Candidates: Callahan, Crampsie Smith, Kwiatek, Leon, Wilhelm
“I was born and raised in South Bethlehem. . . . I felt this divide growing up. . . . What I hear most often is that we need a strong voice for the Southside. . . . The implication, to me, is that [the residents] do not feel heard.” Rachel Leon
“The Southside doesn’t need to be MADE vibrant: it is vibrant. Our responsibility is to support that vibrancy.” Kiera Wilhelm
“We are One!” Bryan Callahan
“I love the diversity of our streetscapes and vistas. I wouldn’t want our
city to have just one identity.” Hillary Kwiatek
Another week, another Gadfly prompt from hell for our candidates!
I joked in the prompt audio that they’re wishing I’d ask about something easy, like fixing potholes.
But Gadfly is up in the stratosphere. Literally. Gadfly asked everybody to look at Bethlehem from a high up perspective.
Inspired by Mark Iampietro’s “Lookout yoga,” Gadfly asked the candidates to take the proverbial 30,000ft. view of our town.
And what did they see? one city, one city with two complementary parts, one city with two different parts, one city with two contrary parts, one city with equal parts, two (or more) cities ?
The candidates are good sports.
If you want to listen to my full prompt. click here.
Thank you, Gadfly, for another thought-provoking prompt.
Are we a city of two cities?
I was born and raised in South Bethlehem, so I can only speak from my experience.
Cities all over our country are broken into downtown areas, arts districts, and historic districts. What makes this so pronounced in Bethlehem is the presence of our river. A 10-minute walk across the Fahy can feel like leaving one city and entering another, but we are all Bethlehem.
The labeling of Bethlehem as a city of two cities can feel a bit antiquated, especially when viewing the divide within the historic context of the joining of the three boroughs. However, I felt this divide growing up in South Bethlehem. Whatever reason led to Bethlehem feeling like a city divided, those sentiments have lingered. I hear this sentiment echoed as I continue speaking to people about how I can help if I am elected. What I hear most often is that we need a strong voice for the Southside. The implication, to me, is that they do not feel heard. I know for a fact that South Bethlehem has had amazing community leadership speaking loudly in defense of our communities. Maybe the issue isn’t the speaking but the ability to hear their voices. If they aren’t being heard, maybe they are being spoken over.
Bethlehem is a beautiful city with a unique history. A history that is important to preserve, even while we move toward increased development. I am passionate in my belief that development needs to be intentional and considerate of the communities we are asking to bear the brunt of continued development. South Bethlehem is often spoken about in terms of student housing and lower income families. Affluence and struggle. This just isn’t true. Communities are not monoliths; they are made up of people of diverse backgrounds, be that ethnic or financial. If we miss this important fact, we miss what makes South Bethlehem so special.
So, as a resident of South Bethlehem, I can best answer the question of if we are divided by continuing to raise the voices of people in South Bethlehem who believe we are. They aren’t digging back 100 years to validate their ideas. They are pointing to decisions that have been made in recent years. Decisions that they have shown up to stand against. Decisions that they have fought against. Decisions, that in the end, they were unable to stop from being made. I hope that, as Bethlehem continues to move forward, we listen to all our communities and how they want to see their city grow and develop. I hope that elected officials ensure that the southside doesn’t become the default location for unwanted land uses or over-development. I hope that we value all areas of our city for their own unique history even as we continue to work together toward a stronger, more united Bethlehem.
Gadfly, your audio prompt was heartfelt; we could hear it in your voice. It was the kind of prompt I’d actually like to have a stretch of time to converse with you
over—it is really the beginning of a meaningful and nuanced conversation, and one I hope we’ll get to have in person someday, perhaps over a coffee, or a beer or two.
The City of Bethlehem has so much to offer: an important history and historic districts, great downtown, world-class educational institutions, hard-working small businesses, passionate and dedicated neighbors, inspiring community leaders, rich diversity, a vibrant arts and culture scene.
I wonder, if upon reading that, one’s mind jumps back-and-forth across the river. If so, that makes sense. We have notions about what exists where in Bethlehem. But it’s important to note that everything in that list exists on the Southside.
It was recently brought to my attention, by a wise and insightful individual (who also happens to be a Southside resident, and one deeply involved in its community), that it is not uncommon for people to speak about the Southside, even subconsciously, as if it needs “saving.” Upon hearing this, countless conversations flashed through my mind: words I had said or had heard others say. A developer claiming that a project would “rescue” a street or a block. Even well-meaning community members can advance this narrative. But the Southside doesn’t need to be MADE vibrant: it is vibrant. Our responsibility is to support that vibrancy.
In your prompt, you mention the pedestrian bridge. As you know, a foundational part of my approach to being a councilperson is warmly inviting residents into the process, to participate. Warm invitations can take the form of giant structures, like bridges. I see the pedestrian bridge as a literal and figurative “warm invitation”: it draws us to the center, and across. On the bridge, we’ll pass our neighbors on foot or on bikes; we’ll engage, interact. Maybe it’s dotted with public art, created by artists from both sides of the river. Maybe there are intentional places to pause and chat for a while, or just be: to breathe deeply over the expanse of the Lehigh. The pedestrian bridge turns the river into something other than the “fissure“ you wonder about. (For what it’s worth, I envision future opportunities for our residents to not just cross the river but to spend time on its banks together. It’s such a beautiful resource, with so much more to offer us.)
As you suggest, there is a complex history between the South and North sides of Bethlehem post-incorporation, and there are many preconceived notions that still need to be changed. It takes time to change perceptions, but there are so many things as a City that we can help to do that. To connect and invite a City that feels even more united. Not homogenized, but equal parts of a rich, greater whole.
