Thursday, April 27, 2017

Boston City Council Looks At Winthrop Square, Youth, Property Exemptions & More

City Council President Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more during their April 12th and April 26, 2017 meetings:

Residential Property Exemptions: The Council voted to pass Councilor Ciommo’s home-rule petition to amend the current ownership and occupancy deadline for residential property exemptions in the City of Boston. Currently, homeowners must apply by January 1st in order to receive residential exemption for the following fiscal year. That means that homeowners who buy their homes between January 2nd and July 1st do not receive the benefit for potentially over a year after the purchase of their home. The home-rule language would eliminate a potential 18-month wait time and make home ownership a bit more accessible. The residential property tax exemption was increased this year to 35% of assessed value up to certain amount, to a little over $2,400, up from around $1,900.

Winthrop Square Garage Development: The Council voted 10-3 (Councilors Jackson, Zakim and Wu opposing) to pass an amended home-rule petition that would clear the way for the Millennium Partners proposal to redevelop the current city-owned garage structure at 115 Federal Street into a 775-foot skyscraper. This proposal currently violates state shadow laws protecting sunshine on Boston Common and the Public Garden, as it would cast a shadow on many days of the year extending from downtown across the Common, across the Public Garden, and onto Commonwealth Mall. On the worst days of the year, the shadow would last until 9:30 AM on the Common. The home-rule petition provides an exemption for this project from these state laws, as well as capping additional development near the Common from creating additional shadow, and adding formal state law shadow protection for Copley Square. Councilor Flaherty reported back on Monday’s well-attended 7-hour hearing where we heard from many stakeholders. Several Councilors spoke on the issue today: Councilors Linehan and LaMattina spoke to emphasize that this was a great deal for the city, providing $153M for affordable housing in East Boston and South Boston and parks investments in the Common and Franklin Park that would not otherwise be possible, as well as $12M anticipated in annual tax revenues. Councilors Zakim and Jackson stood to oppose the measure, describing this as false urgency and pitting neighborhoods against each other. Councilor Pressley explained that she would be supporting the measure because of the incorporation of goals and metrics for the inclusion of Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), and Millennium had agreed to quarterly rather than annual reporting. Councilor Campbell described her support as based on the idea of equity, that Franklin Park and her constituents deserved investment, and even though the process was not ideal, the city should learn from the mistake and move on. Councilor O’Malley dismissed impacts on flora and fauna from the additional shadow and lauded funds for maintenance of the Common and Franklin Park. He dismissed the process concerns, citing that the Council had voted last year to engage the BRA in managing the process. Council President Wu presiding over the discussion didn’t speak on the matter at the meeting; however,d explained her position in a Boston Globe op-ed. Wu was most concerned about the fact that at least some employees within the BRA seemed to recognize that there would be major legal changes needed due to the shadow laws (since they are quietly referred to in the RFI and RFP), but did not disclose this to the Council or the public until after a developer was designated. The language the Council voted on today includes two minor formalities correcting language, and one clarification that projects that have received Zoning Board of Appeals approvals but haven’t received permits for construction will be grandfathered in, which applies to particular projects near Copley Square. The home-rule petition will now move to the Mayor for a signature and then to the state legislature for approval.

Community Choice Aggregation: Councilor O’Malley reported back on yesterday’s working session to discuss implementing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in Boston. Councilors O’Malley and Wu had called for this working session to convene stakeholders in a discussion to explore the adoption of CCA, a program established by state law that allows cities and towns in Massachusetts to use bulk purchasing power on behalf of residents and small businesses to set a higher percentage of clean, renewable energy. According to the state’s process, City Councils can vote to authorize the Administration to proceed with an alternate energy contract that sets higher renewable energy standards, including the ability to focus on regional clean energy sources and spark jobs in our local green economy. The utility companies would still deliver the energy to consumers and administer billing as usual. Individuals can opt out of the bulk contract and return to their own default sources at any time. Councilor O’Malley noted that CCA is currently adopted or in the process of being adopted by 40 different cities and towns across the Commonwealth. The matter remains in the Environment & Sustainability Committee.

