Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Monday’s meeting of the City Council, once to be a roundtable about council goals, is listed now as a regular meeting, raising the possibility of renewed talk on — and even a possible rescinding of — the sign ordinance changes voted in last month. The council requested the change Monday, according to the the city clerk’s office, three days after backers of a petition against the sign law said they had more than 15,000 signatures.

Now the Election Commission has certified 11,461 signatures from the petition to rescind the council’s 6-3 vote for a sign ordinance, or more than double what’s needed.

The commission met at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall to go through the Save Our Skyline-organized petition and determine that the number of acceptable signatures. Save Our Skyline is run by Boston publicist Karen Schwartzman and funded by Terry Ragon, of InterSystems, a health care software maker feuding with Microsoft, its office mate at 1 Memorial Drive. Ragon and at least 11,460 other residents oppose the Sept. 27 law outlining where and how business signs can go on office buildings, citing its potential effect on the environment.

What are our local pundits saying?

“It seems to me that the easiest option is to rescind [the law] immediately,” says Mark Jaquith in his CCTV blog. “They could call for a special election at great taxpayer expense. That would most likely draw mostly opponents of the amendment, and they would be remembered for wasting a pile of money needlessly. They could let it appear on the same ballot on which they are attempting to be reelected. That might turn into something of a referendum on their original vote. Maybe not such a good career move for some.”

The city’s premier political analyst, Robert Winters, writes:

It will be interesting, perhaps even entertaining, to see what happens next. The City Council could rescind their approval and, by doing so, look like spineless and incompetent political jellyfish. That may be their best option. On the other hand, they could let the storm pass and allow the measure to be placed on the municipal ballot in 2011 coincident with their reelection campaigns. Gone are the good old days of rent control trench warfare. We’ll have a municipal election dominated by propaganda about signs. There may be a $500 annual individual contribution limit for local candidates, but it will be sky’s-the-limit for a “Citizens United” type of campaign in Cambridge indirectly instructing misinformed voters who they should vote for based on one hopelessly overstated and relatively unimportant issue. Perhaps the safest option for the City Council would be to dip into the public trough and fund a special election on this single item safely segregated from next fall’s municipal election. In recent years, the Cambridge City Council has shown over and over again that incumbency protection is Job #1, so perhaps this is the most likely next step.