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Welcome to the Bethlehem Gadfly!

Definition of gadfly
1: any of various flies that annoy livestock

2: a person who stimulates other people especially by persistent criticism
3: someone who challenges people in positions of power

The main goal of the Gadfly blog is to provide a space for healthy public dialogue about issues of concern to Bethlehem, Pa., residents. All sides, all perspectives welcome.

For good examples of in-depth coverage of continuing serious issues, see the threads onGadfly 54 candidates for election, Martin Tower, Parking, and on 2 W. Market St.

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

Please use your contact list to pass the word about “The Bethlehem Gadfly” to others and, most importantly, click the button on the top of the sidebar to follow us.

And follow the Gadfly on Facebook @TheBethlehemGadfly

The Gadfly — Ed Gallagher — would like to hear from you!

“don’t let more families like us leave,” says former Southside resident

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Gadfly will be providing more detail on the meeting. But when, Gadfly, when?

Selections from Christina Tatu, “Bethlehem considering ordinance that would limit student housing for the sake of neighborhoods.” Morning Call, October 23, 2020.

South Side residents are urging Bethlehem City Council to swiftly approve a zoning amendment regulating off-campus student housing, saying families are being driven out and real estate prices are being driven up by developers snatching up properties to house college students.

City Council held a special meeting Thursday to hear public comments on the proposal, which was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in August. It provides a student housing district that city officials said would protect neighborhoods and keep students to more appropriate areas.

City officials have been working for several years with South Side community organizations, property owners and landlords to prepare the amendment. The district would be on the northeast and northwest sides of Lehigh University’s campus, bordered on the west side by Eighth Street to the south, Hess Street to the west and Cress Street to the north; and on the east side by Thomas Street to the south, Pierce Street to the east and East Morton Street to the north.

The new zoning would limit housing to five students per residence in those districts, while three students per residence would be allowed in the central commercial and limited commercial districts to the north of campus. Outside of these areas, city officials are recommending only two college students be allowed in a dwelling unit.

Landlords who already operate student housing outside of those districts could continue to do so as long as they maintain their annual licenses with the city, said Darlene Heller, the planning director.

Anna Smith, a former director for the Community Action Development Corp. of the Lehigh Valley and the owner of a home on Ridge Street, said that in 2018, property sales were up 34% near Lehigh’s campus and prices went up 18%. But the percentage of new owner-occupied homes was low.

“We heard stories from neighborhoods that had previously housed only a handful of students, but where out-of-state buyers were going door-to-door hoping to buy entire lots of homes to demolish and build luxury student townhomes,” she said. “Since 2018, we have seen prices continue to rise with single-family homes now selling for upwards of $300,000 or more to prospective student housing buyers, who will rent them out at up to $1,000 per bedroom.”

Although student housing has been a part of the community for a long time, events over the last couple years have shifted the balance and left longtime residents concerned about losing their family-oriented neighborhood, Smith said.

Murdocc Saunders said he sold his Hillside Avenue home in the South Side last month. It was the only home his sons, ages 6 and 10, knew. He decided to leave after several students moved in across the street and the house next door was turned into student housing.

“My kids still miss their home,” he said. “As someone who still loves the city of Bethlehem, we still come back. … But don’t let more families like us leave. We want to be there and if there was a house in the right community in south Bethlehem, we would be back there next month.”

Speaking against the ordinance, James Byszewski, of Fifth Street Properties, said he doesn’t think it’s fair that it targets students. He also believes it would also be difficult to enforce.

“By limiting it to students, you open yourself up to a list of challenges when it comes to fair housing,” he said.

“All society’s failures fall on the shoulders of law enforcement”

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

“All society’s failures fall on the shoulders of law enforcement,”
president of the National Sheriffs’ Association

“Why not slow down and think? Why go straight to violence?”
Sister of person killed in police encounter

Gadfly’s been sitting on this article for a week now. It’s really bothered him. And he hasn’t been able to hit “delete” and move on.

Followers know that Gadfly has been impatient with what seems to him a lack of urgency to respond to the kind of local self-analysis called for in the wake of the international uproar over the murder of George Floyd.

There is a City Council Committee of the Whole meeting October 29 6pm. Topic: “Interaction of the Police Department/Health Bureau/Recreation/Department of Community and Economic Development.”

No details have been provided. A reliable source tells Gadfly that the meeting was requested by the Administration but as of Wednesday Council had received no other information or documents.

October 29 will be over 5 months past Floyd’s death. An eternity in this fast-paced world. Enough time for several other noteworthy tragedies to have happened in the meantime.

So come to this article. It’s long. But you ought to read it all. Not just my selections.

What’s grabbed Gadfly?

First, that police departments our size (154 officers, maybe now 153) are more likely, much more likely to be involved in killings involving the mentally ill. The larger departments can afford more training. So we should take note. As Gadfly has said before, we have never had an explanation of what kind of training our officers get in, say, de-escalation techniques. We may be fine. We may be excellent. We just don’t know. We should know.

But, next, there are several very sad stories here. Stories that are exactly the kind that we should be doing all in our power to prevent. There are several such stories in the article, so, again, Gadfly asks that you read the entire article not just his selections.

But think about Stacy Kenny. The officer thought it was “weird” that Kenny pulled to the side of the road on her own. She had not done anything wrong. Kenny’s parents had the forethought to alert the local police that she was schizophrenic and might be off her meds. That was no avail. She was on the phone with 911 during the incident. The officer who beat and killed her headed the de-escalation training in his department, had significant training himself, and used none of it. The police department ruled that he did no wrong, acted according to protocol. The department got sued and paid a record-breaking settlement out of the pockets of local tax-payers. The department acknowledged failings. The officer got an award from the police association.

Goddam.

Gadfly cannot see why more people cannot see past the admittedly vexing and misleading term “defunding,” drop their defensiveness, and see that there is a basic problem here that somehow has to be addressed. And quickly. And now.

Gadfly hopes that the October 29 meeting will show the City — finally — doing just that.

And in the words of the president of the sheriff’s association — that “All society’s failures fall on the shoulders of law enforcement” — Gadfly hears Councilman Reynolds urging us to set our minds through the Community Engagement Initiative on attacking systemic racism — in fact, systemic injustice on all people — on the local level.

Gadfly, as usual, invites responses, especially those in a problem-recognizing and problem-solving mode. We need the best heads we have focused on this issue.

——–

The 2019 death [of Stacy Kenny] in Springfield, Ore., was one of 1,324 fatal shootings by police over the past six years that involved someone police said was in the throes of a mental health crisis — about a quarter of all fatal police shootings during that period, according to a Washington Post database.

Although the number of these fatalities has declined, these confrontations remain a deadly and vexing issue, especially in small and midsize metropolitan areas. A Post analysis shows fatal police shootings of those who are mentally ill are more likely to take place in areas with populations of fewer than 1 million, like Springfield, which is part of a metropolitan area of about 382,000.

The Post reviewed the number of mentally ill people killed by police over the past six years and compared it with the overall number of people living in the area to determine the per capita rate. Such shootings are 39 percent more likely in small and medium-size areas than in large metropolitan areas or rural areas.

The issue arose at a nationally televised town hall meeting Thursday night when Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said it was “really, really important” that psychologists and social workers join police on calls involving mentally ill people “to de-escalate the circumstance, to deal with talking them down.” The day before, the Los Angeles City Council voted to create an unarmed crisis response team to handle nonviolent calls, including those prompted by mental health, substance abuse and suicide threats.

