Thursday, August 25, 2016

Boston City Council Looks At Marijuana Dispensaries, Grades Restaurants, Jams & More

City Council President Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered these items and more at their August 24, 2016 meeting:

Open Meeting Law
The Council discussed the Attorney General’s response to the Open Meeting Law complaint from March 2016 regarding the December 2015 vote on the Winthrop Square Garage. The AG’s office found no intentional violations—the Council did not deliberate outside of open meetings to discuss the issue, and the committee meeting minutes are sufficiently accurate. However, the AG did find a violation of open meeting law in discussing a matter not listed on the meeting notice. Each public meeting, including weekly Council meetings, must be accompanied by public notice forty-eight hours in advance that outlines the topics to be discussed. Legislative bodies may discuss a topic not listed on an agenda if it was not anticipated by the chair 48 hours in advance, but where possible, discussion should be postponed until proper notice can be given to the public. In fact, since January 2016, the Council adopted additional notification procedures so that each week’s meeting agenda and packet includes the list of active dockets aka “green sheets” that could possibly come up at the meeting. Committee Chairs should still prepare committee reports in time to be listed on the agenda if at all possible. The full determination letter can be found in the Council packet.

Medicinal Marijuana Dispensaries
As mentioned previously, the revised MA Department of Public Health (DPH) process to license medical marijuana dispensaries now requires each applicant for a dispensary license to obtain a letter of support or non-opposition from the Mayor or City Council in the city where they hope to open. The letter is taken directly from template language required by the state, and it states that the Council has taken a vote at a public meeting to provide non-opposition as well as having verified that a medical marijuana dispensary would be an allowed or conditional use at the proposed site. The letter is required for applicants to proceed, and according to DPH, the Council’s role is to provide the basic verification of zoning and comfort with site and operator. In other words, the Council’s participation at this stage is not meant to substitute for community process and feedback through the Zoning Board of Appeals stage, which will happen afterwards, and we will not be picking winners and losers between potential competitor businesses. Our role is to administer a transparent, fair hearing for each applicant that provides opportunity for public feedback, then, if warranted, issue a letter stating general comfort with the site and operator, as well as verification that the use is not prohibited in the zoning code. The Council voted to issue its first letter of non-opposition on June 8, 2016, to Mayflower Medicinals for their proposed location in Allston. Today, the Council took action on two additional applicants:
  • Voted to provide a letter of non-opposition for Happy Valley Venture’s application for a medical marijuana dispensary at 220 McClellan Road Highway in East Boston. Councilor LaMattina had sponsored this hearing and stated that Happy Valley would be renovating a currently vacant site with plenty of parking, and he was comfortable with their security plan and community outreach.
  • Later in the meeting, the Council voted to decline providing a letter of non-opposition for Compassionate Organics’ application for a dispensary at 144 Harvard Avenue in Allston. Councilor Ciommo had sponsored this hearing, and took issue with the applicant’s credibility and experience. Specifically, he mentioned that Compassionate Organics had received the lowest rating on their application in the first round, and had cited verbal assurances of support from elected officials and law enforcement officers, who reported to Councilor Ciommo that they had not spoken to the applicant and certainly did not support the application. Although these issues referenced a previous application, Councilor Ciommo pointed out questions about the current application that together with previous interactions created significant concerns about the operator. Councilor LaMattina additionally stated that the applicant had not provided a site plan as other applicants had, and this information was crucial. For full transparency, Councilor Ciommo posted additional documents and explanation on his website
Restaurant Letter Grades: The Council voted to pass an ordinance sponsored by Mayor Walsh to establish a letter grading system for restaurants and food trucks. The letter grades will be based on the current health inspection criteria already in place, and will designate corresponding A, B, and C grades. The grades must be posted inside the establishment, and restaurants that receive less than an “A” will have the opportunity to receive a second inspection to improve the grade. The program will be voluntary for the first year in order to continue education efforts and support implementation.

Budget Appropriations: The Council voted to approve four budgetary items filed by Mayor Walsh:
  • Acceptance of a state law provision that allows municipalities to separately account for fees received under cable franchise agreements in support of public, educational, and governmental (PEG) access and using those funds to create a 21st Century Access Fund
  • An order to reduce the City’s collective bargaining reserve by $2,783,841 to fund the FY16 agreement between BPS, the Bus Drivers Union and vendor Transdev
  • An appropriation of $4M from the Surplus Property Fund to the Boston Housing Authority to sustain public safety staffing levels and fill the gap given the structural deficit in the BHA’s operating budget related to BHA public safety staffing (used to be funded by revenue from the Winthrop Square Garage, which has now been shut down for a number of years)
  • An appropriation of $1.2M from the Parkman Fund to the Parks Department for the maintenance and improvement of Boston Common and Parks
Charlestown Casino Impact Fund: The Council voted to authorize the creation of a trust fund to mitigated impacts from the development and operation of the Wynn casino in Everett. The fund will be overseen by a committee that includes the City’s Collector-Treasurer, District 1 City Councilor, local State Rep. & Senator, Commissioners of Public Works & Transportation, and Chief of Civic Engagement.

Charter Cap Fiscal Impacts: Councilor Essaibi-George called for a hearing to discuss the fiscal impacts of raising the charter cap as outlined by Question 2 on the November Ballot. She emphasized that she did not want to discuss the educational aspects of public schools compared to charter schools, but keep a strict focus on the budgetary implications from Question 2. The matter was assigned jointly to the Ways & Means and Education Committees.

No Upcoming Hearings/Working Sessions scheduled at this time.

As an added bonus, here's a little footage of post-meeting City Council musical performance (songs by Councilors Linehan, Essaibi-George, Ciommo, Pressley & Wu).

For complete notes on this meeting and prior Boston City Council meeting notes, visit or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

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