Wu signals flexibility on controversial North End outdoor dining fee, vows safety review after deadly garage collapse

Download Audio
Mayor Michelle Wu speaks at a press conference to announce a new requirement to show proof of vaccination for certain indoor activities in Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Mayor Michelle Wu speaks at a press conference. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is signaling the city will have some flexibility with its new outdoor dining rules for the North End, as several neighborhood restaurant owners threaten to sue the city over those rules.

Earlier this month, the city announced North End restaurants would have to pay $7,500 to host outdoor dining this year. But in a Radio Boston interview Monday, Wu said restaurants don't need to pay the fee all at once.

Instead, they could pay in installments.

"If for some reason they did not want to start on the first day of outdoor dining, but instead wait a month or two into the program and they only wanted to have a patio for a few months, that should be charged month by month," Wu said, adding there's also a process for so-called "hardship waivers." Wu's office told WBUR she plans to discuss that process further at a Tuesday press conference.

Wu did not include these options in a letter her office sent to restaurants last Friday about outdoor dining rules.

She said her office's overall goal is to balance dining with quality-of-life concerns for North End residents. Wu said she will consider rescinding outdoor dining if enough restaurants see the program as unworkable.

The mayor also weighed in as federal safety authorities investigate the partial collapse of the Government Center parking garage Saturday that killed 51-year-old construction worker Peter Monsini. The garage is being demolished and replaced with high-rise office space and residential units.

The city will review the federal report and existing safety policies, Wu said, particularly ordinances and legislation passed in response to prior "preventable tragedies."

"Those, for example, included a barring of any companies or subcontractors that had significant safety violations on their record from pulling permits in the city," she said. "All of those pieces we are looking into."

Service on the T's Green and Orange lines through the area has been suspended. Those suspensions are expected to last several days, as crews need to remove debris and ensure the garage has been stabilized before inspectors can get into the subway tunnels underneath the structure, the T said.

Wu called Monsini's death in the collapse "devastating," and said she has been in contact with his labor union.

"At the appropriate time, we'll definitely do whatever we can," Wu said. "In fact, many Boston residents and members of our team here at City Hall have been wanting to make sure that the entire city passes along our deep, deep condolences and support and love for this family."

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On the partial collapse at the Government Center Garage

"I can't imagine for [Monsini's] family and all of his coworkers on the job, and this is a situation where no family should have to worry about their loved one coming back from work at night. I was on scene a couple nights ago and know that first responders and public safety agencies were there all night ensuring that the site was still stabilized, and there's still some more work that needs to be done to stabilize the public transit tunnels that run underneath the site as well. So the MBTA will continue to be diverted for some time. But we are going to do whatever possible to get to the bottom of this in terms of the investigation.

"And in the meantime, there's a lot of work happening to ensure that all the safety checks will be fully satisfied before anything else proceeds. This is a very large, complex demolition project right in the thick of the city, downtown, with these buildings right nearby. And so what I think in other situations would have been just a large detonation potentially of the whole building is just not feasible."

North End outdoor dining

On whether she has received any notice of formal legal action from restaurant owners in the North End, as some threaten legal action over outdoor dining fees

"I have not at this moment. I can't guarantee that someone else in the city hasn't [laughs]. But I have not heard yet of anything that has happened. I really believe that the vast majority of community members are on the same page here — both the restaurant owners and the residents who all just want to see a safe, thriving, healthy, livable community.

"The North End is unique and I know that some of the tension here is that certain restaurant owners believe that it's not fair that ... even if this is affordable to them, that restaurant owners in other parts of the city aren't being charged, and so they feel that they're being targeted, or that the scale of fees to participate in a shortened time frame isn't what they believe that the city should be providing in terms of having an equal treatment across every neighborhood.

"It is a very different situation in the North End compared to elsewhere, not only in the number of patios. It's just the scale of ... 79 outdoor dining patios in the North End last year. The next-highest neighborhood — that wasn't in the downtown area — was Back Bay, which had 59. But the North End's sidewalks are very narrow, and so the patios can't fit on the sidewalks. They fit in the street, taking up parking spaces, putting diners close to traffic, in a neighborhood where there already were no alleys where food drop-off, deliveries and parking could happen."