The police encounter with Kenny began after she pulled to the side of the road of her own volition, which an officer thought was “weird,” so he pulled behind her to investigate. . . . The Kenny family received a $4.55 million settlement in July from the city of Springfield — the largest lawsuit settlement involving police in Oregon’s history. The officers were not criminally charged. The department cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, saying they did not violate any laws or department policies. The city acknowledged that it needed to improve training and oversight.

For police, encounters with mentally ill people can be especially challenging because their behavior is often frantic and unpredictable. They can be in a state of psychosis, making it impossible for them to follow regular police commands. The encounters also can be dangerous, The Post database shows, because in most cases the mentally ill person is armed with a gun or knife.

Yet some departments, mostly in larger metropolitan areas, have made progress. Larger police departments with bigger budgets have moved more quickly to embrace training in de-escalation skills. Those departments are also more likely to dedicate resources to refresher training and to work as a team with local mental health professionals, experts said.

The specialized training doesn’t guarantee success. Springfield Sgt. Richard A. Lewis, who broke Kenny’s passenger-side window, punched her repeatedly and then shot her five times, was in charge of Crisis Intervention Team training at that police department.

During a deposition for the lawsuit, Lewis said he saw that Kenny was unarmed and was buckled into her car. The other officer, who first encountered Kenny and smashed her driver’s side window, had received 40 hours of the special training.

The police department said Kenny used her car as a weapon when she fled the scene with an officer inside. Her family says she used it to flee a brutal beating that ultimately involved four officers.The officer’s union did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to the payment to the Kenny family, the city also agreed to revamp its use-of-force policy, help finance a review of the officers’ actions, and beef up its internal review process after the use of excessive or fatal force. The department has changed some of its training, particularly with how it handles traffic stops.

“In hindsight, we are asking officers to slow it down. As opposed to smashing out the window and trying to pull someone out of a car, let’s look at this situation as best we can. Gather information,” said Lt. George Crolly, who oversees the patrol division of the department. “Maybe this isn’t a wanted felon trying to commit a crime, maybe this is someone in crisis and in need of help.”

The Post database shows that the mentally ill people who died by police gunfire since 2015 were largely White, accounting for 58 percent of the deaths, with Blacks at 16 percent and Latinos at 13 percent.

Ron Bruno, a 25-year police veteran and executive director of the nonprofit Crisis Intervention Team International, said it is a mistake for departments to have only one small team on call with specialized skills.

“There should be quick access to CIT officers on every shift,” Bruno said. “That means training between 20 to 30 percent of your department. If you are a small department where you only have one officer patrolling at a time, they all need to be trained.”

In the case of Kenny, her parents believed the Springfield Police Department was small enough, with its 45 officers, to look out for their mentally ill child.

They met with police officials a year before Kenny’s death, alerting them to her diagnosis of schizophrenia and told them Kenny had stopped taking medication.

“We told them he might behave oddly, but that he was never violent or dangerous,” said Kenny’s mother, Barbara, who uses male pronouns for her child. However, the officers did not call for a background check when they encountered Kenny, records show.

After the officers were cleared by the department and prosecutors, Sgt. Lewis, who shot and killed Kenny, received a Purple Heart commendation from the Oregon Police Officers Association for the injuries he received during the encounter — abrasions and a broken wrist — which required that his actions did not result from “poor judgment.”

Hispanic Center: Racial Justice for Stronger Community! Tuesday October 27

Latest in a series of posts about the Community Engagement Initiative

Here’s another one of those post-GeorgeFloyd resources to help us think about racism that Gadfly was just talking about. And Gadfly is thinking of this as the first of our Community Engagement Initiative events, even though it was scheduled before the CEI.

register here

The Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley invites you to our Virtual Health Equity Summit on October 27, 2020 at 9:00am – 11:00am with a focus on systemic challenges faced by communities of color. This year’s event will address the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, colorism within the Hispanic Community, and systematic racism in education. The funds raised from this event will be utilized to support HCLV’s health equity work. To register, please visit: https://hclvhealthequitysummitracialjustice.eventbrite.com

Presentations:

  • The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Communities of Color, Dr. Rajika Reed
  • Understanding Colorism within the Hispanic Community, Dr. Griselda Rodriguez
  • Systemic Racism in K-12 Education, Dr. Joseph Roy & Three students from the BASD

As the center continues to focus on building a stronger foundation for the future in order to help improve the quality of lives of families (Hispanic and non-Hispanic) by empowering them to become more self-sufficient, while promoting an intercultural understanding in the Lehigh Valley; please consider contributing to assist with its efforts by making a monetary donation: https://bit.ly/2Yz2WZO

register here

Gadfly donated — how about you?

Black poetry at Touchstone Saturday

Latest in a series of posts on the Arts in Bethlehem

In this post-GeorgeFloyd era of national reckoning with race, our local area has been rich in resources regarding the Black experience in America. One thinks of the Bethlehem Area Public Library programs and resources, the Northampton County Community College “Peace and Social Justice” conference, the “Race & Space in the Lehigh Valley Discussion Series” by the Lehigh Valley Engaged Humanities Consortium, among other things. Are we taking advantage of the opportunities?

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL ARTISTS AND ARTS INSTITUTIONS

“Touchstone Theatre is a Bethlehem Treasure”

Saturday, October 24, 2:00p

“To be black in America right now is a wound. Nothing seems to exactly describe the pain in my lower back, my chest, blooming between my lungs, hanging so, so heavy in my heart. My grief is miles deep, ancestral deep.”
-Kristina Haynes, Basement Poetry

Join the artists and partners of Basement Poetry for an afternoon of poetry performances about the triumphs and traumas of the Black American experience in 2020. Bring a blanket, sweater, and your support of Black lives! Register here.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL ARTISTS AND ARTS INSTITUTIONS

Good public response at the Community Development Committee meeting

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

In a lengthy Community Development Committee meeting last night, City officials laid out in detail the proposed ordinance to regulate student housing around Lehigh University, approximately 20 comments from the public were received, heavily weighted in support of the ordinance, and six of the seven City Council members made comments or had questions about it. No vote was taken. The meeting was for the purpose of providing information and gathering comment.

Gadfly is hung over this morning from the combination of the long Council meeting followed by the presidential debate and will provide reports on the various commentary in due course.

Another view on the plea for affordable housing

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Bud Hackett is a Bethlehem resident who raised 4 kids in the City. He recently became very interested in quality of life issues in the city and hopes to offer a balance to the approach City Council is taking.

ref: “A plea for affordable housing”

Gadfly:

  • Yes, we all want free or reduced price stuff, including food, housing and medical care. Where is my application for a reduced price new car? I’ve never had a new car.
  • The single most important factor in the increased cost of housing is government regulations.
  • Just whining about “we want better priced housing” is — just naïve.
  • Another significant factor in housing cost is the unprecedented influx of new people coming to this community from NY & NJ – pushing the price of housing up. Is that in the best interest of our community?

Is your approach another income transfer from higher income to lower income? Is that really fair?

Bud

A follower asks Gadfly to remind you that you can still call in to City Council tonight if you haven’t signed up beforehand: (610) 997-7963. Wait for the committee chair to ask for call-ins.

A plea for affordable housing (Originally posted June 12, 2019)

The latest in a series of posts on the Southside

view CDC meeting on YouTube tonight 6PM

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

———

Gadfly’s not getting much done today.

Feels like a Limbo-day, to coin a phrase.

Just waiting.

Waiting for the presidential debate tonight, of course. Lot of anxiety about that. Hard to focus on anything else.

But waiting also for the Community Development Committee to pass on the student housing reduction ordinance. Important decision there.

Did you decide what you are going to do?

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

and/or

  • speak at tonight’s Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

If the ordinance passes tonight, the journey is not done. Still has to go to full Council. So the support letter will stay open for signing till then. Pass the word.

