2016: A Year in Review

Committee Work

The Government Operations Committee reviews all proposed city ordinances and home rule petitions and makes recommendations to the Council on their passage. As Chairman, I work with colleagues, the Mayor’s office, and various groups and individuals to hold public meetings on these matters. This year, the Committee held over 30 hearings and working sessions to discuss a wide range of issues. Below I have highlighted some of our most notable accomplishments from this year.

  • Off-Campus Student Housing (Sponsored by Councilors Ciommo & Zakim, Passed March 23, 2016)

These proposals are part of a larger effort to address issues of student housing in our neighborhoods and improve communication between institutions and the City of Boston. Docket 0220 amends the existing procedure for colleges and universities to report off-campus student addresses to the city by establishing a standardized format and moving the deadline to October 1 annually. Docket 0221 establishes a new category for off-campus student housing units by requiring landlords to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy from the City at a cost of $15.00 per unit. Together with the existing Rental Registry Ordinance, these tools will allow ISD to better monitor student housing units for overcrowding and safety issues as well as noise and quality of life issues in our neighborhoods.

  • Commercial Pet Sales (Sponsored by Councilor O’Malley, Passed March 2, 2016)

Councilor O’Malley proposed this ordinance that seeks to protect animals from adverse conditions by prohibiting the sale of dogs, cats, or rabbits from commercial breeding facilities notoriously known as "puppy mills." The ordinance also enforces penalties for pet sales occurring in public areas. The Council was overwhelmed with support of this ordinance from constituents and animal rights groups across the city, state, and country. Although there are not currently any commercial pet stores that sell dogs and cats in Boston, this legislation set a precedent for the City’s commitment to animal rights.

  • Improving Health & Safety Standards in the Boston Fire Prevention Code (Sponsored by Councilor Zakim, Passed March 23, 2016):

This ordinance amends the Boston Fire Prevention Code in accordance with Massachusetts and the rest of the country by eliminating the need for toxic flame retardant chemicals on furniture in public spaces. Because there are now sprinkler requirements in place, it is no longer necessary to add the toxic flame retardants that are known to cause cancer and other serious health problems for firefighters.

  • Election Procedures (Sponsored by Councilor Baker, Passed April 6, 2016)

The Council voted to pass two home rule petitions related to election procedures in the City of Boston. Both measures would need to be approved at the state level. The first proposal mandates that an individual seek the nomination for only one elective office in the same municipal election to prohibit candidates from running for two positions at once. The second proposal would increase the length of Boston City Council terms from 2 years to 4 years. This is a cost-saving measure based on the extremely low voter turnout in Council elections (12-15% average turnout) compared to years with a mayoral election (40% average turnout). Establishing 4-year terms would save the City money as well as allow Councilors to focus more time and effort on serving the public rather than campaigning and fundraising.

  • Speed Limits (Sponsored by Councilor Baker, Passed April 27, 2016)

Councilor Baker proposed a home rule petition that would reduce speed limits in thickly settled areas, business districts, and school zones, as well as amend the process to give the City’s Transportation Department more authority in adjusting speed limits without the requirement of a costly engineering study. After passing unanimously, the Commonwealth’s Municipal Modernization Bill included a local option to allow cities to set their own laws related to speed limits. We adopted the local option in November and are excited to finally have the full authority to establish appropriate speed limits on our streets.

  • Extending the Senior Citizen Property Tax Work-Off Abatement (Sponsored by Mayor Walsh, Passed June 8, 2016)

The Senior Citizen Property Tax Work-Off Abatement Program allows seniors who meet certain criteria to work in city-sponsored jobs to assist in paying off costly property taxes. This program presents an excellent opportunity for seniors on a fixed income to work off up to $1,000 on their annual property taxes. We voted to extend this program for an additional five years as well as increase the number of eligible participants from 50 to 100 seniors. This program has been successful in reducing hardship for our older population and we encourage all eligible seniors to apply here.

  • Language & Communications Access (Sponsored by Councilors Wu & McCarthy, Passed August 3, 2016)

This ordinance came as a result of over a year of working sessions to discuss how to improve communication related to disability and language barriers in city services. It is another proud accomplishment of the Council and an example of collaboration among Councilors, Mayor Walsh’s Administration, and advocacy groups across the city. With passage of this ordinance, there will be a new Communications Access Coordinator position under the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, as well as an advisory board to assist in creating equitable language access policies in all City departments.

