I like unique for Bethlehem

My guy Thoreau (a gadfly if there ever was one) describes good writing somewhere as having the feel of a nail driven into the stud instead of the lath and plaster. Dana Grubb is a strong writer. He has already contributed several valuable posts to the Gadfly (for instance, Banana Factory Expansion #3), and you can see him in effective verbal action on Gadfly grandkid Owen’s video of the public meeting on parking (Parking #11). The Gadfly hopes Dana has a long connection with the Gadfly blog.

There was a particular “sock” to Dana’s recent Bethlehem Press editorial “The Same 10 People” (September 27). It must have caused some spilled coffee on Bethlehem breakfast tables last week. It certainly did in my house. I cannot speak to the specific trigger to Dana’s editorial, but I would like to speak to his general vision of the public, or certain elements of it, and elected officials.

To me, Gadflies are sacred. Gadflies are the unofficial officials of a town, self-appointed to be the voice of the people. And one of the things I wanted to be sure to do with this blog is memorialize the gadflies. The mayors and prominent Council members will have plenty written about them in permanent, indelible ways in the official annals of our town – and deservedly so. But I wanted to make sure “the other guys” were remembered too – hence the “Gadfly History” feature of the blog. And hence, already, within the first two weeks of “The Bethlehem Gadfly” existence the appreciative notices of Antalics and Scheirer.

Dana too believes gadflies sacred, though he might not use that word. “Our political system requires civic involvement to keep government and elected officials honest, productive and accountable for what they say and do,” Dana says, “Residents who attend regularly make well thought out, very well-researched and sometimes critical remarks designed to encourage council members to think deeply about issues and perhaps rethink their positions.” Right on. Textbook.

But in the perhaps excessively pious and high-flown clumsiness of my mission statement on the “About” page, I propose a significantly different view of the gadfly figure. The traditional view of the Socrates story is gadfly v. state. Citizens good, rulers bad. We v. you. But this Gadfly thinks differently.

“That every elected official in a democracy began as a Gadfly. That elected officials are Gadflies still. That elected officials are simply but significantly Gadflies with power.”

It’s not gadflies v. state. But gadflies from every tier united against sterile thinking, stale ideas, lack of imagination, a torpid status quo, apathy, lethargy, a scorn for history, bureaucratic mindlessness, greed, selfishness, corruption. And on and on.

We must believe that our elected officials all probably sought office (not for the money, right, Councilpersons!) because of a burr under their butts, an itch that needed scratching, a need that required filling, a dream that wanted out. They are gadflies.

In Town Hall we are on different sides of the desk. But not in real life.

Speaking at Council the other night (when the place was crackling with golf tension and nobody was probably listening — sigh) I spontaneously realized that the meetings are like Church. The agenda is our liturgy, always the same, rigorously and religiously followed. In the front is our altar with High Priest (I am always trying to get President Waldron to smile, is he smiling now?) and his acolytes. We are formal figures: “President Waldron,” “Mayor Donchez,” “Mr. Gallagher.” There can be dramatic moments, but for the most part we are framed in ritual and routine. Mr. Antalics has his assigned part, Mr. Schierer has his assigned part. Which is all as it should be. But it can be numbing. Lots of us, unfortunately, sleep in Church.

The Town Hall is our Church, and Council meetings our service.

But I hungered for something different. Not as replacement. But as complement. A place where everybody was together. A place where we could let our hair down a bit. A place where we could trade ideas, try out ideas, talk provisionally and tentatively, talk without being locked in to a position, talk before a vote looms, talk after a vote pleased or angered, talk out-of-the box, talk wildly even. But talk with mutual trust.

Good conversation makes community.

There, that’s my revisionist textbook idea of the relationship between gadfly and elected officials that – ha! – Dana’s stud-hitting post dragged out of my shadows.

There, that’s my dream for the blog.

I think we have a chance to be unique.

It will take a bit of work. And trust.

I like unique for Bethlehem.

