Monday, August 30, 2021

Boston City Council Looks At Early Voting, Cannabis Regulations, ZBA, Real Estate Transfer Fees, Recovery & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. Below are some highlights from August 18, 2021 Boston City Council meeting:


Early Voting Locations: We voted unanimously to approve an amended order from the Chair of the Board of Elections regarding early voting for the September 14 preliminary election and the November 2 general election. This amended order commits to additional early voting sites in the Roslindale, South Boston Waterfront, Chinatown, and Mission Hill neighborhoods and the Upham’s Corner area of Dorchester, which had been left out of the initial proposal, as well as additional early voting days to ensure equitable access to the ballot box.

Landmark Declaration for Shirley-Eustis Place: We voted unanimously to approve an order from the Boston Landmarks Commission designating Shirley-Eustis Place, 33 and 42-44 Shirley Street and 24 Rockford Street in Roxbury, as a Landmark. 

Boston-Cambridge Tourism Destination Marketing District Plan: We voted unanimously to approve a Boston-Cambridge Tourism Destination Marketing District (TDMD) plan, based on the recommendation of Councilor Edwards, Chair of the Committee on Government Operations, and Councilor Baker, Chair of the Committee on Arts, Culture and Special Events, who reported back regarding a hearing recently held to discuss the TDMD plan. This plan, which also has the support of the City of Cambridge and the Massachusetts State Legislature, will permit hotels in Boston and Cambridge to implement a 1.5% assessment that will be directly reinvested back into the TDMD areas to support local businesses in the travel and hospitality sectors. 70% of hotels in Boston and Cambridge with at least 50 rooms have voted to approve the TDMD formation, and TDMD expenditures will be managed through a 15-member governance board

Surplus Declaration of Roxbury Parcel: We voted unanimously to approve the surplus declaration of a City-owned, former Commonwealth of Massachusetts parcel, located at Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury, and transfer the care and custody, management, and control of the property to the Public Facilities Commission for ongoing use as a community garden. 

Transfer of Roslindale Parcel to Conservation Commission: We voted unanimously to approve an order authorizing the City of Boston Conservation Commission to receive a property located at Morrison Street in the Roslindale neighborhood. This parcel is located in the Roslindale Wetlands Urban Wild and will be a valued addition to this natural neighborhood asset, serving as a buffer to an adjacent wetland area that is used for recreation, wildlife habitat, and storm water storage for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. 

Equitable Regulation of Cannabis Industry Ordinance: We voted unanimously to approve an ordinance from Councilor Edwards amending CBC Chapter 8-13, Ensuring Equitable Regulation of the Cannabis Industry in the City of Boston. This order will amend the current cannabis ordinance by removing the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) from the process, codifying the half-mile buffer zone, and maintaining the objective that no one area of the City will have an overconcentration of cannabis businesses.  

Zoning Amendment Regarding Marijuana Establishments: We also voted (12-1, with Councilor Bok opposing) to advance a zoning amendment from Councilors Edwards and Flaherty to make cannabis establishments an allowed use in commercial areas, prohibit cannabis establishments in residential districts, and remove the ZBA from the process, providing consistency in the cannabis industry. This amendment now goes to the Boston Zoning Commission for approval. 

Language and Communications Access Ordinance: We voted unanimously to approve an ordinance from Councilor Mejia regarding language and communications access for City services. This ordinance will amend the current Language and Communications Ordinance, which I authored and passed in 2016, by codifying the Office of Language and Communications Access; requiring the office to develop guidelines that reflect culturally competent interpretation and translation, including for residents with limited literacy; and requiring that vital documents be translated into languages spoken by 5% of the population of the City of Boston or by 1,000 people, whichever is fewer. 

COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate Resolution: We voted to approve a resolution from Councilor O’Malley in support of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for City of Boston employees. 

Dignity of Work Act Resolution: We voted to approve a resolution from Councilor Mejia in support of S. 1185, an Act to Establish the Dignity At Work Act, which was designed to recognize human rights in the workplace and to prevent bullying, harassment, intimidation and other abusive or negative behaviors in the workplace. 

