Friday, February 16, 2018

Boston City Council Looks At AirBnBs, Flooding, MBTA Assessment Fees Survey & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their February 14, 2018  meeting:

City Audit Update: Former Councilor Larry DiCara, in his capacity as Chairman of the Audit Committee, sent an update to the Council on meetings held with independent auditors KPMG. The results state that the City is in strong financial condition for the fiscal 2017 year. Boston continues to be heavily dependent on property taxes for its general fund revenues (about 69%), and new revenue from a robust construction market has resulted in growth exceeding the annual increase limitations of Proposition 2½. Should market growth slow in future years, the City could experience reductions in property taxes and find difficulty funding increases in spending for current service levels. The report suggests the City should continue to explore ways to make service delivery more efficient and effective in an effort to maintain costs while meeting the service needs of the City’s constituency. The Committee also believes that the employee recruitment and retention and succession planning must remain an operation focus of the City, with many employees considering retirement or other opportunities. With regards to the the use of student activity accounts at Boston Public Schools, the Committee believes that BPS should develop and enforce standardized District-wide policies and procedures over the establishment, use, record-keeping, and monitoring of these accounts and any other accounts established for funds received by individual schools. The Committee believes that a level of accountability for such funds needs to be firmly imparted on those responsible for their maintenance and use. The complete report is available here.

Short-term Residential Rentals: Councilor Flaherty reported back on yesterday’s 5-hour hearing on short-term rental platforms such as AirBnB. The goal on all sides is to stabilize neighborhoods because unregulated short-term rentals lead to long-term tenants being displaced for corporations to exploit a loophole to operate de facto hotels in our neighborhoods. Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon testified yesterday that the City had identified 2000 high-impact listers, with units listed more than 235 days per year. Even just returning these units to residential housing would significantly increase the vacancy rate to help stabilize or bring down rents. The Association of Downtown Civic Organizations has researched the issue thoroughly, with data showing that our downtown short-term rental offerings are more densely concentrated than in New York City, and developers of new residential buildings are routinely reserving units to lease to companies that operate short-term rentals full-time. This reduces the supply of stable rental units, displaces long-term tenants, and drives up our already-high housing prices. No one is saying that we should ban AirBnB outright, as many homeowners rely on renting out a spare bedroom or their entire unit when on vacation to help pay the mortgage. However, we must act quickly to close corporate loopholes. As a review, the proposed ordinance recognizes three different categories of units:
  • Limited Share Units: a partial residential unit e.g. bedroom or shared space offered for rent while the resident is present (limited to 3 bedrooms or 6 guests, with 1 bedroom occupied by the resident) – no limit on how many days these can be rented out; $25 registration fee
  • Home Share Units: an entire residential unit offered for rent while the primary resident is away (limited to 5 bedrooms or 10 guests) – primary residency is defined as residing there for at least 9-months of the year, effectively putting a 3-month limit on the number of days able to rent; $100 registration fee
  • Investor Units: an entire unit offered by someone who is not primary resident (limited to 5 bedrooms or 10 guests) – limited to 90 days of rental per year; $500 registration fee
Certain types of residential units would NOT be eligible for short-term rentals, including those designated as below-market or income-restricted; those designated as “Problem Properties” by the City; and those with 3+ findings of violations in 6-months of the short-term rental regulations or 3+ violations within 6 months of any city or state law relating to noise, trash, or disorderly conduct. Enforcement would be complaint-based with ISD able to impose fees of $300 per violation per day for offering an ineligible unit, and $100 per violation per day for failure to comply with a notice of violation.
Many residents testified at the hearing that Boston should significantly curtail the “investor unit” category to close a large loophole that companies will use to displace long-term tenants. Even with the 90-day limit, a corporation could buy a building, rent it out 45 weekends of the year (Friday and Saturday nights) and perhaps make enough money to keep it as AirBnB-only. Several residents cautioned against too harsh of a restriction though, citing that AirBnB helped them rent out extra units in their owner-occupied buildings in neighborhoods further from downtown, where otherwise they would have difficulty finding a long-term tenant. ISD Commissioner Buddy Christopher also emphasized that property owners would still be able to seek an occupancy change to Bed and Breakfast or Lodging House through standard processes. The matter remains in the Government Operations Committee for further working sessions. Because this is an ordinance from the Mayor, it is a 60-day order that requires Council action in that timeframe (even if the action is to reject without prejudice for a refiling with a new 60 days). Read the ordinance
here. For a good summary of the issue, read this article.

Protecting Local Small Businesses: Councilor Janey gave her first speech on the Council floor today, filing a hearing order to discuss barriers to and opportunities for small businesses in the City of Boston. She described two pathways to chipping away at income inequality by building wealth in communities: home ownership and entrepreneurship. As Boston’s housing crisis means that residents are struggling to afford homes, small businesses are also suffering from quickly increasing rents. Small businesses are critical to the economy, culture, and vibrancy of neighborhoods within the City of Boston. There are 40,000 small businesses in the city, which generate about $15 billion in revenue and create 170,000 jobs. She also noted that people of color make up 53% of the city’s population, yet only 32% of businesses are owned by people of color. These businesses often lack access to capital and face significant barriers to obtain funding. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Small Business and Consumer Affairs.