And a good start: I have written before how appreciative I am that the mayor and most of Council (but not the solicitors – yet) have signed on. That’s quite a risk to take with an old guy they hardly know, and, I hope, offers some optimism to temper Dana’s pessimism. I hope there will be good conversation for them to listen to (damn, ending with a preposition again) – that’s our challenge — and that they will contribute as well.

Healthy dialogue.

I have become what Stephen Crane in Red Badge of Courage (are students still reading that classic?) called “a wind demon.”

Signing off.

Gadfly

This Blog: An Archive of Public Comment, and an Example

Gadfly knows the golf course issue is over. In fact, passing the course this morning, Gadfly could see that tree work has noticeably commenced.

But one of the reasons Gadfly came out of retirement and started this blog was to provide an archive of citizen comments, a record of public participation.

Over and over again Gadfly has seen commenters come to the podium at Council meetings with carefully thought out and written texts. Gadfly has been impressed over and over again at the high quality of these public comments and felt it a shame that, although covered well in Mrs. Kelchner’s minutes, the actual “voices” of the commenters evaporated from public view where residents not at the meeting might well find them of value.

The blog started too late to cover the golf course issue from the beginning, but Nicole’s reporting linked below performs that function well.

What Gadfly wants to do here is ask Council commenters to think of this blog as a place to archive those comments. Send your prepared texts to Gadfly.

And to give you a specific example — regardless of where you stood on the golf course issue — of the thoughtful, courteous public discourse of which Bethlehem can be proud.



Barbara Diamond enjoys retirement as Lehigh University Director of Foundation Relations by engaging in various activities and organizations hopefully for the betterment of the community. Her particular interests at the moment are preventing gun violence, local government ethics reform, and Bethlehem Democratic Committee work.

Remarks to City Council RE: Golf Course (Sept 18, 2018)

Since the last CC meeting I have been looking into golfing and golf courses. Golf is in decline across the US and even around the world. I am concerned that investing so much in the golf course is not going to solve the problem of profitability. Interest in golf has been declining for almost 2 decades because it is, according to surveys, too slow, takes too much time, costs too much, is too difficult to play especially for beginners and is seen by millennials as just not cool.

According to the National Golf Foundation, young people are not interested — there has been a 30% decline among 18-34-year-olds over past 20 years — so there is a pipeline problem for the future. Lots of measures indicate waning interest: TV viewing is down, equipment purchases and manufacturing were down by 28% in 2014 — which led to retailers jettisoning products, floor space, and personnel – and, of course, rounds played are down.

With fewer people playing, golf courses are closing — over 800 in the last decade — and the number is accelerating. In 2018 only 9.6% of US population plays golf. It is hard to see how improvements to the course will revive what appears to be dying interest in the game.

Another consideration is that there are 16 public courses in NOCO and Lehigh CO and another 6 in Bucks Co. Our region seems well served by public courses.

There is also the issue of environmental impact — golf courses are notorious for their use of harmful pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and water. Our budget in Bethlehem for these products just on the golf course is $66,000.

In Bethlehem 750 residents use the golf course per year.

Considering all the above is this $3M investment wise?

In your committee discussion about improving the golf course’s profitability, did you consider the possibility of re-purposing this very desirable green space as some other kind of recreational asset — something that would be appealing and used by a greater number of Bethlehem residents?

I am not opposed to borrowing money to devote to recreational opportunities for our city. I am opposed to devoting $3m to improve a facility that is used by a small fraction of Bethlehem residents for a sport that is on the wane, while, according to the 2018 Outdoor Foundation, running, jogging, and walking for exercise are now the most popular forms of outdoor activities.

So I ask that you pause this plan and think of the golf course as an opportunity to consider creatively and with vision how this extraordinary property might be used to enhance existing and planned parks and recreational opportunities.

For example, is it possible to improve the 9-hole and re-purpose the 18-hole?