In the Limbo mood, I have been thinking about public discussions “we” have had about affordable housing.

There have been some memorable ones.

Take the City Council meeting of August 22, 2019.

Classic.

Stephen Antalics demands an answer from the “silence of the Lambs” to his argument for a zoning change such as the one that is in front of Council tonight. And Councilwoman Negron thanks him “for keeping us on track,” confesses that she has lost sleep after hearing residents talk of their problems, and announces that she is “not going to go anywhere till something is done.”

Wow!

Powerful moments.

There is great stuff in the Gadfly archives. He hopes some future Bethlehem historian will use it to learn about who we were at this moment in time.

But Gadfly’s most moving affordable housing memory occurred at the end of the May 2019 Nitschmann School meeting on Martin Tower.

———–

Originally posted June 12, 2019

The scene:

Remember the long night meeting on the Martin Tower demolition at Nitschmann?

30-some speakers. Some very animated.

Things wound down.

Discussion fatigue enveloping the hall.

The Mayor made concluding remarks, thanking all concerned.

There was generous applause.

There was the rustle of exiters.

It was over.

We were done.

When an elderly gentleman — oblivious to the fact that last call had been given and the lights were going out — approached the stage-left mic.

To make a plea for affordable housing.

And received the loudest applause of the night.

  • I’ve been here in the Valley since 1965.
  • It’s getting to the point that we can’t afford it.
  • We can’t afford what the new housing costs.
  • I would like to see at least a portion of this property [Martin Tower] be put into something that elderly people who don’t have the strength . . . the money . . .
  • We could move . . . but then we have our doctors here. We can’t afford to drive back and forth.
  • You talk about luxury apartments . . .

One minute and ten seconds. But unforgettable to Gadfly.

The sun was setting on his life.

The sun was setting on the meeting.

But the audience was roused from Tower torpor, mightily aroused.

Gadfly wanted to run for office so we could act on that plea.

Let’s keep that muffled elderly voice and the vigorous chorus of audience support in mind as we think about what the City can do to remedy the lack of affordable housing.

There is a problem, and “we” know in our guts something has to be done about it.

———–

———–

A re-run of Gadfly’s “Tour de Rentz”: from Hillside to First Terrace (original post 7/31/19)

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

view CDC meeting on YouTube tonight 6PM

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

On July 31, 2019 — when he was young and the pandemic was not on the prowl — Gadfly took it upon hisself to cross into the devil-land of student rentals on Hillside Ave.

The occasion was proposed development on First Terrace. Remember that?

The idea was to see for hisself.

To go to the primary source.

Not listening to griping neighbors.

And he conducted a Tour de Rentz. (Isn’t that cute? Rentz = Rents. Gadfly was much funnier then.)

Because of the student housing regulation before the Community Development Committee tonight, and for which we are hoping that you will sign a supporting letter and/or call in tonight — this very amateurish Tour deserves re-running.

Gadfly remembers that while he was touring lower Hillside two cars stopped and the drivers jumped out confronting him with questions to his purpose.

Gadfly was not properly credentialed. As if needing permission from the warlord landlords.

The only voices Gadfly heard on this hot summer day in this Southside ghost town of lower Hillside were the representatives of the landlords. Suspicious. Worried. Of little ol’ Gadfly.

———

Gadfly had to see for himself. He had long heard tales of Southside woe from Olga Negron and Stephen Antalics. He recently heard resident fears of the spectre of “lower Hillside” spreading upward with devastating impact. There was even talk of “existential crisis.” How could this be?

Time for Gadfly to follow his own principle. Time to look at the primary sources.

Gadfly’s Tour de Rentz starts at the foot of Hillside Ave. (approx at 531 Hillside Ave.) alongside the Zoellner Arts Center Parking Garage. It proceeds up Hillside past Thomas and Selfridge, turning on Stoneman, and ending on First Terrace.

Join him. The videos linked below are only a few seconds each.

If you know this neighborhood at all, you probably know it speeding through in a car. Let’s slow down. The Tour de Rentz is on foot.

Tour map

1) Foot of Hillside Ave: looking up the hill, student housing as far as you can see. Just about every house “signed.” The few beautifully full trees left may be an indication that at one time this was a handsome tree-lined street.

2) North (east) side of Hillside: we begin moving up on “lower Hillside,” the heavily dense student-housing section that residents of “upper Hillside” fear is in their future.

3) South (west) side of Hillside: Gadfly is struck by the long string of interesting looking houses. One can easily imagine that they were once comfortable family homes.

4) Farther up on the south (west) side of Hillside: Gadfly admits to being something of a “romantic,” but he was taken by the look of these houses — big living room windows, nice porches, once tree-lined. And the porches up high. He talked with a guy perched far above the sidewalk as he passed — lord of all he surveyed. Gadfly had to crane his neck. A feeling of the first floor on the second floor. Interesting.

5) Turning right off Hillside, south on Thomas, uphill into the Lehigh campus: Gadfly quietly orgasmic at the beautiful double that meets him. What an interesting twin. A sense of size and sturdiness. Gadfly quietly admitting to himself that he expected not to be impressed by the original quality of the homes. Gadfly quietly feeling shame at what has happened here to what once were “homes.”

6) Turning left off Hillside, north on Thomas: looks like an apartment house, was this relatively newly built? Looks out of place with surroundings. Looks clean and nice — but out of place. Doesn’t seem to blend.

7) Back up Hillside again: encountering a “pod” of rentals on the north (east) side, a whole block that collapsed from familytude. Gadfly imagines the male householder drifting down to the Sokols for a brew or two.

8) Turning right off Hillside, south (uphill) on Selfridge: 4 out of 5 houses on the block are rentals, the corner property owner looks to be holding on to a cute house. Gadfly imagines tension in that corner house.

9) Turning left off Hillside, north on Selfridge: look at the fence and stone work on the double next to the corner house. Interesting. Gadfly getting more of an appreciation for the art of building houses on hills. Steep hills.

10) We reach upper Hillside: now predominantly homeowners, but rentals have made a breach. A kind of border crossing here. Gadfly wishes his camera had lingered more on the northside homes along Hillside here.

11) Upper Hillside: (Lousy video.) Not dominated by rentals. Yet. Solitary rental property on the right with trash in front faces well kept, flowered home with a guy gardening on the left. Not a pretty composite picture. Like a spot on a lung of this stretch of neighborhood.

12) Turning right (south), uphill, off Hillside on Stoneman: houses owned by Lehigh Properties, of the recent case about a 40-student dorm on First Terrace before the Planning Commission.

13) Gadfly quizzed separately by an adult and two students about what he was up to. They are fidgety, guilty looking. Suspicious of me. And a bit snarky. Gadfly thought it best not to incite by filming the encounters. Gadfly life expectancies are short as it is.

14) Turning right off the top of Stoneman on to First Terrace: this the spot where Lehigh Properties wants to build a 40-student dorm, knocking down 4 homes to do so. Remember that residents made a determined argument against the proposal in front of the Planning Commission to no avail — but that the Mayor broke the norm and effectively shot down the proposal. But what alternative lurks?

15) Farther along on First Terrace past the 4 houses proposed for demolition to build a large dorm: privately owned homes, signs of care for the houses, signs of domesticity, flowers, gardens, neat lawns, this is a neighborhood. So clear that the proposed dormitory development was dead wrong. Did the developer have any regard at all?

16) Farther yet on First Terrace: view across the Valley, unfortunately not video’d, an exhilarating top of the mountain feel. More clear signs of home care, more clear signs that this is a neighborhood — clear signs of the domestic life endangered by the rental scourge creeping up from below.

