Monday, January 02, 2017

Boston City Council Voted on Alcohol Tax, Acoustic Entertainment, Gas Leaks, Sandwich Boards & Scam Ordinances

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

Boston Unplugged / Acoustic Live Entertainment Ordinance: The Council voted to pass City Council President Wu's ordinance to eliminate the license requirement, hearing, and fees for small businesses in business districts to host acoustic live entertainment acts of up to five performers between the hours of 10AM-10PM. This follows three successful time-limited pilots in Main Streets districts in May, August, and December 2015 that Mayor Walsh and the Council collaborated on. The goal is to give small business owners throughout the city another tool to increase foot traffic and create more opportunities for artists, musicians, improve performers, and standup comedians in Boston. The ordinance has a one-year sunset provision so that the Council and City can reevaluate the results at the end of 2017.

Gas Leaks Ordinance: The Council voted to pass the ordinance regarding gas leaks filed by Councilors O’Malley in an amended version. The edited language requires coordination of infrastructure repair when roads are opened up, data collection, and protecting the city’s environment and green space. The reporting piece will fall under the Public Works Department’s permitting authority. The ordinance also gives Public Works the ability to withhold or revoke non-emergency work permits if a company has documented unrepaired gas leaks, and it requires the City to develop and publish procedures to obtain compensation for restoration or replacement of trees or shrubs that have been injured or killed by natural gas leaks.

Scam Contractors Ordinance: The Council voted to pass Councilor Flaherty’s ordinance aimed at protecting residents from scam contractors who may collect partial payment and not finish a job before moving on to scam the next resident. The legislation requires contractors to list all open permits including address, date issued, status of project, and the expected completion date, when applying for a new building permit. It also requires the commissioner of ISD to consider the number of open permits and status of projects when approving permits and to automatically deny any applications that fail to list open permits. These provisions will only apply to residential projects.

Sandwich Board Sign Ordinance: The Council voted 12-1 (Councilor Zakim against) to pass the Mayor’s ordinance extending the provisional sandwich board sign program by six months to mid-2017. The original ordinance provided uniform regulations for the first time on sandwich board signs, giving small businesses the ability to have one free-standing sign of a certain size outside their building advertising products within. The Administration filed this provision to push back the sunset provision by six months in order to collect more data to evaluate the program and neighborhood impacts. Councilor Zakim stated that he was voting against the extension because his district includes Newbury Street, where buildings have multiple businesses inside and therefore allowing each business to have one sign ends up cluttering the sidewalks. He advocated for an eventual ordinance to treat different areas differently.

Contractor Safety Ordinance: We voted to pass Mayor Walsh’s ordinance that would give the Inspectional Services Department the authority to include a 5-year lookback at applicants’ safety records as part of the building permit approval process. Under the current process, the City does not include consideration of federal OSHA violations as part of issuing permits. The two workers who were killed in a trench under Dartmouth Street in the South End when their equipment hit a water main were working for Atlantic Drain Company, a business that had numerous OSHA violations and unpaid fines on record.

Alcohol Tax Ordinance: The Council voted 10-3 (Councilors Baker, Linehan, and Wu in the minority) not to pass the home-rule petition sponsored by Councilors Linehan & Baker to add a 2% tax on alcoholic beverages at package stores and restaurants that would fund prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse. Councilor Linehan projected that such a levy would generate $20M annual to fund the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services, including treatment on demand and outreach workers to get more residents struggling with substance abuse into recovery programs. Councilor Baker described the desperate need for the city to lead and provide resources as lives are lost to addiction. Other Councilors agreed with the importance of addressing the opioid crisis and substance use, but described the proposal as not prescriptive enough about how to close inequities or were concerned that the state needed to do more and not take advantage of the city’s resources when Boston is serving patients from across the state.

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

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