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Welcome to the Bethlehem Gadfly! Launched September 16, 2018

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As context for and balance to the serious issues, we also have some fun stuff relating to Bethlehem as well.

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Critiquing the votes (65)

 (65th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

3rd quarter of the Eagles game. Are you serious? Pray for Merrill Reese.

At first reading on Dec 4, Council voted 4-3 to approve the text amendment for 2 W. Market.

Gadfly’s looking right now at the story about that meeting in the Bethlehem Press. There we learn only who voted which way. Nothing more.

Gadfly’s trying to give us something more by enabling you to listen to our Council members and by analyzing the reasons they gave for their votes.

Gadfly has said he wants to be able to vote in a more informed way next time. And analyzing thought processes is a good way to help do that.

What do our Council members sound like? How do they think? Are they intelligent, thoughtful, fair, objective, articulate – and whatever other traits we value in our elected officials?

So here goes.

Gadfly is not happy with the reasons a majority of the votes were cast.

See what you think.

thumbs-upCW Negron “No”  (see post 47)
ON bases her no vote on a negative chain of events caused by a minor zoning change designed to accommodate a business interest that has actually happened on the Southside, a negative chain of events that is in her opinion likely to be repeated by this text amendment. She argues by analogy, one of the commonest and most reliable forms of human thinking and action. Gadfly agrees that the analogy is strong.

thumbs-upCM Colon “No”  (see post 48)
MC bases his no vote on the fact that this case has traveled through our legal system and been denied by the highest court in the state. It is an eminently reasonable position to take. Gadfly believes that the alternative “Local knows better” approach defies hundreds if not thousands of years of cultural wisdom, invites exactly the kind of random subjectivity that causes people to feel City Hall is for sale, and leads to chaos.

thumbs-downCM Callahan “Yes” (see post 49)
BC bases his yes belief in a blatant, defiant disregard for the zoning code and a blatant regard for the petitioner and the class he represents. Gadfly believes that there are such grave dangers to the trust in and stability of city government in such a position and attitude that if BC’s vote here is representative of his general subjective approach to city issues, he doesn’t believe that he could ever vote for him or recommend that others do so.

thumbs-downCM Martell “Yes”  (see post 56)
SM bases his yes vote on the quality of the renovated house, even though it is not clear that those renovations were performed during an authorized time frame. In doing so SM seems not to precisely understand the nature of the opposition. Gadfly also finds that the specific flaws that SM sees in the mode of opposition argument are themselves severely flawed. And the very fact of this long-standing suit would belie his view of a net-positive in the neighborhood.

thumbs-upCW Van Wirt “No”  (see post 59)
PVW bases her no decision on “hard” objective realities like the Court decision, the Comprehensive Plan, the zoning code (the function of borders as a “red line”), and the undeniable truth that “precedent is profound,” as well as significant examples on the ground of demonstrated commercial creep. Gadfly sees PVW providing the most comprehensive view of the controversy expressed in Council statements.

thumbs-downCM Reynolds “Yes”  (see post 61)
JWR seemingly (Gadfly is not totally sure) bases his yes decision on a belief that the opposers to the text amendment should be willing to accept commercial presences in their zoned-residential neighborhood, even to suggesting that they move out of their zoned-residential neighborhood if they are not so willing. Gadfly finds that attitude totally unacceptable as well the petulance and impatience JWR shows at his necessary involvement in the controversy

thumbs-downCM Waldron “Yes”  (see post 62)
AW does not identify the base of his yes decision. There is no way to judge his thought process. The swing vote in a dead-heat contest by the President of City Council is unsupported. That’s disappointing, that’s insulting – that’s unconscionable! Gadfly keeps hoping that there is some political strategy at work here that he as a novice doesn’t understand. But for now AW’s yes vote is — without a rationale — a “novote” and should not be respected but ignored.

Now after the game, we should talk about what this means.

Do you have some comments on Gadfly’s views?

Gadfly on “the 2” (64)

(64th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

Half-time of the Eagles. Be still my heart.

Time for Gadfly to come forward in his own self on 2 W. Market.

Though he has done so twice before. See posts 26 and 39 in this sequence if you want a comparison.

Here’s his third shot.

Gadfly is still for denial of the petition for a text amendment.

Why?

Call Gadfly “Straight Arrow.”

He is a law-man.

For a “standard” by which to judge the petition, he looks for a basis in law or something like law.

Thus, Gadfly looks to:

  • the Bethlehem Comprehensive Plan
  • the Bethlehem Zoning Ordinance
  • the decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

If specifically argued that the text amendment is a change in law, Gadfly feels that it

  • has not been demonstrated to be a good for the city
  • a fact he believes admitted by the petitioner’s attorney Dec 4 in reply to Mr. Walker

The various opposing arguments might be lumped under the general headings of positive characterizations of the petitioner and of the house itself.