I’m so pleased to speak about the Southside, but I don’t claim to speak for the Southside. I want to listen to the southside, learn from its residents and community members, and let those voices, those needs, help guide the ways in which we support its growth. Conversations – speaking, listening, speaking, listening – are crucial to that process, and a wonderful part of it.
Is Bethlehem “a tale of two cities”? That’s one way to look at it. And one way to look at that is with gratitude. It makes me think of words I shared in Prompt #2, regarding economic development vs. history:
I love living in a City full of history I can see; there is inspiration and significance in preserving what came before us and in being literally surrounded by it. . . . I also love living in a City that innovates with creative vision for a vibrant and sustainable future for all of its citizens. A City that embraces its diversity, supports local business, and cares for its environment and those in need. That is invigorated by public art, green spaces, and walkable streets. That builds on its successes, learns from its mistakes, and keeps at its heart the well-being of every resident. All of these things are Bethlehem. Here, we don’t have just one or the other. We get to have both.
Aren’t we lucky?
When I was at Liberty High School in 1980, I can honestly tell you that one of my greatest memories I had was that we all felt the same love and passion for our school and
community. In our eyes we were at the greatest high school in the world. We all felt that Liberty was the real world, a microcosm of not only the City but also the State of Pennsylvania and our Country. We had everything within the boundaries of our school. Think about it, we had pockets of areas within the city of great wealth, great poverty, a huge middle class, upper middle class, and lower middle class. We had large numbers of every nationality you could imagine — Irish, Italians, Germans, African Americans, Hispanics, Greeks, Portuguese, Slovaks, you name it we had it! It was a beautiful thing, and the best part about it was we were all Liberty Hurricanes!
That feeling permeated not only Liberty but also the City. No matter where you lived in the City, we were from Bethlehem and damn proud of it! To this day I still feel that same pride and passion for our City. When I drive around the city, I am always amazed and proud of how diverse not only the City as a whole is but also each area and section of the City. I don’t see a poor side of town or a rich side of town. Every area and section of our city is so diverse.
As we drive around the city, let’s seriously think of what we do have!
On the North side we are driving down Macada Rd between Center St and Linden. Macada is lined with some of the most expensive homes in the City, mansions with high income wealth. One block to the North on Johnson drive we have moderate income ranch homes and split-level homes. At the end of Johnson Dr., we have upper middle-class homes on Beaufort/Marchant Dr., and literally across Linden St. we have lower income housing in the Sherwood apartments complex. A block past the Sherwood apartments we have the large middle-class neighborhood of East Hills.
On the West side we are driving down W. Market St and Prospect Ave in the Mount Airy neighborhood. We are again driving by some of the largest and most expensive homes in the City. One block to the south of Prospect, on Spring Street, Calypso, and Filbert Streets we have moderate to low-income housing. One block to the north of Prospect and Market we have another huge middle-class neighborhood that runs all along the Avenues. A ¼-mile to the West of the Avenues is the Rosemont and Beverly Ave. neighborhood that is another area of high income/large homes. Throw in the great middle-class neighborhoods in the Clearview and Kaywin sections of the West side and, hopefully you are starting to see a pattern of diversity within the city.
In the downtown center city area we have the Historic District which arguably has the most expensive properties in the City. This is an area of extreme wealth. Three blocks to the north of the Historic district we have a much more moderate level housing in the areas of Garrison, Ettwein, Fairview, Frankford, and Goepp Streets.
On the east side of our city we have the moderate to high income housing of the Edgeboro area and very affordable, moderate income housing from Jennings St. all the way down to Stefko Blvd. On the other side of Stefko we have lower income housing in the Pembroke and Marvine areas.
On the south side we have low-income housing in the Lynfield Terrace area and some very affordable housing from Hayes Street all the way down to Wyandotte St. The one thing that the Southside did not have (that all the other areas and sections of the city did) was a place for the upper middle class (mostly professors at Lehigh and doctors and interns at St. Luke’s) who love the proximity to their work and the energy of the Southside. That void was filled by the 90 plus unit 510 Flats building on 3rd St.
I still, to this day, see the great diversity of our city as a strength and work every day to continue to make it better. We are One!
As I sit in the attic office on the third floor of my house and ponder this question, I’m pulled back into the distant past of this place. Our house was built in 1860 by
George Leibert, not long after the Moravian Church began allowing the sale of these lands to non-Moravians. It’s a simple brick Federal style house on a street in West Bethlehem built before the area was incorporated as its own city.
Taking this longer view, I would humbly suggest to you that we are not a city of two cities or even three cities — rather, we are a city of many cities over hundreds of years of history. Turn the clock back 160 years, and we are still three places — one with a neat grid of established streets. One making its way toward the foot of South Mountain. And one that is still largely farmland. But on a freshly drafted map, there sits the house in which I type these words, a modest home for regular folks.
Now, fast forward just 20 years and catch a Bird’s Eye View of “The Bethlehems” on a map located in the Library of Congress. With the incorporation of West Bethlehem, we are now truly three cities. Industry is growing along the river. Immigrants are coming from across the world to work in factories. More streets appear in South Bethlehem. The first buildings of Lehigh University appear.
By 1894, there are factories belching smoke on the banks of the Lehigh, but West Bethlehem is still largely open space and farms. Within twenty years, the grid of West Bethlehem will be filled in with the bonus homes of Bethlehem Steel executives and then the bungalows of the new middle class. South Bethlehem’s growth continues as more and more workers are needed.
In 1917, we become one Bethlehem. But our paths still don’t totally converge. Over the 100 years since incorporation, even more cities within our city appear — the post-war boom powers rapid expansion northward as ranch homes and suburban-style tract housing appears. People are looking for a patch of grass, a bit more space between neighbors. A bedroom for each kid.