On concerns about fairness and equity with the city's outdoor dining fee

"In this case, we wanted to make sure that in [the North End] where there is the most intense disruption from outdoor dining, that there could be resources to address this. And that over the course of many months of conversations and especially with the public meetings that we've had, this was the compromise for outdoor dining in the community.

"I've had some very, very helpful and positive and productive conversations with the restaurant community as well, and there are some clarifications to the program that we are happy to make. For example, being very clear that this was always intended to be a $1,500 monthly fee that added up over the course of five months, and that if restaurants want to divide that into monthly installments, that is perfectly possible, rather than making sure that could be upfront.

"Or if a restaurant, for example ... did not want to start on the first day of outdoor dining, but instead wait a month or two into the program and they only wanted to have a patio for a few months, that should be charged month by month rather than needing to have the entire time span's fee. There's also a process for hardship waivers. So, addressing some of the factors that restaurant owners have lifted up around the difference between if you don't have a liquor license, for example, or you have a smaller street front in front of your store, and so therefore your patio has to be much smaller than others. Or if you are not on one of the main streets, or Hanover or Salem in the North End, or you're kind of further out in the neighborhood, that might be a different economic situation. So those are all conversations that we're having."

The future of Boston Public Schools

On the state education leaders starting their review of the district Monday amid concerns the process could lead to receivership for Boston Public Schools — all while the district searches for its next superintendent

"I am so deeply invested in what happens with our Boston public schools. It's the first thing I think about in the morning, as I have to make sure the kids are ready to go and prepared for everything they need to head off to school. And it's a system that I'm quite familiar with, having raised my sister as her legal guardian, and on the City Council, getting the chance to see and be with our school community members across so many of our schools in the district.

"This is an exciting place to think about the possibilities for public education. This is an exciting moment for us to really capitalize on the energy, to lift up our young people and all the resources this city has. And so I'm confident that the next superintendent will share our great hope and determination that Boston Public Schools will be a leader in what's possible and using every bit of resources available. We welcome those partnerships, including with the state."

"I want to be clear that there have been no formal steps toward receivership. And we have made it clear on many levels that the district, myself as mayor, city councilors, do not support that sort of move. The current review and process that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is undergoing will be a very helpful process for our city and our district to understand what has changed since the pandemic. The last review was released the same day that our school system shut down in the pandemic two years ago, and since then, much has deepened, much has changed. We've also taken some very important steps forward in terms of progress on the issues that were identified. I look forward to challenging every, every single sector of our city — whether it is in state government, or the private sector, or nonprofits and anyone who is part of our community — to really get invested in our Boston public schools and the incredible treasure of our young people."

A new car for the mayor?

On why Wu doesn't drive an electric vehicle, as a way to set an example amid her office's push for a "Green New Deal" in Boston

"I completely agree, this has been one of my pet peeves [laughs] since starting the job, as I had imagined coming into office and immediately switching out that vehicle — which is currently a hybrid — for something that is fully electric. For those instances where, for example, a meeting might not be on a public transportation line or needing to get across the city in different directions, etc. What I have learned is that the parameters and the procurement processes are very long for something like this. The vehicle is a police vehicle, and so it is secured, and that comes with a number of different features along with the energy efficiency. And so it is in order and on the way, but it's been taking quite a while."

With reporting from WBUR's Hannah Chanatry and Laney Ruckstuhl.

This article was originally published on March 28, 2022.

This segment aired on March 28, 2022.


Headshot of Amanda Beland

Amanda Beland Senior Producer
Amanda Beland is a producer and director for Radio Boston. She also reports for the WBUR newsroom.


Headshot of Tiziana Dearing

Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.


Headshot of Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell Associate Producer
Jack Mitchell was an associate producer in WBUR's newsroom. He works across a wide spectrum of departments and shows — from the newscast unit, to, to Radio Boston.



More from Radio Boston

Listen Live