Flooding: I filed a hearing order to discuss flooding in Boston, and the legislative, funding, and governance structures needed for the city and residents to adapt. Boston is extremely vulnerable to flooding, from sea level rise, from our rivers and brooks swelling in storms, and from increased stormwater runoff overwhelming our drainage system. On January 5, 2018, we experienced a record-breaking flood as the high tide reached its highest level since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1921, causing damage to roads, public transportation, and many buildings. The City’s Climate Ready Boston initiative estimates that sea levels could rise 10 feet by the end of the century and 37 feet by 2200. But the impact is not limited to neighborhoods and homes on the waterfront; flooding also exacerbates unhealthy living conditions in older housing stock and homes where residents can’t afford to renovate. We will need to fund many infrastructure projects to adapt to climate change and flooding, including the potential for a major seawall in Boston Harbor, reconstruction of roadways, and renovation of many homes where residents can’t afford the entire cost of adaptation. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

Resiliency Standards for City-owned property: Councilor O’Malley and I filed a hearing order to discuss standards for energy efficiency and resiliency for development or redevelopment of City-owned buildings or structures on City-owned land. The City Council is currently exploring ways to incentivcize net zero carbon standards for new development across the city through discussions about revising state building codes. However, the City could set higher standards for energy efficiency, resiliency, and transportation access for publicly-funded projects and for development or redevelopment of City-owned property without waiting for state or federal standards to change. Last week’s announcement that the Administration released an RFI listing 83 municipal parcels as potential sites for redevelopment to add housing units is an opportunity to build affordable housing to the highest standards of resiliency and efficiency--residents of affordable housing should be in homes that are as resilient, healthy, and efficient as any. Passive house standards would also mean that residents would need to pay little or no costs for electricity and heating, helping with household budgets as well. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

MBTA Local Assessment: I called for a hearing on the City of Boston’s annual assessment to the MBTA, which will be $85.8M in Fiscal Year 2018. The revenue from local assessments levied on the 175 cities and towns in the MBTA’s service area make up the third-largest source of revenue for the agency, after state sales tax and fares paid by MBTA riders. Boston’s contribution makes up over half of the local assessment revenue, and it comprises 4% of the MBTA’s total operating budget. This $85.8M represents taxpayer dollars from all of Boston, and yet the MBTA’s fare pricing structure does not treat all Boston residents equitably. Hyde Park, West Roxbury, and Roslindale residents do not have access to subway service, and are categorized in commuter rail fare zones where it is more than twice as expensive to travel within the city. On Friday, several Councilors and BTD representatives met with a group of about 40 residents to begin mobilizing for commuter rail fare equity. Allowing all Boston residents to pay the Zone 1A fares would not only reduce the financial barrier for certain residents to access public transportation, but it would relieve congestion on the Orange Line and in traffic. Yesterday, the MBTA announced it was considering fare hikes for next fiscal year. This hearing order is meant to discuss any opportunities to leverage Boston’s investment in the MBTA to create more equitable access for our residents. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing. If you are interested in commuter rail fare equity, please fill out and share this brief survey: .

Upcoming Hearings/Working Sessions (livestream)
  • Tuesday, Feb. 20th at 1:30PM: Tentative Working Session on Community Choice Energy Implementation (Environment, Sustainability & Parks)
  • Thursday, Feb. 22nd at 12:30PM: Hearing on a Proposed Medical Marijuana Dispensary at 1524 VFW Parkway, West Roxbury (Planning, Development & Transportation)
  • Thursday, Feb. 22nd at 2PM: Working Session on Plastic Bags Reduction Ordinance Implementation (Environment, Sustainability & Parks)
  • Tuesday, Feb. 27th at 1PM: Hearing on BPS Transportation Budget (Education)
 
For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Community Preservation Forum Comes To South Boston

Community Preservation Forum South Boston

What: Come learn about the fund created by the Community Preservation Act.  Share your neighborhood’s funding needs and your ideas.
Where: Tierney Center, 125 Mercer St., South Boston
WhenThursday, February 22nd, 6-8 PM
Format: Welcome/Introductory participant questions, Presentation with Q&A, Breakout Groups on Historic Preservation, Parks and Affordable Housing and Next Steps.

In November of 2016, Boston residents went to the polls and voted to adapt the Community Preservation Act (CPA). The Conservation Preservation Act places a 1% surcharge on residential and commercial property taxes to fund affordable housing, parks and open space improvements (including outdoor recreation facilities) and historic preservation. CPA exempts the first $100,000 in assessed residential value, and low-income home owners and low- and moderate-income seniors. The City projected that CPA would bring in $16 million to $20 million annually to the Community Preservation Fund.

The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) is responsible for recommending allocations of expenditures from the Community Preservation Fund. The Committee is composed of Mayor Walsh’s appointees: Chris Cook (Boston Conservation Commission), William Epperson (Parks and Recreation Commission), Felicia Jacques (Boston Landmarks Commission), Carol Downs (Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) Board), and Kate Bennett (Boston Housing Authority), and four individual City Council appointees : Matthew Kiefer for a term of 1 year, Kannan Thiruvengadam for a term of 2 years, Madeligne Tena for a term of 3 years, and Ying Wang for a term of 3 years. Christine Poff serves as the Community Preservation Director. 

