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BLOCK PARTY CHALLENGE FAQs

Join the Block Party Coordination Planning Group Email List here:
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/somervilleblockpartychallenge
 

How do I get permission from the City to close a block? Once you have a date, apply for a “Public Event/Special Alcohol License” from the City to block the street. There’s no charge for the license. You’ll find the application on the city’s website, at http://www.somervillema.gov/citizenserve. Click on the CitizenServe logo, then “Learn More About Licensing.” Look for the “Submittal Requirements” for Public Events and follow the instructions carefully. Contact City Clerk John Long if you have any questions (617) 625-6600 ext 4110, jlong@somervillema.gov. Don’t be intimidated by the application – it’s the same one used for much more complicated licenses, but most block parties get approved. Please be sure to pick a rain date. If you don't and your event gets rained out, you'll need to submit a new application.

How do I answer these questions: “Does this event include alcohol service?” “Will food be served?” For a typical block party, attendees may serve food potluck-style without a license, as long as common sense is used with respect to food safety (don’t leave perishables out more than two hours, make sure meat is thoroughly cooked, etc.). Attendees may drink alcohol on private property, like front steps and driveways. Be sure to specify in your application that food will be potluck and alcohol will only be consumed on private property (yards and driveways) – you will NOT be selling food or alcohol. If you do want to sell food or alcohol, contact City Clerk John Long well in advance, because there is a separate, lengthy licensing process for these activities.

Are there deadlines for submitting the public event license application? Yes! There are time frames for getting the licenses processed. Public events are approved at each City Council meeting, and it takes a few days for department heads to sign off before each meeting. Our next few meetings are on June 13th, June 27th, on July 11th, and then not again until August 22nd. Block parties need to have sign-offs by the Friday before each meeting. There is a way to get a last-minute license, but it’s trickier for all involved and may not work out, so if you can submit it several weeks before the event, that’s best. The license application is accessible here: http://www.somervillema.gov/citizenserve.

Do private ways need to get a license? The City recommends that private ways apply for a license in the same way a regular street would. The Fire Department needs to know when an event is happening. They will want to make sure there are no movable barriers on the street, and that any charcoal/gas grills are managed safely (away from kids, with a fire extinguisher present), and the Police Department needs advance notification as well. Thus, submitting the license online will address all of those issues. Public Works will also set up barriers for licensed private way block parties.

What should we do if we need to switch to the rain date? If your rain date is on the same weekend (e.g. switching from Saturday to Sunday), try to hold onto the barriers. DPW will try to arrange to leave the barriers if it is raining on a Saturday. If your rain date is a later weekend, call 311 during the weekday hours so that DPW knows where/when to drop off barriers for the rain date. During weekend hours, 311 is staffed by an off-site call service, so it's harder for them to communicate real-time with City staff, except for the most urgent cases (though we may be able to work this out in the future). 

What if DPW doesn’t drop off the barriers in time? Residents can call 311. The head of Public Works, Stan Koty, also said people can call him directly at 617-590-1405.

Is there a way for residents to get a temporary no parking sign in advance of a block party, and is that a good idea? The head of Traffic and Parking notes that a “no parking” sign may be purchased at Traffic and Parking. The cost is $5/sign and the sign must be posted 48 hours in advance of the event. That said, City staff have mentioned that over the years that they have handled block party licenses, requiring neighbors to move cars has sometimes created some friction which has made block parties less popular. An option is to move just a few cars to create an open area. 

Can we invite a food truck to come? Yes, but it does require several steps. The food truck must be identified in the Public Event application, and the food truck must apply for a Temporary Health License within a week of the submission of the application. (If the food truck hasn’t applied in a timely manner, then it won’t be included in the license, and the food truck won’t be allowed to operate. This condition is necessary to allow enough time for ISD’s Health Division to do its job of vetting the truck and insuring the safety of food served to the public in the city).

How do I involve neighbors? Drop off a simple flier for neighbors at each house (federal law prohibits putting fliers in mailboxes, but you can put them in each door.) Hang up fliers around the neighborhood. Call and email. Going door-to-door with the invitations adds a personal touch that will help you get more people interested in volunteering for and attending the event. Keep the invitation simple, and remember to include at least one contact name and phone number, so neighbors can get in touch with someone if necessary. Distribute a short reminder notice one week before the block party to confirm to everyone that it’s still happening.

Who should be invited? It’s up to you! Invite just your block, neighboring blocks, the whole neighborhood, or the whole city! We can help advertise it if you let us know the date.

What happens on the day of? The Department of Public Works will drop off a “street closed” barrier on the day of your event. If for some reason they don’t drop off the barriers, call 311 or DPW (see above) or block your street off with your own lawn chairs, as long as you have the license. You will need to let cars go in and out of their driveways, so you will have to move the barriers at certain points (so place your tables, etc. strategically).

What other suggestions do you have? If you want to start small/manageable, block off the smallest section of the street that still works for your gathering. This allows you to inconvenience the fewest people, and thus makes it less stressful to have the “perfect” party.

How about food? As mentioned above, have the block party as a potluck so you can get a license easily. The hosts can bring plates, napkins, forks, and a folding table. Ask a neighbor to supply a grill, but be sure to keep it away from the little children. A good line for an invitation is: “Bring food to grill for your family and a dish to share.” If you want to be more ambitious, you could hold something like a chili cook-off or a cookie contest, and have kids award prizes to their favorites, but you can always try that in a future year once you graduate to “advanced” block partying!

How about activities? Some established block parties do cool things, like bouncy houses or a clown. However, even just sitting in a circle with lawn chairs is perfect. Kids love being able to actually ride their bike or scooter on the block, and may go in and out of houses. I always bring out some toys from my house and put them on a blanket for the younger kids. The Fire Department requires that if you do set up a large object, like a bouncy house, that you leave at least 12 feet of clearance on the street, so a fire truck or ambulance can get by when necessary.

Can I hold a block party in a park instead? Some blocks may not work for block parties. You can also have a party in a park! This will still require a Public Event license, just like a block party on a street. In addition, you should ideally to reserve the space through the Recreation Department. See here for more information: http://www.somervillerec.com/info/facilities/default.aspx

More questions? Contact City Clerk John Long for more information (617) 625-6600  ext 4110, jlong@somervillema.gov), your ward councilor, or Stephanie Hirsch (617-512-4847, stephanie@stephaniehirsch.org)

HAVE FUN AND SEE YOU ON THE BLOCK!!