So now that I’ve taken you on a tour of our city over the last 160 years, I ask, is any city ever just one city? I don’t believe so. We are a city of multiple cities, and I think that’s a fantastic thing. Our history is long and varied. Each space holds the stories of the lived experiences of those who came before us.
But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have a shared and common purpose. We can appreciate the cultures, character, and history of each part of Bethlehem regardless of which part we might claim as our neighborhood. And we can fight for equity in resources such as green space, access to quality food, and affordable housing for the residents of every corner of this great city. We can dwell alongside our past while envisioning a bold, progressive future. And we can work to conserve our history while welcoming the newest members of our community.
At today’s groundbreaking for the Borinqueneers monument, we saw all of this happening in real time. With Councilwoman Olga Negron taking the lead, the city is partnering with Lehigh’s Southside Initiative and the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem to create a memorial to the bravery and service of members of our Puerto Rican community, many of whose families moved here generations ago to work at Bethlehem Steel. The monument will be located on The Greenway, a project that created a linear park for the enjoyment of everyone. The monument will be a dominoes table, providing an opportunity for residents to spend time together while remembering the brave members of the division.
As someone whose work and life take her back and forth across the river daily, I love the diversity of our streetscapes and vistas. I wouldn’t want our city to have just one identity. What makes Bethlehem special is its ever-changing community of people who chose to make it their home and how they shape this place through their presence. If I am fortunate enough to be elected by the people of Bethlehem, I would work every day to make this city the place they want to and are able to stay.
Residents are welcome to fashion reflections on candidate comments, sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Gadfly we seek the good conversation that builds community, so please be courteous at all times. Gadfly retains the right to abridge and to edit your reflections and to decline posts that are repetitive or that contain personal attacks. Gadfly will publish resident reflections on the week’s Forum at noon on Friday.
Army veterans Enrique Vasquez, 93, and Santiago Rosario, 95, both of Bethlehem, remember that battle cry, which in English means, “Borinqueneers, whatever it takes!”
Both men served with the Borinqueneers, or the 65th Infantry Regiment, a segregated Puerto Rican unit that fought in both world wars, Korea and the Global War on Terrorism.
The Borinqueneers were largely ignored for years until 2014, when former President Barack Obama awarded the unit the Congressional Gold Medal for serving with distinction. Individual members have received Purple Hearts and Silver Stars, some posthumously. The name Borinqueneer comes from Borinquen, the indigenous Puerto Rican native name for the island.
Vasquez, a Purple Heart recipient who served in the Korean War, and Rosario, who served in World War II and part of the Korean War, joined Bethlehem officials Tuesday at a groundbreaking for a memorial honoring the unit. The memorial, to be unveiled in September, will be a domino table mural surrounded by benches.
“I still have the scars from the shrapnel in my back,” said Vasquez, who arrived with a walker and sat on one side of Bethlehem City Council member Olga Negron as Negron led the groundbreaking ceremony.
Vasquez fought with the Borinqueneers in Korea, where the unit was overwhelmed and repelled by enemy troops while defending the hill at Outpost Kelly in September 1952.
“I spent a month healing at a hospital and went right back out on the front lines,” he said, speaking through a translator.
Vasquez was with the unit in November 1953, when it successfully counterattacked enemy troops in the Numsong Valley and held its position until the war’s end.
“I joined the Army at 16 in 1943 and served 10 years in the Army and later in the Army Reserve,” Rosario said. “I helped the Borinqueneers defend the Panama Canal against the Germans. I served in Aruba, Trinidad and other places. Korea was a hard fight. A lot of the time, we were outnumbered with limited firepower.”
Vasquez and Rosario shared their memories with a diverse crowd of about 100 people, including local and state elected officials, waving Puerto Rican flags and gathered at the greenway at Taylor and Mechanic streets for the groundbreaking. The location is overlooked by a high-rise in the heart of Bethlehem’s diverse South Side community, not far from the Wind Creek casino.
“This is a testament to the centrality and import of Bethlehem’s Puerto Rican veterans and their families to our civic history,” said Mary Foltz, director of the South Side Initiative.
The groundbreaking comes after Congress passed legislation Jan. 1 designating April 13 as National Borinqueneers Day.
“I have had conversations with members of our community about creating some kind of monument to the Borinqueneers here in our city,” Negron said. “We decided on a domino table since the game of dominos is a Puerto Rican pastime and key part of our culture.”
Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder
Monday April 12 was not a day like all days for the Gadfly.
Was kinda weird.
His morning was filled with news stories and graphic footage of the death at the hands of police of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Mn, and news stories and graphic footage of the harassing by police of Carmen Nazario in Windsor, Va.
Then in the late afternoon he attended the Hispanic Center’s timely Community Conversation on “Trust Building with Law Enforcement.”
The conversation included law enforcement — the Police Chiefs from Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and Lehigh U. — and members of the community.
Gadfly was not thinking good thoughts about law enforcement.
But toward the beginning of the meeting, community members were given the floor and asked to talk about “times when your engagement with the police was really positive and helped generate trust. Imagine that law enforcement was seeking your advice about building trust in the community, what would you say to them, what tips would you have? Reflect on times when your engagement was positive. When you think about advising law enforcement on how to build trust in the community, what would you say to them?”
A provocative prompt.
That elicited a cluster of positive vignettes.
Gadfly needed that.
Listen in, they are only 1-2 minutes long.
An officer Good Samaritan during car trouble:
Support for the Hispanic community at the regular Friday food pantry:
Making a 7-yr-old’s day:
Providing food treats and camaraderie at the Great Southside Sale:
In 1924, the Hill to Hill Bridge was completed, a link between South, North and West Bethlehem; just a few years earlier, in 1917, the three boroughs had been joined to become the City of Bethlehem. “A tale of two cities” is an apt description of Bethlehem, since the divisions between the South and its North and Westside neighbors run as deep. The physical barrier of the Lehigh River between the South and North sides reinforces the distinction between the sections. Vehicular bridges do little to close the gaps, and a proposed pedestrian bridge would likely be equally ineffective.