I also support the feasibility study for the Pedestrian bridge as a way to further link recreation opportunity on both sides of the river. Imagine how re-purposing the golf course with walking/ biking paths linking with the pedestrian bridge could enhance Bethlehem as a destination? That would be much better use of economic development grants and taxpayer dollars, at least in my mind.

But I would further suggest that you consider holding a couple of town hall meetings so the public can have input on how this valuable recreational resource can best meet the needs and preferences for Bethlehem residents.

One more suggestion is act to preserve this property for use for recreation rather than development.

Barbara


“Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez is pitching a $1.75 million proposal to get the city’s cash-strapped golf course into better playing condition.”
Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem to sink $1.75 million into golf course.” Morning Call, August 30, 2018.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-golf-course-improvements-20180828-story.html

“Bethlehem City Council backed a $1.75 million makeover of its popular but cash-strapped golf course, part of Mayor Robert Donchez’s plan to turn around the finances without bringing in a private operator.”
Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem tees up $1.75 million makeover of golf course.” Morning Call, September 6, 2018.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-golf-borrowing-20180904-story.html

“The Bethlehem Golf Club has been running a deficit for 10 years. Why wasn’t the restructuring that is being planned implemented at some point during those 10 years? With 10 years of mismanagement, I think the city should hire an outside operator.”
Deborah Helms, “Readers React: Bethlehem golf course mismanaged.” Morning Call, September 12, 2018.
http://www.mcall.com/opinion/letters/mc-rea-helms-bethlehem-golf-course-20180911-story.html

“Bethlehem City Council on Tuesday approved borrowing $1.75 million and applying for grants to improve its popular but cash-strapped golf course, over some objections that the money would be better used on facilities more residents use.”
Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem backs borrowing $1.75 million for golf course.” Morning Call, September 19, 2018.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-golf-course-money-20180917-story.html

“Golf isn’t exactly in our budget, let alone the majority of Bethlehem residents. The rich are getting richer and will always take care of themselves first. Bethlehem City Council proved that on Tuesday.”
Maggie Riegel, “Readers React: Spending $1.75 million on Bethlehem golf club is a swing and a miss.” Morning Call, September 20, 2018.
http://www.mcall.com/opinion/letters/mc-rea-riegel-bethlehem-golf-course-spending-20180920-story.html

How the Garages are paid for (22)

(22nd in a series of posts on parking)

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past and current director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

Gadfly: I wholly agree with the sentiment of Vivien Steele’s post. I’m also a critic of the use of bonds to pay for expensive garages. But I want to make one point of clarification. I’m not sure it’s entirely correct to say the garages are paid for with our taxpayer money.

The way this city seems to be paying for garage construction (e.g. New Street Garage) is by approving taxpayer backed general obligation bonds. If the bonds are not repaid by the Bethlehem Parking Authority (BPA), then it’s my understanding that the city has to pay off the bonds, which it would presumably do by raising taxes on residents. This has happened in other cities, such as Scranton. The cost of the construction and upkeep of the garages is one of the stated reasons why the BPA is raising parking meter rates. The revenue from parking meter rates is needed to help pay off the debt from the bonds issued to cover garage costs. In this sense, residents/taxpayers are paying more for parking, if they use the meters. Everyone using the meters is helping to pay for the garages.

I would not have a problem with this if I believed the garages were genuinely good for small businesses. However, if the garages are being built primarily to serve other interests (institutions or developers), then I think those interests should pay for them. In the case of the New Street Garage, the claim was that the parking was needed and would help small businesses. Yet the parking study did not convincingly demonstrate this. If parking is only needed for the people who are in the office building attached to the New Street Garage by a glass walkway, the institutions that lease those offices should pay for the cost of building the garage. I don’t think the city should be issuing taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for parking for one or two institutions (Lehigh University and St. Luke’s) who already don’t pay taxes.

