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PSNA January 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017 - 7:00pm


• Electrical service for new developments
• New figures for the Davenport Street Mural
• Gravestar


Steve Lenkauscas (City Electrician) and Bill Zamparelli (Eversource) described the process for building, maintaining, and planning electrical infrastructure in Cambridge, with specific reference to problems with recent projects at the Porter Square Hotel and 1868 Mass Ave.

* Infrastructure

Electricity in Cambridge is distributed mostly on utility poles, with some conduit under major arteries (e.g. Mass Ave) and in newly-developed areas (Kendall Square.)

Any recognized public utility can use pole space, subject to state and city regulations enforced by the Pole and Conduit Commission. There are at least seven different utility companies using our poles. The major ones are Eversouce Electric, the City of Cambridge itself (street lights, fire alarms), Comcast (cable), and Verizon (traditional land lines). A coming trend in the city is for Verizon Wireless and other cell phone services to mount "small cell" radio transceivers on poles. More about this later.

Connections to electric service requires a transformer and a switch so that power can be turned off for maintenance and repairs. For household power both of these are mounted on the poles themselves. Commercial and larger residences must provide space for both switch and transformer on their own property, located to be accessible to service vehicles at all times. Switches for many large projects also include a secondary power source, to increase reliability. Several projects located close to each other can share a single switch. In the case of the Porter Hotel, there was no other switch in the vicinity so it was required to include one.

* Planning

A developer writes a "load letter" to Eversource describing the amount of power a project will require. Eversource specifies the size and details of the transformer and switch to be used; it is up to the developer to find accessible space on the property for them. Large developers and sophisticated architects are aware of electrical and similar requirements and incorporate them in their initial plans, but smaller developers may defer them until after they receive a special permit (if required) or administrative review. This may lead to unpleasant surprises like the one in the Porter Square Hotel garden. Similar issues have also arisen with roof-top equipment. The planning process is currently being reviewed, in part to avoid such problems.

* Double poles

When a pole deteriorates or runs out of capacity it is replaced. This is a complex process due to the many companies involved. The poles themselves are owned and maintained by either Eversource (south of Mass Ave and Fitchburg railroad line) or Verizon (north of Mass Ave or Fitchburg Line.) The new pole is installed in the old pole's hole, and the old pole temporarily attached to it. Working sequentially down from the top, each user transfers its lines and equipment to the new pole; when the lowest user (typically Verizon) is done the old pole is removed. These transfers happen one at a time, with each user notifying the next by letter. It's easy for the ball to be dropped in this process. There are currently some 330 double poles in Cambridge, and new ones are added faster than old ones are removed. Steve Lenkauskas is trying to keep ahead of this be taking a biannual census of double poles and reminding the user companies to get on with it.

It should be noted that the number of traditional land lines is decreasing as more people drop them in favor of cell phones or Xfinity Triple Play. If you are one of those, you may have one or several unused wires coming to your house; it would be a good idea to clean things up by asking Verizon (which owns the wire from the pole to your house) to remove it. The contact for this is Stan Usovicz, 978-750-5656 or

A related issue is wires dangling from poles. Any such wire could be a hazard and justifies a call to 911 or 617-349-4900. The fire department will respond and fix the immediate hazard, calling Eversource if necessary or simply wrapping a loose telephone/cable wire around the pole. If you see such a wrapped wire, dangling coil, or other eyesore you can report it through Commonwealth Connect (probably in the "Other" category.)

* Reliability

Preston Gralla asked about why the area between Beech and Russell along Orchard Street often loses power when surrounding areas do not. Susan Hunziker concurred, noting that this area always seems to be the last one to have power restored. Zamparelli explained that the reason was historical. At one time, Cambridge and Somerville had their own power companies, which built the infrastructure for each city differently. Over time, these companies have been consolidated, but the infrastructure has remained the same. This complicates the process of restoring power compared to what is done in neighborhoods served exclusively by one system or the other.

* Small phone cells

A new trend is for cell phone companies to install "small cell" transceivers on neighborhood utility poles. There are several competing companies doing this in Cambridge. Some of these devices even have cooling fans which have prompted noise complaints. While each installation requires a permit from the Pole and Conduit Commission, this area seems to call for clearer policies to prevent further clutter and administrative complexity on our utility poles.

A public hearing on this issue has been scheduled at the license commission in February.


At our November meeting, muralist Joshua Winer approached us about adding new figures of locally or historically significant individuals to it. Al Gowan volunteered to head an organizing committee which would involve key stakeholders, solicit community suggestions for individuals to add to the mural, and to help solicit funds for the project.

In this meeting we agreed to form a small committee headed by Al Gowan and including John Howard, and (we hope) a representative of Gravestar. Whether to include a representative of the Cambridge Arts Council was left open. The following guidelines were proposed and agreed to by consensus:

• Nominees must be relevant to the Porter Square neighborhood
• Nominees must be deceased
• At least one sharp photograph should be available
• We're looking for about 10 nominees

Anybody is free to submit a nominee. The deadline of submissions is March 15 (PSNA meets March 16). Nominees previously suggested are Jean Keldysz, Noa Williams, Karen Klinger, and Tip O'Neill. It was suggested that we should contact Charlie Sullivan for possible historical figures.


* Gravestar

David Giordano, who manages leasing for Gravestar, attended this meeting and joined an informal discussion of shopping center issues. Although the shopping center itself is fully leased at present, we communicated to David our ongoing interest in having a family clothing store in the neighborhood (replacing the long-gone Decelle's), and our appreciation for Porter Square Books in response to past suggestions.

* Rats

There have been problems with rats in the neighborhood recently, possibly related either construction or the shopping center. Several neighbors have been working with Charles McIsaac of Inspectional Services to identify and address rats on Orchard Street. Gravestar has already taken some action (paving over an open dirt area, working with the city on the landscaping in the Shapiro Plaza), and is actively monitoring shopping center tenants about overflowing dumpsters.