Philadelphia’s Tax Delinquency Epidemic Rages On

Photo by Morgan Burke, Creative Commons license.

Delinquency hangs over Philadelphia like clouds that won’t blow away. | Photo by Morgan Burke, Creative Commons license.

Property tax delinquency was — once again — on the rise in Philadelphia between April 2014 and April 2015.

In spite of the Nutter administration’s long and varied efforts to control what is one of the nation’s worst delinquency epidemics, the total number of past-due properties grew to nearly 100,000 in April, up from 96,000 in the same month the year before.

These figures represent a step backwards for the city. Last year, for the first time since Mayor Nutter took office, the city managed to put a small dent in both the total number of delinquent properties and the total debt owed. The progress was modest, given the scale of the problem, but it raised hopes that the delinquency crisis had peaked.

Apparently not. Read more »

The Brief: Why It Takes So Long for City Streets to Get Fixed

Screenshot 2015-07-21 06.56.12

1. Why does it take so impossibly long for street repairs to get made in Philadelphia? It’s complicated. Really complicated.

The gist: PlanPhilly last week took a long look at a complicated question. Who owns the streets in Philadelphia? The short answer is there are nine government agencies, and a couple dozen “private entities,” and that’s before matters like utility rights-of-way get factored in. Questions over ownership and maintenance responsibility over streetstcape elements — signs, stoplights, manholes, trees and the like — are that much more complex. As PlanPhilly’s Jim Saksa writes:

But it’s a complexity not without cause: dividing responsibilities allows for specialization, which can make for more effective oversight of Philadelphia’s 2,235 miles of public pavement.

But the system only works if all the different actors can get on the same page, something that gets more difficult as the cast grows. Like other areas of government, effectively managing the complicated streets system requires a strong director, something Philadelphia hasn’t always had.

Why it matters: These byzantine arrangements, which are pretty much the norm in big cities, go a long way toward explaining why it can take so long, for instance, for that trench dug by the city water department on a state-owned road to get permanently paved over. Read more »

At Last, the Moment Is Ripe for Real Criminal Justice Reform

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama made the case for a fundamental shift in America’s approach to crime and punishment.

He rattled off an array of terrifying statistics: 2.2 million U.S. prisoners (that’s four times as many as there were in 1980); one million fathers behind bars; $80 billion spent each year to keep those prisons operating.

“What is that doing to our communities? What is that doing to their children?” Obama said, addressing the NAACP national convention right here in Philadelphia. “Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we’ve got to do something about it.”

A day later, former President Bill Clinton took to the same stage, and owned up to his lamentable role in fueling America’s law-and-order mania: the passage of his 1994 crime bill, which funded new prisons and increased sentences for many federal crimes. “I signed a bill that made the problem worse, and I want to admit it,” Clinton told the convention.

Meanwhile, in Washington, there is unmistakable momentum building for criminal justice reform, and not just on the Democratic side of the aisle. Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn was busy bashing Obama over the Iran nuclear monitoring deal, but when he was asked about the President’s speech by Politico, Cornyn said: “We’ve actually been working on it for quite a while.” He suggested legislation could be coming in a matter of weeks.

Deep-red states like Utah, Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska are all exploring ways to reduce their prison populations by rolling back three-strike laws or reducing sentences for non-violent offenders.

“There’s a different feel about criminal justice all over. When the Koch brothers are talking about prison reform, you know something is in the air,” says attorney David Rudovsky, a longtime crusader for criminal justice reform in Philadelphia. “I’ve been around too long to believe anything is going to happen overnight, but it is moving in that direction.” Read more »

That’s No Moon … It’s a Parklet

Tim Barnes - Shift_Design- Parklet

Photo Courtesy of SHIFT_DESIGN

The University City District last week installed what might just be the world’s biggest parklet at 125 S. 40th Street.

The 60-foot behemoth stretches past three storefronts, and it sports enough seating for a wedding reception (kidding … kind of). The parklet’s contemporary aesthetic will be familiar to anyone who’s seen other UCD parklets. This one is also the work of SHIFT_DESIGN.

UCD’s parklets have been huge hits, pretty much since their inception. The district studied their impact on street life and local businesses in a report published earlier this year, which confirmed the obvious: people pack into well-sited parklets, and the streets and businesses lucky enough to have one nearby are more vibrant and more successful.

The 60-foot behemoth that went in last week is 10 feet longer than UCD’s second largest parklet, and three times the length of its smaller models. UCD says it’s not aware of a bigger, temporary parklet anywhere.

WATCH: Mayor Nutter Physically Restrains Homeless Man

6ABC

6ABC

Mayor Nutter got into a brief physical confrontation with a homeless man Monday outside the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall — and the incident was recorded on cell phone video by an observer.

The video, obtained and aired by 6ABC, shows a man identified as George Creamer walking in the vicinity of the mayor and some staff members. A member of the mayor’s police protection detail then pushes Creamer as he begins to approach the mayor. Creamer tries to brush the officer off, and the two men get fall to the ground. Nutter is heard on the video telling Creamer: “You need to go.”

