The three candidates for the District 1 City Council seat (North End, Charlestown, East Boston) that Sal LaMattina is giving up sounded similar themes on a number of issues, including Airbnb and 4 a.m. closing times, at a forum sponsored by the North End Waterfront Neighborhood Council tonight.
Lydia Edwards and Margaret Farmer of East Boston and Stephen Pasacantilli of the North End all said the city needs to do something about the Airbnb rentals they said are overrunning the neighborhood, forcing out long-term residents and turning it into a trash-laden haven for transients whose landlords don't really care about the neighborhood.
Farmer said Airbnb has changed from a way for people to rent out a room in their home to a big business in which investors are snapping up Boston unit and hiring managers to essentially run them as hotels. "We should regulate it and tax it like a hotel," she said.
Pasacantilli said he is fed up with the trash bags that now regularly appear outside Airbnb rentals in the neighborhood. "400 Hanover St. is a joke," he said of one Airbnb-heavy building. He called for the return of the city's Problem Property Task Force to go after and public embarrass unit owners into cleaning up.
Edwards said the city needs to be "very aggressive" with enforcing health and fire codes on Airbnb and other absentee landlords, even to the point of putting liens on their property
The three also agreed, in response to a question from a resident, that North End restaurants and bars should not be allowed to stay open until 4 a.m.
Edwards said that for all its bars and restaurants, the North End remains "a precious neighborhood," one that would be ruined by later closing times.
The idea might work on Lansdowne Street, but in the North End, "it's asking too much of residents," Farmer said.
Passacantilli, a recovering alcoholic, said he could not support anything that would let people drink more. He then added, however, that he would work even harder to block any pot shops in the neighborhood - he said marijuana is "a gateway drug" and that recreational pot "is a little bit more horrifying to me than 4 a.m. (closings)." Edwards and Farmer did not address marijuana.
The three also agreed that the BPDA needs to stop siding with developers so much and listen more to residents - and to do a better job of alerting them to impending projects. Edwards said the city needs to consider whether the authority should be broken into two separate agencies, one for planning, one for working with developers. The current model, developed in the 1960s, when Boston was slowly emerging from decades of decline, no longer seems to work, she said.
Passacantilli said that armed with better knowledge, residents can fight the development juggernaut and win - he pointed to the way residents organized to block the closure of a neighborhood nursing home as an example, and added that his years in City Hall means "I can slow things down, and I can make things not happen."
Farmer pointed to the defeat of the original Lewis Wharf hotel plan as a similar example and said she would insist the BPDA speed up its development of master plans for each neighborhood, so that development no longer happens in such an ad hoc manner.
The three did have some differences, mainly in their backgrounds.
Passacantilli acknowledged he considers Mayor Walsh a close friend, because when he was trying to get sober 13 years ago, Walsh helped him on his road toward recovery. "When I was down and out, and nobody wanted to help me, Marty Walsh helped me," he said.
But Passacantilli, who was an economic-development official for Walsh before running for the council seat, added he wished people would stop talking about an "old boys network" and "old Boston" and "new Boston," because he said he would put the residents of the district first.
"My father gave me my name, and I would never compromise that," he said.
Edwards also worked for Walsh, dealing with "housing stability" issues and said her key strength is in being able to "build bridges" - it's how she helped build an East Boston soup kitchen and got state legislation passed in 2014 to protect nannies and maids, she said, and has let her work closely with state Sen. Joseph Boncore - even though she ran against him last year for the seat he now holds. Boncore has endorsed Edwards.
Farmer called herself "a citizen candidate" who doesn't work for city government now. She works for a mental-health non-profit group and has been president of the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association for several years.
Farmer called for an extensive network of inner-harbor ferries connecting Charlestown, East Boston, the airport and the South Boston Waterfront, in part as an alternative, efficient way to move all the new residents from their homes to their jobs. She also said the city should amend Mayor Walsh's current 53,000-unit housing increase goal to include "workforce" units for people who make too much for "affordable" units but not enough for the luxury units developers just love to put up.
The top two vote getters in the Sept. 26 preliminary election will compete in the November final election for the two-year seat.