The question of how to unite the two halves of Bethlehem might be better approached from a query of how to breed respect and even admiration for each other between Bethlehem’s two distinct sections. To do that, an understanding of the city’s history and the foundations of each section is a necessary aid.
Founded by Moravian missionaries in the early to mid 18th century, Bethlehem’s original settlement was on what is now the Northside. As such, the Northside claims the city’s oldest lineage, and the distinction of heritage that comes along with that. As what would become the “downtown” center of shops and offices sprang up in the historic district, wealthy business owners began to site their homes and properties nearby, on the North side.
When Bethlehem Steel began as the Bethlehem Iron Works in 1857, immigrant workers of more than 60 ethnicities arrived to work at the plant. They established homes near the plant, so they could walk to work, and since the plant was on what is today the Southside of the Lehigh River, that was where they settled. The homes here put functionality ahead of fashion and were largely row and twin homes with small gardens and only a basic finish. They were also homes that the workers could afford.
Meanwhile, the upper management and executives at Bethlehem Steel had begun to build their homes on the city’s Westside. Both North and West were separated by the river from the noise and dirt inherent in the steel plant’s environs, and the wealthier upper managers and executives were able to purchase larger tracts of land and build more spacious, elegant homes. Once the Lehigh Valley Railroad came in, Bethlehem’s South side really did become the “wrong side of the tracks,” and the division between rich and poor, management and workers, became deeper.
The establishment of Lehigh University in 1865 by Asa Packer raised the profile of the South side to some degree. Packer founded the University as an Engineering school to enhance and support the industrial growth of the Lehigh Valley. As time passed, the University added other disciplines to its syllabus, and students were added into the mix of residents living in the relatively inexpensive homes near the campus. Because most of these students were renters, not homeowners, that slant altered the demographics of the South side as well, not always to the good.
Once the steel plant closed, although the residents of the South side were no longer plant workers, their ethnic enclaves, which had sprung up from the mid-19th century on with the influx of the immigrant Steel workers, remained. A more diverse population evolved on the Southside because they could afford to purchase a home there, whereas the prices of North and West side real estate were often beyond their means. And so the divisions between South, North, and West sides were reinforced, with wealthier upper middle and upper class residents buying, building, and settling on the North and West sides, and moderate or low income families and renters, buying or rooming on the Southside.
With Bethlehem Steel gone, the opportunities for development, and re-use of that property, as well as the rest of the Southside, abounded. Developers see the Southside as the afterthought, the poor relation, who was ripe for the taking and exploiting because its residents were historically without political clout. The large-scale builders use any means to achieve their ends: in particular, they influence those who do have power to get on their side by making hefty campaign contributions, with little to no regard for what the residents of the Southside have wished for their community.
In addition, Lehigh University’s gradual encroachment toward what once was a bustling commercial and retail district along Third and Fourth Streets, and the pressures that student housing needs bring to the residential neighborhoods, have created gentrification. This interest in development beyond what was imagined when the National Register Historic Conservation District was established appears to be driven by return on investment and not by sound planning and concern for the fabric of the Southside.
City officials and developers must cherish and support the diverse population that is struggling to maintain a toehold in this section of the city, as real estate values are growing at an extraordinary rate. They should be upholding the enforcement of city ordinances that protect the charm and heritage of the South side and be listening to what residents want. Recent proposals coming before the Historic Conservation Commission for out of scale projects on the Southside prove that it is being treated like a country ripe for plunder: projects like these would gain little traction were they proposed for the North or West sides. The Southside deserves equal respect, recognition, and standing. Why? Because the attitude that the Southside is somehow inferior persists, handed down almost subconsciously through the decades, instead of celebrating the diversity and sense of community that has been brought to the Southside.
Are there solutions? Sure, but they aren’t easy ones. In order to change people’s perspectives and attitudes towards the Southside, value must be created for its vibrant, multi-cultural residents, businesses, and restaurants. That in itself will take legislation, education, communication, and time. Additionally, the current trend of development and big money will need to be met head on, and it’s going to take a Mayor, City Council, and community to demand responsible growth. Electing a Mayor who will stand his ground on development issues while seeking inclusivity and respect for a diverse community will be a step in the right direction and help Bethlehem live “a tale of one city.”
When we are talking about the future of our city, Touchstone Theatre’s Festival Unbound was a fantastic place for you to start this prompt. The conversations at Touchstone
about American (and our community’s) identity were inspiring, thought provoking, and thrilling. One of my favorite things about the events was the emphasis placed on one’s individual and group experience in the way history is viewed.
When we look at our city’s history, it is clear to anyone who has ever lived or visited that our past is rich and vibrant. We deservedly spend a lot of time discussing all of the great aspects of our history. The community institutions, the architecture, the legacy of an American industrial titan in Bethlehem Steel, and a high quality of life in our neighborhoods that has spanned generations. Our history is not perfect, though, and it needs to be discussed in relation to inequities in 2021.
What are a few parts of our history that we aren’t quite as proud of?
The community policy on restricting most non-Moravians from living in Bethlehem for over 100 years.
Bethlehem Steel’s hiring policies limiting the amount of African American employees and families in Bethlehem (one of the reasons we have a significantly lower African American population than Easton or Allentown).
The deliberate location of public housing in the corners and the outskirts of our city creating systemic access issues including economic and educational opportunities.
These are but a few historical examples of public and private actions that helped create the structure of the Bethlehem that we know. They must be mentioned when we start talking about where people live in our city, why they live there, and what opportunities are available to people based on where they live. None of those decisions were made by the leaders of our community in recent years. It is our responsibility, however, to work systemically to fix them.
