Friday, December 13, 2019

Boston City Council Voted On Local Wetlands Protection, Property Transfer Fee, Cultural District & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. Here are the notes from the December 11, 2019 final meeting of the year. The Council wrapped up some important legislative items and bid farewell to retiring colleagues: Councilors Ciommo, Garrison, McCarthy & Zakim. 


Local Wetlands Protection: The Council voted to pass an amended version of the ordinance that I filed in partnership with Councilor O’Malley to protect local wetlands and strengthen the City’s ability to fight climate change through reasonable regulations on development. The Local Wetlands Protection Ordinance empowers the Boston Conservation Commission to require green infrastructure with new development, including protections for urban wetlands and natural resource areas, with a specific focus on climate justice. Wetlands are important not just for conservation of open space and wildlife habitats, but to manage rain, flooding and heat, and there are parcels of land that will be impacted by this ordinance in every single Council district. This legislation is the single biggest step that the City of Boston could take to require resiliency in development at the municipal level, and it has been a long process. The need for a local wetlands ordinance was first discussed at a public hearing in March 2018 on flooding in Boston, in testimony from Conservation Law Foundation. David Morgan, a summer policy fellow in my office, drafted the language over Summer 2018, and then Councilor O’Malley and I have since worked on revisions with a coalition of committed advocates. Now we move on to the process of working with the Conservation Commission to implement specific regulations.

Investor and Commercial Properties Transfer Fee: The Council voted 10-3 (Councilors Baker, Ciommo & Garrison opposing) to pass an amended home-rule petition filed by Councilors Edwards and Janey to establish city authority to implement a property transfer fee of up to 2% on property sales over $2M. The revenue collected could help create a new line item in the city budget for affordable housing. Councilor Baker expressed concern about adding a tax and whether a 2% limit today might be extended to 10% years into the future. Councilor Ciommo noted that he believed the worst way to make housing more affordable was to tax it more. The matter goes to the Mayor for his signature, then to the State House for approval. 

Trust Act: The Council voted to pass an ordinance filed by Councilor Josh Zakim amending the City of Boston Trust Act, which was first passed in 2014. The new language would further codify the City’s commitment to insulate Boston Police resources from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Specifically, police will not ask about the immigration status of anyone, including survivors of crimes or domestic violence who are requesting certifications for U and T visas; police will not perform the functions of an immigration officer; police will not generally give ICE personal information about individuals or information about when individuals will be released from custody with limited exceptions around criminal history or through criminal task forces; police will not arrest a person on an ICE detainer or an ICE administrative warrant, and will not transfer an individual to immigration authorities unless there is a judicial warrant; and the department will train officers on the requirements of the ordinance. Advocates have flagged that a few outstanding concerns remain about whether BPD would withdraw from pre-existing agreements with Homeland Security and databases, as well as whether BPD should enforce federal immigration laws in any capacity at all.

Inspector GeneralThe Council voted 9-4 (Councilors Campbell, Edwards, Janey & O’Malley voting in the minority) not to pass Councilor Campbell’s ordinance that would create an Office of the Inspector General (IG) at the city level. Councilor Campbell stated that in the wake of corruption cases at City Hall, it would be important for Boston to establish a municipal-level office to conduct investigations into fraud, waste, and mismanagement that could have identified this corruption; and that such an office could save the City money by doing investigations that currently outside counsel are hired to undertake. She referenced other cities that have both state-level and city-level IG offices, and rejected the position of the MA IG and Boston Finance Commission watchdog agency that this office would be duplicative. She also acknowledged that funding and other details were not clear, but stated that the Council could pass the idea of the IG and work out details afterwards through Council involvement. Councilor Edwards spoke in support, stating that city officials should be comfortable giving away power for more accountability. Councilor Baker stood to oppose the ordinance, stating that he believed the US Attorney’s office was effective in the recent cases and that it would lead to poor morale for city workers to be monitored in this way. I spoke to explain why I would be voting No as well, citing concerns that the recent amendments to address City Charter issues have weakened the independence of the proposed IG, since it would now be a direct Mayoral appointment. I also believe that the corruption issues stem from a system that is built on exceptions and relationships, and unless we reform our development process and agencies to implement clear rules that apply to everyone, we will always be chasing corruption in the system.

Little Saigon Cultural DistrictThe Council voted to adopt the resolution that Councilors Baker, Campbell & I filed to advance the community application for a “Little Saigon” Massachusetts Cultural Council designation for the Fields Corner area of Dorchester. After a year of public meetings and conversations to define the map of cultural assets, we held a hearing last week in Fields Corner and heard powerful, moving testimony from community members about the impact that a Little Saigon district would have in recognizing the contributions of the Vietnamese American community in the neighborhood and the city. This would be the 5th cultural district in Boston, following the Fenway Cultural District, Literary Cultural District, Latin Quarter & Roxbury Cultural District, and we have seen tremendous benefits from designation. The next step will be approval from the state’s cultural council.

SNAP Access ResolutionThe Council voted to pass the resolution filed by Councilors Flynn, Essaibi George & Edwards opposing the Trump Administration’s recent rule change on work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The rule change would make it harder for states to waive a requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents need to work 20 hours a week in order to keep SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. There are about 36 million people currently receiving SNAP benefits in the country, with approximately 770,000 people in Massachusetts receiving these benefits. Under the new rule change, nearly 700,000 people would lose SNAP benefits, especially our most vulnerable residents who face hunger and food insecurity. 

Boston Police & Patrolmen’s Association Support Resolution: The Council voted to adopt Councilor Garrison’s resolution in support of the Boston Police and Patrolmen’s Association. She stated that police officers were being killed and dismembered across the country and asked colleagues to give her the best Christmas present she would have received in her public life. We did not take a roll call vote on the matter.

Voter Registration for Tenants: Councilors Flaherty, Zakim & I reported back on yesterday’s hearing on our proposed ordinance to require landlords to provide voter registration forms to tenants, as other cities have done. Nearly 64% of Bostonians are renters, and there are large disparities in civic engagement and voter participation between homeowners and renters. The representative from the Administration stated at the hearing that they supported the idea of expanding access to voter registration, but were concerned that the Department of Neighborhood Development could not effectively enforce this and questioned whether private landlords should bear the burden of providing registration forms. Given the close of the legislative year, this item would need to be refiled in 2020.

GRANTSThe Council voted to pass 25 grants.

Tommy DiStasi as Director of Assessing Services, Condo Unit.
Mayor's Commission for Persons with Disabilities Advisory Board: Zary Amirhosseini, John Winske, Kyle Robidoux, Carl Richardson as Commissioners until May 2022
Boston Cultural Council: Patricia McSweeney, Marie Fukuda, Kathryn Niforos as members until October 2022
Beacon Hill Architectural Commission: Wen Wen, Matthew Blumenthal, Arian Allen, Alice Richmond as an alternate members (confirmed by the Council)

City Council meetings will resume in 2020, with our first meeting taking place on Monday, January 6th, immediately following Inauguration. See you there!

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