Breena

The Northside 2027 Neighborhood Plan (1)

(1st in a series of posts)

Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem lays out long-range plan for north of historic section – North Side 2027 initiative, a $100,000 study, aims to spruce up neighborhoods.” Morning Call, October 19, 2017.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-north-side-meeting-20171017-story.html

On Thursday October 11 the first public meeting on “Northside 2027” will be held from 6-8PM at Liberty High School in the chorus room.

The Gadfly will be there. Will you? Pass the word.

Well, ok, Gadfly, you say, what is “Northside 2027”? My immediate thought was that it was a television series: Hawaii 5-O, Beverly Hills 90210, 77 Sunset Strip (Gadfly goes way back).

Take a look at the City newsletter that should be appearing in your mailboxes right about now for a description.

“The ultimate goal of [Northside 2027] is to enhance the Northside 2027 neighborhood by stemming declines in housing stock, promoting homeownership, improving the visual attractiveness of the area, ensuring vehicular/pedestrian mobility and safety, strengthening community facilities, and improving the general quality of life in the neighborhoods.”

North Side is defined as running “roughly between Broad and Laurel streets.. . . in some areas, west to Mauch Chunk Road and east to Maple Street.”

“The initiative is a partnership involving Bethlehem, Bethlehem Area School District, Moravian College, businesses and citizens.”

Gadfly will attend the meeting and will report.

Mayor Donchez, Councilman Reynolds, Moravian president Grigsby, and BASD School Board president Faccinetto all follow this blog (a tip o’ the hat for that – I guess Gadfly should say a wave of the wings), and Gadfly hopes they will weigh in as appropriate.

The Gadfly is eagerly looking forward to learning more about this project.

“strongly opposed to the rate hike” (21)

(21st in a series of posts on parking)

Dear Gadfly:

I am writing to object to the proposed increase of parking meter rates from $1 per hour to $1.50.  I am strongly opposed to the rate hike for two reasons.

First of all, I’m afraid the action will make shopping in Bethlehem even less attractive than it already is. I, for one, used to enjoy leisurely browsing through the little shops in Bethlehem, but because I have to pay $1 per hour to be there, I now only run into a shop for a specific item I want. Window shopping is no fun and not relaxing when you have to keep one eye on your watch. Consequently, I now do most of my shopping in the Lehigh Valley or Promenade Malls, where I can proceed at my own pace because I don’t have to pay ANYTHING to park! And, as a result, that’s also where I do most of my purchasing too!

I think the City needs to think very carefully about what consumer behavior they are encouraging by creating a rate increase. If the City really wants to attract shoppers, finding a way to DECREASE parking fees would be a better idea.

Secondly, I am angered by the fact that our local officials make big decisions without sufficiently taking into consideration the wishes of the taxpayers of their community. I don’t remember hearing anything lately about a parking meter increase, and now I am also being told about a possible second parking deck on Southside that may be built with our tax money. I’d like to think our officials could find other more appropriate financial support rather than charging me for a parking deck I will never use.  (This also applies to the one that appeared on 3rd and New Streets.)

Bethlehem is filled with conscientious people who love our town’s history and desire to protect the unique community we all love. Among these are many individuals who, if consulted, can provide creative solutions to the problems we face. I hope the City gives some consideration to these good people  — ask for their opinions and listen.

Thank you.

Vivien Steele

Hope for Change in Casino Ownership (20)

(20th in a series of posts on parking)

Michael Faccinetto is President of the Bethlehem Area School Board.

(See Dana’s post #15 and Mike’s post 19)

Dana, this depends how you define success. The casino was coming with or without TIF to the site. That is the main tax driver of the TIF. Without them there would never have been enough money for the Arts Campus or the Hoover-Mason Trestle. So if you define success by the cultural benefit of that area then, yes, it’s a success. The lack of other tax paying businesses opening up shop as a result of the TIF is glaring and disappointing. With a change in casino ownership my hope is the remainder of the area will finally be sold for development.

Mike

The same 10 people

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development and deputy director of community development.

