first weeks of occupancy.”

Also somewhat controversial, the new agreement indemnifies all city councilors from actions or lawsuits, “including ethics investigations” resulting from their approval of the N/T petition. This apparently in response to the recent disclosure that six out of the seven councilors voting for approval—Councilors Cheung, Maher, Toomey, Simmons, McGovern and Benzan—had received campaign donations totaling almost $12,000 from N/T and related associates in a series of payments doled out over two years.

When learning he received a scant $950 from N/T in comparison to Councilor Cheung’s $3,000, Vice Mayor Benzan showed his customary modesty and self-effacement, declaring,” Hey, I’m the new guy on the block. Give me time; I’ll catch up to the veterans.”

Also, under the terms of the final approved agreement the city vowed to continue to ignore the impacts of gentrification. Specifically, the Community Development Department was enjoined against “any research that would quantify displacement of current residents. Or any study that might undermine the often-stated claim that luxury high-rise developments will house more poor people than they displace.”

Commenting on that restriction, Iram Farooq, Cambridge’s Acting Assistant City Manager for Community Development, smiled at the interviewer and said, “Not a problem. We do that everyday.”

In response to complaints about mistakes in the final draft agreement, Attorney Galluccio promised to deliver a corrected version for the council to vote on and review…”sometime during their next scheduled council meeting.”


DISCLAIMER: THE ABOVE ESSAY IS SATIRE, though there may be far too many chunks of reality and truth buried within the sarcasm and farce. A reader questioned my post as though some of the items mentioned might actually reflect (FOR REAL!) what was ultimately included in the revised Amendment by Substitution, which was submitted at the last minute, during public comments, to the city council. I have no idea what wonderful offerings or missing agreements will ultimately be discovered in that document which seven city councilors so quickly approved. Aside from the figures given for Normandy/Twining campaign donations to city councilors, nothing I said in my essay is meant to be believed or taken as fact. Again, this is meant to be SATIRE.

















When Jesus said “For ye have the poor with you always,” he wasn’t talking about Cambridge. Not these days anyway.

Not that Jesus could envision a progressive democratic community that would sacrifice the well-being of its current residents for the expensive tastes of those who will come later.

Gentrification is gentrification, no matter how much you hide it behind an inclusionary zoning formula that does little except ensure sub-market rents for a few lucky units while sending out ripples of rising rents to an entire neighborhood.

gentrificationThis 19-story residential tower foisted on the city by Twining/Normandy is the project that intends to blast away any and all resistance to piecemeal project-based planning for Central Square. At the same time it would also bestow the city’s blessings on sugar-coated gentrification for the near and foreseeable future. “Sugar-coated” gentrification because it is gentrification sweetened by a paltry amount of affordable housing sprinkled lightly throughout the project. More than two-and-a-half times as tall as current zoning would allow, so massive you might wonder if their internationally renowned architect had chanced upon renderings for Hitler’s bunker, this project is unworthy of a city just waking up from the realization it’s been on a development binge.

This is the project that may end up proving how stupid and gullible our leaders can be. Irrefutable proof that repeating the same “affordable housing” mantra can safely allow a councilor or Planning Board member to vote “Yes” and further erode the dwindling sheet of ice our poorest residents are standing on.

Speaking of which, It was shocking to see three black ministers recently shepherded into a City Council meeting to validate Twining’s incomprehensible affordable housing set-asides. Has anyone explained to these gentlemen that their congregants are directly in Twining’s line of fire? That it won’t just be shadows from the sun this project will cast, but the shadow of eviction and neighborhood dislocation?

Ministers, Councilors, Neighbors, Fellow Cantabrigians, please! Developments like the Twining/Normandy tower are not the solution to the affordable housing crisis. THEY ARE THE CAUSE. Look at the trends, the number of families and school-age children in Cambridge are on the decline. As are the percentage of 3- or 4-bedroom “family-sized” apartments included in our newest residential complexes.

Our councilors and Planning Board can find no adequate justification for approving spot-zoning whose massive height and density set such dangerous precedents. Why would we accept such a grandiose grab for wealth at the neighborhood’s expense? What are the community benefits that might begin to offset the project’s massive size and negative impacts?

Not Mass and Main, as the project’s cheerleaders have named it, but MASSIVE and Main—in audacity, scope and profit!

If we can agree that a flood of market-rate housing units exerts upward pressures on the price of housing, and the result is a citywide purging of the least-advantaged and most vulnerable members of our community, then we should be able to see the danger inherent when inclusionary housing serves as a free pass to massive development and up-zoning giveaways like the Twining/Normandy tower.

And so, if we’re to prevent the Economic Cleansing of Cambridge, we must insist on a few rules going forward.

