Q&A: Matt O’Malley on Dog Parks, Gas Leaks and Development

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Richard Heath

City Councilor Matt O'Malley

Jamaica Plain City Councilor Matt O'Malley recently sat down with Jamaica Plain News to talk about Plan: JP/Rox, gas leaks, dog parks and more.

Richard Heath

City Councilor Matt O'Malley

Q: What are your thoughts on Plan: JP/Rox?

O'Malley: I have been proud to play a role in getting us here. State Rep. Liz Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) and I had been asking for this for four or five years. It’s been a long process and a good process. There are a lot of people with different points of view who have had their voices heard. Passions run deep when we talk about development and how neighborhoods are changing. I think the revised plan is quite good. Advocates on both sides have expressed their concerns about density and height, as well as folks who have christened themselves the YIMBY (yes in my backyard) movement, who want more density and height, and all have been able to influence this plan. I think it’s a solid plan going forward.

There are a lot of concerns about affordability, displacement and density, and then there are concerns about whether there are going to be rules and regulations that would discourage any real development or create some pie-in-the-sky metrics. At the end of the day, I think we have a plan that encourages smart growth development, and puts a high affordability piece at 35 percent across all development, while at the same time encouraging more development on the Washington Street corridor.

We can ensure that we have smart growth development that allows for more people to live and grow roots in Jamaica Plain and lessens the housing crunch by having more options, and at the same time putting a premium on building affordable units, as well as protecting the green and open space that Jamaica Plain is known for.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh signs City Councilor Matt O'Malley's gas leaks ordinance into law on Dec. 23, 2016.

Q: You have worked to stop gas leaks in the city of Boston. The City Council supported your legislation and Mayor Walsh signed it making it law. How is it working now that it's in effect, and what can people do to help?

O'Malley: It’s one of my most proud accomplishments in my six years on the Boston City Council. I’m greatly proud to partner with leaders of Mothers Out Front, an environmental advocacy group with many members in Jamaica Plain. It was signed into law, and there’s a six-month period where we allow utilities to survey and provide info to the city.

Starting July 1, Boston will receive real-time info on leaks and GPS mapping techniques, so when the city is doing work utilities can check for leaks where the construction is happening. Right now, we’re beginning to really capture info and are doing a fair and thorough examination. We want to encourage utilities to do the right thing. This is something that is not only an environmental issue -- it’s also a public safety issue and a consumer protection issue. As ratepayers, we are paying $90 million a year for unaccounted gas, gas that escapes into the atmosphere -- it kills trees, exacerbates asthma and, potentially, could blow something up or cause a public safety issue.

Furthermore, I’ve been proud to stand by [in support of all who have protested] in West Roxbury in fighting the Algonquin Pipeline Project. The utility companies suggest we have a shortage of natural gas for customers. But if we fix the leaks, which this ordinance would do, we will have enough gas for customers and we can use our time to fund alternative energy sources like wind, solar and hydro.

Q: You have filed legislation to bring sidewalk compost to residents just as we put out our trash and recycling. Why? What is the status of that legislation?

O'Malley: We’re still working on it. City Councilor Ayanna Pressley and I refilled the legislation in the second [Boston City Council] meeting of this year. I’ve been working on this issue since 2012. I initially partnered with the Egleston Square Farmers Market, where they had a compost drop-off location. Right now, we pay for garbage pickup and pay [less than for garbage] for recycling. We offer single-stream recycling, but don’t offer curbside composting. By offering curbside composting, we can generate revenue for the city and generate a resource for the city.

San Francisco uses their curbside compost program to mulch and fertilize parks and playgrounds. We are spending $80 per ton for trash. We are paying much less for recycling. We could pilot this program and it would divert food from the waste stream and provide resources that people could use. Other cities have seen great success with curbside composting. Cambridge started it as a pilot and is now doing it citywide. I think Jamaica Plain would be an ideal location to start it.

Q: You have brought free sunscreen to neighborhoods, and provided receptacles for people to discard their cigarettes. The health of residents seems to be a major focus of yours -- would you say that’s true?

O'Malley: Absolutely.

Q: So what’s next in keeping Bostonians healthy?

O'Malley: The gas leaks ordinance has a profound health impact. The sunscreen initiative is a good way to address a public health issue [skin cancer]. A larger issue I’d like to focus on would be ways to combat opiate addiction and abuse. It’s affecting countless towns across the country. We’ve seen many cities offering treatment focusing on dual diagnosis of recovery and mental health support. We need to make sure we have resources available to get people sober and remain sober. The scourge of prescription drug opiates that can be an addiction is incredible. This is something that affects every city, every race and every socioeconomic background. Everyone knows someone and loves someone dealing with addiction. We can work collectively through the Boston Public Schools, health centers, in our medical area and at community health centers. Going forward, I want Boston to be a leader in treating those who are addicted to prescription opiates.


A photo of District City Councilor Matt O'Malley having "impromptu office hours" at Beecher Street Park when it was an off-leash dog area.

Q: Is there going to be a dog park in Jamaica Plain?

O'Malley: We’re getting there. I appreciate the reporting of Jamaica Plain News in talking to people and providing a forum on this topic. We don’t have any news to offer right away other than I spoke with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and there will be a community meeting at some point in the coming weeks. Hopefully by mid-February we’ll have a date for a Jamaica Plain community meeting.

Obviously, Beecher Street was a renegade dog park, but seemed to work well for many, many years for residents and dog owners. But you had dog walkers bringing multiple dogs at once and neighbors were at their wit's end and the parks department closed it.

I reached out to MSPCA-Angell to allow the community to use their small yet fenced-in dog run. And we started working with DCR to identify a space for a dog park.

Things can move slowly, but this is something that has been a focus of mine. I can’t put a timeline on it, but it is a focus of mine. A week doesn’t go by when I don’t make a call to DCR. There are a number of locations on the Southwest Corridor that would make sense to provide a fenced-in area and not be as close to residents as Beecher Street's [park was]. But it would be dependent upon a dog-friends neighborhood group to keep it clean and safe.

Q: What are you looking forward to this year for Jamaica Plain?

O'Malley: One thing I’m fighting for in this year’s capital budget is to get some renovations and paving around Jamaica Pond. Its mile-and-a-half needs some desperate TLC. It has many visitors, more than many Boston parks. We just need to clean the pond up a bit, fix up the pathways and make sure we have new plants and trees along the route.

And I continue to work with parents and teachers at schools to make sure they have resources and have what they need. I’m fighting for a new playground for the Fernandez School. And I want to make sure our police, fire and EMS have the supports they need. I’m also going to focus on environmental initiatives like my plastic-bag ordinance.

I’m also looking forward to this May when the Jamaica Plain Branch Library reopens. It looks phenomenal -- it really is going to be something else. I worked with Mayor Menino and Mayor Walsh on this, and I’m looking forward to its completion.