Provocative editorial by Dana Grubb in the Bethlehem Press:

The essay begins, “For months I have heard rumors that a few members of Bethlehem’s seven-member city council have special code words they use to ridicule residents who regularly attend council meetings. . . .”

Take a look.

We’ll need to chew on this.

Take a breath and start chewing.

The Gadfly

By the way, if you do not subscribe to the Bethlehem Press, take a look. The Gadfly had not paid much attention to this paper till January, about the same time he started attending Council and other City meetings on a regular basis, and he has grown to love it. It is a “community” newspaper, something we really need.

 

The Other Iron Man: Bill Scheirer (2)

Second in a series of posts on Gadfly History. The Gadfly seeks stories or suggestions for stories on the Bethlehem tribe of Gadflies. If we had something like Bill White’s Hall of Fame, who else would be in it? Eddie Rodriquez, Mary Pongracz, Bob Pfenning, Chuck Nyul, Lucy Lennon?

You see them together a lot in the same quadrant of Town Hall, Stephen Antalics and Bill Scheirer, the “iron men” of this generation Bethlehem gadflies. Stephen on the short side, Bill tall. Stephen, who can be crusty and truculent with Council, Bill always cool, soft spoken, urbane. Stephen in your face, Bill of gentle wry wit. I imagine them playing ball together in the old days in some half-lit Church basement gym. Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. Stephen the point guard, dervish-like setting the plays, elbowing his defenders, trash talking, creating the openings, Bill, patiently underneath, biding time, counting the broken lights in the ceiling, waiting the pass, finishing it off. We tipp’d our hat to Stephen last time (see Gadfly History #1), Bill now.* Scheirer

Bill must be a true numbers warrior. When his heavily detailed and impenetrable 400-page budget book, an accountant’s dream, damn near caused a riot, Mayor Callahan was forced to produce a slimmed down snappy version for weak-kneed Council. But no watered-down, gussied up version for Bill:  “The new document, if [it] gets more citizens involved in the budget process, is a good thing,” he said wisely. “But it can never replace the detailed budget. That is the one I use.”  And that’s Bill.

Nobody best accuse this mild-mannered man of lacking “stones.” During the ugly democracy-crushing debate over razing Broughal high school, “Professor” Scheirer took to assigning grades to the school directors, giving them a “C” for their often-chaotic procedures. “These parliamentary grades go on into your permanent record,” he quipped.

Bill tempered Mayor Callahan’s enthusiasm over a positive citizen mail survey, indicating wonkily that “the important thing is the nonresponses” and that a random sample of the nonrespondents “should be aggressively pursued, and that if those results differ from those who responded, the survey could be flawed.” Not something His Honor the Mayor wanted to hear.

And during the Broughal debacle he said, “just because other middle schools have athletic fields doesn’t mean Broughal needs them too.” Bada Boom! Run for the hills!

When Bill praised me for good alliteration in the phrase “prayer, pledge, past” I used in some pitch during public comment at Council, I replied, “Ahhh, took a little English along with that Economics, eh!” But little was I prepared for this moving meditation on personal and national tragedy that I found in the old newspaper files.

I thank The Morning Call for the Sept. 9 article on “The Falling Man,” a picture of a person plunging from the World Trade Center on 9/11. It may be the most compelling photograph I have ever seen.
falling manAlthough it was not appropriate to publish the photo on the first page of the Arts & Ideas section, where eyes that were too young might have seen it, I agree with the decision to publish it the day after the tragedy, for it has a very positive message.

In that situation, most of us would have retreated within ourselves in some corner of the building, cherishing the last few seconds of life, perhaps hoping that the fire would miraculously burn out and that the building would not collapse.

The man in the photo had the strength of intellect to clearly see that was not going to happen. Rather than passively wait for his death, he chose to end it on his own terms, showing the “control” mentioned in the article. But, it was more than that. It takes strength of character to initiate some action that will almost certainly result in one’s death, if one is not suicidal.

