Friday, October 02, 2015

Boston City Council Looks At Gas Leaks, Street Trees, Unfair Rail Fares & More

Councillor-At-Large Michelle Wu provides notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the items below at their September 30, 2015 meeting

Emergency Impact of Closing Long Island: Councilors Pressley as Chair of the Committee on Healthy Women, Families & Communities presented a report summarizing the findings from working sessions that Councilor Yancey called for on the impacts of closing Long Island. The report focuses on the impacts on substance abuse programs and men & women experiencing homelessness. The matter remains in committee for further discussion and action.

Reentry Resources: Councilor Jackson reported back on yesterday's City Council hearing at the Suffolk County House of Corrections - the first City Council hearing in the country that has taken place in a jail. The Council heard from formerly incarcerated men and women, community advocates, and family members. Councilor Jackson emphasized the need for a one-stop shop to support reentry, including getting driver's licenses back, finding housing, etc. Councilor Murphy recommended engaging our large institutions to support formerly incarcerated people through PILOT, such as having hospitals offer treatment for substance use and universities partner around access to education. Councilor Pressley noted the importance of recognizing the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline for women, that many incarcerated women are survivors of physical or sexual abuse, and the child of an incarcerated parent is four times more likely to drop out of school. The matter remains in the Committee on Black and Latino Men & Boys.

Gas Leaks: We voted to suspend and pass two resolutions filed by Councilors O'Malley & Zakim following up on the gas leaks hearing last week. The first resolution voices support for state legislation that would shift the financial burden of paying for gas leaks from consumers to the utility companies, following a model already in place in Texas and Pennsylvania. The second resolution supports state legislation that would compel utility companies to fix leaks when a street is opened up for other construction. As noted at the hearing, currently the utility companies are notified but not required to act when a street is opened up.

Street Trees: Councilor Wu called for a hearing on the care of street trees, an issue that has come up again and again knocking on doors and speaking with residents across the city. Public shade trees, or street trees, help make our neighborhoods feel welcoming and also improve air quality. However, they need help dealing with the stresses of living in an urban environment, particularly when young trees are planted to replace mature trees. Several Councilors suggested including Public Works in the conversation, because many constituent requests describe buckling sidewalks or overgrown branches that need to be pruned. Some Councilors also noted that the response time to tree-related requests can be quite long. Boston currently has 29% tree canopy coverage across neighborhoods, and Greenovate Boston and the Grow Boston Greener campaign has a goal of getting to 35% coverage by 2030. We need help and partnerships between the City and residents to get there, and this hearing will analyze the resources we have in place to care for street trees. The matter was sent to the Environment & Parks Committee for a hearing.

Unfair Commuter Rail Fares: Councilors McCarthy, Murphy & Wu called for a hearing on inconsistencies in Commuter Rail fares across Boston. The MBTA draws a line between Zone 1A and Zone 1 stops, with a significant fare increase from $2.10 to $5.75 across that arbitrary border. Roslindale is just outside Zone 1A, so residents pay significantly more than residents in some towns outside Boston that fall in Zone 1A. Councilor McCarthy noted the impacts on parking, with residents driving across these zone lines, parking their cars in overcrowded MBTA lots and spilling over into the surrounding neighborhood. Several colleagues noted that this is an issue of fairness, and all of Boston should have access to the lower commuter rail fare.

Reprecincting: Councilors Pressley & O'Malley pulled the resolution filed last week out of committee, and we voted to suspend and pass it in support of Rep. Aaron Michlewitz's state legislation to remove Boston's exemption from the statewide requirements of redrawing precinct lines every 10 years for equal numbers of people in each precinct. Having equal numbers of voters per precinct would be more efficient use of election administration resources and also reduce the wait time to vote in certain very large precincts.

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