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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

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 sidebar to follow us.

And follow the Gadfly on Facebook @TheBethlehemGadfly

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

Another “solution” in search of a problem

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

Gadfly:

Chief DiLuzio is quoted saying they should have 2 officers for every uncooperative protester. Does that include protesters who become uncooperative because they are intimidated by police? In the last 15 years, there have been dozens of protests, rallies, & demonstrations in Bethlehem without incident. (Many have involved dozens of participants, some at least 100.)

If an on-street march requires closing a lane or needs a police escort or will bring 100 people to city center plaza (outside library & city hall), a permit is reasonable—if the cost is minimal. The ordinance didn’t set a fee, but I think anything over $10 would be unreasonable unless the event is expected to draw 100s or 1000s of people.

Peter Crownfield

Summer reading

Gadfly always worries that “comments” to posts get lost in the WordPress design.

Did you see this comment from Peter Crownfield a week or so back?

People who are deciding or contributing to public policy should probably read Bill McKibben’s latest: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Spurs me to ask what you are reading. Spurs me to ask what we should be reading? In regard to City issues, I mean.

To give us some ideas. Some solutions.

I am nibbling at McKibben’s anthology American Earth: Conversations on the Environment since Thoreau. Small anthology chunks. Reading in bits and pieces. Suggested by follower Ed Lotto.

I’ve also been dipping in to works by Jeff Speck — who did a study for Bethlehem, actually — works like Walkable City. Suggested by Tony Hanna.

Give us some ideas!

 

Concern for public safety bumps up against safeguarding the First Amendment

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

“Bethlehem is considering an ordinance that would require a prior permit if five or more people plan a demonstration in a public place like a sidewalk or park.”

Bill 19-2019 Establish Article 961-Special Event Activity Permits-1

The rationale is based on public safety, but there is concern over limitation of free speech.

Councilpersons Van Wirt, Negron, and Waldron have trouble with the number 5 triggering the need for a permit. They would like the number higher.

There was a 2-hour Public Safety Committee meeting (CM Colon, chair, with CWs Van Wirt and Negron) on the proposed ordinance last week. Gadfly suggests that you watch 1:30:00 onward to focus on the important concluding discussion.

It is expected that the critics of the proposed ordinance with 5 people triggering the need for a permit will be introduced tomorrow night.

Local blogger Bernie O’Hare belted the proposed ordinance today in “Bethlehem City Council Takes Aim at First Amendment” (and you will enjoy seeing Bernie refer to the Gadfly as “very gentile”).

Expect a spirited debate tomorrow night at Council.

Nicole Radzievich, “Want to protest in Bethlehem? There could soon be a permit for that.” Morning Call, June 14, 2019.

A street preacher calling a passerby a whore. A nearly naked woman protesting a circus in town. Workers rights. Immigration. School shootings. Occupy Wall Street. Make America Great Again. Over the years, Bethlehem has witnessed more than a few headline-grabbing demonstrations as activists spread their message in a city that often teems with visitors attending festivals and special events on any given weekend.

Now, in the name of public safety, Bethlehem is considering an ordinance that would require a prior permit if five or more people plan a demonstration in a public place like a sidewalk or park. City officials say the goal is not to restrict free speech, but gather information. Police want to know where and when potential flare-ups may occur, and then deploy police and other emergency personnel accordingly. They say they’re concerned about the conduct of the demonstrators, not their message.

Pennsylvania ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper said she believes a threshold of just five people would not hold up in court. Some City Council members are considering increasing that threshold in the proposed ordinance to avoid a First Amendment conflict. “I have concerns about potential overreach,” Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt. She is concerned the requirement could deter small groups from speaking out.