South Bethlehem is a resource rich area in many ways but is also negatively affected by some systemic issues. Affordable housing availability, economic, recreational, transportation, and technological opportunities are all areas that historically have been unequal in our community. City government, our non-profit community, and service providers have taken several steps to start to try to improve the systemic delivery of these services.
One example is the collective effort that has been started to tackle the issue of affordable housing. The new student overlay district in south Bethlehem is a good first step in attempting to limit the skyrocketing incentives of buying a property to turn it into student housing. It is also vital that the City of Bethlehem establishes an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and works with our non- profit partners. This work needs to include both the creation of new affordable housing and the rehabilitation of current housing to make it more affordable for our families.
Another example is our recent work on trying to expand high speed internet to all of our residents. We saw the influence of a lack of internet service on many of our most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. This is a structural issue that we must fix as a community. I am hopeful that we can use a portion of our stimulus funds to invest in this area (as the legislation specifically allows for).
Everything we do as a community has to be rooted in the idea of equity. I am proud that our Climate Action Plan, Northside 2027, and our Connecting Bethlehem Communications Initiative all include equity as the most important organizing principle. As more development occurs in every area of our city, we need to make sure that new investment is accomplishing community goals that relate to affordable housing, sustainability, and respecting our architectural history.
Bethlehem can, in fact, be “one” city. We can continue to work to develop systems that work for everyone. We have started to make progress on a structural level, but there is a lot more work to be done. That work starts with understanding that the identity we have as a community is one based on diversity, respect, and inclusion. There is not one important neighborhood. There isn’t one history. Most importantly, there isn’t one identity in our city. It doesn’t matter if you were born here or not. The only thing that matters is that we continue to build a city where everyone is valued, accepted, supported, and heard. That is the Bethlehem we need to be.
Residents are welcome to fashion reflections on candidate comments, sending them to email@example.com. On Gadfly we seek the good conversation that builds community, so please be courteous at all times. Gadfly retains the right to abridge and to edit your reflections and to decline posts that are repetitive or that contain personal attacks. Gadfly will publish resident reflections on the week’s Forum at noon on Friday.
Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder
“What is often needed is a mental health professional or social worker, not two armed police officers, however well meaning.”
Congresswoman Susan Wild kicked off the Hispanic Center’s Community Conversation on “Trust Building with Law Enforcement” yesterday with a brief talk that highlighted reforms undertaken by the Allentown Police Department, most of which we have noted with interest (and envy) in these pages, and in which she remarked that many police departments want “to expand the number of mental health professionals working with them to respond to calls, and I will tell you that this has become a very big priority for me in Congress.” Are we one of those departments, one that might benefit from her work to secure funding for crisis response services such as described below? Or are we at least going to have the discussion? What are we waiting for?
According to Allentown Police Chief Glenn Granitz, in 2019, city police received over 100,000 calls for service. Of those, up to 10% were related to mental health.
The number 911 is the most frequently called number in response to an emergency. Allentown’s 911 response system sends police to all 911 emergency calls, whether the calls involve violence or criminal activity or nonviolent, noncriminal issues such as mental health, homelessness, intoxication or substance abuse.
As a result, too often our police are in a position where they must deal with these issues for which they may not have professional mental/behavioral health or social work training.
In Lehigh County, 5,250 people were committed to jail, according to the Lehigh County Criminal Justice Advisory Board Data Committee Report Year End 2019. Of those people, 1,245 required a mental health evaluation and 1,154 underwent medically supervised detoxification.
Incarceration not only fails to correct these problems but instead often exacerbates them. We can reduce the number of mentally ill people going into prison, admitted to the emergency room against their will, and the trauma experienced by those in a behavioral health crisis by modifying our 911 dispatch system.
I’ve researched many alternative 911 programs that work in collaboration with local police, community service organizations or mental health services, through my work with local organizations involved with criminal justice reform.
What they all have in common is they try to respond to nonviolent, noncriminal emergency calls in a way that will reduce or even eliminate death, injury, trauma, or incarceration and provide follow-up case management to reduce repeat calls from the same person.
An increasing number of programs avoid sending police whenever possible. Many are started as pilot programs. Some are referred to as “co-responder” models, in which a crisis intervention team includes a police officer and an EMT or mental health worker who go to the scene.
Once the situation is made safe, officers can move to other incidents requiring their attention while a mental health professional or social worker stays behind with the individual. Some cities have a combination of both a co-responder model as well as an unarmed dispatch of a trained mental health professional, social worker or EMT.
I recently participated in a virtual stakeholders meeting, hosted by The Lehigh Valley Justice Institute, to introduce nearly three dozen Allentown and Lehigh county officials, policy makers, possible funders and those involved with the logistics of our 911 system to two alternative emergency response programs: CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) of Eugene, Oregon and the newly formed Bensalem/Bucks County’s co-responder model.
While a stated duty of our police is to remain alert to the emergency needs of our citizens, what is often needed is a mental health professional or social worker, not two armed police officers, however well meaning. Programs such as CAHOOTS and co-responder programs free up police to deal with crime and crime prevention.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, popularly known as the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, reportedly will allocate $72 million to Lehigh County and $57 million to Allentown this year. Our county and city officials need to make sure a portion of these funds pay for hiring, salary and benefits for mental health provider first responder units.
In addition, input from the community needs to be part of the choice of an alternative 911 response program.
When Gadfly first began writing about the Climate Action Plan, he found himself thinking of these lines from Vonnegut and including them on his posts. He had a sense that the idea of a CAP was biting off a lot, that it would take a long time, and that the only way it would ever succeed would be through masterful organization.
Wishing wasn’t going to get it done, dude.