In December 2017, Boston City Council voted to approve Mayor Walsh's appropriations order for just over $285,000 for the administrative and operating expenses of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for FY 2018 (July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018). The Council also voted to appropriate $17.9 million from the Community Preservation Fund annual revenues for further appropriation upon the recommendations of the Committee. 

Bring your ideas and neighborhood needs for affordable housing, parks and open space improvements and historic preservation to the Community Preservation Forum on February 22nd.



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Friday, February 09, 2018

Boston City Council Looks At Huntington Theatre, Surveillance, Special Election, Urban Renewal, Child Abuse & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their February 7, 2018  meeting:

Huntington Theatre: The Mayor filed an order to accept the right to enforce a use restriction to ensure that the Huntington Theatre continues to be used as a theatre or similar cultural use. The developer, QMG Huntington, will impose a use restriction on the building, requiring the owner of the property, and any successor, to use it as theatre and performance center for theatrical, cultural, live performance, educational, and ancillary activities. QMG Huntington will give the Huntington Theatre Company a 100-year lease to use the new lobby and will also gift the Huntington Theatre to the Huntington Theatre Company, a nonprofit theatre company that has occupied the theatre since 1982. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Arts, Culture & Special Events for a hearing.

Special Election: William F. Welch, Clerk of the Senate communicated that a Special Election will be held on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 to fill an existing vacancy in the First Suffolk Senatorial District, caused by the resignation of Senator Linda Dorcena Forry. 

Appointments
• Boston Conservation Commission: Mayor Walsh appointed Alice Richmond as member until November 1, 2019
• Living Wage Advisory Committee: Mayor Walsh appointed Benjamin Stuart as a member until June 11, 2018

Commuter Rail Fare Equity: Friday, February 9th) at 4pm, I will be hosting a meeting in the Piemonte Room on the 5th floor of City Hall to discuss the issue of Commuter Rail fare inequities with colleagues and transportation advocates. Learn more and RSVP on Facebook

Net-Zero Carbon Requirements: Councilor O’Malley refiled a hearing order on considering the benefits of developing net-zero carbon requirements and incentives for future construction. He spoke on the City’s robust construction boom and the significant demand for innovative and modern designs that would be energy independent and not reliant on carbon. He reminded us of the City of Boston’s commitment to making its buildings carbon neutral by 2050, and noted that over half of emissions come from free-standing buildings. We can protect all residents from the impacts of climate change while also saving on costs by improving energy efficiency and increasing jobs. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Environment, Sustainability & Parks for a hearing.

Surveillance Technology: I filed a hearing order in partnership with Councilors Campbell and McCarthy to discuss usage of surveillance technology in the City of Boston. Surveillance technology and electronic data gathering can be useful tools for advancing effective delivery and analysis of constituent services, public safety and security. We can act to provide safeguards to protect privacy rights and civil liberties as we see an increasing number of available surveillance and data-gathering technologies. This matter was assigned to the Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice for a hearing.

Vocational education: I called for a hearing with Councilors Essaibi-George and Janey to discuss how vocational educational opportunities in Boston can be improved and expanded. Boston currently has only one vocational technical high school, Madison Park High School, and the city is home to a thriving job market with many positions that do not require a post-secondary degree. In today’s world of astronomical college tuitions and student loan debt, plus a quickly changing job market with automation and globalization, vocational education is more relevant than ever and also more flexible than ever, training students not just in alternatives to traditional colleges, but also with technical skills that are a foundation for a post-secondary degree in a technical field. The types of pathways we see include traditional vocational pathways such as construction, carpentry, and culinary arts, as well as information management, health sciences, and advanced manufacturing. In addition to spending time discussing Madison Park, my goal is to visit other successful vocational schools across the Commonwealth to learn about best practices, funding levels, and key industry pathways. The matter was assigned to the Education Committee for a hearing.

Boston Logan Airport Workers’ Strike: The Council voted to adopt Councilor Edwards’ resolution to support the Boston Logan Airport Workers’ Strike. About 500 Logan Airport workers employed by JetBlue’s subcontractors FSS and ReadyJet have announced their intention to strike due to illegal surveillance, threats and intimidation of workers who are organizing for workplace changes. Several colleagues reinforced that the workers deserve the right to organize for improvements and rights on the job, free from surveillance, and threats or acts of intimidation. 

Urban Renewal Updates: I filed an order for the Council’s Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation to hold biannual urban renewal progress update hearings with the Boston Planning and Development Agency, following up on commitments from the last urban renewal approval in 2016. Look out for the next update to be scheduled sometime in early March.

Mandated Reporting of Child Abuse: The Council voted to adopt my resolution with Councilor Pressley in support of federal legislation on expanding mandated reporting requirements for sexual and physical abuse. As we all saw in the media reports about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics, coaches and officials in amateur athletic organizations are not mandated reporters, even though they work with minors on a regular basis. The bill, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, would expand mandated reporting requirements as well as requiring training, oversight practices, policies and procedures to prevent abuse of amateur athletes and extends the statute of limitations for civil suits filed by minor victims of sexual abuse. 

