Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: Toomey's out, Connolly's in; Housing in Cambridge; Photos in NYC

In local politics
Tim Toomey lost to Mike Connolly yesterday in the 26th Middlesex district. As readers of this blog will know, I backed Tim. But the first order of business after an election is to congratulate the victor and wish him well. After all, one of the most important guarantors of liberty is the peaceful transition of power.

Congratulations Mike, you did it!

Upon hearing of Tim's loss, I was remembering the first local campaign I paid close attention to -- Avi Green's attempt to unseat him in 2004.

Avi raised a lot of money and ran a strong campaign and knocked on a lot of doors but was not able to beat the power of incumbency that September. Tim's legacy was long and his roots in the community were deep. Still, the Avi supporters said, "Just wait, it's only a matter of time before Tim loses one of these. The demographics of the district are changing. The old people are dying out and young people are moving in." As the case would be, it took 12 years but that day has finally arrived.

Something else has change over the intervening 12 years, something not usable to Avi but available to Mike. The technology of mass communication has become much more sophisticated and subtle. Doing a quick search on Avi's race, I came across this posting. To look at it is to see how quaint internet outreach efforts were in 2004. Compare this to 2016 when voters received day-of text messages reminding them to vote for Mike, messages they then posted on Facebook as humorous commentary on the voter outreach efforts.  It only goes to say that the world has changed a lot in a short amount of time.

We wish Mike well in his new role. Love Tim or hate him, he worked hard for his district, and he was there for them when they needed him. Mike should try to emulate him in that if nothing else.

Housing in Cambridge
Meanwhile, back in Cambridge local policy matters, the Housing committee of the City Council met yesterday to discuss the proposal to raise the inclusionary zoning requirement to 20 percent. This is a topic that has been under review for quite some time now, with some housing advocates calling for 25 percent of all new housing units to be affordable, with developers asking for 15 percent and a phase-in up to 20 percent, and the city's consultant on this issue calling for 20 percent. It's a classic political football in the sense that no one knows exactly the workable number to cause developers enough pain, create enough units yet not shut the system down by making everything too expensive, so people are using their best guess and then filtering that through their ideological or their fiscal lens and trying to make that argument stick. I, as a member of A Better Cambridge, wanted the committee to know that ABC cares about this issue and will continue to track it moving forward.

Two key observations that have come from internal ABC's discussions of the issue:

  1. The only way to produce affordable units through inclusionary zoning is by producing market rate units too. That means that we must build more units overall, which also means that the Council should continue to examine the issues of height and density in this city, to see where taller higher-density buildings are appropriate.
  2. The absolute number of new units created is more important than the percentage number agreed to in the formula. Another way of saying this is: 10 percent of 100 units of housing is 10 units of affordable housing, whereas 20 percent of 10 units is 2 units of affordable. While we would have adopted a higher percentage in the second scenario, we would have eight fewer units of affordable housing. So we might have won the battle, but lost the war. At the end of the day, a percentage is just a number, but an actually housing unit is someone's life.

There will be much more process and many more meetings before anything gets etched in stone, or at least in the ordinance books. How to create three-bedroom units, whether there should be a one year phase-in period, who exactly is subject to the new ruling and whether or not there is a grandfathering provision, these among others are all to be decided, so stay tuned.

Photos in NYC
Finally, in a totally unrelated note, I traveled down to New York City last weekend, where I had the chance to snap some photos, which I add below because New York is such a great place to snap some photos. Happy Friday!

Feet, NYC subway

Christ in a box

Geometric shapes, West Side of Manhattan

Hudson Yards

Weegee attempted, 54th Street

Freedom Tower, lower Manhattan