Pious intentions weren’t going to get it done.
He’s sure that the road to CAPs in many another city are strewn with the bones of well meaning elected officials and administrators and activists.
Yesterday, however, our completed Climate Action Plan — with proximate roots going back at least to 2017 and City groundwork activity before that going back into the Callahan administration — was rolled out in a Town Hall event moderated by Councilman Reynolds, the driving force of the plan, with his wingmen Mayor Donchez and Public Works director Mike Alkhal.
It was the triumph of several years of effective organization.
Yesterday was an historic event. Bethlehem made history yesterday. This was a day to be remembered.
Gadfly didn’t sense enough hoopla, enough pomp and circumstance. He’s not sure how much much boom there was in the Zoom audience.
The Mayor talked, but unfortunately Gadfly arrived too late to hear him.
The hard-working, ever helpful, and modest Mike Alkhal talked, reflecting in specific detail on 20 years of relevant environmental protection work leading up to the CAP, work that made “good sense, as in dollars and cents,” pushing back against the push back that environmental work adversely affects the economy.
But this was Councilman Reynolds’ moment.
Why does Bethlehem need a climate action plan, he asked?
“Climate action and sustainability are presenting all humanity with an unprecedented challenge. And we are already starting to see some of the effects of climate change not just in our community but throughout the country and throughout the world. And as we move forward, climate action policy is going to be a combination of federal and state policy but also local policy because there are some things that are better done at the community level. And one of the things that I think is becoming more and more part of the conversation that we’re focusing on is that the citizens that are going to be most affected by climate change and that are going to face the most severe impact are also our most vulnerable citizens. So it’s not just something that we should do or can do but something that we need to do. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we are building a Bethlehem that is going to work for everybody as far as these issues are concerned.”
Gadfly was glad to be present yesterday, and he will devote a few more posts to covering some of the high points of the roll-out.
Net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. Gadfly looks forward to celebrating his 100th birthday with that gift.
But still much work to do.
“There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization.”
kicking off the Climate Action Plan Monday April 12 [TODAY AT 4!]
will give a summary of the very comprehensive plan
will create a series of events throughout the year in order to cover everything
Monday will talk about principles in the plan: equity, resilience, community health, sustainable/inclusive community, community-wide energy reduction, an educational climate challenge program, municipal operations, an environmental justice council, a Green Ribbon Commission, a petition for people to show support
priority is an office of sustainability within City Hall
will formalize working groups
will talk about implementation and set out goals for next two years
The Bethlehem Food Co-Op showed up at the Planning Commission last week to do the Dance of Variances and so forth, but before the business the Commission was treated to two short talks that they and perhaps you will find interesting and informative.
Gadfly thinks the BFC was trying to do some sellin’.!
He imagines a table set up in the lobby of Town Hall.
Elliot Nolter, Co-Op secretary, shared some info about the site search, which began in 2017.
The market analysis identified a trade area of 145,000 (?) population and up to about an 8 mile commute, the need for 45,000sq.ft. of space, a minimum of 25 parking spaces (parking has a direct impact on sales), and a lower than average household income.
The location chosen at 250 E. Broad was ideal for such reasons as good parking, on a main thoroughfare, in a location of low fresh food access (though no longer considered a food desert), within walking distance of thousands of households, accessible public transportation, good visibility to vehicles and pedestrians, ample space, and a new building without need of retrofitting an older one.
Interesting facts: 265 current members live within a one mile radius and 8500-9000 households within a mile radius.
Toby Massey, a consultant, gave such interesting facts as an average basket size is $28 and approx. 225,000 transactions per year, averaging 4400 per week. The significance of this 250 E. Broad St. location includes access to all modes of transportation and being the first geographical food opportunity in that residential area.
Massey also gave a pep talk, comparing with statistics Co-Ops favorably to privately owned stores, indicating, for instance, that after 5 years 90% of the cooperatives are still in business and that money spent there goes back to local economy.
When Catasauqua police responded to a domestic disturbance at the Shirey home in February, it was the eighth time in six years law enforcement had been called to the address.
On four prior visits, officers were called to help emergency medical services when Ryan Shirey suffered seizures. On another, it was to assist EMS when Shirey’s arm became trapped in a recliner during what his father described as a mental health episode. Police also were called when the family dog twice escaped.
When three officers arrived Feb. 19, the situation quickly turned tragic, as Shirey barricaded himself inside the house and retreated to a basement bedroom. As the police entered the bedroom, Shirey charged with a revolver and one of the officers opened fire, fatally wounding him.
The circumstances of Shirey’s death are similar to scenarios that play out across the country with distressing regularity. People suffering mental health crises, sometimes threatening suicide with a deadly weapon, end up in a standoff with police. Officers, fearing for their lives if the weapon is trained on them, respond with deadly force.
In some communities, law enforcement and social service agencies are starting to work together to respond to mental health emergencies and other social issues with the goal of connecting people with the services they need before they suffer a potentially violent crisis.
Ben Brubaker, co-director of the White Bird Clinic in Eugene, Oregon, said the co-responder model is a crucial part of the solution to avoiding tragic outcomes like Shirey’s. For more than 30 years, White Bird Clinic has operated Crisis Assistance Helping out on the Streets, or CAHOOTS, which provides police-funded 24/7 coverage for social workers to respond to behavioral health emergencies in Eugene and the neighboring city of Springfield, Oregon.
CAHOOTS has become a model other communities have adopted for their own programs.
The social workers are dispatched by the cities’ 911 centers but unarmed and can’t force anyone to do anything. They approach potentially volatile situations with the goal of preventing harm to the person in crisis and those who are trying to help.
“Personally, every shift I was on I was able to help somebody stay out of jail and get better connected to services,” Brubaker said. “I know that those things are helping prevent what could be tragic outcomes.”