  • First, that City Councilors or candidates for the council take NO political donations from developers or development interests. Not a penny, not even a free lunch! How else can we expect them to honestly perform their duties, without bias or external influence, when voting on zoning issues?
  • Second, that the City Council or Planning Board NOT approve a single special permit or zoning variance UNTIL the Community Development Department quantifies displacement caused by gentrification. In simple terms, how much displacement can we expect from different sized developments? Why would we blindly approve projects without understanding the damage we are doing? Even the dumbest soldier knows to wait until the line of fire is clear before firing his weapon.
  • That the City Council increase the inclusionary zoning formula and contributions by commercial developments toward the affordable housing fund to a level commensurate with percentages charged in other ‘desirable’ communities.
  • That the City Council consider building 100% affordable apartment complexes on city-owned land. With the city retaining the deeds in perpetuity.

Who can say whether there’s enough time and civic will available to stop the Economic Cleansing of Cambridge? Or if circumstances will allow us to alter a path that has been deeply carved and resolutely followed by those who have been recent stewards of our city?

What would Jesus have said?

Assuming he earned enough to live in Cambridge?















Traveling on a Runaway Bus

I’ve been asked to speak about the need to elect a progressive city council. Whichto do thatrequires us to replace at least three of the folks shown in the photo belowideally from the back row(I’ll speak later about the criteria that leads me to say that)

City councilThree years ago, like most of you, I was totally ignorant of what was happening in our city. Totally ignorant of the city’s addiction to development, or the wheels that had been set in motion to virtually rubber-stamp any project that came before the Planning Board or our City Council.

But then I discovered a staggering fact. In the last few years, more than HALF the development projected for the next 20 years in Cambridge had either been built or permitted. Most of it without the guidance of anything I would consider real planning. 

Well, that woke me up and once it did I saw we were all traveling on a runaway bus with no one at the wheel. A bus that was throwing off passengers—my neighbors and yours—as we merrily careened on our way. 

Ever since I’ve been struggling, along with others, to grab the steering wheel and slow down the bus. I guess that’s why I’m here today.

If I can paraphrase from a far greater orator than myself…

Friends, neighbors, Cantabrigians, lend me your votes! 

come to shake up the city council, not to praise them.

For the deeds these councilors do will live long after they’re gone.

As will their unfortunate zoning decisionsand lack of foresightchip away at the foundations of our beloved city.

Make no mistake, we are now drawn to an epic battle to preserve all that is most precious to us in Cambridge—our quality of life, our economic and racial diversity, our sense of community identity.

The next city council election may well decide the future of our city; and whether there’s a place for any of us in that future. 

Many of us rail against the city council for their kneejerkreactions to complex issues. For the speed with which they approve almost any proposal that hides behind claims of protecting our most vulnerable citizens. 

No matter that their political war chests are brimming with donations from developers

No matter that they vote for zoning changes that award millions to developers while potentially displacing the very people they profess to care about

No matter that they have failed to insist on thoughtful planning for our city’s growth

Most of these councilors voted down the Carlone Petition, the one tool they could have used to protect our city from misguided mega-developments like the Sullivan courthouse

And though they agreed to a Master planning processthey cynically placed it under the control of the very agency whose lax planning and arrogant behavior led to the outcry for a master plan in the first place.

That’s like sending a mugger out to protect his latest victim.

Over and over, they trumpet their concern for the families and poor people flushed out of Cambridge on a tsunami of development, but they never insist on an analysis of the real impacts of all this unbridled development.

And so I’m here today with two missions: first to call for right-thinking individuals to run for city council. We need candidates who will stand up to the pro-development cabal that threatens the fabric of our communityIt only takes four votes to stop upzoning and spot-zoning in its tracks. Just four votes to send proposed 19-story luxury towers back to the drawing board.

We believe we currently have three such enlightened councilorswho’ve shown they can see beyond the false arguments, who won’ttrade away our city’s future for a fast buck(This time I direct your attention to councilors in the front row of the photo.)

Secondlythe Cambridge Residents Alliance will be endorsing a slate of candidates in the next election, and I humbly ask you to vote for that slate. Or at least not to vote for anyone in that photo who voted against the Carlone Petition, or who supports the status quo, takes money from developers, or naively claims the city is doing a good job planning for its future.

Your vote in the next City Council election may help decide who gets forced out of Cambridge, and who gets to stay.

That’s all I have to sayexcept I‘ll see you at the polls!

Thank you.


A recent speech of mine. I was asked to speak about electing a progressive city council at a recent forum on affordable housing put on by the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CRA). By progressive we meant men and women who would put the interests of the citizens of our city over the interests of developers and the Chamber of Commerce. For more information about the forum itself or about the efforts the CRA is making to protect our city and to advocate for those with too little political clout or who can’t advocate for themselves go to CambridgeResidentsAlliance.org.

BURY MY HEART AT THE SULLIVAN COURTHOUSE: A Dispatch From The Cambridge Zoning Wars

We started out small in numbers.

That’s how change often begins; first with a few diehard believers who loudly articulate the concerns of those who suffer and fret in silence. Our collective voice was easily ignored in those early days, but eventually, after far too many meetings, forums and protests, our message began to gain traction and resonance.courthouse

And then we had a real battle on our hands.