Upcoming Hearings (Watch Live): 
• Tuesday, February 13th at 10am: Hearing on Short Term Rentals in the City of Boston (Government Operations)

For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

Got To Laugh

If the winter blues have you down, then the Fort Point Theatre Channel's MCFARLAND is guaranteed to laugh those blues away. A reading of the new comedy by Joshua Faigen and directed by Hailey Klein will be presented this Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 7:30 pm in Art Under The Stairs at Midway Artist Studios, 15 Channel Center Street. The event is free and light refreshments will be served. You won't want to miss MCFARLAND.

Fan Pier Civic/Cultural Space Open For Bid

Updated 2/9/19: Last week's proposal submissions for the civic/cultural space at 50 Liberty on Fan Pier came in heavily in favor of the arts. The eight organizations who submitted are: Boston Center for the Arts, Cross Cultural Collective (C3), GrubStreet, HUBWeek, Kadence Arts, Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, Medicine Wheel Productions and the South Boston Arts Association.  Source: Boston Herald's Donna Goodison 8 Groups vie for prime space in the Seaport.  

Updated 1/10/18: Site visit pre- RFI meeting is scheduled for Jan. 18th from 3pm to 4pm at 50 Liberty Dr. The site is under construction and attendees are advised to dress accordingly. Visitors will be asked to sign waivers prior to entry.  

On January 2, 2018 Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) released a Request For Interest (RFI) in the lease of civic/cultural space at 50 Liberty on the Fan Pier.

The RFI is part of the City of Boston’s long-standing planning objectives for the South Boston Waterfront District, which include a broad mix of uses tied together with an inviting pedestrian scale with continuous public access along the waterfront on the Harborwalk. The mix of uses necessary for a vibrant district include residential, commercial, hotel, retail, open space, and civic and cultural uses. The need for a strong civic and cultural presence in the district was underscored through the approval of the South Boston Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan, which calls for 127,000 SF of new civic/cultural uses to balance the scale of new private development on the filled tidelands of the neighborhood. Existing civic and cultural destinations in the area include Boston Children’s Museum, Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art (“ICA”) Boston Community Boating (“BCB”), Midway Studios, Fort Point Artists Community, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC); and the Society of Arts & Crafts.

50 Liberty is the seventh building to be constructed by the Fallon Company as part of the Fan Pier project, an approximately three million square foot mixed-use development on the South Boston Waterfront.




The 50 Liberty Civic/Cultural Space consists of 5,000 square feet of gross floor area on the southeast corner of the first floor of 50 Liberty, and the balance of 8,166 square feet of gross floor area is on the second floor of 50 Liberty.

The Developer/Landlord, in conjunction with the BPDA, is seeking letters of interest from Boston-based qualified civic and cultural operators to lease the 50 Liberty Civic/Cultural Space. The Landlord will lease the 50 Liberty Civic/Cultural Space to the selected user for an annual triple net rent of $1.00. The selected user will be responsible for the maintenance of the space, all of their insurance, and a pro rata share of operating expenses for 50 Liberty allocated to the space. It is currently estimated that such monthly operating expenses will be less than $0.40 per square foot in the first year of operation of the Condominium. The selected user will receive a $25 PSF-construction allowance (totaling $329,150) toward improvements to the warm, white space necessary or desirable for occupancy. Completion of 50 Liberty is expected in the first quarter of 2018 and occupancy expected upon execution of lease.

To download a copy of the request for information, please visit Boston Plans. According to the website there will be a pre-RFI meeting on January 18, 2018. The submission deadline is February 2nd at 5 pm to:


Developer:
BPDA:
c/o The Fallon Company LLC
One Marina Park Drive, Suite 1400
Boston, Massachusetts 02210
Attention:  Myrna Putziger


Boston Planning & Development Agency
One City Hall Plaza, 9th Floor
Boston, Massachusetts 02201
Attention:  Richard McGuinness


originally published 1.3.18

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

2018 Fort Point Channel Watersheet Activation Grants Available

The Fort Point Channel Operations Board, comprising representatives from the Boston Planning & Development Agency (for the City of Boston), Boston Properties (representing the Fort Point Channel Abutters Group), and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (representing the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs), announced Monday that approximately $40,000 in grant monies for the 2018 Fort Point Channel Watersheet Activation Grant Program for the purposes of advancing the Fort Point Channel Watersheet Activation Plan. The Grant Program provides financial resources for capital improvements and public programming within and along the Fort Point Channel. 
  • Capital Improvements - Projects that include the construction of new water-based infrastructure that further implements the City of Boston’s Fort Point Channel Watersheet Activation Plan.
  • Public Programming - Projects that include the development of new public programming that activate the Fort Point Channel including, but not limited to, public events, new public art installations, and public education installations.
Funding for the Grant Program is from the Chapter 91 Waterways Regulations License #11419 for Russia Wharf. The funds are held in escrow by the FPCOB.

Additional details on the application, qualified projects and eligibility is available hereContracts are expected to be awarded by March 31, 2018. Projects must be completed by June 1, 2019 and reimbursement requested by June 15, 2019.

The deadline for proposals is 12 noon on Friday, March 2, 2018 to Richard McGuinness, Deputy Director for Climate Change & Environmental Planning, BPDA.