The statement of the position against this position that most jumped out at Gadfly came from PVW:

We’re not in the business of judging on the merit to a change in our city zoning code based on someone’s aesthetics, their wealth, their access to connected lawyers. We are in the business of judging the laws we passed are in the best interest of all the city and all of the citizens of the city. Someone’s personal characteristics and aesthetics and impact on that corner and all of that is honestly secondary to what are we doing for the whole of the city.

That seems to Gadfly “right on”! The kind of view that promises fair and objective decisions, the kind that ensures City Hall is not for sale or for favorites.

The irrelevance of the entire set of sub-arguments springing from positive characterizations of the petitioner and the house is clear from this letter to Council from the atty representing those who oppose the petition. The case will be tried and settled on the basis of law.

Atty Stevens to Council Solicitor Spirk Dec 12 2018

Now, Gadfly has commented on the Council votes and supporting statements. That’s next.

The road to “Crunch Time (3)” (63)

(63rd in a series of posts about 2 W. Market St.)

Here is a slightly edited reprint of post #46, December 10 in this series, the post that introduced Gadfly’s just-finished analysis of Council votes and voting statements on the 2 W. Market petition. Gadfly reprints it here just before sharing his final thoughts on the analyses as a reminder of the purposes of this sequence.

Let’s have some fun. That will also be serious business. Very serious business. Gadfly kind of business.

Let’s take the next step in the full advantage to participate in our local government through the ample time afforded to reflect on and comment on the views of our Council persons.

What a great thing! We actually have three not two opportunities to “read” 2 W. Market, and extended over several weeks: the Nov. 20 hearing, the Dec. 4 Council, and now the Dec. 18 Council.

Even if you haven’t attended any of the meetings, Gadfly has tried to make sure that you have been filled in and have ready, permanent reference to everything going on, all sides.

The best part is that now that the first reading has occurred we have a window into our Councilpeople’s minds.

That’s where Gadfly wants to go. Into their minds!

Let’s go one-by-one and analyze the positions they took to support their votes on first reading.

If you are in a mind-set to use the time-spacing to influence one or another’s change of vote, I do believe that several Council follow Gadfly, but I’m not sure all do.

And, in any event, changing a vote is hard for a person to do, right? Might take some major re-thinking. We all tend to get locked in once we have made a decision. We defend. We justify.

But our democratic process offers the opportunity now to influence a change of vote if you are of a mind to try.

At the very least, though, Gadfly thinks the exercise of mind-looking will be illuminating. He said last time that one of the things he personally wanted to achieve was the ability to vote for candidates at election time in a more informed way. This will be a step in the right direction.

So – make no mistake — Gadfly is not talking about whack the pinata. Let’s go one-by-one in the order of voting at first passage (which was so dramatic!) and describe the thinking processes we see. Judgment might come from that. But pre-judgment not allowed.

Ha! This might be the first time anything like this has happened in the history of Bethlehem (a future “Bethlehem Moment”?!), so we don’t want to mess up. You can imagine how hard it is to sit in front of a packed fairly contentious and rambunctious crowd like that last week confronting a complex issue, and explain a vote. Would freeze my bowels. We could say that’s what you get the big money for, IF there were big salaries!!!  A tough job. “Fight the good fight” I always say to Council. Making decisions, especially that influence a whole city, ain’t a stroll along the Monocacy.

So let’s be respectful.

the city should educate employees about idling vehicles (7)

(7th in a series about Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan)

Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Thanks, Kathy (see post # 6 in this series). An analysis of the costs of higher vehicle prices and fuel use should help the city understand the importance of this, especially the impacts on emissions. (Right now, the energy mix in the grid has so much coal power that the actual total GHG emissions should also be analyzed; fortunately, the coal percentage is slowly declining.)

I think infrastructure is something where government has a primary responsibility. Where PPL is going to make money by selling more electricity, smart management would be pushing for this now as a way to encourage that new market. If they’re smart, many of the charging stations could include solar collectors to generate at least some of the energy at the point of sale.

As we have pointed out for years, one step the city could take immediately to show it is serious about reducing emissions is to educate all employees how wasteful it is to have vehicles idling. All too often, workers, including police, leave their vehicles idling while working or while sitting in their vehicles. Idling for more than 60 seconds wastes fuel and boosts GHG emissions; in cars, the breakeven is about 10 seconds. The city’s failure to take action on this suggests that they don’t really consider climate action all that important.

