City Council notes

By Beth Treffeisen

Special to the Gazette

The City Council hearing met on April 4 at City Hall.

Sandwich Boards Return

Mayor Martin Walsh re-filed an ordinance regulating free-standing signs, also known as sandwich board signs, after the pilot program passed in 2015 expired.

Sandwich board signs serve as a significant marketing tools for small and local businesses, but must not interfere with sidewalk accessibility.

The previous code amendments include the following requirements:

  • Massachusetts Architectural Access Board Regulations to ensure accessibility and prevent interference with public travel
  • –The sign does not exceed 24 by 36 inches
  • –Is not adhered or attached to any structures or fixtures
  • –Is constructed of weather resistant material
  • –Maintained in good condition
  • –Placed on the public walkway during the hours of operation
  • –Identifies the name, address, and telephone number of the business
  • –Displays content limited to the business establishment’s goods, wares, services or merchandise for sale at the location of the sign
  • –Sign does not display advertisement of alcohol or tobacco products

The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

BPD Disability Pension

Councilors Mike McCarthy and Ed Flynn filed a petition to increase the disability retirement pension for former police officers Terry L. Cotton and Francis Jankowksi. Both individuals sustained serious injuries while in the performance of their duties and as a result were incapacitated from further service as police officers.

The bill would authorize the State-Boston Retirement Board to increase the accidental disability retirement allowance payable to Cotton and Jankowski, setting the annual amount of pension payable equal to the regular full rate of compensation which would have been paid had they continued as a police officer at the grade held by each at the time of his retirement.

McCarthy said that in this case one police officer was injured at the finish line during the Boston Marathon bombing and the other was shot several times while on duty.

“These are extraordinary circumstances,” said McCarthy. “These injuries were permanent and life altering. We’re not talking about twisted ankles and broken collar bones, these injuries affect them for the rest of their life.”

McCarthy said he received a warning that a flood of people will be coming in his way against giving more tax money to pay for this. But, he said, if someone puts their life on the line we should take care of them.

“I do hope that people who can return to work will return to work, but for those who can’t return to work, I hope this leads them into a little bit of fulfillment in their career,” said McCarthy.

Flynn agreed and said, “The City should treat officers with dignity and respect because they’ve put their lives on the end for us.”

The matters were assigned to the Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice for a hearing.

Teacher Diversity in BPS

Councilor Kim Janey called for a hearing regarding teacher diversity in the Boston Public Schools. Janey said research shows that increasing teacher diversity is an imperative for to the opportunity and achievement gaps in BPS schools.

Reports show that students with teachers of the same race can substantially improve educational outcomes for students. Teacher diversity has been linked with higher test scores and graduation rates and lower dropout rates.

BPS students of Black, Latino, or Asian American make up 86 percent of the population, yet only 38 percent of teachers are Black, Latino, or Asian American.

She also noted that a more diverse teaching force improves social-emotional outcomes for students of color, with students feeling happier, more cared for, and more engaged in learning.

Councilor Janey would like to examine the current policies and recruitment practices BPS employ to recruit and retain teachers of color.

The matter was assigned to the Committee on Education for a hearing.

The City Council met on Wednesday, March 28.

Traffic Enforcement

The City Council voted to approve Mayor Martin Walsh’s order for the Police Department to receive a Traffic Enforcement grant of $55,976 from the United States Department of Transportation. The grant would fund high-visibility traffic enforcement of motor vehicle laws, including but not limited to, speeding and aggressive driving, impaired driving and occupant protection.


City Councilor Michelle Wu reported back on a hearing held where the City Council discussed financing, governance, and legislative steps needed to address the immediate and long-term challenges Boston residents and businesses face from more frequent and intense flooding.

“Boston is very vulnerable to climate change,” said Wu. “We have older water infrastructure and more and more homes and businesses experiencing flooding every time there is a storm. Many of the districts are effected and in not too long the entire city will be too.”

At the hearing held on March 26, many residents and panelists spoke about the urgency of climate adaptation and mitigation, the need to dramatically increase the scale of the city’s efforts and funding, and the foundational importance of community engagement.

The matter remains in committee for further action but, most immediately Wu would like to focus on three things including:

  • Emergency response plans as roads and infrastructure floods with the Office of Emergency Management.
  • Stormwater and wastewater management through Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
  • Preventing further reliance on fossil fuels by carefully examining planned development and limiting or ending new fossil fuel infrastructure expansion.

Stray Voltage in Boston

Councilor Ed Flynn called for a hearing on issues related to stray voltage in the city, including the tragic incidents where pets are electrocuted due to stray voltage underneath the ground.

“We need to look at the short term and long term steps that need to be taken,” said Flynn. “We need to prevent the likelihood of these events happing in the future because dogs and pets are members of our family too.”

Boston has older electrical utility cabinets and, during the winter months, the infrastructure is weakened due to the grounds being saturated with salt, which can corrode wiring and grounding lugs.

Multiple pets have been injured or died due to this and there is also risk for children who may touch the stray voltage.

The matter was assigned to the Committee on City, Neighborhood Services and Veterans & Military Affairs for a hearing.

Short Term Rentals in developments

Councilors Lydia Edwards and Mark Ciommo called for a hearing regarding a review of the city’s proposed developments containing corporate short stay, executive suite, and short-term rentals.

The councilors noted that the city is undergoing a building boom and surge in population, creating many new challenges, income inequality, displacement and a shortage of affordable and workforce housing.

As the mayor and the City Council continue working on an ordinance to regulate short term rental housing, the councilors noted that the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) should enforce transparency from new developments on whether they intend to master-lease housing units to short-term rental companies.

“As we grapple with new regulations on home share and short term rental platforms we want to make sure we are on the same page with the BPDA and developers,” said Ciommo.

Edwards said that the intended goal is to house Bostonians. If the developers are instead renting out their apartments for short term stays, she said residents deserve to know and should get additional benefits such as more linkage or affordable housing funds.

This follows a similar hearing order that Councilor Josh Zakim filed last term, and he expressed support for continuing these efforts.

“Just like we when we ask developers if it is a rental or condo or three-bedroom, two-bedroom or studios and how much is going to be affordable and market rate – the short term rental needs to be discussed and part of that process,” said Zakim. “We owe it to our residents to be a part of that.”

The matter was assigned to the Committee on Housing for a hearing.

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