Questions or concerns may be directed to Erikk Hokenson, Waterfront Planner, BPDA.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Fort Point Landmarks February 2018 Meeting

updated 2/6/18: presentations added and revised agenda

The FORT POINT CHANNEL LANDMARK DISTRICT COMMISSION will hold a public hearing on:

Thursday, February 8, 2018
6:00 PM
Boston City Hall - Piemonte Room (5th Floor)
After 5:30 pm, enter and exit City Hall at the Dock Square entrance on Congress Street 
(across from Faneuil Hall).

Subject of the hearing will be applications for Certificates of Design Approval on the agenda below, review of architectural violations and such business as may come before the commission, in accordance with Ch. 772 of the Acts of 1975, as amended.from Faneuil Hall).

Design Review

14.945 FPC 338 Congress Street: Continued review of Application 14.945 FPC related to installation of art wall. Cancelled by applicant, will submit at later date.

18.839 FPC 22 Boston Wharf Road: Extend installation of temporary banner currently installed over the top three parking garage levels to June 30, 2018.

18.808 FPC 25 Thomson Place: Install an aluminum wall sign at entrance.

18.835 FPC 249 A Street - Streetlight: Replace existing light pole with new light pole that includes telecommunications antenna on top and associated equipment in its base.

18.813 FPC 313 Congress Street: Remove two existing first story windows at side elevation and install entry doors and steel canopy; extend sidewalk; and add planter.

18.841 FPC 253 Summer Street: Construct outdoor patio and pergola adjacent to southwest face of building.

 Administrative Review/Approval
18.392 FPC 300 Summer Street: At north (alley) elevation install four ground floor window grates matching window grates at adjacent windows.

Review and Ratification of December 14, 2017 Public Hearing Minutes

Vote to recommend that the Boston Landmarks Commission amend Section 8.0 Recommendations of the Fort Point Channel Landmark District Study Report, specifically regarding commissioner nominations.

Staff Updates

Projected Adjournment - 8:00 pm


FORT POINT CHANNEL LANDMARK DISTRICT COMMISSION
David Berarducci, Susan Goganian, John Karofl Lynn Smiledge, Vacancy
Altemates: Thomas Rodde, Vacancy


originally published 1.29.18

Friday, February 02, 2018

GE Innovation Point Construction February Update

GE Innovation Point Construction Update – February 2018

·         The installation of drilled mini-piles to support the new elevator and stair cores inside the existing buildings are complete in the west building and will complete by February 9 in east building.
·         Selective demolition of the timber structure and floors in the center of the existing buildings are underway to make way for the new concrete elevator and stair cores.  The center of the west building has been opened up.

·         Concrete formwork, reinforcing and placement is beginning in the west building and will begin in the east building during February.
·         A crane will be on site periodically to support the structural modifications to the building.
·         Cutting and capping of existing utilities as well as installation of new utilities in Necco Ct. has begun.  Utility installation on Necco Ct. Extension, between Necco St. and A St., and on Necco St. will be conducted over the next two to three months.  GE is working closely with the owners of Necco Ct., Necco Ct. Extension and Necco St. to maintain access to loading docks and the buildings during installation.

·         Building electrical, mechanical and plumbing coordination is underway.

Visit GE Reports for the latest information or contact GE at innovation.point@ge.com with any questions or to sign up to receive construction updates directly to your inbox. 

Boston City Council Looks At Voting Rights, Collective Bargaining, Homelessness, Composting & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their January 31, 2018 meeting:

Collective Bargaining: Mayor Walsh filed orders to fund the recently settled collective bargaining agreements between the Boston School Committee and the Boston School Police Patrolmen’s Association. This would include base wage increases of 2% in October of each fiscal year. The contract is from September 1, 2016 to August 31, 2020. The matter was assigned to the Ways & Means Committee for a hearing.

Grant: Mayor Walsh filed an authorization order for Council approval for the Police Department to receive $30,000 from the Department of Justice for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Program to fund surveillance vehicles for the Boston Police Department Fugitive Unit. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Public Safety & Criminal Justice for a hearing.

Appointments
• Boston Conservation Commission: Mayor Walsh appointed Michael Parker as member until November 2019
• Boston Retirement Board: The Board selected Thomas V.J. Jackson as a member until January 2019
Assessing Department: Commissioner Ronald W. Rakow appointed William Dudula as an Assistant Assessor

Curbside Composting Program: Councilor O’Malley and Pressley refiled a hearing order on the feasibility of implementing a curbside composting program in Boston. They both spoke on how such a program would save the City money by reducing waste sent to landfills, while also producing finished compost that could be used for landscaping in Boston’s parks and gardens or could be sold.  The matter was assigned to the Committee on Environment, Sustainability & Parks for a hearing.

Annual Homeless Census: Councilor Essaibi-George called for a hearing on this year’s homeless census, the point of time count that occurs each year surveying individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Boston shelters and on the streets. This data is used to identify policy priorities and measures to end homelessness. Having a hearing would give the Council an opportunity as in previous years to focus on how homelessness impacts individuals, children, young adults and families, as well as resources currently in place to support team. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery.