Please forgive Gadfly the poopy camera skills. He could name one faithful follower who should have had the job.

sign the letter of support here

———–

Virus situation calming down at Lehigh: “it seems like no one is (at Lehigh) anymore”

Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus

“Cases have since dropped after an initial spike two weeks ago. According to Lehigh’s dashboard, active cases dropped from 82 to 36 in less than one week.”
Brown and White

Lehigh University COVID-19 Information Center

Lehigh University COVID-19 dashboard

After a significant spike, the virus situation is calming down at Lehigh. The Brown and White article below gives some student reaction to the quality of life on campus these days.

10/14/20

Selections from Aliza Lev, “239 on-campus students have vacated university housing as of Oct. 21.” Brown and White, October 21, 2020.”

Of the 1,223 students living on campus at the start of the semester, the majority — over 1,000 — are first-years students. That means about one-fifth of all first-year students living on campus have left housing either temporarily or permanently.

However, there are also 81 Gryphons [student Residence Hall advisors] currently living in university housing. Some of these Gryphons have left campus for the semester and gave up their positions or are considering doing so, according to a Gryphon who requested to remain anonymous in this article for fear of their job security.

The Gryphon said this has been a stressful semester for all Gryphons due to COVID-19 concerns and uncertainties. The anonymous Gryphon is considering not returning to campus next semester and resigning from her position.

“I’ve definitely been very stressed out and anxious over this,” the Gryphon said. “I’m thinking I should go home, but I’m nervous about getting sick and bringing (COVID-19) back to my high-risk parents. I’m torn between staying here or going home and leaving things uncertain about whether I’ll be able to be a Gryphon next semester.”

The Gryphon said other Gryphons have been concerned about the well-being of the first-years that live in their halls. The Gryphon said COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for first-year students to make friends, and many of them spend their time alone.

The Gryphon also said while some first-years prioritize their safety, others have not been adhering to COVID-19 guidelines for the sake of social interaction, which puts both themselves and their Gryphons at risk.

“It’s concerning seeing some kids who do care a lot wanting to stay on campus and stay safe, and other kids parading out of the building getting ready to go to parties,” the Gryphon said.

The Gryphon said there is frustration with the lack of communication between the Lehigh administration and the Residence Life staff because it has put Gryphons and other staff members at risk.

For example, the Gryphon said other Gryphons are only notified when someone on their own floor tests positive or residents need to quarantine. But when Gryphons are doing their typical “rounds” checking in on other floors in their residence hall, they could potentially be walking into a hall under quarantine and thus exposing themselves since they are not notified of positive students in halls other than their own.

Amy Zage, ‘24, and Paige Nemet, ‘24, were both exposed to COVID-19 on campus and were quarantined until they received their test results. After they each tested negative twice, Zage and Nemet went home.

Zage said she left campus because she felt scared and restricted living in her dorm.

Earlier this month, several students received letters of interim suspension after allegedly violating the university’s COVID-19 guidelines. Zage said she feared suspension and felt more comfortable temporarily living at home.

Nemet said she felt stressed before leaving campus because the university was not communicating about her situation. She said she called the Health Center multiple times with questions about her quarantine before getting in touch with someone.

“This was definitely stressful and difficult because I found out in only a day that I would have to quarantine for two weeks,” Nemet said. “Now everyone is either quarantined or at home, so it seems like no one is (at Lehigh) anymore.”

Zage also said the limited access to campus facilities, such as the libraries, significantly decreased her ability to interact with other students and maintain some form of social interaction.

Att: Everybody but especially Garrison Streeters, First Terracers, Armory-ers, W. Marketers! Southsiders need our support preserving their neighborhood

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

———-

Neighborhoods are worth fighting for, the Gadfly has always said.

And over the last two years he has joined with you in that fighting in various parts of the City.

Now the Southsiders around Lehigh need our help.

An ordinance to regulate student housing in that neighborhood comes before the City Council Community Development Committee tonight.

The proposal is fair, reasonable, well researched, collegially developed, and modeled on national best practices.

It has the imprimatur of the City Administration.

It has been approved by the Planning Commission.

It has been approved by the Zoning Board.

All it needs now is City Council approval.

But we can expect that there will be strong business and perhaps institutional forces opposing it.

Please read the following letter to Council signed by several dozen of the affected neighbors.

And then see the ways in which you can help.

To show your support, you can:

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

and/or

  • speak at tonight’s Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

———–

Need for student housing regulation long recognized — Now’s the time — Please “sign on”

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

———–

When the collective works of Stephen Antalics — Gadfly #1 — are published, researchers of Bethlehem history will find abundant evidence of this warrior’s dogged battles for preserving the quality of Southside neighborhoods around Lehigh addressed in the ordinance coming before the City Council Community Development Committee Thursday evening.

Who can forget Gadfly #1’s descriptions during public comment at City Council meetings of the cancer that has ravaged the Southside as a result of City zoning decisions.

And here below this Gadfly directs you to just two of Gadfly #1’s printed works on this subject that bookend the last decade.

So now before City Council is a fair, reasonable, well researched, collegially developed ordinance that aims to regulate student housing in a way that preserves the quality of life in those Southside neighborhoods.

And we’re asking a wide swath of the Bethlehem residents to show City Council the strength of support for this long aborning ordinance.

To show that support, you can:

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

and/or

  • speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

2012

Selections from Stephen Antalics, “Bethlehem should revisit its zoning ordinance.” Morning Call, September 4, 2012.

For a city to maintain an environment of stability, safety and a sense of well-being in the community, its zoning ordinance must require a high ratio of family-owned residences compared to rental properties owned by nonresident landlords. This helps reduce transiency, and the high percentage of family homes also adds to a collective civic pride — an essential community element.

The Bethlehem South Side master plan in 2001 recommended that the area would benefit from more family-owned properties and fewer rentals. That hasn’t happened. The city’s zoning ordinance, adopted May 7, allows up to five unrelated people living together in one unit. This zoning designation encourages property owners to rent to Lehigh University students and others. Families, however, bring stability to a neighborhood.

Why does the Bethlehem administration not change its recent zoning revisions to be in line with other communities? Could not the South Side have a limited student overlay district immediately adjacent to the campus allowing five students, while rental properties outside that district are restricted to two unrelated persons? This would make rentals available to traditional families,

2019

Selections from Stephen Antalics, “Student housing conversions harming Bethlehem’s South Side.” Morning Call, July 27, 2019.

In the late 1980s, Bethlehem revised its zoning code to allow up to five unrelated individuals to be recognized as a family and live in one housing unit. According to Jeffrey R. Zettlemoyer, who at that time was the fair housing and labor compliance officer for the city, the increase was an incentive for more student housing conversions.

If one were to time-travel back to the mid-1980s prior to the zoning revision, and drive the streets of the core residential section of the South Side, streets such as Carlton, Montclair, Birkel, Vine, Webster, Polk, Morton, Summit, Fillmore, Thomas, Taylor, Adams, Hillside and Pierce, you would see predominantly well-kept pristine single-family homes resplendent with grass green yards of flower and vegetable gardens and well-appointed porches.

Taking that trip today would reveal houses with large placards stating “Student Housing,” backyards with macadam surfaces to allow for overflow parking, alleys such as Boyce and Boyer streets appearing to be massive parking lots and two or three industrial-sized refuse containers on sidewalks before most houses.