Peter

much more education of the public needs to be done (6)

(6th in a series about Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan)

Kathy Fox is a member of the Bethlehem Environmental Advisory Council, a co-chair of the Northampton County Council of Democratic Women’s Environmental Committee, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Bethlehem Food Co-op.  Kathy involves herself in positive organizations and activities that foster community, environmental awareness, education, and good health. 

Thank you, Gadfly, for posting parts of the audio for the CAP update. I was unable to attend and appreciate your efforts in educating myself and others on the happenings in Bethlehem. Councilwoman Van Wirt bought an excellent point on the subject of electric city vehicles. I’ve been to a couple of presentations where it was explained that a city could pay for an expert to analyze their fleets and make recommendations to reduce the costs by switching to electric vehicles, and the changes would pay for themselves in a timely manner and then save money for the city — less maintenance, less fossil fuels, etc. An RFP for an energy consultant with specific expertise this year and implementation of a plan to transition next year sounds good to me. I’ve written to PPL to ask when are they going to start building infrastructure for electric vehicles. Citywide electric vehicle charging stations are necessary as many residents are like me and live on a small property with no garage. I keep hearing the old adage, it is like the chicken or the egg, which comes first – people buying electric vehicles or building the infrastructure. Some money the state has received from the Volkswagen settlement should be spent on modernizing our infrastructure to include EV charging stations. As for pervious surfaces – could the city recommend this alternative to the public when they are applying for permits to resurface driveways, replace sidewalks, patios, and seek to get contractors onboard? I think much more education of the public needs to be done.

Kathy

CM Waldron on “the 2” (62)

(62nd in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

CM Waldron Dec 4, 2018 “Yes”

Complete Transcription of CM Waldron’s remarks:

“I agree with a lot of the points made by the speakers, folks who emailed in, and then my own colleagues here obviously have put a lot of thought and time into this vote and where they come down on this side of it. I think Dr. Van Wirt really makes some strong points, and I agree with a lot of what she said, likewise with what Mr. Reynolds just summed up about what are neighborhoods and what is the feeling you want in a neighborhood. So, again, you can come down on either side of this vote depending on whom you’re speaking to and who is in front of you advocating passionately for their neighborhood. So, this is going to be a 4-3 vote tonight, which is a rare thing on this Council because most of the time we vote on stuff more often than not it’s 7-0 because there are really clear answers and clear solutions to problems. This is one where it’s a little bit trickier for sure. Last night we had our 4th budget hearing meeting in which we were discussing a $78m budget for our city including a tax increase of 3%, and we ended the meeting with one person from the public who was here to be part of that meeting. This goes to show you where a $78m budget lines up with how people passionately feel about their neighborhood. I think that shows the level of engagement in a both positive and negative way, depending on how you want to look at it. I think it ultimately comes down to the point of what Dr. Van Wirt said, is this a net positive for the neighborhood and for the city? And I come down clearly on the side that, yes, it is. So I will be supporting the amendment this evening.”

—————

AW doesn’t give us much to work with here. PVW is totally on the other side of the issue from AW, and it is not clear which of her “some strong points” he agrees with only to discount. That would be illuminating. And since JWR summed up only his feelings about his neighborhood, we can only assume AW agrees commercial is good in a residential area. Not much to go on. AW adopts the good-for-the-neighborhood-and-the-city “standard” from PVW but does not share how he applied that standard – which, of course, is the essential step. All of a sudden a “tricky” vote became “clear.” How? We have an empty space at the climax of the voting. A vacuum. AW broke a tie. Without rationale. Leaving us in doubt whether justice was done. That’s frustrating. The Mayor, by the way, did this too before the voting. Both the Mayor and the President of City Council, then, voted “ex cathedra.” (Gadfly #2 Scheirer used this phrase several meetings back, and I know we all looked it up  at that time, so I don’t have to define it here.) Not good. We deserve more. And we look forward to a better explanation from AW at the final vote, though then – sigh — it is too late to exercise any influence on his thinking, if one had a mind to do so. And that’s what public participation is all about.

——————

So ends our close examination of Council votes and voting statements on the 2 W. Market petition. We have made sure we have stated and understood each Council member’s position, whether yay or nay. And then we have pushed and poked on them. Our purpose has been – whether we agree with their votes or not – to sense how intelligent and thoughtful the Council members are, how fair and objective. Do they exhibit the qualities of mind we value, we desire, we must have in our elected officials?  And beyond that, of course, we want to put ourselves in the best possible position to make the best possible personal decision on this issue of relevance to all neighborhoods if we want to influence Council members’ final votes next Tuesday.

Gadfly will share his thoughts and sum up in the next couple posts, but you should be about making up your mind too. He has tried to make sure you have all the information you need. Up to you now.