Voting Rights for Immigrants with Legal Status: Councilor Campbell called for a hearing to explore the possibility of allowing Legal Permanent Residents, visa holders, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to vote in municipal elections and to examine other inclusive practices. Currently, non-U.S. Citizens are prohibited from voting by state law and thus limited in playing an active role in civic life. Several Councilors supported the need for the Council to have this discussion, given that federal laws and politics are preventing many of these people from becoming American citizens. Others expressed that voting should remain a right for United States citizens only. The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing

For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

FPNA Kicks Off 2018 With Climate Ready Fort Point & Seaport

Join the Fort Point Neighborhood Association
for
2018 Kickoff Neighborhood Meeting

Tuesday, January 30
6 pm - 8 pm
The Artist Building At 300 Summer Street
featuring
Climate Ready Boston: Fort  Point & Seaport

with special guests

Mia Mansfield
 
Climate Ready Boston Program Manager
City of Boston Office of Environment, Energy & Open Space


Richard McGuinness
Deputy Director for Climate Change & Environmental Planning
Boston Planning & Development Agency

and 
 
Robert Adams
 Principal, Halvorson Design


Special thanks to The Artist Building At 300 Summer Street for hosting.



originally posted 1.23.18

Martin's Park Construction Update

Martin's Park is ready for the next large phase of construction.  As you may have seen on site, the slab and walls for the Boston Children's Museum covered parking are going up now.  



The foundation for the wooden play ship is also underway.  The concrete was poured on Friday for this very exciting park feature.  

Wooden Play Ship Foundation

Over the next few weeks you should see more covered parking progress. 

Covered Parking Structure Rendering


If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Lauren Bryant with Boston Parks & Recreation Department. 

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Boston City Council Looks At Housing, Transportation, Safety, Committee Assignments & Lots More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items at their inaugural meeting on January 24, 2018:

Council Committee Assignments: The Council voted to pass the 2018-2019 City Council rules, which include our procedural rules and the new committees (listed below as Committee name, Chair, Vice Chair):

• Arts, Culture & Special Events – Janey, Wu
• Census & Redistricting – Wu, Pressley
• City, Neighborhood Services and Veterans & Military Affairs – Flynn, O’Malley
• Civil Rights – Zakim, Flynn
• Community Preservation Act – Flaherty, Campbell
• Education – Essaibi-George, Janey
• Environment, Sustainability & Parks – O’Malley, Wu
• Government Operations – Flaherty, Edwards
• Healthy Women, Families & Communities – Pressley, O’Malley
• Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery – Essaibi-George, McCarthy
• Housing & Community Development – Edwards, Janey
• Jobs, Wages & Workforce Development – Baker, Pressley
• Planning, Development & Transportation – Wu, Baker
• Public Safety & Criminal Justice – McCarthy, Campbell
• Rules & Administration – Campbell, Flaherty
• Small Business & Consumer Affairs – Janey, Ciommo
• Ways & Means – Ciommo, McCarthy
• Special Committee on Charter Reform – Baker, Zakim


HOUSING AFFORDABILITY

Short-Term Rentals: Mayor Walsh filed an ordinance to legalize and regulate short-term rental platforms like AirBnB. The goal on all sides is to stabilize neighborhoods because unregulated short-term rentals lead to long-term tenants being displaced for corporations to exploit a loophole to operate de facto hotels in our neighborhoods. We know this is already a huge issue in Boston--our downtown short-term rental offerings are more densely concentrated than in New York City, and developers of new residential buildings are routinely reserving units to lease to companies that operate short-term rentals full-time. This reduces the supply of stable rental units, displaces long-term tenants, and drives up our already-high housing prices. No one is saying that we should ban AirBnB outright, as many homeowners rely on renting out a spare bedroom or their entire unit when on vacation to help pay the mortgage. However, we must act quickly to close corporate loopholes. The proposed ordinance recognizes three different categories of units:

• Limited Share Units: a partial residential unit e.g. bedroom or shared space offered for rent while the resident is present (limited to 3 bedrooms or 6 guests, with 1 bedroom occupied by the resident) – no limit on how many days these can be rented out; $25 registration fee

• Home Share Units: an entire residential unit offered for rent while the primary resident is away (limited to 5 bedrooms or 10 guests) – primary residency is defined as residing there for at least 9-months of the year, effectively putting a 3-month limit on the number of days able to rent; $100 registration fee

• Investor Units: an entire unit offered by someone who is not primary resident (limited to 5 bedrooms or 10 guests) – limited to 90 days of rental per year; $500 registration fee

Certain types of residential units would NOT be eligible for short-term rentals, including those designated as below-market or income-restricted; those designated as “Problem Properties” by the City; and those with 3+ findings of violations in 6-months of the short-term rental regulations or 3+ violations within 6 months of any city or state law relating to noise, trash, or disorderly conduct. Enforcement would be complaint-based with ISD able to impose fees of $300 per violation per day for offering an ineligible unit, and $100 per violation per day for failure to comply with a notice of violation.

My own view is that the “investor unit” category is still a large loophole that companies will use to displace long-term tenants. Even with the 90-day limit, a corporation could buy a building, rent it out 45 weekends of the year (Friday and Saturday nights) and perhaps make enough money to keep it as AirBnB-only.

The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing. Because this is an ordinance from the Mayor, it is a 60-day order that requires Council action in that timeframe (even if the action is to reject without prejudice for a refiling with a new 60 days). Read the ordinance here. For a good summary of the issue, read this article.

