New deal on liquor licenses in Boston awaits Patrick's okay

All that remains is Gov. Deval Patrick’s signature and Boston will be the recipient of 75 new liquor licenses and a liquor licensing board whose members will be appointed by the mayor.

After nearly three years of wheeling and dealing from the neighborhoods to Beacon Hill, an amendment tacked onto the economic development bill was pushed out of conference committee for a vote during the final hours of the legislative session. It passed unanimously in the Senate and by 144 to 9 in the House.

Once the bill is placed on his desk, the governor has 10 days to sign it into law. As of the Reporter’s press time, his office had not scheduled a time for the signing.

The new licenses will be spread over the next three years, with 25 made available each year beginning Sept. 1. The new law stipulates that 60 of the 75 total licenses are to be targeted to restaurants in areas like Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury, which are largely devoid of permits compared to other parts of the city, as well as to BRA-designated main street districts. Those 20 annual licenses will be required to stay within their chosen neighborhoods.

“This strikes a good balance where we’re getting at what I saw was the fundamental problem of the former law,” At-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley told the Reporter. “Where we’re seeing neighborhoods with density and saturation and others that are completely desolate and deprived of licenses.”

Restaurants will be eligible to apply for the new licenses with the city each year beginning Sept. 1 of this year, according to Jessica Taubner, Pressley’s chief of staff. This is the first time in nearly a decade that the city has received additional liquor licenses, an action that requires the Legislature’s approval. That will be the case should Boston seek more licenses after three years are up.

Pressley started on her mission to bridge the city’s disparity in liquor license allocation nearly three years ago when she crafted a petition to the City Council that eventually led to the home rule votes in the Legislature. Pressley’s petition was the last thing Mayor Thomas Menino signed before his term as mayor ended last winter, and the banner was kept aloft by his successor, Martin Walsh.

“When Marty Walsh was a state rep and a candidate, he said if he became mayor, he’d be my strongest partner in seeing this legislation realized,” Pressley said. “He has certainly honored his word.”

Walsh and others played significant roles in pushing the legislation through the legislative session, which ended just after midnight on August 1. “This bill was dead five different ways. Without the mayor having those legislative relationships on different sides, this wouldn’t have happened,” said State Rep. Dan Hunt, who holds Walsh’s former House seat. “This is a huge victory for the mayor and his team.”

“I made a few phone calls and helped get the legislation done,” Walsh told the Reporter, refusing to go into details.

Pressley, of course, worked the phones to keep the amendment alive, and she cited the “formidable support” of state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and state Reps. Russell Holmes, Daniel Cullinane, and Hunt.

Despite the legislative victory, there is more work to be done. “Right now, I’m pleased but I’m not satisfied,” Pressley said, pointing to the initial provisions in her home rule petition that called for doing away with the city’s cap on liquor licenses, a stipulation stripped from the final version. Pressley said she’ll continue to work from her spot in the City Council to establish reforms that maintain transparency in the actions of the new board. “At least I don’t have to go through the state legislative process to do that now,” she said with a laugh.

So far, Walsh has been mostly mum about the makeup of the board save for noting that members “will have to be residents.” Other than that, he said, “I’m going to wait for [the bill] to be signed until I talk about it.” Still, he feels good about the new deal for his city.

“It’s really good for a lot of neighborhoods; it really gives the opportunity to expand business opportunities in certain parts of Boston that haven’t had it in the past,” he said. “I’m looking forward to controlling the board.”