As Boston Mayor Martin Walsh works to keep Boston restaurants and bars open later, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is proposing a bill to reform the process of distributing liquor licenses and bring more restaurants to underserved neighborhoods in the city.
If passed, the legislation, labeled Bill H.3913, would eliminate Boston’s current liquor license quota, which allows the Boston Licensing Board to grant up to 942 alcoholic beverage licenses, and give the City of Boston the power to appoint the members of the Licensing Board, a responsibility Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick currently holds.
At a Tuesday hearing, where committee members were given the chance to discuss the bill, Mass. Rep. Jay Livingstone, State Sen. Linda Forry and various local business owners spoke in support of Pressley’s legislation. Massachusetts Rep. John Scibak, a member of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, said legislators raised concerns at the hearing, but the committee has not yet made a decision.
“There are some legitimate issues that were raised at the hearing yesterday [Tuesday] in terms of the distribution of liquor licenses for restaurants and bars across the city of Boston,” he said. “There are some neighborhoods that have virtually none and there’s some that have a great number.”
Although Scibak said he has not taken a position on the bill, he is concerned that the removal of the quota will not effectively focus on the underrepresented areas that need licenses and that Boston could potentially reach a point where there are too many bars or restaurants in a specific neighborhood.
“That’s the sort of thing that should be best determined by the city itself,” he said. “I have not had the opportunity to talk to my co-chair and determine when exactly we’re going to take action on this particular bill. It’s still a little bit early since the hearing was just yesterday, but clearly it’s something that has generated a lot of interest.”
Stephen Clark, the director of governmental affairs for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said restaurants are an important part of Boston’s neighborhood economies.
“We applaud the efforts of the bill,” he said. “We know that restaurants play a vital role in economic development. We don’t have to go further than the South End or the Seaport to see that well-run establishments can have a revitalization of the neighborhoods … They need more restaurants so that they can bloom and grow and revitalize their downtowns.”
Several residents said they are concerned about an increase in accidents and crime from the greater liquor availability in the city.
Heather Tifrere, 55, of Dorchester, said the expansion of liquor licenses in Boston’s neighborhoods could create more violence in the city’s streets.
“I’m against it because it could cause unnecessary accidents, drunk driving,” she said. “It could increase crime too because those areas are loaded with druggies and to add another drug to the neighborhood, who knows?”
Brian Leighton, 29, of Brighton, said some businesses may be wary of the competition that expanded liquor licenses could bring, but the competitive nature could have a positive impact on the city’s economy.
“If it’s going to bring more prosperity to the Boston area, then I’m all for it,” he said. “The more competition the better.”
Brad Butters, 27, of Brighton, said the increased number of liquor licenses could bring more revenue to the city and force restaurants and bars to make improvements to their businesses to keep up with the competition.
“It’ll certainly redistribute the cash flow of liquor around the city, so if you had three [liquor licensed restaurants] in a spot, there’s a good chance it will bring up to six,” he said. “That just means existing establishments have to step up their game in terms of productivity.”