City Councilor Erin Murphy (at large) today declared a "public health crisis" being caused by having the same city street sweepers that brush up debris at Mass and Cass also go along the curb in the South End, Chinatown, Bay Village, Beacon Hill and Back Bay - an idea blasted as fearmongering by one of her colleagues.
Murphy also cited statistics released by state clean-water advocates last week that showed Fort Point Channel, which is sort of near Mass and Cass showing poor water quality there, including high bacteria counts and questioned whether that might be related to the sordid conditions where Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard meet.
In a formal order to hold public-works officials to account, Murphy demanded:
Ceasing the practice of using the same street cleaning equipment immediately and using specialized equipment, solely designated for this area, given the hazardous and infectious substances that are prevalent in the area is needed. This is a Public Health Crisis and we need to start addressing it that way so urgent attention, that is so desperately needed, can be given to all those affected.
Two of her colleagues, however, were just not having it.
Councilor Gabriela Coletta, whose district includes the North End, blasted the attempt to spread "unwarranted fear" over an issue that no Boston public-health official has yet raised, especially just a couple years out from the worst days of the pandemic, which showed what happens "when public health matters become political."
She said the notion of disease spreading outward from Mass and Cass via street sweepers and a small body of water nobody should be swimming in anyway was so outlandish she could not take the normally routine step of "signing on" to another councilor's hearing request.
Coletta said she had been told Public Works has not even sent a street sweeper down Atkinson Street, at the heart of Mass and Cass, in more than seven months. Instead, she said the department sprays down the street with a sanitizing solution.
As for Fort Point Channel, she said that waterway has gotten failing grades for years, long before the Mass and Cass crisis.
Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune (at large) said she's all for asking city public-health officials to at least consider the street-sweeper issue, but said that, as a Haitian-American, she is wary of any efforts to stigmatize a entire group, as happened to Haitians and Haitian-Americans in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
Another Mass and Cass proposal by Murphy - to consider tax breaks for landowners in Newmarket Square - got a less hostile reaction.
She said businesses in the Mass and Cass area, have spent millions of their own money trying to protect their businesses and livelihoods, because they city has proven unable to do so.
"We've failed them by not providing a safe environment," she said.
City Councilor Michael Flaherty (at large), who included the South Bay Mall in his definition of the affected area, agreed. "They've put up with enough," he said. "They deserve better."
City Councilor Julia Mejia (at large), also agreed the idea is worth a look. She pointed to the pizza place right in the middle of Mass and Cass as a prime example of a small business that has been greatly harmed - via vandalism and other means - through no fault of its own.