Creamer then rolls over on top of the protection officer as the two men wrangle on the ground. That’s where Nutter steps in. The mayor moves close, stoops down and firmly — but not violently — rolls the man off of the security officer. Read more »

The Brief: Why Your Reverse Commute Is So Wretched

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

1. Why Philadelphia-area residents have some of the worst commutes in the nation.

The gist: The Inquirer took a long look on Sunday at commutes on the region’s overloaded transportation network, zooming in for a closeup on the exquisite agony of the reverse commute. This isn’t a newsflash. Everybody city resident who works in the ‘burbs knows the horror. But Inquirer reporters Jason Laughlin and Justine McDaniel explain how this happened. Basically, the region’s transportation network was designed for a time when 50 percent or more of the jobs in the Delaware Valley were located in Philadelphia. Now, that rate is down to 25 percent. Explains the Inquirer:

Now, saddled with an infrastructure built for an era when Philadelphia was the employment nexus, planners and transportation officials are engaging in a profound game of catch-up.

Across the region, a wave of transportation projects bigger than anything in the last 30 years is animating the long-stagnant landscape. For 21st-century commuters struggling along on 20th-century roads and rails, they represent hope — but not yet relief.

The system isn’t designed shuttle to people who live in South Philadelphia to office jobs on the Route 202 corridor. City dwellers who try to take regional rail to suburban jobs too often arrive at stations with no bus service. It’s a classic “last-mile” problem. Read more »

The Jim Kenney Forecast: Cloudy, With a Chance of Greatness

Kenney and supporters on election night. Photograph by Matt Slocum, Associated Press

Kenney and supporters on election night. Photograph by Matt Slocum, Associated Press

When Jim Kenney took the stage to accept the Democratic nomination for mayor about two hours after polls closed on May 19th, he was cheered by just about every bloc in contemporary Philadelphia politics. Labor was there, of course. So were veteran African-American politicians Dwight Evans and Marian Tasco, who helped the white guy from South Philly defy racial history and win big in black neighborhoods like Strawberry Mansion and West Oak Lane. In the crowd, lifelong white rowhome voters mingled a little awkwardly with young-ish progressives and transplants. There weren’t a lot of big-business interests in the room, but Kenney had a quick private word with George Norcross, the insurance executive and South Jersey political boss who has turned his hungry eyes toward Philadelphia. Read more »

Jim Kenney’s Long War with the Archdiocese

Chaput-Kenney

Charles Chaput and Jim Kenney. | Photos by Jeff Fusco.

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney is a proud graduate of St. Joe’s Prep and La Salle. He was born and raised in a Irish Catholic family. He is the single most devoted fan of the Neuman-Goretti women’s basketball team in the world.

And yet, Kenney’s relationship with the Catholic Church is fraught. Actually, the more accurate adjective is probably just “hostile.” Kenney showed vividly just how little regard he has for local church leaders on Thursday, when he waded into the debate over the abrupt firing of a beloved, gay faculty member at Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion. In an Inquirer story, Kenney accused “cowardly men” in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia of orchestrating the firing. “If you’re a church official and you feel that strongly that this woman and her partner are such a threat to society, stand up and say so,” Kenney told the paper.

That might seem like extraordinarily blunt language coming from the likely next mayor of the city and aimed not-so-subtly at Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. But it’s actually not all that different from Kenney’s past public statements about the archdiocese. Like the time he urged Pope Francis to “kick some ass” in the archdiocese.

Kenney began feuding with the archdioceses as far back as 1998, when Catholic leaders mobilized to block a City Council bill granting benefits to partners of gay city employees that Kenney co-sponsored. More recently, he’s sparred with archdiocesan leadership over the closing of parochial schools, publicly criticized their decision to ban an 11-year-old girl from playing CYO football and wished out-loud that Pope Francis will straighten out Chaput and company when he comes to town in September.

Read more »

Johnny Doc Won the Mayor’s Race, Says Former Candidate Nelson Diaz

Nelson Diaz. | Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Former Democratic mayoral candidate Nelson Diaz has a fascinating interview with Sabrina Vourvoulias at Al Dia. Read her story here.

The most immediately newsworthy bits are his comments on John Dougherty, who Diaz blames for thwarting his campaign:

“…He got the Supreme Court, with his brother. He got city council. He worked out a deal with the Northwest, for Cherelle Parker and for (Derek) Green. So he’s got two more people he has some control over, and he will have the mayor’s office now.”

“So the question is, who won?” he continues.

“I think the guy who really won is Dougherty, who essentially is the controlling figure. And he’s part of the party, he’s the treasurer of the party, and so that’s the machine.”

Read more »

The Brief: Hite Damns the Politicos, Moves Full Speed Ahead

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

1. Tired of waiting, for reasonable funding that may never come, Schools Superintendent Bill Hite is pressing forward on his plan to reshape the district.

The gist: In a must-read story for the Notebook, Dale Mezzacappa breaks down a big administrative change underway at the School District of Philadelphia. In short, Hite is further decentralizing the district, shifting power out of the main office and into schools and a growing number of “learning networks,” which group schools both either geography or particularly educational needs and approaches. Writes Mezzacappa:

After three years of an administration defined by austerity, personnel cuts and school closings, Superintendent William Hite is ready to move forward with his vision of improving education in the District.

Hite is moving ahead even though he doesn’t know yet whether he will get the financial support from the city and state that he needs to make it happen. He said his main goals will be stability, equity, and opportunity for all students, outcomes he hopes to achieve by making schools — not the central office — “the primary unit of change.”

Read more »

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