Philadelphia has an ordinance similar to what Bethlehem is considering, but the permit requirement would be triggered by demonstrations of 75 people or more, and Pittsburgh’s limit is 50, according to a survey presented to City Council at a recent public safety committee meeting. Bethlehem police Chief Mark DiLuzio said at a June 5 meeting those municipalities have police departments much larger than Bethlehem’s 155-officer department. Ideally, he said he would like to have at least two officers for every protester, if they are uncooperative. DiLuzio said the city has about 20 officers working the South Side and 50 on the North Side during Musikfest. So, even a handful of people protesting during a festival can significantly divert resources, he said.

“You’re putting police in position to confront American citizens over nothing more than a peaceful assembly,” said Carroll, also the Republican nominee for Northampton County district attorney. ”It’s absurd.”

Council President Adam Waldron said he appreciates the public safety argument, but it makes him nervous any time government “is tip-toeing up against the First Amendment.”

Council could vote on the ordinance as early as Tuesday, which would put it in effect for Musikfest Aug. 2-11.

It makes one wonder what hold the developers have

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods)

Kate McVey is a concerned citizen, 30-year resident of Bethlehem, professional organizer, dog owner, mother of two children, been around, kosher cook . . . explorer.

Gadfly:

Are there written rules and goals for the planning commission and the zoning board? Do those committees adhere to those goals? Do the planning and zoning boards work for developers or the citizens? If variances and changes are constantly made for the developers, what is the point of rules and regulations?

It does make one wonder what hold the developers have over the city council, planning commission, and the zoning board.

Development is necessary, development need not be a bad thing, but, where is it going, and is it meeting a need of the community or just the goal of the developer?

Kate

The Planning Commission couldn’t find its “No”

(The latest in a series of posts on the Southside and Neighborhoods)

Kevin Duffy, “South Side Bethlehem residents voice concerns over student housing.” June 14, 2019.

South Side Bethlehem residents Thursday implored the city’s Planning Commission to take a long, hard look at a proposal for additional student housing in their neighborhood before recommending it move ahead.

City dwellers living nearby 1st Terrace took turns voicing their displeasure over Lehigh

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the site on 1st Terrace

Property Management’s intention to add two four-unit town homes each numbering five bedrooms with three floors above garages to the narrow, hilltop street zoned high-density and overlooking the Asa Packer Campus of Lehigh University.

The board reviewed a sketch plan revision from one presented to them in March and opted by a 2-1 vote to advance it to the zoning board with no action for or against.

Vice Chairman Matthew Malozi, who cast the lone no vote, said he’s concerned that the project might not fit within the community, and urged those in attendance to return for the zoning hearing and speak again.

“We’ve created a plan that conforms to all of the ordinances of the city,” [the developer rep] said.

“Implored” — there’s that tough verb again.

The one that indicates the gulf between the powerless and the empowered.

Some South Side Bethlehem residents Thursday implored the city’s Planning Commission, the Morning Call article states, just like the May 22 South Bethlehem Historical Society letter implored the Mayor and City Council.

People who implore are, figuratively if not literally, on their knees.

They are looking for mercy (or justice).

So residents of upper Hillside Ave. and 1st Terrace implored the Planning Commission to take a stand against the developer sketch plan (second version) to raze four homes on 1st Terrace and build two town homes accommodating forty students.

The residents were calm but firm. In short, they said, this is an out-of-scale project involving the need for serious variances regarding steep slopes, impervious surfaces, and parking that will destabilize a highly cohesive neighborhood when the University has said there is no need for extra student housing.

This is a highly functional, mixed-income, ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood in which neighbors know each other, look out for each other, which

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1st Terrace looking west

will be destabilized by this project . . . if Bethlehem city government allows all those variances to be issued for a project which is demonstrably destructive to the neighborhood, we have to ask what is the Planning Commission for . . . This is a project that simply has no place in this neighborhood. (Seth Moglen, min. 7:55)

We have been threatened several times by the developer’s maintenance persons saying that you should move, you are not going to like where you live in a couple of years . . . we should sell our houses now before the area is destabilized. I invite you all to please take a drive up to our lovely little quaint neighborhood, it’s a beautiful quiet street, we’ve lived there a long time, we have a great neighborhood. (Gretchen Starke, min. 13:20)

