Local business’ direct involvement within the community and the varied, interesting products they offer are key in defining public character and sense of place in each of our neighborhoods and squares. The right retail mixture adds public value to where we live and work. Our first step should be make sure that the city utilizes local businesses for as many municipal needs as possible, and not purchase goods based solely on lowest costs.
Secondly, the city needs to fully recognize the public desire for local business in new development and re-zone accordingly. Thirdly, the real estate tax structure should be reorganized to recognize the public’s desire for a stronger local business community and not having the same national chains growing throughout the city. With Cambridge Local First’s input, I will gladly pursue these and other efforts with you.
What have you done to support the local economy in Cambridge?
Based on initial discussion with Frank Kramer and Si Shapiro, I have discussed taxing small locally owned businesses at the lower commercial rate with the City Assessor. I would be interested in pursuing this with Cambridge Local First as a part of rethinking real estate taxes. Although it will undoubtedly be a complex issue for civic discussion, I believe we can make a case that socially redeeming uses should be taxed at a reduced rate.
The assessor stated there would be difficulty in using an across the board lower rate for local business but added perhaps business owners could apply for a reduction (similar to a rebate) if such a policy were approved by the Council. Given the unique importance of small, locally owned business in strengthening a sense of community and place, this is a policy that I would gladly pursue with your input and support.
In Council discussions, I have brought up reforming zoning to advance local business viability in new construction. This is doable with a majority Council vote and neighborhood support; properly framed both are attainable.
Do you do your personal banking at a local bank? (Cambridge Trust, Cambridge Savings, East Cambridge Savings, Eastern Bank, Naveo, Leader Bank)
What percentage of your shopping do you do at local independently owned businesses?
70% local with the main exception for large grocery shopping at Whole Foods/Star. Our daily grocery needs are purchased at Evergood Market.
Please rank the following as priorities for you. Please only select one priority per rank (i.e. shouldn’t all be first priority.)
1. Encouraging Affordable Housing
5. Bringing Large Employers to Cambridge (tech, bio, etc.)
Councilor Carlone declined to rank: Encouraging Local Business Development, Controlling Traffic & Encouraging Alternative Means of Transportation, and Environmental Sustainability.
Do you have any comments on the above question?
My number one rank is Encouraging Affordable Housing, which has been at a crisis level for well over ten years as decreed by the City Council in 2006. We must do significantly more to ensure Cambridge once again becomes the richly diverse community we all moved to years ago. We have more resources than we are using. Since I began my consulting work on the redevelopment of the East Cambridge Riverfront in 1976, the city has focused on Bringing Large Employers to Cambridge. This is my lowest rank of five because he city has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. The focus now has to be on issues directly related to resident and small business livability and community building.
Ranking the remaining three items (including Encouraging Local Business Development) from two to four is profoundly difficult. It would be easy and perhaps politically savvy for me to say local business development should be number two. However as an urban design architect, I view community design as an incorporation of all-important needs and developing a solution that properly incorporates all in a balanced way. The first four issues on your list are or will be in a near critical stage as existing Cambridge development pressures increase.
What would be your strategy to increase affordable housing in Cambridge?
I believe that we need a several-pronged strategy. It cannot all be dependent on developers producing 88.5 percent luxury housing and 11.5 percent affordable in their new structures, because Cambridge would have to literally double its population to 215,000 residents to meet the present low-income need for 6,000 households.
First, the upcoming Master Plan, urban design and resulting re-zoning of the city should better match the needs of the community. Properly done, this will help stabilize land. Secondly, we should increase the linkage fee to $24 per square foot based on a recent city economic study by a noted MIT Economist. Thirdly, we should stop the annual returning $10 million of unused taxes per year. Instead that money should be used to increase affordable housing and other community needs that we are not adequately addressing. City finances are in an Economic Golden Age, which cannot last forever. We must invest in basic community needs while we have a surplus of funds.
Currently there are a variety of proposed zoning changes through the city (Kendall, Central, Net Zero, Master Plan, Upper Mass Ave), how would see contributing to these discussions and where would you like to see these areas in 10 years?
As mentioned earlier I am currently the Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee with expertise in Cambridge zoning, and have been an architect /urban designer in the city for more than 40 years. My focus (and what I enjoy most) has always been on maximizing a sense of community and creating unique public places through urban design, zoning and design review. One of the most important factors in creating such communal spaces is the location and choice of retail/restaurant uses. All urban specialists agree that a strong locally owned and operated business is the gold standard for success. Citywide zoning, including the large areas mentioned in your question, should specify the percentage of required local business frontage with appropriate criteria helping ensure success.
I know that the only way to humanize and animate many of the large re-zoning districts is through the framework of a well-designed series of connected public spaces (primarily streets and squares) enriched by interesting, desirable retail and restaurant choices run by people who care about their community. Zoning with quality design guidelines and professional design review will make all the difference. As a Councillor, I hope to continue my work to maximize the potential of all public-private efforts.
Do you think City policies appropriately regulate, under regulate or over regulate business? What action would you take regarding policies and regulations that affect the business community?
I look to Cambridge Local First to better educate me on these issues. It seems to me that city policies do regulate business well across most of the industries. I do not believe that substantial action needs to be taken in most industries.
The exception to this is real estate development. The city’s policies towards real estate development are based on a distant time when we were desperate to draw investment to the city, this is no longer the case. Cambridge is one of the most desirable markets in the country right now. We need to do more to prevent the speculation on land values by real estate development companies. This is driving local businesses out of Cambridge. Also as mentioned earlier, the tax structure could be better balanced to meet overall civic goals, especially for affordable housing and small locally owned businesses.
If elected, on which committees could you foresee yourself taking the lead?
Currently I am the Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee and the Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee. As you may know I am also a active member on the Economic Development, Public Safety, Neighborhood and Long-term Planning and Finance Committees. I would likely continue in these roles with the addition of adding Housing – an expertise I have. Please advise me if you would like me to consider being a vocal force on a different committee.
What are one or two initiatives that you would propose to support and encourage the growth of local business?
First, mandatory zoning for affordable small, local business in large development projects citywide. Second I would support a more progressive property tax structure, which would favor low and middle-income residents and businesses.
If you were to win office, what would be your top three priorities? Why?
As I have said above, my priorities are intertwined and all must be an integral part of moving forward. Nevertheless, my first priority would be finalizing details of a community-oriented master plan for the future of Cambridge. This master plan is essential to the coordination of development in the city and through its implementation, helping stabilize land values and protecting local residential and small business communities.
My second priority would increase the Linkage Fee (development impact rate on affordable housing) to the study’s actual findings of $24 per square foot.
My third priority would be implementing a transportation review and plan for the city’s streets to better allow the movement of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles throughout the city.
Although you didn’t ask for it, my fourth priority would be to enhance and expand the number of desirable public spaces, which must include locally owned, interesting business and housing to be successful.
Thanks for the opportunity,