Speculation: Councilor Edwards gave her first speech on the floor of the Council today, calling for a hearing on slowing down housing speculation in Boston. She described the housing crisis and wealth gap in Boston undermining people’s ability to stay in Boston. She suggested taxing the flipping of residential properties into luxury condos or apartments, foreign investment, and condo conversion to slow the forces that continue to reduce our supply of housing for working families and generate needed revenue for affordable housing creation. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Housing & Community Development for a hearing.

University Accountability Statistical Report: The Council received the final 2017-2018 reporting from local universities as mandated by the ordinance passed in 2015. This helps us track the student impact on Boston’s housing stock. As reported there are 151,050 students enrolled at Boston universities, with 37,258 living on campus and 47,019 living off-campus. The universities own a total of 388 properties in Boston.

TRANSPORTATION

Taxis, TNCs & Self-Driving Cars: Councilor Baker called for a hearing on how the taxi and ride-share industries would be affected by the impending availability of driverless vehicle technology. He described how the taxi industry continues to be overregulated relative to ride-share companies, and self-driving cars will complicate both the transportation and workforce aspects of our economy. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

Health Care Provider Parking Permits: Councilors Zakim and Flaherty called for a hearing to consider offering parking permits to health care providers who need to travel to patients’ homes and have trouble finding parking spots with resident parking signs. Currently there are parking placards available, but the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts decides which providers have access. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

Resident Parking Permits: I called for a hearing to discuss reforms to our on-street resident parking program. Currently, the City restricts on-street parking on many residential streets to vehicles with a valid neighborhood resident parking sticker, but there is no charge for a parking sticker and no restriction on how many stickers per household. This means that there are more permits issued than parking spaces available, and residents are left circling for a parking spot, increasing traffic and emissions. There are many potential changes that would improve this system, e.g. including adding parking benefit districts to incentivize use of off-street spots, which frees up on-street spots and would also generate funding for needed infrastructure improvements. This would also be the opportunity to discuss potential visitor parking passes, stickers for Boston Public Schools staff serving students at multiple sites throughout the day, and small business owners who currently struggle to find metered parking and must run out to move their cars every two hours. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

Cashless MBTA: Councilor Pressley and I called for a hearing to discuss equitable access to public transportation with a cashless fare collection system planned for the MBTA. The agency has approved a $723M contract to modernize the fare collection system, eliminating cash payment on buses and trains and instead creating a network of retailers to sell and reload cards. We know that affordable, reliable public transportation is the foundation for economic mobility, and we need to take every step to increase access to transit. The cashless system is intended to streamline payment and speed up commute times significantly, which is important for increasing ridership. However, we must make sure that low-income residents, people who are underbanked without access to credit cards or smartphones, and our seniors do not face barriers with this system. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square: The Mayor filed an order requesting authorization to accept and expend two grants from the MA Gaming Commission totaling $250K to fund a portion of the City’s cost for the design of the Rutherford/Avenue/Sullivan Square project in Charlestown. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

SCHOOLS

BPS Grade Configurations: Councilor Essaibi-George called for a hearing to discuss reconfiguring the school district’s complex system of 33 different grade configurations. The grade configurations affect transportation, school facilities, and start and end times policies. The matter was assigned to the Education Committee for a hearing.

BPS Buses: Councilor Essaibi-George called for a hearing to discuss the 2018-2019 BPS transportation budget. She reminded the Council that the School Department promised a $10M savings from transportation efficiencies when planning for the FY17 budget; this did not happen. She asked for the hearing to review year-to-date spending of the BPS transportation system and any mid-year planned adjustments. Councilor McCarthy mentioned that this was the 4th year in a row that he was starting off the year asking for answers on BPS Transportation, and we must find a way to free up some revenue from transportation to academics. The matter was assigned jointly to the Ways & Means Committee and Education Committee for a hearing.

School Committee: Councilor Essaibi-George called for a hearing to discuss the pros and cons of an appointed, elected, or hybrid school committee. Boston transitioned in 1991 from a 13-member elected School Committee to a 7-member appointed School Committee, after a 1989 referendum. The voters of Boston reaffirmed this structure in a 1996 referendum. The matter was assigned to the Education Committee for a hearing.

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Voter Registration: Councilor Zakim refiled his proposed ordinance from last November to remove barriers to voter registration. The language would require Boston Public Library branches to make voter registration forms available in conspicuous locations. It would also require Boston Public Schools to provide voter registration forms to parents and legal guardians as well as pre-registration forms to eligible students. In addition it would require BPS schools to allow students a later start on Election Day, provided they can prove they used the time to vote (i.e. with an “I Voted sticker” or a signed form from a poll worker). Finally the Boston Transportation Departments would provide voter registration forms to residents applying or re-applying for resident parking permits as well as updating their resident parking permit applications to include all the information necessary for voter registration, in order to share info with the Elections Department and automatically register residents. The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

Free Petition: I refiled my ordinance from last March to codify the right of free petition at the municipal level in Boston and give residents a direct way to shape the City Council agenda. The right of free petition is unique to Massachusetts, found in Article XIX of the state constitution and dating back to colonial times. At the Massachusetts State House, the right of free petition guarantees that any citizen may file a bill through his or her state legislator. Several cities and towns have laws codifying free petition at the municipal level in place already, including Chelsea, Lawrence, Winthrop and Newton. The free petition ordinance would require the Boston City Council to hold a public hearing on the subject of any group petition signed by 500 or more residents, within three months of filing the petition. The goal is to provide another outlet for residents to get involved in influencing policy and public discourse in Boston, regardless of voter registration and immigration status. The matter was sent to the Government Operations Committee for further action.