Last week we were on the front porch, and Justin my 9-yr-old said, “This neighborhood is starting to suck . . . there’s no kids around here any more.”  We can’t make it go worse. We want more families to come into the neighborhood. And we have the potential to do that. . . . We want to be here, we choose to be here. My grandfather grew up in this house . . . we want to stay in this house. . . . We want to be sure we have a community and a place where we can raise kids like Justin to know all the things the Southside has to offer not just being a party town where kids come to party. (Murdock Saunders, min. 17:40)

One of the things that makes all of the Southside a cool and interesting place to live is that we have an eclectic blend of architecture, and we like it that way, it’s kind of cool, but what we don’t have are new things that completely depart from that old

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1st Terrace looking east

look of a neighborhood . . . those are just not ways houses were designed in the old days . . . part of the interesting features of the Southside are things that blend, they might be different but they blend . . . the biggest issue is scale that does not blend. (Kim Carrell-Smith, min. 20:52)

The problem with this project is to put such density of housing on this relatively small site on a steep slope with all those cars means a malformation of the neighborhood. . . . Those would be conditions under which we would consider moving. . . .  The difference between what is permitted and what is requested is so great, I don’t understand how people could really consider it just a variance. . . . Consider the scale of the variance. It’s not minor. (Kristen Handler, min. 27:28)

When you buy a home and put a lot of money into it, the expectation is your Planning Commission and Zoning Board keeps that stability. They don’t go ahead and put a Wal-Mart behind your house. This is not Rt. 22, this is not Catasauqua Rd. . . . A project like that would be 3rd St., 4th St. (Steve Mendez, min. 31:05)

Gadfly loves the power of Bethlehem resident commentary, and he encourages you — please! — to listen to their full testimony:

So what was the up-shot of this forceful testimony?

The purpose of the PC at this meeting was to review the developer sketch plan (2nd version) before it headed to the Zoning Board, allowing the Commission to provide any comments they would think meaningful to Zoning for the future development of the plan.

One PC member said “we heard you loud and clear,” and it was a “tough decision” — and two members of the 3-member PC recommended that the neighbors attend the Zoning Board meeting on June 26.

The PC had three options: recommend for the sketch plan, recommend against it, or take no action.

A motion to take no action passed 2-1.

“We heard you loud and clear,” but we will take no action.

Gadfly was nonplussed.

Why is it so hard to say no to a developer?

Ok, in fairness, the sketch plan had moved in a good direction in this second version, and there was no significant testimony from the developer (no rebuttal to the residents), and, the key decision on those significant variances seems to be with Zoning, and, if Zoning approves, the PC gets to vote again — ok, Gadfly gets all that . . .

But why is it so hard just to say no when that is manifestly the right decision?

Take no action. Such a wussy decision.

But at least one PC member was willing to be clear about the significant negative issues here.

At least one PC member took a stand.

Residents — mount up again on the 26th!

 

“Bethlehem Moment” status report: One more volunteer needed

(Latest in a series of posts on Bethlehem Moments)

Gadfly has asked President Waldron if we can move the Bethlehem Moment to the top of the meeting after the prayer and the pledge.

Here’s the document I supplied to support the request:

Bethlehem Moment Project
Ed Gallagher
ejg1@lehigh.edu
version 1 6/4/19

Proposal:

That beginning July 2, 2019, as a one-year pilot program, Bethlehem City Council add a historical moment – “A Bethlehem Moment” – to its opening meeting protocol immediately following the prayer and the pledge of allegiance and before the body of the meeting starts.

What is a Bethlehem Moment?

