October 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009 - 7:00pm

Porter Square Neighbors Association Meeting Minutes October 15, 2009


  • PSNA bylaws
  • Letter to the Planning Board

TROMP (www.TROMPcambridge.com) presenter: Matt Shuman

TROMP (Transportation Responsibility Outreach and Mentoring Program) is a nonprofit organization working to improve the traffic climate in Cambridge. They are especially concerned about behaviors which put people in danger—for example bicyclists sailing through red lights, drivers opening doors in the path of bikes and other vehicles, or pedestrians jaywalking. Working with the police and others, they have developed a four stage program consisting of orientation, education, warnings, and enforcement aimed at promoting better behavior by all groups: bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. For education they have been working with the business community, at Oktoberfest, and in the schools and plan meetings with people from MIT, Harvard, and Lesley. They are working with the traffic department to issue stickers for rear view mirrors to remind people to look back before opening their doors. Concerns raised at the meeting included: Bikers should stop when pedestrians are in the crosswalk and should not ride the wrong way on one-way streets such as White and Mossland. Bikes running red lights was a particular hot topic. It was also suggested to give awards to the best shoveled block in winter.

PSNA Bylaws

John Howard opened this discussion by reviewing the current bylaws, particularly the rules for voting membership and election of officers. (The annual election is at the November meeting, coming up.) In order to qualify to vote you must have paid dues and attended either two meetings in the last six months, or four meetings in the last year. The reason for these restrictions is to avoid having a single-issue group take over a meeting, force a vote on their issue, and never be heard from again. Anybody is welcome to attend meetings including business, institutions as well as residents. There are no geographical boundaries, and we have a number of members from Somerville as well as Cambridge. Some 60 people attended at least one meeting in the last year. Usually, about 30 people attend our meetings, and currently 12 are qualified to vote according to the bylaws. As another measure of PSNA activity, interest, and participation, about 255 subscribe to the email list, about 93 different people have written emails and 13-14 have posted more than 10 messages. Other than the annual election, the PSNA seldom votes. On issues on which it is necessary for PSNA to weigh in, the officers try to listen to all voices and take official positions only when they reflect a consensus or near consensus position. Susan Hunziker also pointed out that who is qualified to vote changes monthly and for that reason, in some meetings the required quorum of six qualified voters might not be present.

Letter to the Planning Board

Several attendees questioned the process used in writing the letter to the Planning Board about the Oaktree-St. James’s condominium project. In particular, the letter criticized the city's recommendation to put the ramp on Beech Street without even the data available from the flawed traffic study that the developer submitted, but did not demand that the ramp to be on Massachussetts Avenue. In explaining this position, John and Susan noted that they did not find a consensus on the ramp location. Because the data needed for a good decision was not available, they gave a good deal of weight to the positions that PSNA has taken on similar matters in previous projects. They also stated that they did not believe that this position presented any obstacles for supporters of the Mass Ave location.

Several people asked for a list of qualified voters. John pointed out that the qualified voters are indicated on the printed sign-in sheet at the door. He felt that this practice made the information available to folks who attend the meetings, where a vote might be held, but he was unwilling to publish names or email addresses. Some of the eligible voters in attendance supported that. Other participants felt that publishing names would invite personal attacks, giving as an example the experience of another neighborhood association three years ago. Recent personal abuse on the PSNA email list was also strongly criticized from the floor.

Costanza Eggers felt that PSNA needs a better system of checks and balances. There should be more transparency and accountability in the way the officers identify consensus. She offered to do some research on how other similar groups handle this. Another suggestion was to define triggering events in which votes would be taken. The officers agreed that give more thought to both issues and are open to suggestions.

Carol Weinhaus also pointed out that because city boards often do not listen to residents, the big decisions need to be resolved through the political process, not through boards with narrow charters. If you really want to accomplish something, you need to convince the politicians that a lot of voters care about your issue. Get your facts in hand, for example by leafleting the neighborhood and taking polls to get the range of opinions. Then go talk face to face with the city councilors with the evidence you have gathered. The next regular meeting will be at 7PM November 19.