Residents pressured local state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez to take action on criminal justice reform at a public meeting last month on Mission Hill.
Sanchez held the meeting to inform residents in his district about the results of a community survey he recently completed, and to answer questions from residents about local and statewide concerns. About 50 people attended the March 20 meeting, which was held at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Sanchez represents the Massachusetts district that includes parts of Mission Hill, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, and Brookline.
Sanchez said his survey was intended to “take a pulse of what’s going on in the neighborhood.” The survey, which was available on paper and online, asked his constituents questions about eight mainstream issues. Over 900 people responded to the survey, and their responses represent the 41,578 people in the district, which is very economically diverse.
“My biggest takeaway is that there is a greater desire for folks to get involved in one way or another,” Sanchez said, citing an increased interest in local policies.
A controversial subject at the meeting was criminal justice reform. Local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz has recently proposed a bill to reform mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses, a concept that 90 percent of survey participants supported. Sanchez, however, has not come out with a position on the subject.
Several residents at the meeting told the representative that they support this bill, and wish he would too.
“Mandatory minimums hurt people of color,” said Steve Ogle, a Brookline resident. “These are issues of justice, and I don’t believe that you haven’t had the time to study it.”
These residents seemed upset that Sanchez would not release a position on the bill one way or the other.
“I am not the master of these issues,” Sanchez said, saying that his expertise was more in housing and public health. “I have not signed onto any criminal justice bills because I want to be thoughtful about it, and give myself some time. I owe it to my constituents to be thoughtful.”
When pressed about the bill, Sanchez said, “I’m a Puerto Rican male who grew up in this community. I know [the problem]. I’ve been thrown up against police cars my entire childhood. I’m just wondering if there are other ways to make this bill even better.”
Several people expressed gratitude for Sanchez’s representation, including Richard Rouse, executive director of Mission Hill Main Streets, who said, “I know workhorses, and I know show-horses, and Jeffrey Sanchez is a workhorse. I’m proud of the work that he’s done.”
Under the umbrella topic of housing, survey responses indicated that there is a majority of support for increased density in the Bromley-Housing development (now named the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments). The City recently released a request for proposals in order to hear different bids from developers to redevelop the site into mixed-income housing. Federal budget cuts for affordable housing will make the project difficult, Sanchez said.
In terms of public safety, 94 percent of survey respondents said that they felt safe in their neighborhood, but there were mixed feelings in terms of extending liquor license hours of operation past 2 a.m. Sanchez said that granting more licenses and extending hours may improve local businesses, which get much of their revenue from alcohol sales.
Respondents had generally negative feelings towards the idea of self-driving cars in Boston in the future, and 80 percent of respondents supported a ban on mobile devices while driving. It is already illegal to text and drive, but Sanchez said that it is difficult for police to enforce, since there are so many other functions that phones have, such as navigation. Also in the transportation category was a question regarding extending the Green E line to Hyde Square, which most survey participants supported.
Another overwhelming survey response was the support for a “millionaire tax,” which is a tax for the ultra wealthy, with the funds to be allocated towards transportation and education. A referendum on the topic is expected to be on the 2018 ballot.
Sanchez was proud of MassHealth because of his role as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. Sanchez said that 40 percent of Massachusetts’ state budget goes towards health care, and that as a result, “the benefits have never been stronger.”
However, there is a significant budget deficit, and Sanchez said that the Massachusetts value that healthcare is a right doesn’t necessarily align with the Trump administration’s views, so there will be challenges ahead.
Other questions and comments brought up by residents were regarding affordable housing and preventing displacement, increasing access to quality education, and ensuring that health care costs stay at a reasonable rate.