Monday, January 20, 2020

Boston City Council Kicks Off 2020 With New President & Looks At Climate & Opioid Crisis, ZBA, PILOT & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. Here are the notes from the Monday, January 6 and Wednesday, Jan 15, 2020:

Welcome to the new City Council term! Although we usually meet on Wednesdays at noon, the Boston City Charter requires that the first Council meeting of the term take place on the first Monday of the year (even when it falls on New Year’s Day, as it did in 2017) and the most senior member of the Council (by age) preside over that meeting until a Council President is selected. So today, after all thirteen Councilors were sworn in at Faneuil Hall--special congratulations to our four new colleagues Councilors Arroyo, Bok, Breadon & Mejia!--Councilor Liz Breadon started with the gavel.

CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: We voted 12-0 (Councilor Baker abstained) to elect Councilor Kim Janey as City Council President for the 2020-2021 term. She is the third woman of color to serve in that role and the first Council President from Roxbury in over 30 years. She laid out an agenda focused on transparency, equity, and accountability, specifically mentioning the creation of a PILOT Committee to ensure fair contributions from hospitals, universities, and Boston’s large tax-exempt institutions; as well as moving forward with the push for fare-free bus service.

Climate Crisis as a Public Health Emergency: The Council voted to adopt Councilor O'Malley’s resolution affirming that the climate crisis is a health emergency. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that only a decade remains for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and even half a degree of average warming will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The health threats of climate change include increased exposure to extreme heat, reduced air quality, more frequent and intense natural hazards, and increased exposure to infectious diseases and aeroallergens, nutritional security, effects on mental health, and increased risk of population displacement and conflict. 
Stray Voltage in Boston: Councilor Flynn refiled a hearing order to discuss issues and concerns regarding stray voltage in the city. Boston’s infrastructure includes older electrical utility cabinets, which are weakened during the winter months due to salt on the ground that can corrode wiring and grounding lugs. This poses threats to pets, and there have been multiple incidents where pets have been injured or killed due to this, and children are also vulnerable.
After Hours Construction: Councilor Flynn refiled a hearing order to discuss construction and development issues outside standard permitted hours of 7am-6pm, including early morning, late evening, weekends and holidays. Residents have highlighted concerns regarding security and safety in all phases of development at construction sites, damages to neighboring properties, the need for adherence to approved plans, and suitable rodent control. The current penalty for demolition, erection, alteration, or repair of any building outside of permitted hours without special approval is $300 for each offense. 

Sharps Disposal: Councilor Essaibi-George refiled an ordinance to provide for safe disposal of sharps through the establishment of a Product Stewardship Program, given that an insufficient number of safe drop-off sites for sharps has caused improper disposal of needles in household trash, parks, and public spaces, posing a risk to public health and safety and our waste management system. The proposed language would require manufacturers of sharps sold and distributed in Boston to work with retailers that sell sharps to take back sharps at no additional cost to the consumer at the time of return. The collection services should include at least two methods, which may include but not be limited to: a mail-back program that provides prepaid and pre-addressed packaging, collection kiosks, drop-off day events, or in-home disposal methods that render a product safe from misuse. 
Opioid Crisis: Councilor Essaibi-George refiled an order for a working session regarding the opioid crisis. The working session would convene stakeholders to discuss strategies to combat the crisis, including ways to increase funding on-the-ground prevention, treatment, and recovery solutions, and improve access to treatment, treatment beds, and point-of-time connection of services

Zoning Board of Appeal: Councilor Edwards refiled a Home-Rule Petition to change the statute governing the Zoning Board of Appeal, amending the state law designating the nominations process for ZBA members and the requirements of the board. Specifically, it would add designated seats to represent renters, persons knowledgeable in civil rights and fair housing, experts in environmental protection and other stakeholders not currently represented on the ZBA. The language would also require timely notification, the ability to access zoning services and records of decisions electronically and at Boston City Hall, and a regular report on variances by neighborhood and zoning district to inform future zoning by clearly indicating where actual development practices and the zoning code differ substantially. 

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Payments: Councilor Flaherty called for a hearing regarding the City's PILOT payments. In FY19, the PILOT program cited $52,496,775 in community benefits and $34,187,928 in cash contributions. The property values which PILOT agreements are based on were last assessed in 2009 and haven’t been updated since, even though according to the original PILOT Taskforce, valuation should be reviewed after the first five-year phase in. 
PILOT Task Force: Councilors Edwards and Essaibi-George filed an ordinance to create a PILOT Task Force to renegotiate agreements with large tax-exempt institutions in the City. The noted that the successful implementation of PILOT is an important tool and obligation to the City, as property taxes continue to rise for residents, while the percentage of tax-exempt land has increased.

UPCOMING HEARINGS (In the City Council Chamber unless otherwise noted. Watch Online
  • Our next City Council meeting will be on Wednesday, January 29th at Noon

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