By Beth Treffeisen
Special to the Gazette
The first City Council hearing of the year took place on Jan. 24 at City Hall. The Council welcomed the new City Council President Andrea Campbell of District 4 and three new city councilors, including Lydia Edwards of District 1, Ed Flynn of District 2, and Kim Janey of District 7.
After complaints were heard from members of the public, City Council President Andrea Campbell said a new rule would be implemented during public hearings that have public testimony. Instead of waiting hours to be heard at the end, when everyone has packed up and left, committee chairs will now be required to hear public testimony at the beginning and the middle of the hearing if the hearing is expected to last three or more hours.
In addition, all committees have been encouraged to focus on the issue of equity – racial or gender – and to look at solving problems through that lens.
Councilor Frank Baker called for a hearing order regarding the regulation of the taxi industry, transportation network companies, and self-driving vehicles. With the onslaught of new technology that allows on-demand car service like Uber and Lyft, the regulatory system governing the taxi industry is in flux.
“Rather than wait and see what the impacts are and pick up the pieces, we need to get out in front of this,” said Councilor Michele Wu the chair of Planning, Development and Transportation. “We want to make sure we are not creating more congestion by increasing vehicles on the road by implementing shared driverless cars, reduce vehicle trips, and free up parking spaces.”
In addition, Wu said, the Council needs to start figuring out what to do when the day comes when Uber is no longer in need of drivers.
“One day not too far in the future, Uber will say they will no longer need to hire drivers and those people will have no source of income and not enough money to put food on the table…how will we address that?”
Long Island Bridge:
Councilors Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi-George called for a hearing to examine plans to reconstruct the Long Island Bridge and reopen service facilities.
The hearings will explore the accounting by the City of Boston and other agencies regarding the current status of the bridge, the island and its facilities since its termination, and will look at the current plants to revitalize the Long Island Bridge and create a new recovery continuum of care – including funding mechanisms, permitting needs, and timeline.
“We know this is an important right step to fight the opioid epidemic and find an end to this crisis,” said Essaibi-George. “But this will be expensive. The City Council should be involved in every step of this process.”
Essaibi-George said that the timeline is going to be over the next four years and that the Council should remain focused on the work that needs to be done now.
“When we re-open the Long Island Bridge, the crisis won’t end, but it is an important step to recognize this crisis and the role it plays and will play into the future,” said Essaibi-George.
The matter was assigned jointly to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation, and the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery for a hearing.
Suing Pharmaceutical Companies for Opioid Crisis:
Councilors Ayanna Pressley and Annissa Essaibi-George called for a hearing to discuss the findings from the City’s RFI to pursue litigation against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis.
Cities and states across the country have filled lawsuits accusing drug companies of “borrowing a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook” by concealing the dangers and risks of long-term opioid use. Boston recently put out an RFI to seek information for our local involvement with this effort.
Resident Parking Permit Stickers are up for debate:
City Councilor Michelle Wu is asking for a hearing order to take a look at the current resident parking permit program within the City of Boston.
Currently, the City restricts on-street parking on many residential streets to vehicles with a valid neighborhood resident parking sticker, but there is no charge for a parking sticker and no restriction on how many stickers per household.
Wu said that there are many potential changes that would improve this system including adding parking benefit districts to incentive use of off-street spots, potential visitor passes, stickers for Boston Public School staff and small business owners – to even putting a small charge to obtain resident parking sticker.
“Our streets are one of the most valuable resources the city has in terms of property,” said Wu. “Even when residents have a resident parking permit sticker I hear from residents on how stressful it could be to circle and not find parking even if you get home a little after five or if you have visitors who can’t leave a car anywhere. There are a lot of issues we can untangle and look at.”
The matter was assigned to the Planning, Development and Transportation Committee and a hearing date has not been set.
In addition, Councilor Josh Zakim re-filed to have a hearing to discuss health care provider parking permits – that will consider giving health care workers parking permits to take care of their patients during the day without having to worry about getting a ticket.
Slowing down speculation:
Councilor Lydia Edwards gave her first speech on the floor of the Council, calling for a hearing on slowing down housing speculation in Boston. She described the housing crisis and wealth gap in Boston undermining people’s ability to stay in Boston.
