By Beth Treffeisen
Special to the Gazette
The City Council met on Wednesday, March 28.
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.
The City Council met on Wednesday, March 14.
Compensation Advisory Board Report
The City Council received a report from the Compensation Advisory Board, which reviewed the salaries of elected officials, department heads, and senior leadership positions as required by City ordinance every two years.
The vendor partner, Segal Waters Consulting, found that the City’s salary ranges are lower compared to the public senior market and recommended salary range adjustments for selected titles to attract and train talent.
Recommendations include moving select positions to a different pay category, increasing the salary ranges for four categories of staff, and increasing the mayor’s and the city councilors’ salaries by 4.2 percent to adjust for the change in cost of living from 2015 to 2017.
BPD’s Body-Worn Camera Pilot Program
Councilor Mike McCarthy, chair of the Public Safety & Criminal Justice Committee and Council President Andrea Campbell reported back on the hearing held on March 12.
At the hearing, Commissioner Bill Evans and the Boston Police Department summarized the preliminary study results of the BPD’s Body-Worn Camera Pilot, during which officers wore cameras for one year, starting in September 2017 and following policies drafted with input from the Social Justice Task Force.
After 200 videos were collected, BPD saw a reduction in the number of civilian complaints and the number of excessive force complaints during the time of the study.
In 2011, there were 80 complaints of excessive force and in 2017, there were only 21 complaints. The final results will be available in May. The matter remains in committee for further work.
Good Food Purchasing Standards
Councilor Michelle Wu filed an ordinance for the City to adopt good food purchasing standards for all City agencies. The Good Food Purchasing Program, which was developed in 2012 as a set of national standards for local procurement, emphasizing local economies, environmental sustainability, fair labor practices, animal welfare, and healthy food.
The program would support small business owners and employees in Massachusetts food production and processing, as well as help address income inequality in our city.
“If Boston did this, it would provide more opportunities to farmers in Western Massachusetts and also influence other major institutions to follow suite,” said Wu. “We need use the City Council platform to spark larger change.”
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Government Operations for a hearing.
Federal Interference in Elections
The City Council voted to adopt Councilor Josh Zakim’s resolution for the City Council to call on the U.S. Congress and out Massachusetts federal delegation to reject the current version of the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act.
The current language would allow President Trump to deploy agents of the federal Secret Service to local polling locations across the country.
Councilor Zakim spoke about how local elected officials must stand up against unconstitutional interference by the federal government to protect their constituents’ and all Americans’ right to vote free from intimidation.
“It’s like something from another country and another world that it’s even being discussed,” said Zakim. “We need to stay vigilant and make sure this does not interfere with free elections in Boston.”