  • Property Tax Deferral for Long-Term Homeowners (Sponsored by Councilor Linehan, Passed June 29, 2016)

This proposal would allow seniors who have owned property in the city for at least 10 years and fit other criteria to apply for a property tax deferral program. As property values are rising in the city, taxes become a greater burden for our seniors who live on a fixed income. After favorable votes from the Council have sent this proposal up to the State House for several years now, we are proud to say it has finally been passed into law.

  • Health Inspection Letter Grades at Food Establishments (Sponsored by Mayor Walsh, Passed August 24, 2016)

This ordinance would implement a letter grading system to reflect health code violations at food establishments and food trucks in the city. The current health inspections will not change, but under the new ordinance, the system would require food vendors to display the letter grade so it is visible to the public. ISD Commissioner Christopher testified that the purpose of this program is to promote health and safety and increase transparency. He also stated that the City is committed to reaching out to all food establishments through the Office of Neighborhood Services to properly notify them of the new rules. Acknowledging that this represents a big adjustment for many restaurants, the requirement to post grades publicly will be voluntary for the first year.

  • Liquor Licenses for South Bay (Sponsored by Councilor Linehan, Passed November 16, 2016)

Liquor license laws are notoriously archaic in that the state controls a limited number for each municipality, resulting in exorbitant costs for the limited supply and an unequal distribution of alcohol serving establishments throughout the city. This home rule petition offers a mechanism to grant 12 additional liquor licenses designated for the large development at South Bay to spur economic growth in this new area. Having these liquor licenses available for South Bay would attract more locally-owned restaurants as opposed to large national chains that could afford to purchase costly licenses.

  • Street Occupancy Permits (Sponsored by Councilor Zakim, Passed December 7, 2016)

After a hearing and several working sessions with the City’s Transportation Department, we voted to pass this ordinance that seeks to crack down on street occupancy permits that frequently take up valuable parking spaces on public ways. The flat fee for a permit has remained at 20 dollars since the 1980s with few updates to the fee structure, so this ordinance aligns the cost to today’s standards as well as requires permit-holders to remove signage after their work is complete. These provisions will alleviate some of the parking pressures caused by frequent contract and utility work on our streets.

  • Gas Leaks (Sponsored by Councilor O’Malley, Passed December 14, 2016)

After learning that gas leaks are extremely prevalent throughout the city and that repairs are not always completed efficiently, Councilor O’Malley introduced this proposal that would enhance oversight of these leaks throughout the city. In hearings and working sessions, we collaborated with utility companies, environmental groups, and members of the community to give the City the ability to coordinate infrastructure repair and monitor data collection.

  • OSHA Violations on Work Permits (Sponsored by Mayor Walsh, Passed December 14, 2016)

This ordinance would give the City of Boston the authority to deny or revoke work permits based on past safety violations or concerns. It would require the permit applicant to include a list of all Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations on a signed affidavit with the permit application. There was a lot of productive discussion around the implementation of this ordinance and the impact it would have on contractors working in the City.  Commissioner Christopher has since met with industry representatives to collaborate on details and is committed to including them as the City rolls out this important safety procedure.

  • Acoustic Live Entertainment (Sponsored by Councilor Wu, Passed December 14, 2016)

This ordinance implements a one year pilot program, expiring in December 2017, to allow businesses to bypass the permitting process to host acoustic performances in their venues.  This ordinance grew out of a successful program under Boston Main Streets in 2015. There was strong support for this ordinance from the administration, colleagues, and members of the community as it reduces red tape and increases opportunities for businesses to attract more patrons and support our growing arts economy.

Matters Sponsored by Councilor Flaherty

  • Sister Cities: Boston adopted the Sister Cities program in the 1950s and has since partnered with 10 cities around the world including Kyoto, Japan; Barcelona, Spain; Melbourne, Australia; and most recently, under the Walsh administration, Belfast, Ireland and Praia, Cape Verde. The purpose of the program is to facilitate unique opportunities for cultural and educational exchanges, maintain economic partnerships, offer humanitarian assistance, and foster a greater understanding and awareness of the world. I called for this hearing because I believe Boston should utilize its programming to benefit interested residents and help develop educational, cultural, and economic ties that will further enrich the city and its people.

  • Human Trafficking Awareness Day: Human trafficking is a global crisis and a contemporary form of slavery that exploits millions of Americans every year. Since 2005, over 450 children from Boston have been identified as victims. This is an issue that is very difficult to combat because of its secretive nature, so it is that much more important to acknowledge its dangers and raise awareness of the support groups that exist in our community. I also thank my colleagues Councilors Baker and Pressley who have consistently worked to bring attention to this issue. The most effective solutions emerge when we work together and we will continue our efforts to address this difficult but pressing matter.

