Boston City Council Updates

The following items were discussed at the Boston City Council Meeting on April 11.

Increasing Access to Voter Registration

The Boston 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. Once, enacted, it will increase access to government for thousands of Bostonians.

The legislation now goes to Mayor Martin Walsh for his approval.

“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.”

Hospital Merger

Councilors Ed Flynn and 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 increased 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.

Tree Coverage

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.

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