In a way, his act was not unlike the courage of the passengers of Flight 93 who chose to take positive action rather than wait to die.

Whatever went through this man’s mind, I believe it was an act of self-affirmation, essentially an act of human dignity. He also sent a message to the terrorists: You may hurt us, you may kill some of us, but you will not defeat us.

That, my friends, is something.

Bill Scheirer – economist, community organizer, government critic, preservationist, gadfly.

*Thanks to the files of the Morning Call.

Dana: Doubtful that BASD Would Agree to TIF (19)

(19th in a series of posts on parking)

Michael Faccinetto is President of the Bethlehem Area School Board.
(See Dana’s post #15 in this series)
Dana,
I think this is a reasonable suggestion and fits with the original intent of the TIF. The
proposed garage would be in the heart of the zone and a good project to receive funds.
That being said, I do not think the BASD Board would agree to extending the TIF. We
have structured out Nitschmann MS borrowing around the return to full tax revenues in

2020-21. We are forgoing somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million each year to the Redevelopment Authority. A large portion of that is needed to fund the debt service associated with NMS going forward. While this option would save city residents from big parking increases, it would cost BASD taxpayers significantly more to make up the loss in anticipated revenue.

All that being said I do believe there is money left with the Redevelopment Authority in the TIF fund that is not committed to existing project debt that could be used for a portion of the project. I’m only 1 of 9, but I cannot support extending the agreement.

Mike
(See Peter Crownfield’s question in the Comment section)

Many Cities Use Technology to Cut Parking Costs (18)

(18th in a series of posts on parking)

Steve Melnick has had a career in economic development for over 35 years in several states, with the last 20 years here in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

Instead of looking to penalize the local residents with increased meter rates, why doesn’t someone in the BPA or better yet their paid consultants look into reducing the cost of building all of the supposedly needed new garages. I brought this up during the New Street debacle and council laughed. There are many cities that use this new technology to cut costs. Check out a company called More Park System. http://morepark.com/

Steve

Banana Factory Architects can “perfectly preserve the historic character of what they propose to demolish” (5)

(5th in a series of posts on Banana Factory Expansion)

Steve Melnick has had a career in economic development for over 35 years in several states, with the last 20 years here in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly, there is some degree of truth in the old adage that “everything old is new again.” I have several neckties to prove it. However, when it comes to buildings, it is common knowledge that architects have long recognized that in dealing with infill projects, it is quite possible and even desirable to design new buildings that fit into the existing urban landscape. There is absolutely no reason that the newly proposed ArtsQuest building cannot draw upon its creative mission and have someone design a building that will perfectly preserve the historic character of what they propose to demolish. As far as parking is concerned, perhaps the BPA can find it in their best interest to offer some accommodation for ArtsQuest patrons to park there. I’m not positive, but I imagine that the new facility would fall within the 300-foot threshold used to justify the new garage.

Steve

Questions about the Parking Meter Rate Increase Proposal Sept 2018 (17)

(17th in a series of posts on parking)

Questions for the BPA suggested by audience responses at the Sept 20, 2018, public meeting. These are some of the questions the Mayor might want answered as he decides about deciding. The Gadfly welcomes comments and responses from BPA/Desman and others. And if BPA/Desman would like to make a comprehensive response, the Gadfly would publish it separately.

When will the “final” Desman report be available online, and can some print copies be made available for residents?

Is TIF funding possible to underwrite the costs of garages?

Was any consideration given to privatization?

How was the $1.50 amount arrived at? Since it’s well over the rate of inflation since 2012.

Could we consider cost-cutting and thereby reduce the revenue increase sought?

Why not raise garage rates for larger users (St. Luke’s, Lehigh), whom we are basically subsidizing, right now in conjunction with this proposal?

What impact did the increase to $1/hr in 2012 have on small businesses?

What was the criteria for choosing the peer cities to get data from?

What do studies of visitors and foot traffic, etc., of other cities that increased their rates show?

Are there studies of the specific effects of rate increases?

