City Council Opens Arms To Syrian Refugees

Boston City Hall. Photo by Michael Sol Warren/BU News Service
Written by Michael Sol Warren

Issues that have dominated international and national politics of the past few days seeped into this week’s Boston City Council meeting.

At the end of the meeting agenda, after all the scheduled items had been discussed, Council Josh Zakim rose to make a statement about the importance of Boston accepting Syrian refugees.

“It is important to join Mayor Walsh in his statements and to continue welcoming people to Boston,” Zakim said. Mayor Walsh released a statement on Monday afternoon saying that Boston will accept refugees with open arms. This comes in opposition to Governor Charlie Baker’s desire to refuse refugees in Massachusetts.

Multiple councilors also rose to support Zakim’s statement.

“We’re better than that as a city,” Councilor Tito Jackson said. “We’re better than that as a country.” Jackson also added that the council has a responsibility as the leaders of the city to “not turn our backs on those that need us the most”.

“It’s a value of being a Bostonian to have compassion,” Councilor Charles Yancey said. Yancey offered his condolences to the families of victims in the Paris attacks before welcoming refugees to Boston, saying the city must “resist the temptation to have a knee-jerk reaction to the violence that has taken place around the world”.

Despite all this, the only ordinance passed by the council at the meeting was designed to address a uniquely Boston problem.

The council passed the Sandwich Board Ordinance with an 11-1 vote. The ordinance, which was proposed by Mayor Walsh on September 23, establishes new regulations on the sandwich board signs that businesses place on sidewalks as advertisements. The new regulations state that a sign cannot block public access to the sidewalk, it cannot be larger than 24 inches by 36 inches, it cannot be a permanent fixture, it must be made of a weather-resistant material, it can only be displayed during business hours and it cannot advertise alcohol or tobacco products. The ordinance is a pilot program that will expire on December 31, 2016.

Zakim attempted unsuccessfully to add an amendment to the ordinance. He wanted to limit the signs to one for every 20 feet on the sidewalk, a regulation meant to serve his constituents on Newbury Street, where several vendors often occupy the same building. Zakim’s amendment was rejected by the rest of the council. Councilor Michelle Wu said that she voted against the amendment because “the ordinance needs to serve the city as a whole, not just small areas like Newbury Street”.

Zakim was the only dissenting vote and Councilor Frank Baker was absent.

Other Meeting Points

  • The council passed an order authorizing the city to accept $450,000 ($90,000 per year for five years) in grants to fund city internships. The internship program is a partnership with Harvard Business School.
  • The council passed four orders authorizing the Boston Police Department and the Boston Fire Department to accept about $2 million in grants from the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety.
  • The council gave approval to the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development to apply for and accept a $400,000 Brownfield Cleanup Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The funds will be used to cleanup a vacant lot at 206-212 West Broadway Street in South Boston. The lot used to be the site of a dry cleaning operation. The city would be required to pay $80,000 as part of the cleanup.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration will meet with officials from Boston and surrounding towns to discuss changing flight paths for planes coming in to land at Boston-Logan. The meeting will be held at Milton High School on December 3 at 7 p.m.

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