No longer could the reality of the problem be ignored, no longer could critical thinkers remain disengaged. Not when citizens were growing vocal as well as angry, frustrated by their elected leaders’ seeming inability (or disinclination) to protect and defend this city they swore to serve. Frustrated as well by city roadways growing ever more clogged, city neighborhoods growing ever more alien and congested, and city agencies and a Planning Board growing ever more deaf to the pleas of the city’s residents.

Meanwhile, apologists for the status quo scrambled to defend and protect a system that demonstrably worked against the best interests of those who live in our city, especially those most vulnerable to gentrification. In bursts of media-savvy sound bites they shielded their opposition to anything that might hinder Cambridge’s unbridled runaway development. In almost knee-jerk defensive attacks they accused us of “Nimbyism” and of being “Anti-Development.”

If the history of these struggles is ever recorded, it will be clearly seen that those who fought for more vigilance and planning as we grew our city were more concerned with what happened on our watch than in our backyards!

And now the genie is out of the bottle. 

City councilThis last year our numbers have grown substantially and we have helped elect two new members to the City Council (see front row left, first and second); councilors who share our concerns and who are asking their fellow councilors to re-think their views and votes of the past, and to recast a system put in place to serve a Cambridge that once needed a shot in the arm to grow, but was now in danger of getting seriously ill from an overdose of that same medicine.

After years of living with a system that gave critical development oversight to non-elected entities: city agencies whose mission was to facilitate development and a Planning Board that refused to believe it had the power to say “No!” we are on the cusp of change. Councilor Dennis Carlone has proposed a zoning change that would give the City Council final approval—temporarily, until a new Master Plan can be developed—for all projects 50,000 square feet or larger that require special permit review.

If you care about the future of Cambridge or the future of our neighborhoods, or just believe you have an obligation to leave Cambridge a better city than when you found it, you need to raise your voice and lift your pen. You need to tell the city council to vote for, to accept, and to USE—like a mighty hammer!—the power put in their hands if they enact the Carlone Petition.

You also need to voice your displeasure should they refuse to enact the Carlone Petition and effectively kill THE ONE SINGLE WEAPON the City Council could use to defend us against three mammoth, neighborhood-altering developments.

No matter how much they protest there are better ways to fix the system, or that the Carlone Petition would take up too much valuable council time, creating a polarizing political situation, the simple truth is they have NO OTHER VIABLE OPTIONS before them IF they wish to do their jobs correctly, acting to serve and protect Cambridge’s neighborhoods and its citizens.

So much depends—including the makeup of the next City Council, one might think—on whether they have the wisdom and courage to enact, and take up, the Carlone Petition.

We may have started out small in numbers, but wait till they see how we’ve grown!


If you see this in time, please plan to attend the City Council meeting on Monday, September 8th, 5:30 in the Attles School Committee Room at CRLHS, entrance on Broadway.  

Paul Steven Stone is a founding member of the Cambridge Residents Alliance, which for the last three years has been struggling to raise the alarm about Cambridge’s runaway development, and to give voice to those who fear for the loss of our sense of community, quality of life and diversity of population. To find out more about the Cambridge Residents Alliance, go to: CambridgeResidentsAlliance.org.







Councilors Make Bold Bid To Save ‘Feeding Grounds’ For Endangered Developers!

Last Minute Order of Maher, McGovern, Benzan A Brilliant Move                                                   To Kill A Meaningful Master Plan!

Cambridge, MA — Fearing the ecological and financial damage an honest Master Plan might bring to the already threatened Cambridge Hawk, a developer species known for flying tight circles around the City of Cambridge, veteran City Councilor David Maher, and two freshman councilors, Dennis Benzan and Marc McGovern, proposed a policy order they hoped would deflate and defeat a rival call for a Master Plan.       hawk

That rival Master Plan, as proposed by councilors Dennis Carlone, E. Denise Simmons and Nadeem Mazen, would have threatened the status quo of microwave development in the city, as well as the security and livelihood of the vulnerable developers.

“SAVE THE DEVELOPERS!” resounded throughout the staid, marble-floored corridors of City Hall, as the Maher proposal was introduced. Aside from consigning the process to an endless succession of motivation-killing meetings, the Maher proposal would put responsibility for the Master Plan in the hands of the Cambridge Community Development Department (CDD), whose concern for the prosperity of Developers has been proven repeatedly. Most recently in the CDD’s pursuit of 16- and 18-story towers for Central Square.

The Maher Proposal refuses to acknowledge the high level of public unrest and dissatisfaction with current development policies, pretending residents are merely disturbed over ” recent projects.” With an unstinting blind eye to the realities all around, the Maher proposal seeks to preserve “a sensible approach” to future development (read undiminished).  It completely ignores resident outrage at the clogged roadways and, most notably, the city’s lack of honest planning.

But the most important element in the proposal is the way it will derail the Carlone proposal and keep residents from speaking their mind to the City Council on April 7th, at 5:30PM. Just as important, it will leave the Cambridge Hawk once again safe to hunt for his meal ticket in our city.