By Michael Coughlin Jr.
City Councilor Gabriela Coletta joined the Harbor View Neighborhood Association (HVNA) during its monthly meeting on Monday to discuss several topics, including some highlights over the past year, PLAN: East Boston, her plans for the future, and much more.
At the beginning of her presentation, Coletta highlighted her annual report that was released this past December, which can be accessed in English at https://bit.ly/ColettaReport2023 and in Spanish at https://bit.ly/GigiReporte2023.
“We discuss budget and policy wins, constituent services, community initiatives, and what we’re looking forward to working on,” said Coletta, referencing the annual report. “It is truly comprehensive, and I’m very proud of my staff for taking the time to put that together for me.”
After highlighting her annual report, Coletta discussed what she calls the “bread and butter” of her job: constituent services. Not only did she identify key triumphs in this area, such as aiding the paving of Saratoga Street, but she also outlined specific concerns that constituents have voiced.
For example, she pointed to concerns such as the infrastructure of streets and sidewalks and the time it takes for repairs to be completed, the technological system infrastructure to respond to constituent services, and more.
“I love being an urban mechanic; that’s something that goes back to [Thomas] Menino. I love making City Hall, and just the city run better, faster, stronger, so working through these issues is something I really love and care about,” said Coletta.
Coletta’s work in the community was also presented, which includes facets such as an anti-trash initiative, neighborhood walkthroughs, coffee hours, town halls, and more. Moreover, it should be noted that Coletta is hosting an East Boston budget town hall on March 25th at 6:30 P.M. at the BCYF on Paris Street.
Speaking of the budget, Coletta pointed to some of the wins in the fiscal year 2024 budget, which include a wage increase study, modernization of technological systems, and expanding language access.
As for this coming budget — the fiscal year 2025 — Coletta underscored priorities such as quicker street and sidewalk repairs, enhancing the resiliency, accessibility, and inclusivity of the waterfront, adding trees in the neighborhood, and more.
PLAN: East Boston, one of the most significant topics in the neighborhood over the last year, was discussed. Specifically, Coletta pointed out wins for the community, such as new zoning consistent with the neighborhood’s character, protecting the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway from “irresponsible” development, and more.
Coletta also pointed to the fact that the neighborhood was able to obtain commitments from the Boston Planning and Development Agency to conduct a neighborhood needs analysis in conjunction with PLAN: East Boston and for a written agreement to challenge the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) to uphold the new zoning regulations outlined in the plan.
To wrap up her presentation, Coletta detailed her appointment to the Chair of both the City Council’s Government Operations and Environmental Justice, Resiliency, and Parks Committees and called attention to some priorities and policy initiatives, such as establishing street food enterprises in the city.
Following her presentation, Coletta took some questions and comments from those in attendance. One question concerned the Office of Food Justice, which relates to a priority of hers, which is to formally create the office and introduce a food recovery program.
Coletta explained that the Office of Food Justice already exists, but she wants to formalize it. She said the office, “Just makes sure that hungry people have food to eat. Hunger right now in East Boston is so prevalent, but you would never know because it’s really stigmatized.”
She also expanded on the food recovery program, saying it “Would compel large retailers, so think Whole Foods, Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Panera Bread to sell — or not sell because they would be giving away to soup kitchens and churches — safe to consume food to eat within the expiration date.”
Coletta was also asked about her process for supporting or opposing projects that go through and are voted on by the neighborhood groups in East Boston. Specifically, Coletta spoke to a statistic that she has agreed with the vote of neighborhood groups on 89% of projects that have gone before the ZBA.
One attendee was of the mindset that being in agreeance on 89% of projects was not enough. “It should be 100% on our side; you should go to the community meetings and listen to the majority; very simple. You should not be going against the community at all, ever,” they said.
Another attendee alleged that donations given to Coletta factored into what projects she decided to support or oppose.
However, Coletta vehemently denied that notion, saying, “Listen, I don’t solicit these; people can give me money if they want to, but other than that, I don’t use that as a consideration for my stances. I just walked through what I consider; this isn’t even on my brain, and so to insinuate that — I’m so sorry you don’t even know who I am.”
“I care about this community, and I will not be bought and sold for a community that I absolutely love.”
Ultimately, Monday’s conversation with Coletta eventually came to a close, and she was thankful for the time with the HVNA.
“I do just want to thank you all so much for this robust conversation. Really, I’m here to talk at any time if you want to grab coffee, like I said, to discuss anything that was mentioned here,” said Coletta.
“Please know that I am at your disposal; I work for you.”