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Emotions run high during City Council public hearing

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Proposed life sciences labs draw opposition

  It was a chaotic scene at City Hall on Monday night as City Council President Gerry Visconti cleared the City Council Chambers during a public hearing on a proposed ordinance change for biosafety labs in the city. Visconti and Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna proposed a zoning amendment that would lower the biosafety levels allowed in the city in light of a proposed life sciences building at the Suffolk Downs Development.

  During Monday night’s hearing on the proposed amendment, the council heard from Sam Lipson, a public health official in Cambridge, about steps that city has taken to regulate medical and research laboratories. Visconti then opened up the meeting to public comments, where a number of people spoke about their concerns about potential animal testing at Suffolk Downs or voiced their outright opposition to any life sciences building in Revere. As has been the case during potentially controversial hearings over the past months, several police officers were on duty in the City Council Chambers.

  “I put out a poll on Facebook, probably to about 25 pages, and the poll is 363 no votes to nine yes votes [for a life sciences lab],” said Revere resident Wayne Rose. “So where do you guys get off saying the public wants this? The public [doesn’t] want this.”

  While there were a number of passionate speakers against the lab, the real uproar didn’t begin until the public speaking portion of the meeting ended and the councillors had their chance to weigh in. As Councillor-at-Large George Rotondo was asking Lipson questions about how lab safety compares to other medical building safety measures, one woman in the audience began shouting, stating that the council was “gaslighting” the city. As Visconti tried to gavel the meeting back into order, the woman continued to speak over the council, and Visconti asked that the woman be removed from the City Council Chambers. The meeting then degenerated to a showdown as the woman and several others began shouting that she had a Constitutional right to speak and remain in the chambers, while City Solicitor Paul Capizzi approached her to explain the Open Meeting Law.

  “What a setup, Gerry, what a set up,” Rose shouted at Visconti from the front row.

  As has also been the case in past months when meetings have become heated, Visconti called for a five-minute recess, but tensions still remained high during the recess. As more Revere police officers arrived at City Hall, Visconti asked to clear the City Council Chambers, and the audience eventually filed out into the hallways and stairwells for a nearly 30-minute recess. During the recess, several people jammed in front of the door to the chambers and confronted police about when they would be let back in. In the stairwell, a small handful of sign-toting protesters began a short “hell no, we won’t go” chant. Behind the scenes, at least one city councillor lobbied Visconti to end the meeting altogether.

  Eventually, a semblance of order was restored, and people were let back into the City Council Chambers. At this point, nine police officers, including two State Troopers, lined the wall of the chambers.

  Visconti quickly wrapped up the public hearing on the biosafety level reduction, moving it to a future Zoning Subcommittee meeting. As Visconti and the council moved on to other business, most of the people who showed up for the public hearing began to filter out of City Hall.

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