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

Screenshot via

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 in recent months. Each advertorial is roughly 500 to 600 words long, and each tells the story of a reformed department. Read more »

Point Breeze Pop-Up Closed by L&I, Confusion Reigns

Check out the taps on this truck.

L&I has closed the Point Breeze Pop-Up

The Point Breeze Pop-Up that brought a pop-up beer garden to a once vacant lot on Point Breeze Avenue was closed by Licenses and Inspections. The reasoning being that the beer garden would need a temporary zoning change to go with its temporary liquor license.

Holly Otterbein then reached out to John Longacre, who owns South Philadelphia Taproom and American Sardine Bar and brought the beer garden to Point Breeze, for an update. Longacre told Otterbein that when a representative went to appeal the cease-and-desist order today, that the temporary zoning change that Longacre appealed for last week, should have prevented the cease-and-desist order from being issued.

Now, Longacre is attempting to find out if this means he can reopen the pop-up.

But today’s Local Food Guide Launch Party, which was to be at the Point Breeze Pop-Up has been moved to American Sardine Bar.

Read more »

The Brief: Mayor Nutter Rapped With The Roots in an Epic Performance

Mayor Nutter performs "Rapper's Delight" with The Roots. | Screenshot via 6ABC

Screenshot via 6ABC

1. Mayor Michael Nutter performed “Rapper’s Delight” with The Roots at the Philly 4th of July Jam this weekend.

The gist: You remember when Mayor Nutter did it at his 2008 inaugural ball. And then at his 2012 inaugural gala, too. Well, he performed “Rapper’s Delight” again this weekend, and it was his best delivery yet. I mean, he was backed up by The Roots and he dropped the mic at the end of the rendition, for Christ’s sake. Check it out on 6ABC. Something tells us this is his favorite karaoke song, too. Read more »

Should the Parking Authority Have the Power to Ticket … Everything?

Should the Philadelphia Parking Authority be put on the case?

Should the Philadelphia Parking Authority be put on the case?

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney wants the Philadelphia Parking Authority to turn its hyper-vigilant gaze on construction sites, littering, illegally closed sidewalks and possibly an array of other commonplace city code violations, reports Ryan Briggs for’s Next Mayor project. Writes Briggs:

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney says, if elected, he wants the Philadelphia Parking Authority to issue even more tickets — in addition to the parking variety for which the army of meter readers are already notorious.

He would like to see the PPA issuing tickets for things like litter and sidewalk violations on behalf of the Streets Department or checking construction and dumpster permits for the Department of Licenses & Inspections.

“We need to extend the ability to other departments…to issue tickets. I would like to do that with the Parking Authority,” he said. “We have people, city employees, out in the neighborhoods. They shouldn’t be working in silos, they shouldn’t be cross purpose to each other — and help each other do their jobs.”

It’s an absolutely fascinating idea. What’s more, it’s an early insight into the way a Mayor Jim Kenney might operate. Read more »

Report: L&I Allowed Uncertified Inspectors to Conduct 600 Inspections in One Week

Image via Google Street View

L&I main office on 11th floor of Municipal Services Building | Image via Google Street View

Questionable goings-on in L&I land again? It depends on whom you ask. According to the Inquirer’s Alfred Lubrano, the Department of Licenses and Inspections allowed nine “inexperienced and uncertified inspectors” to conduct “around 600 inspections of unsafe buildings in a single week last month.” Adding to the murky affair, each of the nine newbies “then recorded their work in L&I’s database under the name of another man, an experienced inspector with the agency.”

Could this be a symptom of the department’s desperate attempt to stay on top in an ocean of bureaucraticfinancial and/or managerial issues? Maybe. But the department already has a less than stellar reputation (even City Controller Alan Butkovitz has critiqued L&I as being neglectful when it comes to inspecting unsafe buildings in a timely manner), so why this now? “This story is built on a host of unnamed speakers, who raise a host of safety and legal issues that are completely without merit,” said Commission Carlton Williams in an email to Property. He went on to explain the process:

Read more »

The Brief: Michael Nutter’s “Historic” L&I Investment

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Watchdogs have said for years that Philadelphia’s Licenses & Inspections department is dangerously underfunded.

It was a victim of the recession, enduring cutbacks in staff under Mayor Michael Nutter. During his budget address Thursday, Nutter proposed an additional $5.5 million for the department next fiscal year, which would translate into 43 new employees. By 2018, he said L&I plans to boost its staff by 20 percent.

Read more »

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