Sidewalks are littered with cups and food containers after loud weekend parties. Bed sheets with messages are strung from second-story windows rallying athletic teams to victory over rivals, creating a college campus atmosphere on the city streets. A rather depressing annual sight is to see groups of people scavenging through piles of discards left by students who have departed for summer vacation. The absence of students and the absence of cars parked on the street gives some streets the appearance of a deserted city.

you can sign the supporting letter here

Please sign letter supporting proposal to regulate student housing

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

Gadfly, who has supported encroachments on the quality of life in neighborhoods several times in his buzzing lifetime — perhaps your very own neighborhood — asks cooperation from residents across the city in signing the letter below seeking City Council support for student housing regulation at the Community Development Committee meeting Thursday night.
The issue of Lehigh sprawl is hardly new to Gadfly followers. And here we have an eminently reasonable proposal supported and developed by the City Administration and already approved by the Planning Commission and Zoning Board.
All it needs now is City Council approval.
Here’s overview information that will fill you in completely.
Please click on this link to sign the letter below to show your support for this important safeguard to a Bethlehem neighborhood.
——————
City Council: Support the Regulation of Student Housing in Bethlehem

Dear Bethlehem City Council Members:

We live, work, and/or spend our free time in the vibrant, diverse neighborhoods of South Bethlehem. We are familiar with the multiple faces of this unique community, and we believe that the community’s identity as a place where all are welcome, and where all can establish a social and economic foothold, is key to South Bethlehem’s past and future. Southside neighborhoods are home to former steelworkers, young immigrant families, college professors, transitional and cooperative housing program residents, college students, and young professionals. At this critical moment in our nation’s history, the diversity of residents in Southside neighborhoods and the intentional and informal interactions that occur between those residents shine a light on what can make a community strong and resilient, fostering mutual understanding and cross-cultural dialogue.

Over the last four years, residents and community leaders have identified a disruption in the equilibrium that has kept our neighborhoods diverse. The rapid extension of student housing into neighborhoods further from Lehigh University’s borders has placed several of the Southside’s diverse neighborhoods at risk of being converted to exclusively student areas. Student housing companies are purchasing homes at inflated prices, and some intend to demolish existing housing stock to build luxury student accomodations. Residents have experienced the negative impacts of this spike in investment activity. Some low-income families have been forced to leave rental homes to make way for students; long-term renters and homeowners have fled and others are thinking of following them, and prospective residents struggle to find homes to purchase or rent.

Like most communities in the Lehigh Valley, South Bethlehem has a shortage of affordable housing, and the need for it among our families is clear: 93% of students at Broughal Middle School receive free and reduced lunch. While low-income families have historically had a better chance of finding housing in South Bethlehem, 70% of Southside families currently rent their homes, at rates up to five times lower than rental prices for college students. Without deliberate intervention to regulate the expansion of student housing beyond a designated zone, the affordability, as well as general livability of Southside neighborhoods is at risk.

Although college students in South Bethlehem serve as tutors in local schools, patronize local businesses, and may become permanent residents of our city following graduation, they have very different schedules, social lives, and levels of commitment to their adopted neighborhoods. Maintaining a balance between students and long-term residents helps to foster positive community relationships in neighborhoods beyond the immediate campus borders. By establishing a designated area for any new student housing, our community can ensure that students have safe, well-located residences while maintaining rental and homeownership opportunities and livable neighborhoods for families of all income levels.

We ask you to protect the livability of South Bethlehem’s neighborhoods by supporting Mayor Donchez’s proposal to create a Student Housing Overlay District in south Bethlehem and place common-sense regulations on college student housing in our city. Please act now to preserve and strengthen our diverse Southside community and ensure that safe, affordable housing and stable neighborhoods remain accessible to all.

sign this supporting letter here

Farmers markets — let’s make them happen!

Latest in a series of posts on the environment

Luke Rider is a senior at Liberty High School. Luke presented this essay at the “Speak out!” Sustainability Forum, part of Touchstone Theatre’s Festival UnBound 2020, September 19. You can view Luke reading his work here at min. 46:20.

Farmers Market Issue

Luke Rider

Bethlehem and all of the Lehigh Valley have been faced with an issue that many simply don’t see. This city is in desperate need of more locally built, non-chain, and affordable farmers markets. While many people choose to turn their heads at the idea of farmers markets being an important issue in the Lehigh Valley, it must be tackled as soon as possible. The overall benefits of more farmers markets around the city of Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley as a whole can economically and physically serve all surrounding communities in a very constructive way.

First of all, it would support local farmers without a doubt. Farmers markets give us the opportunity to preserve the local farmlands, stopping the erosion of green space and preserving greater CO2 sequestration and cultural heritage. These have been replaced more and more rapidly by large warehouses and McMansions.

The produce local farmers would provide would greatly help those in search of fresh, healthier produce, and the personal pride a farmers market would give to farmers and consumers would be rewarding us all. We mustn’t discount the power of simply feeling good about our food, especially the lower and middle class. They would benefit from the farmers market, helping to get us off sugary, fatty, processed foods. Sure to be the cause of heart disease, diabetes, and overall ill health. Providing local, cheap, and reliable sources of nutritious foods tackles the issue of obesity head on and helps us all.

While the public takeaway and reaction to the idea would be certainly positive, not everyone would be on board with farmers markets popping up around the Lehigh Valley. Chain store owners would fear losing business to the often more affordable farmers markets. Another group of people who would possibly oppose the idea is tax payers who might not believe in the importance of new farmers markets and supporting their creation through civic funds.

But both problems have quite obvious solutions. Not only will the construction of the new markets not affect taxpayers greatly, but they could be sources of income in the long run.

The construction of the farmers market themselves will bring the community together, which is so much needed. Especially if they include Latino-based foods as well as Anglo.

The markets will advertise themselves through social media and word by mouth. It will stir up excitement about these new markets throughout the Lehigh Valley.

Bringing in the Bethlehem Farmers Market group to aid in the sustainability of these markets will greatly aid to keep the problem solved for many years, and not just temporarily solved.

A new farmers market or a bevy of them will help our city without a doubt. Let’s make it happen!

One more reflection on the NCC “police-free future” session

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

“An empty sack cannot stand upright.”
Ben Franklin

ref: “Some reflections on the NCC ‘police-free future’ session”

Gadfly wants to move on to one or two of the other sessions of the recent NCC “Peace and Social Justice” conference that he found interesting.

But let’s pause one more time on the “police-free future” one.

Gadfly’s thinking of the last post about the attempt in Allentown to redistribute some money from the D.A.’s budget.

And he’s thinking about what Bud Hackett had to say several posts back about putting emphasis on providing jobs if you want to do some good.

The Minneapolis “abolition” guy had a slide about instituting a “process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.”

That’s defunding.

While Councilman Reynolds has not used the term “defund” (hot potato!), I hear the idea in his push to have us think about the myriad societal factors at play that end up on the doorstep of the police to handle.

Gadfly likes that. Recognizing and attacking root causes.

So, as he said, Gadfly has read through the Minneapolis “Enough is Enough” report and supplemental documents.

And comes across headings like “Invest in prevention not punishment” that he finds compelling: “Whether you agree with abolition or not, it isn’t hard to see that police are a massive draw on the wealth and resources of our communities. . . . We are funding the back end of social ills, instead of the front end of addressing them. There are smarter ways to structure our budgets. Some of this is big picture, like making significant, long-term changes to how our city budget addresses affordable housing, youth programs, mental health services, addiction treatment options, jobs programs, education, etc. ”

Ok, Gadfly gets that.

But here’s the heading that Gadfly found very thought provoking: “Many people already live in a world without police.” Huh? “If you grew up in a well-off, predominantly white suburb, how often did you interact with cops? Communities with lots of good jobs, strong schools, economies, and social safety nets are already, in some ways, living in a world without police.”

Something to think about.

Police, frankly, are not a part of his life.

In a sense, Gadfly lives in a world without police.

And Gadfly wonders again what the October 29 Committee of the Whole meeting is about and whether it is not too late to to think about structuring the budget more toward helping empty sacks stand upright — and therefore perhaps alleviating some of the tension with the police.