SAFE AND HEALTHY COMMUNITIES

Body Cameras: Councilor Campbell called for a hearing to review the Police Department’s body camera pilot program preliminary study results. She mentioned that although the full evaluation is expected in June, the Council should have access to study information and costs now to determine the feasibility of a permanent, citywide body camera program. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Public Safety & Criminal Justice for a hearing.

Sexual Harassment Policy: Councilors Zakim and Pressley refiled their hearing order from last December to review the City Council’s sexual harassment policy. We must do our part in ensuring that there are comprehensive policies and implementation within our organization to properly address sexual harassment and prevent retaliation in the workplace. The matter was assigned jointly to the Rules Committee and Civil Rights Committee.

Elder Scamming: Councilor Essaibi-George refiled her hearing order to discuss how the City can better protect senior residents from being victims of fraud. She noted that seniors are particularly vulnerable to scamming and predatory sales techniques including language barriers and social isolation. Especially with home values having gone up so much since seniors first purchased their homes in Boston, they are also targeted by developers looking to profit. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Small Business and Consumer Affairs for a hearing.

Long Island: Councilors Campbell, Essaibi-George & Baker called for a hearing to examine plans to reconstruct the Long Island bridge and reopen service facilities. Specifically, they ask for accounting by the City and other agencies on the current status of the bridge and facilities on the island, and an update on the City’s current plans to create a new recovery continuum of care on the island, including funding, permitting, and timeline. The matter was assigned jointly to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation and the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery for a hearing.

Suing Pharmaceutical Companies for Opioid Crisis: Councilors Pressley & Essaibi-George called for a hearing to discuss the findings from the City’s RFI to pursue litigation against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis.  Cities and states across the country have filed lawsuits accusing drug companies of “borrowing a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook” by concealing the dangers and risks of long-term opioid use. Boston recently put out an RFI to seek information for our local involvement with this effort. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery for a hearing.

Human Trafficking: We voted to adopt the resolution filed by Councilors Flaherty & Pressley to declare January 27, 2018, as Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Boston. Since 2005, over 450 children from Boston have been identified as victims of human trafficking. We must continue to eliminate exploitation that is often unseen across the city.

CLIMATE JUSTICE

Community Choice Energy: I filed an order in partnership with Councilor O’Malley to monitor the implementation of our Community Choice Energy authorization order passed last term. The goal is to dramatically and seamlessly increase the usage of renewable energy in Boston by authorizing the City to aggregate an alternative electricity contract with a higher percentage of reusable energy than the level offered by the utility company in compliance with state minimums. Our authorization order had also included a recommendation to create a community working group to help oversee the process. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Environment, Sustainability & Parks.

Plastic Bag Reduction: Councilor O’Malley and I filed another order to monitor the implementation of the ordinance passed last December by the Council, which has an effective implementation date of December 15, 2018. Much remains to be sorted out before then, including outreach to small businesses, mobilizing efforts to distribute free reusable bags, and setting enforcement policies. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Environment, Sustainability and Parks for further action.

Heating/Cooling Requirements: Councilor Pressley refiled her hearing order to review the “heating season” established by the Massachusetts Housing Code which establishes minimum temperatures to which landlords are required to heat their buildings during winter. Councilor Pressley described how many seniors live in apartment complexes and are unable to regulate their own units’ temperatures. By state law, heat has to be on for tenants by September 15th. With warmer temperatures, residents and particularly our seniors, have been subject to apartments that are uncomfortably heated, sometimes resorting to running air conditioning to make the space livable. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Housing & Community Development for a hearing.

OTHER

Contracts: Mayor Walsh filed orders for the Council to appropriate funding to cover two newly settled contracts, with the Boston Police Detectives Union and with the AFSCME employees of the Boston Public Health Commission. All were assigned to the Ways & Means Committee for a hearing.

Appointments: Mayor Walsh made the following appointments
• Chief Financial Officer: Emme Handy
• Chief of Health & Human Services: Marty Martinez
• Chief of Staff: David Sweeney

Council President Campbell appointed Councilor Lydia Edwards to the Boston Neighborhood Housing Trust as trustee

Medical Marijuana: Councilor O’Malley filed for a hearing on whether to issue a letter of non-opposition for a medical marijuana dispensary at 1524 VFW Parkway in West Roxbury. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

Hero Squares: The Council voted to adopt two resolutions for commemorative hero square:

• Cambridge Street & Cambridge Terrace, Allston: Councilor Ciommo filed for recognition of Peter A. Simpson, who enlisted in 1941, was captured and died in POW camp.

• Marmion Street & Germania Street, Jamaica Plain: Councilor O’Malley filed for recognition of Dennis Leroy Morrill, who was stationed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, serving in the 101st air division, and died honorably as a Private First Class fighting for his country in 1970.


For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email.