Thursday, June 15, 2017

Boston City Council Looks At Summer St. Funding, Sanctuary Schools, Cultural Districts, Marijuana & More

City Council President Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their June 7th and June 14th Council meetings:

Transportation Infrastructure Grant: The Mayor filed an order asking for authorization for the Public Works Department to accept and expend a $6M MassDOT grant for pedestrian, bicycle and traffic improvements to be used in the reconstruction of Summer Street in the Waterfront. The matter was sent to the Parks, Recreation & Transportation Committee for a hearing.

FY18 Operating Budget: By City Charter, the Council must act on the budget each year by the 2nd Wednesday of June but our fiscal year ends June 30th, so it is customary that the Council rejects the budget without prejudice, allowing the Administration to resubmit a revised version with changes reflecting feedback from our many Ways & Means Committee hearings (27 to date). The Council voted down the General operating budget, BPS operating budget, and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability trust fund. The Administration will most likely resubmit the budget at next week’s Council meeting, with a hearing on the changes tentatively scheduled for June 27th at 10AM. If the Council does not approve the budget by the start of FY2018 (meaning a vote at the June 28th meeting), departments will continue on a month-to-month basis with 1/12 of the funding that was allocated in this current fiscal year.

Sanctuary School Act: Councilors Flaherty and Jackson reported back on yesterday’s hearing on Councilor Jackson’s proposed Sanctuary School Act, which would codify practices regarding federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Boston Public Schools. Under the ordinance, ICE agents would not be allowed to enter BPS sites without a signed warrant from a judge and explicit written permission from the Superintendent and District Attorney; BPS will refuse all voluntary information sharing with ICE; and BPS may not ask for or require proof of legal immigration status upon enrollment. The matter remains in the Government Operations Committee for further work given testimony from Administration officials that some revisions would be needed. Several Councilors urged the city’s law department to act quickly on suggesting those revisions, because students are going into summer school and teachers had testified at the hearing about confusion due to lack of policy at the moment.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary: Councilor Zakim called for a hearing regarding a medical marijuana dispensary at 331 Newbury Street. Compassionate Organics, a non-profit medical marijuana company, is seeking approval to open a dispensary at 331 Newbury Street in the Back Bay. In order to advance in the state’s application process, any petitioner must obtain a letter of support or non-opposition from Mayor Walsh or the City Council. This particular applicant had appeared before the Council in August 2016 when applying for a location on Harvard Ave in Allston, and the Council voted to decline offering a letter of non-opposition for that location. Councilor Zakim stated that he does not have a position on this particular applicant at this location, but wanted to give them a fair and open hearing before the Council to hear from neighbors. The matter was assigned to the Planning & Development Committee for a hearing.

City Council Summer Meetings Location: President Wu filed public notice confirming the location change for Council meetings on July 12th, August 2nd, August 23rd, and September 13th – which will be moved to Faneuil Hall while the Council Chamber is under renovations for accessibility improvements. As a reminder, the project will lift the Council floor and make our space fully accessible for those with mobility challenges and/or using wheelchairs. Currently, the Council floor is three steps down from the main floor, and the only way down is from a ramp that requires someone in a wheelchair to go all the way around to the back entrance for access. The new plans will mean that no one will have to go around to the back to access the Council floor, and that the Councilors’ entrance and President’s podium will be fully accessible. The plan will also change a row of public seating to provide wheelchair-accessible seating (currently nonexistent). The improvements will also include sound treatments on some of the walls to help attendees hear better, LED lights that will save energy and provide adequate lighting on one side of the Chamber that is currently dark, and new carpeting in the form of carpet tiles that are easier to clean and overall more cost-effective to maintain. The Council was told that renovations are scheduled to be completed by mid-September, so the plan is to be back in City Hall for our Council meetings on September 20th and 27th. If construction runs long, Faneuil Hall is already booked for these dates, but we’ve reserved backup dates in Faneuil Hall on different days of the week for those two weeks. Committee hearings will take place in Room 801 of City Hall during construction. All hearings and meetings will continue to be live-streamed with closed captioning as usual. Thanks to Council Central Staff, Property Management, the City Cable Office, and Boston Neighborhood Network for all your coordination and efforts to plan for this transition.

Urban Renewal: President Wu filed a letter attaching a communication from BPDA Director Brian Golden codifying the agency’s understanding of the City Council’s role in future urban renewal plan extensions within the City of Boston, as a follow up to our most recent City Council Urban Renewal Biannual Update meeting. The letter confirms that the BPDA will seek and obtain Council’s approval for any future extension of the urban renewal plans prior to seeking the MA Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) approval. Read the letter here.

Fenway Cultural District: The Council voted to adopt a resolution President Wu filed in partnership with Councilors Pressley, Jackson, and Zakim to support the renewal of the Fenway Cultural District Designation. Last week, the Council held a hearing at the Museum of Fine Arts on the district’s reapplication for another 5-year period, where we heard from Chief of Arts and Culture Julie Burros, Fenway Alliance Executive Director Kelly Brilliant, leaders from the MFA, Simmons College, First Church of Christ Scientist, and Berklee College of Music, and many residents in support of renewal. As a reminder, on March 24, 2012, the Fenway Cultural District was officially designated as Boston’s first cultural district by the Massachusetts Cultural Council thanks to a resolution sponsored by Councilors Pressley and Jackson, along with then-Councilor Mike Ross. To maintain this designation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council requires all cultural districts to submit a reapplication every five years and to hold at least one community input meeting. The reapplication includes an expanded map to include Berklee College of Music. Council sponsors emphasized that the renewal would reinforce collaboration among the city’s now three cultural districts (the Literary Cultural District and Roxbury Cultural District in addition), that there are practical benefits to designation (including closer collaboration and cross-promotion), and real economic benefits too.

Upcoming Hearings (Watch Live
  • Monday, 6/19 at 2:00PM, Medically Supervised Injection Facilities (Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery)
  • Tuesday, 6/27 at 10:00AM, [Tentative] FY18 Budget Resubmittal (Ways & Means)
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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