Edwards suggested taxing the flipping of residential properties into luxury condos or apartments, foreign investment, and condo conversion to slow down the forces that continue to reduce the supply of housing for working families and generate needed revenue for affordable housing creation.
This matter was assigned to the Committee on Housing and Community Development for a hearing.
Boston Public Schools:
–BPS Grade Configuration – Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George called for a hearing to discuss reconfiguring the school district’s complex system of 33 different grade configurations.
–BPS Buses – She also called for a hearing to discuss the 2018-2019 BPS transportation budget. Essaibi-George reminded the Council that the School Department promised a $10 million savings from transportation efficiencies when planning for the FY17 budget and this did not happen.
–School Committee – In addition, Essaibi-George called for a hearing to discuss the pros and cons of an appointed, elected, or hybrid school committee. Boston transitioned in 1991 from a 13-member elected School Committee to a 7-member appointed School Committee, after a 1989 referendum. The voters of Boston reaffirmed this structure in a 1996 referendum. In addition, Councilor Ayanna Presseley said, “So often talking about how important it is engaging community voices it certainly bothered me that we have student representative on board but no voting power.”
The City Council met for their second hearing of the year on Jan. 31 at City Hall.
Curbside Composting Program:
Councilor Matt O’Malley and Ayanna Pressley refilled a hearing order on the feasibility of implementing a curbside composting program in Boston.
“This is the next logical step, which many other cities have done to great success, is to have curbside composting in the City of Boston,” said O’Malley. “We are re-introducing this hearing order and this is their fourth or fifth time doing it. I am optimist that the fourth or fifth time will be the charm.”
Both councilors spoke on how such a program would save the City money by reducing waste sent to landfills, while also producing finished compost that could be used for landscaping in Boston’s parks and gardens or could be sold.
O’Malley pointed to Jamaica Plain as one neighborhood who could potentially run a pilot program this year.
“If we want to get to zero waste we have to embrace composting and we have to begin it soon,” said O’Malley.
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Environment, Sustainability & Parks for a hearing.
Annual Homeless Census:
Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George called for a hearing on this year’s homeless census, the point of time count that occurs each year surveying individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Boston shelters and on the streets.
This data is used to identify policy priorities and measures to end homelessness. Having a hearing would give the Council an opportunity as in previous years to focus on how homelessness impacts individuals, children, young adults and families, as well as resources currently in place to support them.
This matter was assigned to the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery.
Voting Rights for Immigrants with Legal Status:
Council President Andrea Campbell called for a hearing to explore the possibility of allowing Legal Permanent Residents, visa holders, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to vote in municipal elections and to examine other inclusive practices.
“Immigrants who come to the city of Boston and who have come in the last few decades and are newcomers face many of the challenges as the Irish, Italians and Jews who came before them,” said Campbell. “But they also face additional barriers. Additional barriers when it comes to immigration and pathways to citizenship.
“These pathways are harsher and they’re racists. These residents want to become citizens and are going through the process to become citizens but the pathways that exist decades ago do not currently exist or are no longer an option. So we are currently at a crossroads.”
Campbell noted that the policy coming out of Washington D.C. is uprooting thousands of families and abruptly ending their long-standing immigration polices. She asked what are we going to do at the local level?
“I recognize, it is crystal clear to me that we are not the federal government and that we do not have the authority to determine whether or not these communities get to stay here legally or grant a pathway to citizenship,” said Campbell. “But I do think we have a responsibility as municipal leaders of this city to explore concrete ways we can include and support these residents in the city they call home.”
Currently, non-U.S. Citizens are prohibited from voting by state law and thus limited in playing an active role in civic life.
Several Councilors supported the need for the Council to have the discussion, given that federal laws and politics are preventing many of these people from becoming American citizens.
“I think it is very important to encourage all opportunities to encourage participates in a civic process, especially folks who are living here and are long-term residents – who in many cases have children in our Boston Public School (BPS) school system and who I can’t think have a more vested interest in voting in local elections and participating in our civic life,” said Councilor Josh Zakim.
Others, such as Councilor Tim McCarthy expressed that voting should remain a right for United States citizens only; stating voting is a U.S. citizen privilege.
The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.