Boston Youth Clean-Up Campaign: Councilors O’Malley and McCarthy filed a hearing order to discuss re-establishing the Boston Youth Clean-Up Campaign (BYCC) program. The BYCC program, also known as the “red shirts” and later, “gray shirts,” was established over 25 years ago to provide employment to Boston teenagers between ages 14-17 for six weeks during summer break. Primary duties for teenagers included cleaning up vacant lots, streets, parks and public facilities. The program was eliminated in 2002 due to budgetary constraints. Councilors O’Malley and McCarthy spoke about the benefits of bringing the program back, as it could provide jobs to thousands of teenagers to clean up neglected areas of the City that we don’t currently have the staffing to maintain, and brought up the possibility of expanding it during winter months for help with snow removal in the City. Councilors Flaherty and Jackson spoke about extending the program to City of Boston youth ages 19-22, as many students are currently in BPS until that age and need support with transition to employment. The matter was assigned to the Committee on City & Neighborhood Services and Veteran Affairs for a hearing.

FY 2018 Budget: Mayor Walsh filed his recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2018. The budget totals $3.14B, including $1.08B for Boston Public Schools. The total operating budget represents an increase of 4.8% ($144M) over FY17. Starting at the end of this month, the Council’s Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Councilor Ciommo, will hold hearings to look into each department’s proposed budgets. The Council will vote on the FY18 budget in June. All of the associated dockets were assigned to the Ways & Means Committee. You can see more detail on the proposed budget in the Mayor’s press release at: https://www.boston.gov/news/mayor-walsh-releases-2018-recommended-budget.

Upcoming Hearings/Working Sessions (Watch Live)
Friday, 4/28 at 2:00PM, Regulating Municipal Lobbying Activities (Government Operations)
Wednesday, 5/31 at 2:00PM, Tentative, Fenway Cultural District (Arts & Culture)

Upcoming Budget Hearings (Ways & Means):
  • Thursday, 4/27 at 11:00AM, Public Facilities Department
  • Thursday 4/27 at 2:00PM, Budget Assessing
  • Friday, 4/28 at 11:00AM, Boston Police Department Overview and Revolving Funds
  • Monday, 5/1 at 10:00AM, BPS: Extended Learning Time
  • Monday, 5/1 at 11:00AM, BPS: School Budgets
  • Monday, 5/1 at 2:00PM, BPS: Human Capital and Equity
  • Tuesday, 5/2 at 10:00AM, BPS: Academics and Student Support Services Part 1
  • Tuesday, 5/2 at 2:00PM, BPS: High School Strategy and Underperforming Schools
  • Wednesday, 5/3 at 5:45PM, Parkman Fund (Off-site: Veronica Smith Senior Center, 20 Chestnut Hill Ave, Brighton)
  • Wednesday, 5/3 at 6:00PM, Parks and Recreation Department
  • Thursday, 5/4 at 11:00AM, BCYF Overview and Revolving Fund City Hall Childcare
  • Thursday, 5/4 at 3:00PM, Youth Engagement and Employment
  • Monday, 5/8 at 6:00PM, Public Works Department (Off-site: Cleveland Community Center, 11 Charles St, Dorchester)
  • Tuesday, 5/9 at 11:00AM, Boston Fire Department
  • Wednesday, 5/10 at 6:00PM, Boston Transportation Department (Off-site: Hyde Park Municipal Building, 179 River St, Hyde Park)
  • Thursday, 5/11 at 11:00AM, BPS: School Operations
  • Monday, 5/15 at 11:00AM, Department of Innovation and Technology
  • Thursday, 5/18 at 11:00AM, Department of Inspectional Services Overview and Revolving Funds
  • Monday, 5/22 at 2:00PM, Boston Public Library
  • Monday, 5/22 at 6:00PM, BPS: Academics and Student Support Services Part 2
  • Tuesday, 5/23 at 10:00AM, Boston Public Health Commission: Boston EMS and Office of Recovery
  • Tuesday, 5/23 at 2:00PM, Boston Public Health Commission
  • Thursday, 5/25 at 10:00AM, Department of Neighborhood Development: Overview and Office of Housing Stability
  • Thursday, 5/25 at 1:00PM, Boston Planning and Development Association
  • Monday, 6/5 at 11:00AM, BPS: Carryover
  • Tuesday, 6/6 at 11:00AM, Departmental Carryover
For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

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