Thursday, April 04, 2019

Boston City Council Looks At Medicare, Reprecincting, Polling Locations, Noise, Vacant Properties & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their March 27 and April 3, 2019 meetings:

Medicare for All Resolution:The Council voted to adopt the resolution filed by Councilors Zakim and O'Malley supporting Massachusetts Senate Bill No. 683-An Act Establishing Medicare for All in Massachusetts. State Senator James Eldridge sponsored Senate Bill No. 683, to establish a single payer healthcare system in Massachusetts. There are still many Massachusetts residents without health insurance with recent reports finding that 20,000 children in the Commonwealth are uninsured, a .5% increase from the prior year. Establishing a single payer health care system would allow doctors and patients to make healthcare decisions primarily based on the needs of the patients and also allow patients to access doctors and hospitals without paying premiums or co-pays. The many benefits of Medicare for All would include: affording everyone in the Commonwealth with medical care, remove millions of dollars in overhead costs, and give greater leverage to patients.

Small Vehicle Sharing Businesses: We voted (I was absent due to a family commitment) to pass the ordinance to establish licensing and regulations for shared mobility businesses, such as electric scooters. The language creates a license from the Boston Transportation Department in order to operate on City streets, with an application fee or renewal fee of $500. The ordinance would also set up a Small Vehicle Sharing Business Advisory Committee to advise the Commissioner of BTD on sustainability, safety, accessibility, regulatory changes and other related issues, comprised of representatives from Office of New Urban Mechanics, the Disability Commission, and the Environment Department.

Reprecincting: Councilor Flaherty reported back on a hearing about the ordinance that Councilor Campbell and I filed to require a review of precincts every 5 years in Boston. All municipalities in the state except for Boston are required to undertake reprecincting every 10 years, redrawing boundary lines to equalize the population within wards and precincts. Because of Boston’s exemption, reprecincting has not happened in 90 years, and some precincts have several thousand voters, while others have just a few hundred. This leads to very long lines at certain polling locations where population has grown. At the hearing, we learned that the Boston Elections Commission has the authority to make small changes to precinct boundaries as long as ward lines and political district lines stay the same (for example, in 2017 they moved the boundary between Ward 9 Precincts 4 and 9 to accommodate a building with 100 senior residents living at the edge of one precinct to be able to vote across the street instead of walking very far away to their former polling location), and they have more authority to subdivide precincts without state approval in the window after Census data becomes available and before redistricting is finalized (next in April and May 2021). Until then, we will need state approval for subdividing precincts (see below). The Committee on Census and Redistricting would take up the review process once this ordinance is passed. The matter will remain in the Government Operations Committee for a likely vote next week.
Sub-precincts for Voting: Yesterday we also held a hearing on the home-rule petition filed by the Mayor to split up the City’s 6 largest precincts into 2 or 3 subprecincts each in order to alleviate lines and waiting times in time for the 2020 elections. The Council had passed this legislation in 2017 as a home-rule petition sponsored by Councilor Linehan and me, but it was not taken up at the State House. The Mayor refiled this for another Council vote to begin a new push on Beacon Hill this year. The legislation would not change any of the existing boundaries for wards, and will not change representation for congressional, representative, senatorial, or councilor districts, instead establishing sub-precincts, and in some cases additional polling locations, in the following precincts:

  • Ward 3, Precinct 6 (Downtown, Financial District, and parts of Beacon Hill)
  • Ward 3, Precinct 7 (South End)
  • Ward 3, Precinct 8 (Chinatown and South End)
  • Ward 5, Precinct 1 (Bay Village)
  • Ward 6, Precinct 1 (South Boston to Broadway Station, Seaport)
  • Ward 9, Precinct 3 (South End)

This is meant to be a stopgap measure while the City pursues reprecincting on a larger scale. The matter will remain in the Government Operations Committee for a likely vote next week.

Noise Levels: Councilor Garrison called for a hearing regarding unreasonable and excessive noise levels, which she described as a substantial danger to the health, welfare, safety, and the quality of life of the public. She stated that the current Boston Municipal Code—declaring that anything louder than 50 decibels from 11:00pm to 7:00am is considered unreasonable, and anything louder than 70 decibels is considered too much at any time (except for permitted construction)—may not be enough to actually curb unreasonable and excessive noise. Councilor Garrison urged discussion of amendments to the Boston Municipal Code standards for noise so as to reduce unreasonable and excessive noise levels and to partner with the Air Pollution Control Commission to work for more safe and reasonable noise levels in Boston. The matter was assigned to the Environment, Sustainability, and Parks Committee.
Vacant Properties: Councilors O'Malley and Campbell refiled an order for a hearing regarding Vacant Properties in the City of Boston. The displacement of neighborhood anchor small businesses, replaced by empty storefronts, is a linked to the overall lack of affordable commercial space. They noted that the City has not explored incentives to fill space such as fees levied on long-term vacant properties and Boston’s current Problem Properties management system provides few tools to reduce vacancy rates and does not address or have data collection capacity for vacancies that are not traditional problem properties. The matter was assigned to the City, Neighborhood Services, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

UPCOMING HEARINGS (In the City Council Chamber unless otherwise noted. Watch at:
  • Our next City Council meeting will be on Wednesday, April 10th
  • Monday, April 8th at 12:00pm: Patron Safety in Nightlife Settings (Public Safety and Criminal Justice)
  • Tuesday, April 9th at 3:00pm: Admissions Policy and Funding change for Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and improving partnerships (Education)

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

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