Between the cities of Eugene and Springfield, CAHOOTS receives about $2 million in funding, accounting for about 2% of the police budgets. Although Brubaker said CAHOOTS doesn’t track jail diversion statistics, the vast majority of incidents were resolved without police. Out of about 24,000 calls CAHOOTS responded to in 2019, only 311 required police backup and the teams resolved nearly 20% of calls to the city’s public safety dispatch center, according to the Vera Institute for Justice.
Joe Welsh, director of the Lehigh Valley Justice Institute, is leading an effort to implement a co-responder program in Lehigh County and Allentown similar to those in Oregon and closer to home in Bucks County. Welsh said the practice achieves not only harm reduction, but it also helps local governments and economies by diverting people from the criminal justice system and avoiding the societal costs of incarceration.
“You’re taking all of these down-the-road costs out of the equation by treating mental illness as an illness instead of criminalizing it,” Welsh said.
The Allentown Police Department is already working to build a co-responder system by expanding crisis training for officers in cooperation with Lehigh County Mental Health and Cedar Crest College. It is also hiring a second crisis intervention specialist to assist patrol officers with mental health-related issues. It also works with an Allentown-based addiction treatment center to partner a certified recovery specialist with officers following up on drug and alcohol abuse issues, Chief Glenn E. Granitz Jr. said.
Upper Macungie Township police also have been working with social service organizations in Lehigh County to identify individuals who are at risk and take steps to candidly discuss their problems and put them and their families in touch with social service providers who can help, Lt. Peter Nickischer said.
“If we see 20 fewer people incarcerated each year, you’re talking about a couple hundred thousand dollars in savings,” Brace said. “I’m of the mind that every dollar that we save in incarceration costs we put into some kind of mental health or community-based preventative activity.”
While a successful program could save taxpayers money, the most important saving, Brace said, is “something we can’t put a dollar sign on — a human life.”
Brubaker, of the CAHOOTS program, said that co-responder programs won’t prevent every tragedy and that police must respond when there’s a threat. But in some situations, social workers can defuse situations that police might not. Brubaker recalled one instance where he spoke with a man having a violent episode inside his mother’s house, and got the man’s commitment that Brubaker would be safe if he went in without police.
“It shows how there is room for a different response where a uniformed officer just by his or her presence could retraumatize or escalate the situation,” Brubaker said.
In Shirey’s case, Martin said, police were responding to a call about domestic violence, and he doesn’t believe a social worker would be able to safely respond to such a call right away. Most of the facts about Shirey’s mental health issues were tied up in medical documents Martin said he had to subpoena to access after the shooting.
Shirey’s father, Karl, and his ex-girlfriend, Alyssa Adams, did not provide police with a clear enough picture of the gravity of Ryan Shirey’s mental health issues, including a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Martin said. No one mentioned that there was a revolver in the house.
“They had no knowledge that they were going into a situation like that,” he said. “If Catasauqua police officers knew he had a gun in the basement, they would not have gone into the basement. They would have called the Municipal Emergency Response Team with trained negotiators.”
In Upper Macungie’s HUB program, the goal is early intervention in situations that have the potential to become more serious. Police officers and social service providers identify residents who may be in need of help and visit them.
Bucks County launched a program last year to embed social workers in the Bensalem Township police department. The community of 60,000 people on the border of Philadelphia had more than 3,300 calls in 2019 when police responded for welfare checks, mental health issues, psychiatric emergencies, suicide attempts, overdoses and domestic disturbances.
“Not too long after the George Floyd incident, I listened to everybody saying police shouldn’t be responding on every type of call,” said Public Safety Director Fred Harran. “We are the only game in town. We’re free, we respond immediately and we don’t ask questions. In these specialized cases, it’s not necessarily the kinds of things we should be responding to.”
Harran said he began researching co-responder programs elsewhere and reached out to social service agencies in Bucks County to float the idea of social workers working with police on calls involving mental health crises, homelessness, child welfare and more complicated issues such as hoarding.
The proposal received support, and county and township officials began developing a framework for two social workers employed by the county to be stationed at police headquarters to respond when officers need them. The program went live in January, and Harran said the department has already seen a reduction in the number of chronic 911 callers who repeatedly summon police for non-law enforcement issues.
In many cases, officers clear the scene as soon as they’re certain there’s no threat and the social workers stay to assess the situation and help the individual connect with services. They also come back to ensure that the person is following through on seeking help and that their needs are being addressed, Harran said.
“Police put a bandage on a bleeding artery,” he said. “With the co-responder, it’s the next level, moving the patient off the battlefield, so to speak, and give them more time.”
Mayoral candidate Dana Grubb supports Councilperson Bryan Callahan’s proposal to use part of the $33.7 million federal COVID relief funds to reverse the impact of the 5% real estate tax increase imposed by the City of Bethlehem’s 2021 budget. Grubb also feels that some of the COVID funding should be used to restore the four firefighter positions that were eliminated in that budget.
“I disagreed with the combination of tax increase, firefighter cuts, and the introduction of a stormwater tax during the pandemic, at a time when many residents are hurting financially,” says Grubb. “Some on City Council, like their constituents, were probably severely impacted by the pandemic, so I would think they would support their colleague’s proposal, which is an avenue for healing.”
Grubb feels that public meetings to solicit input from residents should be incorporated into the decision making process for the allocation of the COVID relief funding.
“The pandemic compels us to be our best selves, to come together to help each other and listen to each other,” Grubb notes. “The residents come first. City officials should be looking out for them: not adding to their burden, but easing it.” He adds that the COVID funding provides city government an avenue to help alleviate some of the hardship that came to everyone as a result of the pandemic.