OIA Requests 17F: We voted to advance Councilor Bok’s 17F order requesting information regarding requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since March 22, 2021. This order comes after recent legal complaints from local media outlets for the Administration’s failure to fulfill public records requests, a recent complaint from the Attorney General for failure to adequately respond to requests concerning the BPD, and recent media reports of disparate treatment of the Acting Mayor as compared with her City Council colleagues in relation to the Administration's release of records in response to public records requests by local media. This order requests a list of all FOIA requests received by the City that remain unfulfilled, the reason for their non-fulfillment, a date of expected fulfillment, and an indication of whether they concern files related to the Acting Mayor, her City Council colleagues, or both; those that have been fulfilled and partially fulfilled; a description of the City’s standard operating procedure for responding to FOIA requests; and a list of all instances in which the Acting Mayor has been informed of FOIA requests prior to action that resulted in their fulfillment, and delayed fulfillment, or non-fulfillment. 


Real Estate Transfer Fees Home Rule Petition: We received an order for Council approval regarding a home rule petition, Special Law Re: An Act Relative to Real Estate Transfer Fees. If approved by the City Council, Mayor, State Legislature, and Governor, this home rule petition would impose a transfer fee of up to 2% on certain real estate transactions. This legislation is similar to a 2019 home rule petition that was passed by City Council but remains in the State Legislature; however, this version is applicable only to transactions over $3 million, rather than $2 million. This matter was referred to the Committee on Government Operations.


Municipal Budget Ballot Question: We received communication from Council President Pro Tempore O’Malley regarding an amendment to the Boston City Charter, which was approved by the City Council and the Acting Mayor earlier this year. This proposed charter amendment would change the process for creating and approving the municipal budget. With this order, President Pro Tempore O’Malley formally requests that the Elections Department send a summary of the proposed changes to all households with one or more registered voters. (Placed on file)


Status of ZBA Executive Order and Home Rule Petition: I reported back as Chair of the Committee on Planning, Development and Transportation on a hearing recently held to hear updates on the status of the Zoning Board of Appeals Executive Order and Home Rule Petition. During the hearing, we heard from the Administration about the status of reforms to the ZBA, including the makeup of the Board, term limits for Board members, guidelines for recusal, the issuance of quarterly reports on variances and conditional use permits given out in each neighborhood, the creation of an online submission portal to streamline operations, and the creation of an ombudsperson role to notify the public of their rights during and outside of ZBA meetings. (Remains in Committee). 

Legal Representation of Boston Groundwater Trust: Councilors Bok, Flaherty and Edwards introduced an ordinance to provide for legal representation of the Boston Groundwater Trust by the City of Boston Law Department. The Groundwater Trust monitors groundwater levels in areas of the city where foundations are threatened by low levels, and is governed by a Board of Trustees, who are unpaid volunteers. Because the Corporation Counsel has argued that the Trust’s officers and employees cannot be deemed to be officers or employees of the City of Boston, the City Law Department cannot advise or represent any trustee, officer or employee of the Trust. This ordinance would amend the City of Boston Code to expand legal representation by the City of Boston Law Department to all trustees, officers, members, employees and volunteers of the Boston Groundwater Trust. This matter was referred to the Committee on Government Operations. 

COVID-19 Recovery Funds: Councilors Flaherty and O’Malley called for a hearing to discuss COVID-19 Recovery Funds. The City of Boston is expected to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) through the end of 2024. The City Council approved roughly 25% of total expected ARPA funding at the end of June, and the Administration recently announced the launch of the Equitable Recovery Taskforce (ERT) to inform the investment of additional recovery funds. Residents and stakeholders should have numerous opportunities to understand and inform how the City leverages this funding for short-term and long-term recovery efforts, both within the City Council and through the ERT. This matter was referred to the Committee on COVID-19 Recovery. 

UPCOMING HEARINGS (Streaming Online)

  • Our next City Council meeting will be on Wednesday, September 15 at 12PM

For complete notes of Boston City Council meetings, visit to sign up to receive Council Notes automatically.

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