  • an historical vignette
  • a scene or event from Bethlehem history between 1741 and the 1960s
  • topic of the author’s choice, approved by the program coordinator
  • short, so as to not unduly delay the business of the meeting
  • entered in the minutes, published on the Gadfly blog and perhaps also on the City website or social media
  • examples can be found at https://thebethlehemgadfly.com/category/bethlehem-moments/

Why a Bethlehem Moment?

  • we are a town that has made significant history
  • we are a town that values our history
  • we have three historical districts
  • our history completes the triumvirate of God and Country that is the source of our values and the context for our decisions
  • without a sense of our shared history, we can never be a true community
  • by invoking our history at the beginning of the meeting, we would be powerfully signaling our commitment to our history
  • by invoking our history at the beginning of the meeting, we would be encouraging knowledge of that history
  • this addition to our meeting protocol will make us unique among our peers

How will the project be administered?

Ed Gallagher will engage to find readers and arrange the schedule for the year. After which, he will find a successor coordinator. Or City Council could take the project over and line up participants as it does clergy. Or the program could languish, having run its course.

All elements flexible!


A profound Gadfly thanks to these good people who have signed on for the rest of the year. Several people have indicated interest in that last date but no firm commitment yet. So we could use one more “Momentor” to finish off the 2019 line-up.

Volunteer needed, please!  Info here: Bethlehem Moment Information


Ed Gallagher
ejg1@lehigh.edu

Bethlehem Moments Schedule 2019

July 2                        Lynn Rothman

July16                       John Smith

August 6                   (Musikfest)

August 20                 Mary Toulouse

September 3             Olga Negron

September 17           Jim Petrucci

October 1                  Johanna Brams

October 15                 Stasia Brown-Pallrand

November 6               Steve Repasch

November 19             Rayah Levy

December 3                Robert Bilheimer

December 17

Reflections on Southside Bethlehem, Part 5: My New Neighborhood

(Conclusion of a 5-part series of posts on the Southside by Anna Smith)

Anna Smith is a life-long Southside resident and Director of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life in south Bethlehem by fostering economic opportunity, promoting community development, and empowering residents to actively participate in the decision-making process regarding the future of our diverse community.

Gadfly:

The Southside is far from a monolith, and I moved a mile across town this past winter. I’m not sure what my neighborhood’s challenges and opportunities are quite yet, but I’m starting to get a feel for my new community. I look forward to continuing conversations about my neighbors’ hopes and fears for their community over the backyard fence and on nightly dog walks on the eastern side of south Bethlehem.

I bet that housing affordability will be a big one—my mortgage payment is a lot cheaper than what I paid in rent for a much smaller and more run-down place on the Southside. Rental prices are spiraling upward, and there isn’t nearly enough affordable, quality housing to go around. It seems to me that neighborhood change is accelerating these challenges, and the stories I hear from residents on a daily basis illustrate the human impact of our affordable housing crisis. What do we do about it? As always, my inclination is start by listening.

There are no simple or straightforward answers when it comes to dealing with neighborhood change. But as it continues, here are a few principles that I’ll be keeping in mind:

  1. The Southside is a unique, diverse community with individuals who have a range of perspectives on any issue—any attempt to suggest otherwise is disrespectful to the experience and agency of those who call our community home. All have the right to be heard.
  2. The best ideas usually come from those who have personal experience with the topic at hand. If they are not at the table, then we should stop discussion until they are and do what it takes to make participation easy—even if it means taking a step back or down.
  3. Southside Bethlehem has always changed and will continue to change. However, the inevitability of change does not mean we have to accept all changes as inevitable.
  4. Deficit-based thinking leads to missed opportunities, or worse, can lead to the accidental destruction of assets. If we can identify what is great about our neighborhoods, we can preserve it and use it as inspiration for future development. Always start with assets.

It may be hard to believe, but former Southsider and folk singer John Gorka wrote this song about south Bethlehem in 1991. Concerns about neighborhood change are hardly new to the Southside and are indicative of a deep sense of commitment to a community. The least we can do, and the best place for any of us to start, is to listen to them.