  • Paid Leave Time for Donating Blood: I filed this hearing order to explore the possibility of reinstating a program for City of Boston employees that would allow up to 4 hours of paid leave time to donate blood at certified donation centers with signed confirmation of donation. This program would closely resemble an existing program at the state level, utilized by at least 2,000 state employees over the last two years. Statistics from the American Red Cross show that currently only 10% of the eligible population donates blood annually, which is not enough to meet the 15 million pint per year demand in the United States. If instituted, this program will make it easier for city employees to perform a lifesaving service for others.

  • Marijuana Dispensary Buffer Zone: I first introduced this order in March of 2015. In the past year, the Council held a hearing and several working sessions to discuss the feasibility of a buffer zone around marijuana dispensaries. After several meetings and collaboration with the BRA and Zoning Commission, the Council voted to pass the zoning amendment which forbids a marijuana dispensary from opening within ½ mile of an existing dispensary. I believe this zoning amendment is sensible legislation that will protect any one neighborhood from feeling inundated by the emergence of this new industry.

  • Community Preservation Act: In 2001, I was the first citywide elected official to publicly support the Community Preservation Act, and I have advocated for its adoption since then. Over the past 16 years, 160 cities and towns across the Commonwealth have adopted the CPA, allowing them to receive annual distributions from the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund for local projects. As Boston is experiencing an era of development and innovation, the CPA is another tool we can use to reach the city’s affordable housing goals and fund efforts for open space and preserving historic landmarks. I co-sponsored this measure with Councilor Campbell to place the Community Preservation Act on the ballot in November 2016. With a presidential election expected to draw a large turnout at the polls, I believe this is an ideal opportunity for the voters to ultimately decide if the City will adopt a law that will bring many benefits to the community.

  • Restoring Government Housing Protections: This home rule petition would allow Boston to preserve and restore at-risk affordable housing at no cost to the City. The proposal applies to current or formerly HUD subsidized housing with "expiring use" restrictions, which, according to the Mayor’s Housing Report, includes about 3,000 apartments across the city. This proposal would help maintain affordable units in the city and discourage condo conversions of these homes, which often causes displacement of some of our most vulnerable populations.

  • Resolution in Support of Transgender Protections In Public Accommodations, Co-sponsored with Councilor Wu: I was Council President in 2002 when former Councilor Chuck Turner introduced an ordinance to add protections for “gender identity or expression” for educational, recreational, and employment opportunities, financial services, and public accommodations. This ordinance was the first show of support for the transgender community by the City of Boston and one of the first in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I was proud to preside over the City Council when we passed this measure with overwhelming support in 2002, and I am proud to continue advocating for transgender protections by co-sponsoring this resolution for the Transgender Non-Discrimination Bill currently before the State Legislature.

  • Public Hearing on Potential Commercial Helipad: I called for this hearing after learning about discussions to build a commercial helipad in the city with very little transparency or input from the neighborhoods. This has been an ongoing debate in the Seaport area, and in the past has been met with strong community opposition. I felt it was essential that we provide a forum to discuss noise, air pollution, safety, and other concerns relative to opening the city to an influx of helicopters. After holding this hearing at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) with representatives from the Commonwealth and City, it was announced that there would no longer be any plans for a helipad in Boston.

  • Contractor Accountability on Building Permit Applications: I have heard from several residents across the city about incidents of contractor fraud, where property-owners have been swindled into paying for work that is then never completed. Often times deceitful contractors prey on our elderly and most vulnerable populations, whose lives become overwrought both financially and emotionally by these deceptive practices.  This ordinance would require contractors applying for building permits to include on a signed affidavit a list of all currently open permits, their corresponding addresses, status of project, and expected completion date. I believe that this ordinance proposes a fair mechanism for holding contractors accountable without punishing those who conduct honest business in the city. I was proud to see this ordinance pass unanimously by the Council on December 14th.

  • Public Hearing on South Station Expansion: I co-sponsored a hearing order with Councilor Linehan to hear from the city and state about their plans to expand South Station. This expansion could potentially establish rail layover facilities in Widett Circle, Readville Yard, and Beacon Park Yard in Allston. These facilities could have adverse effects on the surrounding neighborhoods, and, in the case of Widett Circle, could result in displacing the hundreds of seafood and meat processing businesses at the New Boston Food Market. I am proud to stand with the hardworking people at the New Boston Food Market and will make sure their voices are heard during this planning process.

If you have questions or comments about any of these matters, I would love to discuss them with you! Please feel free to contact my office at 617-635-4205 or email me at Michael.Flaherty@boston.gov.

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