Jury Selection for Salvation Army Collapse Trial to Begin Today

A Salvation Army Thrift store is demolished in the aftermath of a building collapse, Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Philadelphia. On Wednesday, the building under demolition collapsed onto a neighboring thrift store, killing six people and injuring 14, including one who was pulled from the debris nearly 13 hours later.

The remaining structure of the Salvation Army thrift store being demolished in June 2013. Photograph by Matt Rourke/AP

Starting this morning, a judge and teams of lawyers will begin to winnow a pool of potential jurors in the Salvation Army building collapse case.

The 12 people who are eventually chosen will help decide who will compensate the six victims and 13 survivors of the June 5, 2013, incident, in which a brick wall under demolition crashed through the roof of the Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market streets. Read more »

City Waging War on Nuisance Clothing Collection Bins

Photo | Streets Department

Photo | Streets Department

At noon Tuesday, Mayor Jim Kenney, Licenses and Inspections Commissioner David Perri and several other city officials met at Nicetown Court Apartments to discuss a big, intrusive, unsightly problem that sat just one block away — a clothing donation bin.

The bins that are present throughout the city have been classified as “nuisances,” “eye sores,” and simply urban blight. Now the L&I department is cracking down on them. They’ve already got a list of 70 which will be the first to go in the first phase of its crack-down.

“Throughout the city, these clothing donation bins have been placed in the public right-of-way, residential areas and parking lots without permission,” said Karen Guss, a spokeswomen for L&I. “[There are] projects trying to beautify the neighborhood and they’re getting undermined by these big, ugly bins.” Read more »

City Orders 2122 Locust Facade Be Saved

The exterior of 2122 Locust will be saved while its inside is demolished. Photo |Matt Sheridan

The exterior of 2122 Locust will be saved while its inside is demolished. Photo | Matt Sheridan

The Department of Licenses and Inspections has ordered the owner of 2122 Locust Street to preserve the facade of the building when demolition takes place.

The move was announced in a press release issued by L&I this morning. Read more »

Can This New Plan Finally Fix Philly’s Decrepit Sidewalks?

A big tripping hazard on 24th Street. | Photo courtesy of reader @philavore.

A big tripping hazard on 24th Street. | Photo courtesy of reader @philavore.

[Updated 6:50 p.m.] Philadelphia might be ranked the fourth most-walkable city in the country, but the on-the-ground reality for pedestrians in many neighborhoods suggests otherwise: The city’s sidewalks are warped, disintegrating, disreputable blocks of concrete and brick that you can hardly step on, let alone maneuver a bicycle, stroller, or — dare I say it — hoverboard across.

Sidewalks are the responsibility of property owners — not the city — in Philadelphia. But other cities with a similar setup — New York, Minneapolis and Memphis among them — have developed innovative strategies to incentivize owners to repair their sidewalks. Conversely, Philly lacks any sort of stick or carrot to nudge property owners toward being good stewards. Last year, the city’s streets department issued 909 notices to property owners for failing to maintain the condition of their sidewalks. As a result of those notices, said miscreants paid a grand total of zero dollars in penalties. That’s an enforcement arm as flimsy as a hall monitor.

But with a new mayoral administration arrives hope for a change. The idea of returning luster to our woebegone sidewalks is being spearheaded by David Perri, who was recently appointed as head of the city’s Licenses and Inspections department by Mayor Jim Kenney. Perri believes that if the city transferred sidewalk enforcement to his department and allowed municipal employees to issue tickets to violators, a whole lot more repairs would get done.  Read more »

Police: Watch Out for Fraudster Claiming City Must Demolish Your House



A man posing as a city inspector has falsely informed residents in three separate locations that their properties were scheduled for demolition, police said Friday.

The suspect, described as a 5-foot-7, middle-aged African-American man, allegedly visited the 2500 block of N. Colorado Street, the 2400 block of W. Cumberland Street, and the 2400 block of W. Sergeant Street throughout the last week. Police said the man was wearing a reflective vest, a yellow hard hat and a partial goatee, and was seen in a dark green Volvo station wagon with a Pennsylvania license plate.   Read more »

Bad News in the Blight Wars: Judge Rules Against City’s Most Effective Anti-Blight Program

A blighted, vacant home lacking doors and windows on an otherwise healthy block in West Philadelphia. | Image: Google Streetview.

A blighted, vacant home lacking doors and windows on an otherwise healthy block in West Philadelphia. | Image: Google Streetview.

Philadelphia has a novel and seemingly highly effective anti-blight law on the books known as the Doors & Windows ordinance.

The law empowers the City to order owners of vacant property on otherwise healthy blocks to put real, functional doors and real, functional windows on their buildings, instead of the plywood “doors” or sheet-metal “windows” so often used to seal up vacant structures.

The financial penalties for flouting the ordinance are extreme: $300 per opening, per day.

Although disliked by some owners of vacant buildings for obvious reasons, the ordinance is a simple, elegant, cost-effective way for the City to slow or halt the blighting influence of empty buildings in still-healthy neighborhoods.

But as PlanPhilly reports, a Common Pleas Court judge last month wrote an opinion that calls the legality of the ordinance into question. Judge Linda Carpenter wrote that the ordinance “appears to be concerned more with aesthetics and the appearance of occupancy rather than blight, safety and security.” Read more »

Yet Another Person Thinks L&I’s Commissioner Should Quit

From L to R: L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams and City Controller Alan Butkovitz | Photos by the Associated Press

From L to R: L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams and City Controller Alan Butkovitz | Photos by the Associated Press

After repeatedly bashing the Licenses & Inspection department over the past few months, Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz upped the ante Wednesday by calling for the head of the agency to quit.

Butkovitz said L&I has been “chaos” under L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams. Citing a new investigation of the department, Butkovitz said overtime has been abused, dangerous homes have been left to fester, and more than 1,900 building inspections have been conducted by employees who lack the adequate certification.

“He’s the captain of the ship and it’s his job to find a way to get it done,” said Butkovitz. “And instead of getting it done, he’s been interested in making it appear like things are better.” Read more »

Jim Kenney Would Hire a New Boss for L&I

Clockwise: Jim Kenney, Carlton Williams and Melissa Murray Bailey.

Clockwise from the top: Jim Kenney, Carlton Williams and Melissa Murray Bailey.

No matter what the outcome of the mayoral race this fall, it looks like Philadelphia will be getting a new Licenses & Inspections chief in 2016.

At about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, GOP mayoral nominee Melissa Murray Bailey called on L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams to resign in a press release. Hours later, Democrat Jim Kenney’s campaign told Citified that Williams would not be commissioner if he is elected this November. Read more »

L&I Buys Fake News Articles to Improve Image

Screenshot via Philly.com

Screenshot via Philly.com

Philadelphia’s Licenses & Inspections department has been under fire since what seems like the beginning of time.

The department was created in 1951, and just one year later, 10 employees were caught taking bribes (“some of the inspectors had been corrupted for as little as $2, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote). In the 1960s, an L&I Commissioner was indicted on 22 — 22! — counts, ranging from bribery to blackmail to extortion. The 1980s and 1990s saw more L&I payoff scandals. Then, Philadelphia was forever changed in 2013 when six people were killed when a building collapsed on Market Street; many said L&I was incompetent and starved for resources.

This year, the Inquirer has revealed that contractors have torn down buildings without the necessary permits and inexperienced L&I employees have been responsible for inspecting dangerous buildings.

This is a department that could use a little good press. So it decided to buy some. L&I spent $15,000 on three advertorials on Philly.com in recent months. Each advertorial is roughly 500 to 600 words long, and each tells the story of a reformed department. Read more »

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