Gadfly recommends curling up with the beautifully done Spring 2021 issue of Sustainable Lehigh Valley this dreary. rainy Sunday afternoon.
From its acknowledgment of the Lenni Lenape, on whose original land we now live,
to the directory of organizations whose mission it is to maintain our heritage,
you’ll find essays, poems, art work by local talent that wrap you in the Alliance’s vision of “a sustainable, regenerative society, based upon enduring wisdom and
“As spring seeps into our valley, we’re reminded we’ve been living for more than a year now in this liminal, pandemic-induced reality. It exposed our societal weaknesses, exacerbated already-existing disparities, and pushed the climate emergency to the back burner — making it increasingly clear that we need to commit ourselves to creating an equitable, healthy, and sustainable post-pandemic society. While the gravity and existential nature of our problems can be overwhelming, we need not look further than the contents of these pages for hope and optimism about our future — and it’s encouraging to see that so many people are informed about the various economic, environmental, and social issues we’re facing.”
The Alliance welcomes contributions to future issues of Sustainable Lehigh Valley from student to senior.
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
“Willie has been a true partner as we have moved Bethlehem forward. He has the vision and experience we will need in our next mayor.
“Over the last eight years we have experienced tremendous progress and growth in our city, and while the last year has been incredibly challenging as we have faced the Covid-19 pandemic I am confident that J. William Reynolds is the right person to lead us forward.”
The pitch the developer made to the Planning Commission was very “politic,” indicating they were intently following the City discussion of regulating student housing, were aware of the purposes of that project, even specifying them, and denoting 4 synergies with their project:
Just .3/mile from the edge of the Lehigh campus, this project will help pull students out of the neighborhood row homes
and that will encourage more retail business on 3rd. St.
The project is close to multiple modes of public transportation,
and will have substantial economic impact for the city, since the property pays only $499/tax this year ($105 to the City), basically nothing, and now will be taxed at $180,000 ($39,500 to the City).
Gadfly found the following brief comments by the developer about their relation to and relationship with Lehigh very interesting. If Gadfly understands correctly, Lehigh has publicly stated that it is providing housing for all of its students on campus, so what we have here is a stark example of minding the main chance — the developer realizing that he can offer a premium product to students for whom price is not a concern.
We designed Polk Street [310-22 E. 3rd St. — his nearby companion building] . . . things where I would want my daughter to be . . . . That shows we can get a premium in the market if we have the right product.
We’re not talking with Lehigh because we’re competing with Lehigh quite frankly.
We’re trying to grab the best of the best out of Lehigh and bring them down here.
We’re going after the top of their student housing stack, if you will.
I view us as a competitor to Lehigh, truthfully.
They’ve been a great competitor for us because it has been easy to pick off what we want.
We think we’re a better mousetrap.
But the best part of the commentary on the new project came from Kim Carrell-Smith, whom we have come to recognize always has sensible comments based on research as well on her lived experience on the Southside and her good taste. As Kim has done before, she asks for design of the new building that “blends” better with its neighbor to the west built by the same company.
I wonder if we could persuade you to work on a complementary design to your first building [310-22 E. 3rd St.].
It would add to the character of what you have already done.
It would definitely provide a kind of gentle way to come from the historic district out of the historic district.
I think that would be a great thing for the community.
It would be a great thing for the historic district.
And a good thing for the shopping, living, playing public.
Could you fill that niche with a building that doesn’t detract from your initial project?
The Planning Commission gave the go-ahead for this project for a new building at 403 E. 3rd St. (across Polk St. from Mo;inari’s) in its April 8 meeting. with the chair almost gushing with his affirmation. There was, however. considerable grousing about the stalled Polk Street Garage project across the street that would provide so much necessary parking.
Gadfly will post some audio and commentary from the meeting shortly.
Ashley Development Corp. plans to build a 7-story mixed use development at Third and Polk streets. Plans call for two floors of retail and then a mix of 80 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments on the upper floors built on a parking lot at 404 E. Third Street. The property sits between Third and Mechanic streets and bounded by Polk Street to the west.
Ashley recently had great success converting office space in an adjacent building at 322 E. Third St. into 52 high-end apartments targeting Lehigh University students and young professionals, Pektor said. “We are really trying to push the market to a high-end, higher quality product,” Pektor said. “We’ve learned that students, graduate students and staff people will pay for high-quality units and they will pay to be close to convenience… The more foot traffic and more residential units we can put in that approximate area I think is good for everyone.”
Pektor wants to capitalize on his success with a mixed-use development of more housing next door. He’s also in negotiations with two high-end, local restauranteurs who would occupy the first and second floors, he said. The more students developers can draw down to the business district the more the city can preserve the integrity of its original neighborhoods and create a more vibrant commercial district, Pektor said. And it creates a boon of foot traffic for local businesses, he said.
The planning commission ultimately signed off on several variances it has the power to approve under city zoning and made them contingent on developers nailing down where tenants will park. The biggest unknown for the project — estimated at a $16 million to $18 million investment — is where its residents and visitors will park. The coronavirus pandemic and unexpected emergency repairs at the Walnut Street parking garage have derailed plans for the Polk Street parking deck across from Pektor’s project. He is prepared to lease 114 spaces in the Betlehem Parking Authority deck if it is built. Without it, he might require tenants to provide proof of parking elsewhere or have to redesign the project, Pektor said.
Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez on Friday [said] much hinges on the forthcoming Walnut Street garage condition report and clearer federal guidelines on how the stimulus funding can be used. “Polk Street is basically shovel ready and now we have more (lease) commitments today than we had for the garage a year ago,” Donchez said. “That puts the parking authority in a stronger position. The key is what does the Walnut Street report say and what are the guidelines and regulations for how we should use the stimulus money? I am very bullish on Polk Street.”