By Beth Treffeisen
Special to the Gazette
The City Council met on Wednesday, April 25.
Summer Violence and Community Engagement
Councilors Matt O’Malley and Kim Janey filed a hearing order to discuss summer violence and explore ways to strengthen community empowerment.
The councilors spoke about how violence is an ongoing issue that creates traumatic impact on families and communities.
“Summer is coming and we know that we are going to see some increase in violence and crime,” said O’Malley. “What can we do to prevent them? What can we do to make this city safer? Let’s look at the trends and figure out concrete strategies. Community policing was born here and, in. my opinion, done better here than any other city in the planet.”
The City of Boston encourages a public health approach to youth violence prevention and focuses on using City resources to connect youth with social services and jobs in the summer.
“There is a fear of what happens when the warm weather comes and that’s a shame,” said Janey. “I don’t think it is sounding the alarm at all and I do think it is important to be proactive not only with police groups but community groups as well.”
The matter has been assigned to the Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice for a hearing.
Diversity Initiatives for Boston Public Safety Agencies
Councilors Andrea Campbell and Tim McCarthy filed an order for a series of policy briefings to explore and recommend diversity initiatives for the City’s public safety agencies – such as the Police Department, Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Services.
In Boston, 46.3 percent of residents are White, 22.8 percent are Black, 19 percent are Hispanic, and 9.3 percent are Asian.
Public safety agencies already seek to recruit officers, firefighters, technicians, and civilians that reflect that of the population they serve but, they councilors hope the hearing will assist them further.
“We are doing ok but, we can do better, especially at the higher tier levels – we have to a lot better,” said Campbell.
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice for a hearing.
Flexible payment plans for late property tax payments
Councilor Lydia Edwards filed a hearing order for the adoption of flexible payment plans for property tax arrears.
Edwards spoke on the significant number of low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners that have property tax arrears owed to the City.
Boston already works with homeowners in tax arrears but currently is only able to offer on-year payment plans that require a 25 percent down payment to address the owed taxes. The interest rate of tax arrears cam be as high as 16 percent and the City can adopt more flexible payment plans and the ability to forgive up to 50 percent of accrued interest pursuant to state law.
“We shouldn’t have people running away running away from obligations,” said Edwards. “We need to provide mechanisms to allow people to pay their taxes.”
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Ways and Means for hearing.
Boston Youth Clean-Up Campaign
Councilors Matt O’Malley and Tim McCarthy Filed a hearing order to reintroduce the BYCC program, also known as the “Red Shirts” and later, “Gray Shirts.”
The BYCC program was established 25 years ago to provide employment to Boston’s teenagers between the ages of 14-17 for six weeks during the summer break. The primary duties included clean-up of vacant lots, streets, parks and public facilities.
The councilors believed the program fostered civic engagement, offered relevant work experience, and provided an economic and social benefits to youth.
The program closed after the 2002 summer due to budgetary constraints.
The councilors hope to reestablish the program and potentially expanding it to the winter months for part-time youth employment. They hope to start this year with a pilot program.
“It’s a great program,” said McCarthy. “It teaches young Bostonians hard work with tangible results you can see.”
The matter was assigned to the Committee on City, Neighborhood Services, Military Families and Veterans Affairs for a hearing.
Increasing Access to Voter Registration
The City Council on Wednesday, April 11, unanimously passed an ordinance authored by District 8 Councilor Josh Zakim that expands availability and reduces barriers for residents to register to vote. (Mayor Walsh signed the measure on April 23.)
“I’m thrilled that my colleagues agree with me on the importance of reducing barriers to voter registration, and that the city is doing all that we can to encourage more people to register and to vote,” said Zakim.
The ordinance will make it easier for eligible Bostonians to register to vote during routine interactions with city government. It requires Boston Public School’s high schools and welcome centers, Boston Public Library’s neighborhood branches, and Boston Centers for Youth and Families’ community centers to make voter registration forms available and visible in central locations.
Further, it requires the Office of the Parking Clerk to provide registration forms to residents applying for neighborhood parking permits, and to share all completed forms with the Boston Elections Department.
Zakim initially filed the proposal in 2017 after the City Council adopted a resolution he offered last year endorsing a statewide bill for Automatic Voter Registration (AVR).
“This is a proactive step that we are taking in the City of Boston while we continue to wait for the state to enact AVR,” he said. “Ultimately, we need to get statewide AVR to help reverse the downward trend of voter turnout in Massachusetts.”
Councilors Ed Flynn and Tim McCarthy reported back on a hearing on the proposed 13-hospital merger of Caregroup, Inc. (the parent company of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) and Lahey Health System.
The councilors had called for the hearing since the merger would result in creating another powerful hospital market, on par with Partners Healthcare, and increase market leverage.
Councilor Flynn expressed concern over how a consolidated BI-Lahey Hospital would impact both costs and access to care in Boston and the ability of community hospitals to serve low-income communities of color.
“Health care is a right,” said Flynn. “Everyone is entitled to it.”
The City Council has no jurisdiction over this matter but the Attorney General’s Office continues to look into it. The matter has remained in committee on government operations.
Councilors Ayanna Pressley and Matt O’Malley offered a hearing order to discuss and assess the amount and quality of tree coverage in Boston.
Across the country, about 30 percent of trees in cities have been lost to development. Pressley spoke on how Boston has contributed to the decrease in the number of mature trees and green space overall during this building boom. Often times as new developments come in, mature trees are taken out and not replaced.
“Trees like all green space have problem to reduce anxiety and depression and even reduce crime when you have a more landscaped environment,” said Presley. “We need consider where our trees are, especially our mature trees and consider them in terms of the future planning of where they need to be planted.”
Climate change continues to change our seasonal and temperature norms and the focus on development needs to include the importance of our City’s trees and recognize the link between healthy mature trees and creating healthy neighborhoods.
Trees are a direct ecological, economic, and health benefits to the community.
“We need to ensure that every neighborhood has equity and opportunity to build their resilience to climate change,” said Pressley. “I don’t know if we are there yet.”
O’Malley cited a report from Sensible City Lab at MIT that mapped Boston as having 18.2 percent tree coverage. In comparing to other global cities, Boston sits in the middle of the pack.
“We have the opportunity to be a lot better,” said O’Malley.
Councilor Michael Flaherty added, “I happen to subscribe to, if a tree comes down two should go up, and I’m not a tree hugger by any means.”
He added, that many trees can cause safety and public hazards when they grow too large and uproot sidewalks and building foundations. He asked that the city’s arborist attend the meeting to learn more about what it takes to take care of all the trees in Boston.
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Environment, Sustainability and Parks for a hearing.