City councilor wants liquor license control returned to Boston for first time since Prohibition

August 28, 2015
Boston city councilor who has led the charge in the city's recent efforts to overhaul the liquor license permitting process says she plans to file a home rule petition with the state Legislature that if passed would let Boston control its own liquor permitting for the first time in more than 80 years.

The Legislature has overseen the process since the end of Prohibition.

City Councilor-at-large Ayanna Pressley said in an interview that it's time local officials "on the ground" take control.

In recent years, the Legislature has let Boston to issue more licenses for neighborhoods that Pressley said had become "food deserts."

"I'm encouraged by what I've seen in that first round of licensing," she said. Two more rounds of distributing new licenses for targeted neighborhoods are planned. But those licenses have gone quickly, Pressley said, and she'd like to see city officials have the flexibility to add more as they see fit.

"If we have local control, we can make these decisions," she said.

A key issue is how many licenses the city should have.

Under existing caps imposed by the Legislature, Boston has a little more than 600 licenses that allow the serving of any type of alcoholic beverage. Another 200 allow the sale of only beer and wine. Another 300 or allow the sale of various alcoholic beverages with restrictions such as neighborhood. Finally, a little more than 200 licenses allow the sale of liquor at stores.

Many would-be restaurateurs and some activists in under-served neighborhoods would like to see that number increase.

Critics of expanding the number of licenses historically have been restaurateurs who already hold them, in some cases paying $400,000 to buy them from other estabslishments, and activists in neighborhoods with what some critics argue are too many restaurants.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh "is looking forward to reviewing the petition," a spokeswoman said. In previous comments, Walsh has indicated strong support for bringing control of licenses to the city. Pressley said she is in "the very early stages" of lining up support. "I really want to address this in a way that's thoughtful and deliberate."