Proposal to defund the D.A.’s office in Lehigh County pulled

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

Gadfly keeping an eye on what’s going on around us in regard to the “defunding” controversy. Around the time of our Community Engagement Initiative resolution there was talk of engaging discussions of how we do public safety early enough to perhaps engage change in the 2021 budget deliberations. Gadfly has heard nothing more about that and doesn’t sense that anything will happen. But Lehigh County Commissioner David Harrington did propose a budget amendment to defund the D.A.’s office and redistribute the money in according to “holistic” ideas. Unsuccessfully.

Advocating defunding the Lehigh County D.A.:

Selections from Ettore Angelo, “Your View: It’s time to reexamine Lehigh County’s criminal justice spending.” Morning Call, October 14, 2020.

Lehigh County taxpayers pay dearly for a criminal justice system that has exploded in growth and cost. Controller Mark Pinsley reports that in 2010, 39 cents of every dollar collected in local real estate taxes went to the courts and corrections budget. Excessive enough, right? Well, less than a decade later, the 2019 budget spent 69 cents of every dollar collected in local real estate taxes on this “criminal justice complex.” The 2021 budget seeks yet more increases, most notably in the district attorney and corrections budgets.

With so many people in need, how can we justify increases to a bloated “criminal justice complex” budget? Commissioner David Harrington has presented amendments that call for a modest transfer of money from the district attorney and corrections — the punitive side of the budget — over to the Office of the Public Defender — the helping side of the budget. Chief Public Defender Kimberly Makoul has initiated “holistic defense” in her office, with one social worker helping persons to connect with drug treatment, mental health treatment, housing assistance and the like. This should be expanded.

“Holistic defense” works. It works because it helps people. Harrington’s amendments would provide one additional social worker, one part-time attorney, and an interpreter to the public defender office. It would also provide a “reentry director” for the jail to help improve reentry services.

Tennessee established the “75% Rule,” dictating that the public defender’s budget be 75% of the district attorney’s budget, for a level playing field. Lehigh County’s public defender budget now is 39% of the district attorney’s budget. Harrington’s amendments take a step toward a budget that helps people, instead of caging them.

It’s time to try helping hands, not just handcuffs.

Proposal to defund submitted then pulled after stormy debate:

Selections from Stephen Althouse, “Lehigh County commissioners consider 2021 budget amendments.” Morning Call, October 15, 2020.

A second amendment on the evening’s agenda was pulled by sponsor Commissioner David Harrington. The proposed amendment would have restructured the county’s criminal justice system. Harrington’s proposal would have eliminated employees from various positions of Lehigh County’s correctional and criminal justice structure.

The bill would have cut nearly $1 million from the district attorney’s office by laying off five high-level attorneys and two county detectives. The next area of cuts would have eliminated six correctional officer positions totaling about $475,000 in salaries and benefits. Harrington’s proposal would also have eliminated a corrections officer position and a part-time employee in juvenile probation. The cuts totaled $1.6 million.

Harrington would have redistributed the money by funding five lower-level attorneys for the district attorney’s office. The public defender’s office would have received funding for one full-time social worker, part-time interpreter services and a non-classified service attorney. The county jail would have received a new re-entry director. The community corrections department, court administration, drug and alcohol, mental health and children and youth services budget lines also would have received more money under Harrington’s amendment. Finally, the community and economic development budget would have allocated $150,000 in grants to three categories – youth violence reduction, re-entry and jobs and homeless prevention. The proposed reallocation totaled about $1.35 million, with the unassigned fund balance receiving the difference, roughly $229,000.

“This didn’t come out of left field, I think,” Harrington said in pulling the amendment. “…It’s time to consider what we can do for the community and not what is best for an ideological sense…This will certainly not be the last time we ask for reform.” The amendment set off a marathon public comment session that lasted for several hours. This was followed by a vigorous and, at times, heated discussion by commissioners that lasted until Thursday morning.

Bethlehem City Council meeting tonight Tuesday, October 20, 7PM

logo Latest in a series of posts on City Government logo

Click for agenda and documents

See below for comment instructions

City Council — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — meets tonight Tuesday, October 20, at 7PM.

You can watch the City Council Meetings on the following YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

———–

7PM: The regularly scheduled Council meeting

Of interest to Gadfly:

  • possibly hearing what the October 29 Committee of the Whole meeting is all about
  • possibly hearing more about the Community Engagement Initiative
  • the exec director of the Bethlehem Parking Authority reports on doings

And there’s always the unexpected.

As long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council.

Be informed. Be involved.

———–

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

 PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council October 20, 2020 Meeting, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Council President announces he will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 20, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the City Council President will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Council President will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit.

If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

More information on the proposal to regulate student housing on the Southside and a request for your help

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

“Although [Lehigh] student housing has been a part of the [Southside] community for a long time, and will always be a part of it, the events of the last few years have shifted the balance and left long-time residents concerned about losing their family-oriented neighborhoods completely, as families are forced to look elsewhere.”

Regulating student housing

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

Yesterday Anna Smith alerted us to an important meeting of the City Council Community Development Committee (Paige Van Wirt, chair, J. William Reynolds, and Grace Crampsie Smith) to discuss a long-standing concern — the regulation of student housing on the Southside around Lehigh University.

A proposal supported by the City Administration and approved by the Zoning Board and the Planning Commission is working its way to the last stop — City Council.

Just one more approval is needed.

Anna has provided us with this wonderful document that provides background on the problem caused by unregulated student housing, a summary of the proposed regulations, a statement of the value of the ordinance, and answers to frequently asked questions. Here’s all you need to know:

Overview of Student Housing Ordinance (1)

Gadfly supposes his followers are well aware of the present housing situation around Lehigh as well as the historical tension between the University and the surrounding neighborhoods. But here is part of the background section of the above linked overview document that Anna provided for us.

In 2018, community members and City staff identified a series of data points and resident anecdotes that indicated a major shift in the student housing market in south Bethlehem. In a single year, residential property sales were up 34% near Lehigh’s campus, sales prices were up 18%, and the percentage of new owner-occupiers was extremely low. We heard stories from neighborhoods that had previously housed only a handful of student homes for the last decade, but where out of state buyers were going door to door, attempting to convince homeowners that all their neighbors had already sold and that their homes would soon lose their value due to major student housing developments planned for the neighborhood. Realtors were emphasizing news of Lehigh’s expansion and encouraging investors to look far beyond the traditional boundaries of student neighborhoods. Although student housing has been a part of the community for a long time, and will always be a part of it, the events of the last few years have shifted the balance and left long-time residents concerned about losing their family-oriented neighborhoods completely, as families are forced to look elsewhere.

A group of concerned Southside residents got together to discuss the future of our neighborhoods, and with support from the City and Southside Vision, hired an expert on housing policy from the University of Pennsylvania to analyze policies and practices that other college communities have used to preserve mixed-income neighborhoods while providing for the necessary amount of off-campus housing.

This proposal to regulate student housing needs visible signs of significant public support to push it over the last hump.

Following Anna’s lead, Gadfly suggests that you:

  • speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal: you can sign up in advance or call (610) 997-7963 when the chair asks for public comment. If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

and/or

  • add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

Here’s how everybody can help protect the Southside neighborhood

Latest in a series of posts on the Southside

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

Anna Smith is a Southside resident, full-time parent, and community activist with a background in community development and education.

