Friday, July 14, 2017

Boston City Council Looks At Summer St Improvements, Budget, Nips & 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 21st, June 28th and July 12, 2017 Council meetings:

Appointments: Mayor Walsh made the following appointments:
  • Zoning Commission: David Marr and Jill Hatton, reappointed until May 2020 and Elliot Guerreroas, appointed until May 2020.
  • Richard DePiano, as Temporary First Assistant Collector-Treasurer
  • Anthony Dello Iacono, as Temporary Second Assistant Collector-Treasurer 
  • Boston Public Library Board of Trustees: Priscilla Douglas, reappointed until April 2019
  • Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities Advisory Board: Jerry Boyd, Feleshia Battles-Byrdsong, Eugene Gloss, Dusya Lyubovskaya appointed as Commissioners until June 2020; Kyle Robidoux reappointed until May 2019, Carl Richardson until June 2019, and John Winske until March 2019.
Sandwich Board Signs: Mayor Walsh filed an ordinance to make permanent the 2015 regulations that created a pilot program for citywide consistency on free-standing signs aka sandwich boards. The Council passed this legislation in 2015 to provide consistent rules across all neighborhoods that would lighten the permitting load on small businesses by eliminating the free-standing sign permit, but include rules to guarantee accessibility of the sidewalk and accountability from store owners. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Government Operations for a hearing.

Summer Street Improvement Project: The Council voted to authorize the Public Works Department to accept and expend a $6M MassDOT grant for pedestrian, bicycle, and traffic improvements on Summer Street in the Seaport. Construction is scheduled to begin this September and end in November 2019 that would include reconstruction of sidewalks, addition of protected bike lanes on both sides, as well as trees, benches and light fixtures for a better pedestrian experience.

FY18 Budget: The Council voted to pass all the different elements of the City of Boston’s programmatic budget for the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018. This includes several votes:
  • General Operations Budget: passed 12-1 (Councilor Jackson voting against)
  • Boston Public Schools Budget: passed 11-2 (Councilor Jackson and Pressley voting against)
  • Other Post-Employment Benefits Liability Trust Fund: passed unanimously. This was an annual $40M appropriation to pay down our long-term, unfunded liability for retiree benefits.
  • Vision Zero $1M appropriation: passed unanimously. This was an additional $1M for the Vision Zero capital line item, bringing the total appropriation to $4.1M for capital funding for the Neighborhood Slow Streets program.
  • Capital Budget: Passed with a unanimous 2nd reading today. All capital items require two separate 2/3 affirmative votes at least 2 weeks apart. At the June 7, 2017 meeting, each of the five dockets received a unanimous first vote, except the Parking Meter Fund capital appropriation, which received a 12-1 vote (Councilor Jackson voting against) then. Today, each of the five capital dockets received a unanimous second vote.
Most Councilors rose to explain their votes for or against the various budget components. While no one believes these budgets are perfect, most Councilors stated that the plans represent positive investments in the future of our City. Several Councilors praised the increases in allocations for Vision Zero safe streets infrastructure, the Boston Police Department’s mobile psychiatric crisis team, the mobile sharps team that picks up improperly disposed needles across the city, the indigent burial fund, and resources for BPS to address the needs of students experiencing homelessness. Some Councilors expressed continued need for a city-funded housing voucher program, and several reflected on the need for more strategic vision and accountability from BPS. The Council isl grateful to our Central Staff who supported this process in many ways, to the members of the Mayor’s Administration who engaged thoughtfully and fully with us in the process, and to the members of the public who took time to offer testimony both in person and in writing. For full budget details, see the City website.

Grants: The Council voted to authorize the Administration to accept several grants today from various sources:
  • $30M for the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) from the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) Fund to produce/preserve affordable housing. This fund collects payments from new residential developments, where the developer can choose to offer affordable units on-site or pay a “buy-out” rate into the fund for projects that DND chooses through a competitive public notice process. Since FY15, DND has collected $50.4M in IDP payments and anticipates collecting $17M more through FY19.
  • $24.5M for DND from the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) to support grants that fund housing education, down payment assistance, production of new affordable housing, operating support for CDCs, tenant-based rental assistance, and permanent housing placement.
  • $28M for DND from HUD Continuum of Care grant funds to support programs that provide services and housing to the homeless. Councilor Essaibi-George described the funding as being used to serve the chronically homeless, including front-door triage and programs to streamline housing search applications. A recent 1-day housing search  event served 63 attendees experiencing chronic homelessness, where 44 were housed that day by the Boston Housing Authority, 5 received pending offers, and 9 received housing vouchers from MBHP.
  • $33,931 for the Environment Department from the MA Dept of Revenue for the Climate Ready Boston Community Leader Program, which would fund outreach on climate initiatives in multiple languages and targeting specific communities in Boston.
  • $400K for the Office of Immigrant Advancement from various donors to fund programs including Immigrant Integration & Empowerment, English for New Bostonians, and Citizenship Day.
Medically Supervised Injection Facilities: Councilors Essaibi-George and Baker reported back on the hearing on medically supervised injection facilities in Boston. At the hearing, Councilors heard from the Boston Public Health Commission, the MA Medical Society, Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, concerned residents, and many other key stakeholders. Councilor Essaibi-George stated that she was not convinced this is a tool that Boston should use in combating the opioid epidemic, but that action must be taken and the Council should be part of the conversation. Councilor Baker stated that he was against these sites and that we need 30-day treatment . As a reminder, safe injection sites would be legally sanctioned, medically-supervised facilities, where opioid users could consume illicit recreational drugs intravenously under the care of medical experts. Safe injection sites are meant to reduce nuisance from public drug use and provide a hygienic and medically supervised environment. The MA Medical Society has adopted a resolution urging the state to launch a pilot program allowing the creation of two safe injection sites, including one in Boston. Safe injection sites would need not only state approval, but federal approval as well. The matter remains in the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery.

Disposal of Miniature Alcohol Containers: The Council voted to adopt Councilor McCarthy’s resolution to support HD3528, a bill filed by Rep. Randy Hunt at the State House which would promote the proper disposal of miniatures, often called “nips”. Currently, miniature containers are not covered by the MA bottle deposit statute that applies a 5-cent deposit to containers of soda and beer. Councilor McCarthy spoke about the number of empty miniature bottles that are littered throughout our city and emphasized the need to explore solutions. The bill would add a 5-cent deposit on the sale of nips, which is meant to incentivize consumers and others to return empty nip bottles for the 5-cent deposit redemption, rather than improperly disposing of them. Councilor Jackson rose to ask that the term “nip” be removed from the Council resolution, given its connotation as an ethnic slur in certain contexts. The Council voted on the amended version without that terminology. 

NOTE: Summer City Council meetings are in Faneuil Hall while the Council Chamber undergoes renovations for universal accessibility.

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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