Gadfly:

I’m writing to ask you and fellow Gadfly followers for your help to preserve and protect mixed-income neighborhoods with affordable rental and homeownership opportunities for families in South Bethlehem. Following two years of resident organizing and advocacy, the City of Bethlehem has proposed changes to the zoning ordinance to regulate the expansion of college student housing in south Bethlehem. After a comprehensive, community-engaged planning process, the City has finalized a proposal that is now being considered by City Council. Council has asked for community feedback on the proposal at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting, scheduled for 6 pm in Town Hall, and virtually.

Over the past two years I’ve been a part of a broad group of neighbors, community stakeholders, City staff, and consultants that have analyzed data, collected stories, learned about best practices from other communities, and shared thoughts on what policy changes could help south Bethlehem remain a vibrant, diverse, mixed-income community. Our City staff have recognized the importance of regulating college student housing in our community, but the implementation of their plan is dependent upon Council’s approval.

We need residents who understand what makes south Bethlehem unique and who value affordable housing opportunities for all residents to tell Council that they support the regulation of student housing in our City.

Can we count on you and your followers to do one or more of the following:

  1. Speak at the October 22nd Community Development Committee meeting in support of the proposal (in person or via phone)
  2. Email City Council members at cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov to express your support for the proposed zoning ordinance amendments
  3. Add your name to a letter to Council from affordable housing advocates throughout our community: CLICK HERE to read and sign.

I will soon be sending you several documents justifying and detailing the plan going to Council that you can share on Gadfly.

I hope that we can count on your support for our neighborhoods!

In solidarity,
Anna

Important meeting Thursday on regulating student housing to protect the Southside neighborhood

logo Latest in a series of posts on the Southside logo

Community Development Committee meeting
Thursday, October 22, 6PM

view on YouTube

call-in number: (610) 997-7963

The City Council Community Development Committee is chaired by Paige Van Wirt, with members J. William Reynolds and Grace Crampsie Smith.

Everybody needs to put this meeting on their calendar.

Look at item #1 on the agenda.

Some protection for the vitality of the Southside neighborhood around Lehigh University has been a long time coming.

You can expect landlords — mostly absentee perhaps — to be mobilized against these regulations.

Support from across the city is needed.

More information coming.

But please put the meeting date on your calendar and note the instructions below so that you can participate.

———–

Thursday, October 22, 2020

6:00 PM – Town Hall

Community Development Committee Meeting

Subject:      (1) Zoning Ordinance amendments related to the proposed

creation of a Student Overlay District and including other provisions

to address student housing and revising certain dimensional

requirements and accessory structure regulations; and

(2) Financial Accountability Incentive Reporting Hearing (2020) in

connection with the Article 349 Economic Development Incentive

Reporting and Evaluation Program.

DUE TO THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, TOWN HALL ACCESS IS CURRENTLY RESTRICTED. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE PUBLIC COMMENT, PLEASE FOLLOW THE PHONE COMMENT INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.

PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS 

REMOTE PUBLIC COMMENT PHONE INSTRUCTIONS. If you would like to speak during the City Council Community Development Committee Meeting on October 22, 2020, please sign up per the instructions below or call into the meeting when the Committee Chair announces she will take public comment calls.

If you would like to sign up to speak, email the following information to the Bethlehem City Clerk’s office (cityclerk@bethlehem-pa.gov) no later than 2:00 PM on October 22, 2020 (a) name; (b) address; (c) phone number; and (d) topic of comments. If you are signed up to speak, the Committee Chair will call you from (610) 997-7963.

After all signed-up speakers talk, the Committee Chair will ask whether anyone else would like to make public comments. If you want to speak at that time, call the Bethlehem City Council public comment phone line at (610) 997-7963.

NOTES:

Calls to the public comment phone number will only be accepted during the designated public comment period with a 5 minute time limit. If you call and the line is busy, please call back when the current speaker is finished.

As soon as your call begins, please turn off all speakers, computer speakers, televisions, or radios.

At the start of your call, please state your name and address.

A five minute time limit will apply to any public comments.

Viewing:

You can watch the City Council Meeting on the following YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRLFG5Y9Ui0jADKaRE1W3xw

Some reflections on the NCC “police-free future” session

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

The 2020 NCC Peace and Social Justice Conference

Police-Free Future panel, October 15, 2020
video

So Gadfly was instinctively inimical to the idea of abolishing the police, especially as it was sugar-coated in the conference session title as a “police-free future.”

But he was curious.

And eager to hear on what basis you could justify such an extreme idea.

And what put in its place.

He has slow-walked you (and him) through 7 posts in which the case was made (well, as much as you can do in a few conference minutes).

Herewith some Gadfly reflections:

  • Gadfly was glad one of the presenters, the one he has focused on so far (we’ll pick up Lehigh Valley’s Ashleigh Strange later), was, though not local, actually working in the abolition trenches.
  • Abolition — a police-free future — was not an academic or theoretical exercise for Peter VanKoughnett from Minneapolis; it was his primary work.
  • This will surprise you, perhaps — Gadfly was surprised he was not a person of color.
  • Peter was not only the whitest of white, he seemed very young, almost too young, and he exhibited a kind of vulnerability in manner — for instance, remarking how complicated the issues are, how humbled he felt at the complexity, how at times he had doubts regarding what he was representing.
  • Gadfly’s mental stereotype of “the” male bomb-throwing abolitionist was busted.
  • Peter did  not “argue” — there was a softness, a halting tentativeness to his delivery.
  • Cynical Gadfly wondered if that was a strategy to disarm his audience, but, truth be told, the majority of the audience, unlike Gadfly, already leaned toward accepting abolition or something close to it and were looking for models and strategies to implement here.
  • Peter was pretty much preaching to the choir.
  • Also surprising to Gadfly was that the move toward abolition grew out of an in-depth study, grew out of a history of policing in Minneapolis from the very beginning — 150 years ago.
  • In other words, again — though no doubt Peter’s group is allied to national movements — the reason for advocating abolition of policing in Minneapolis was not academic or theoretical. (Nor just being “hip,” as he said.)
  • It was solidly rooted in a place. It was site-specific. It was organic. It was reality.
  • The drive for abolition in Minneapolis grows out of Minneapolis history.
  • It is not imposed on Minneapolis, not layered on from the outside.
  • Gadfly has read the 2017 MPD150 report entitled “Enough is Enough.”
  • That Minneapolis police history is ugly.
  • As one of Peter’s slides indicates, the Minneapolis Police Department is under state investigation for civil rights abuses.
  • And newspaper reports post-GeorgeFloyd indicate Minneapolis City Council members not part of the abolitionist movement using precisely abolitionist language.
  • Not only using it, but acting on it in ways — proposing radical reconstruction of public safety, that is — that Gadfly has reported on before.
  • City Council came on abolition on its own, saying, in effect, enough is enough.
  • In other words, this policing system is unmistakably rotten, attempts to rehab it over time have failed, it’s not worth patching, and therefore it clearly needs to be scrapped.
  • MPD150’s futility cycle grows out of historical analysis; it is no fabrication or fantasy.
  • Enough is enough. The last straw.
  • Gadfly gets it; abolition makes sense for Minneapolis.
  • A third surprise for Gadfly is that abolition doesn’t mean immediate abolition as the word seems to suggest and as fearful critics have envisioned.
  • Abolition is a process. Perhaps “devolving” or “phasing out” the police department would be a better term. Anarchy is not going to reign all of a sudden.
  • But supposing a legitimacy for abolition in Minneapolis raises the question Gadfly has raised for us several times.
  • What’s the situation in Bethlehem?
  • “Has trust between the police department and the community broken down in Bethlehem?”
  • From public commentary so far, Gadfly would have to say the answer is no.
  • And if that trust is not broken, if the police department history is not a trainwreck, then certainly abolition will find no roots here.
  • (Hmmm, parenthetically, a Bethlehem Moment on the inception of our police department seems to be in order.)
  • We in Bethlehem may be in a mood to talk, if at all, about some reform but not about replacement.
  • So, now knowing more about it, Gadfly’s thinking has enlarged to accept abolition in certain “enough is enough” circumstances but not as a general principle.

What are you thinking?

The Gadfly police log

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

So, yes, there’s a little matter of a pandemic.

So, yes, there’s a little matter of a presidential election.

But Gadfly prefers to keep his focus narrowly local, where, as he has often said, he has hopes that a community feeling will act as a kind of adhesive bond as we discuss tough issues.

And, so, Gadfly is focusing on what is or should be our local response to public safety in the wake of the George Floyd murder.

We had a 6hr. Public Safety Committee meeting August 11. The police reported. Public interest was high. 27 people called in. 37 viewers stayed till the end. There were 237 YouTube views in total.

Then there were City Council meetings August 18, September 1, September 15, and October 6.

And we have heard nothing further.

But Gadfly has been preparing as if we are going to hear something, maybe discuss something.

And so he just spent 7 posts slow-walking through a presentation by a Minneapolis activist at the NCC “Peace and Social Justice” conference who is engaged in promoting the abolition of the police in his town.

An extreme position.

Gadfly is glad to understand that position more now.

But before he comments, he’d like to go back to where he started this abolition thread and consider his own personal interactions with the police. How did they turn out? Can he imagine an alternative to the police? Can he imagine a need for an alternative to the police?

He asked you to think about your own interactions with the police. (He’d especially like to hear about traffic stops.)

See how you feel now after hearing the abolitionist make his case.

Remember the question he asked us to think about, “whom do you call first?”

Here are some entries in the Gadfly police log (what’s in yours?):

  • called police because Mrs. Gadfly had fallen, and he needed help: Mrs. G wasn’t hurt, but she couldn’t get up. She has spine and shoulder issues, so the possibility of aggravating injury was on his mind. It was nearly midnight. Gadfly could have called a friendly neighbor even though he was asleep, but, worried about aggravating injury, he felt he needed someone “professional.” Gadfly’s immediate thought was to call the police. Two jovial officers arrived, remarking at how many calls like this they get. They expertly applied a maneuver utilizing a blanket (who knew), and Mrs. G was upright in no time. In calling the police, Gadfly remembers thinking that they would probably refer the call or refer me somewhere else. But police seemed to be natural “first contact.”
  • called because College students 3 houses away were partying outside and playing loud music: Gadfly had 6 children, boys, clustered compactly in age, Irish sextuplets. They were like a wolfpack. They made noise. Plenty of it. You’d think Gadfly would be tolerant. But he got old. And cranky. And he’s pissed that his neighborhood is changing, turning into rentals. Bringing less care to property upkeep. Bringing parking problems. So there’s tension between him and the students. He didn’t relish approaching 15-20 inebriated college students. Calling the police was his immediate reaction. Two officers arrived. They “sauntered” (carefully chosen SAT word, look it up) in a non-threatening manner into the yard party, and it quickly dialed down. The officers reported back to me that the City noise ordinance didn’t kick in for 3hrs, but that they got the students to agree to dampen the noise by shutting off the outside music. Nice work.
  • called because a neighbor had a derelict vehicle parked for weeks on our residential street: friendly, non-confrontational, neighborly banter elicited promises to move the vehicle, but there were always excuses. Issuance of a ticket by a pretty serious imposing no-bullshit looking dude officer on a motorcycle immediately did the trick. Gadfly doesn’t remember thinking there was any other way to deal with this than call the police.
  • called because a rabid cat had gotten into the cellar: well, we didn’t know it was rabid at first. It was just up in the rafters and hissed rather ferociously at attempts to get to it. The kids were scared. Gadfly isn’t sure that he even knew that there might be something called animal control, etc., for something like this, so he called the police. One officer arrived. He said the cat was foaming and obviously rabid. Only one thing to do. He shot the cat and disposed of it, who knows where.
  • called because of “domestic disturbances” at a neighbor’s: Had to do this a couple times. A neighbor family sometimes gets into a gnarl. Loud, so loud that it becomes intolerable if it lasts a long time. And intense, serious, the kind of interaction in which you damn well expect eventual violence. So Gadfly has had to call the police. He is always asked if there are guns in the neighbor’s house. There are, and he says so. Multiple officers arrive, unbeknownst to the neighbors. One circles the house, checking things out. Another knocks on the door, firmly but not especially aggressively. The other officer or officers stand pretty relaxed a distance away. The main officer seems to identify the antagonists pretty quickly, and they voluntarily separate without force, going off to tell their “story” at a distance from each other to one of the officers. The officers hear them out. Gradually things calm down. At times the officers have provided guidance or legal direction about the sources of the arguments. Each of these domestic disturbances has ended well.

That’s a look at Gadfly’s tame life with the police.

Which is why his instinct was immediately antithetical to the idea of abolition but, as well, simultaneously intensely curious about how the case is made.

Would you want to share an example from your police log? Gadfly knows there must be a world of varied experience. He will publish anonymously, if you prefer, as long as he knows who you are and trusts you.

The idea is to think what life would be like without the police.

The Case for abolishing the police (7): “How could we build a police-free future?”

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

The 2020 NCC Peace and Social Justice Conference

Police-Free Future panel, October 15, 2020
video

Here’s an exercise that PV uses with workshop audiences that gets into the nitty-gritty of abolition and grounds it in reality. PV says the exercise shows you how complicated this all is.

He encourages people to choose a specific issue and then move through the chart, asking questions like what do we want to happen, what might we do to keep the issue from happening in the first place, what institutions might there be to handle the issue?

PV:

Then AS gives us a mental health scenario that we might witness and asks us to think it through per the chart.

Suppose you look out your window, and there’s a half-naked guy on your lawn gyrating crazily and singing.

Whom are you going to call?

And what outcome do you expect?

What happens if someone without a gun, a badge, a taser, mace shows up?

How would we expect a police officer to handle this?

AS:

The Case for abolishing the police (6): “What are the alternatives to calling the police?”

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

The 2020 NCC Peace and Social Justice Conference

Police-Free Future panel, October 15, 2020
video

Remember what we’re doing here in this string of posts.

We’re taking our time and listening to a police abolitionist. Hearing his case. So we can know it and have an informed opinion about it.

Crazy, right? Who else does this kind of thing?

in this section of his presentation, PV suggests that we ask ourselves what already exists in our town in lieu of calling the police.

So that the police or 911 is not necessarily the first place we call in certain circumstances.

And then that we put a list together.

Such as you see here below.

And put it on the fridge or home bulletin board.

And put the numbers in our phones.

And then these places would be targets for reallocated money from the police department budget.

Gadfly wonders if such a list is already available for Bethlehem/Northampton County. Anybody know?

Resources by city

The Case for abolishing the police (5): “What about the reforms?”

Latest in a series of posts in the wake of the George Floyd murder

The 2020 NCC Peace and Social Justice Conference

Police-Free Future panel, October 15, 2020
video

Here PV confronts the efficacy of the “reform” stage in the Futility Cycle.

Our officers have had the much ballyhoo’d body cameras for about a year (considerable cost — were they paid for by a grant?), and it would be good to have a report on whatever impact and effect, if any, the cameras have had.

The abolitionists don’t see these kinds of reforms as particularly meaningful.

PV is quite Minneapolis site-specific here, indicating that Minneapolis has been the poster child for reform. Trying everything. Progressive. Cutting-edge.

But the reforms “haven’t done much at all.”

“Haven’t led to more accountability.”

Camera use “doesn’t lead to justice.”

This time we’re only looking for a minute of your listening time.

to be continued . . .