How did you survey the “man on the street”? Is there a report of findings?

Have you considered the danger of setting rates so high that people don’t come?

How did you survey small business owners? Is there a report of their responses?

There are specific goals for the rate increase. How would you rank generating income among them?

How does one know “industry standards” (often referred to as a point of reference)? Are they printed somewhere?

Were any “out-of-the-box” ideas considered, if only to be rejected? If so, what were they?

Have you considered free time to bring people in?

Have you considered using the smart meters to do variable rate pricing, flexible rates, zone rates?

Have you considered “dynamic pricing,” changing rates by area and time of day?

Is the site of the proposed Polk St garage within the CBD? Is it the responsibility of the City or the developer?

Of total spots available for transient use in the New St garage, what % are occupied on a daily basis?

Is there any reason to have meters till 9pm in areas where there are little or no business and in residential areas?

Were BPA Board members encouraged (expected?) to come to the public meetings in April and now?

Will you be discussing the input to and questions about this rate increase recommendation with the Board? How will you do that? When?  How and to whom will you report the results of that discussion?

What are the next steps in this process? Discussion with the Board? Discussion with the Mayor? Another public meeting? Or are you done?

Options to the BPA Parking Meter Proposal, Public Meeting, September 20, 2018 (16)

(16th in a series of posts on parking)

 “The purpose of this public meeting, it’s not just perfunctory, it’s not just we can sit here and see what you have recommended, and we have to go home and say, well, that’s how it’s going to be. I hope the purpose of this public meeting is to legitimately hear alternative ideas, alternative propositions because I think as you’ve heard here . . . there’s a lot of real concern about how this meter rate increase is going to impact our small business and the economic viability of our downtown. So I urge you to please keep an open mind, please consider some of the ideas that you’ve heard here tonight.” (Paige Van Wirt)

Gadflyers must be offerers.

The three main options to the BPA/Desman proposal offered at the public meeting September 20, 2018, are:

  • Tax Increment Funding (Dana Grubb)
  • Free parking plus an increased fine: $0 meter rate + $25 fine (Bruce A. Haines)
  • Variable rate pricing (Paige Van Wirt)

Some striking sound bites:

.50 more an hr. to drive people to the parking garages is pretty meaningless. . . . I don’t really think it changes behavior to do a .50 increase in the parking meter rates.” (Bruce A. Haines)

“I’d like us to rethink how we think about ourselves.”  (Bruce A. Haines)

“We should look at Bethlehem as a transformational progressive city when it comes to parking.” (Bruce A. Haines)

“We need to rethink our whole philosophy.” (Bruce A. Haines)

“We are punishing residents to gain more revenue.”  (Stephen Antalics)

“Our on-street parking meter rates are essentially a tax. Their [residents’] streets, and they pay a tax to park on them.” (Dana Grubb)

“This study did nothing on cost-cutting, did it?”  (Jake)

[Industry standards] . . . “smacks of speaking ex cathedra.”   (Bill Scheirer)

“I think that the people who are going to be using the garages, the larger businesses, really need to have some skin in the game.” (Paige Van Wirt)

“There’s a lot better ways to find money for this parking system than putting it on the backs of the small businesses and the people who use the downtowns the most.”  (Paige Van Wirt)

“We have to think outside-the-box, thinking in ways that aren’t creative is really just kicking the can down the road.” (Bruce E. Haines, not Bruce A. Haines)

“the death spiral the parking garages have put us in.”  (Al Wurth)

How about Extending the TIF? (15)

(15th in a series of posts on parking)

Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development and deputy director of community development.

During this past Thursday’s public hearing that addressed the proposed meter rate hike, I suggested another possible funding source to build the anticipated Polk Street garage. This source would use the borrowing power of Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which already exists and has been used for development in the Beth Works site. The TIF is scheduled to expire in 2020.

Negotiated with Bethlehem Steel in 1999 when I was acting director of community and economic development, along with then city solicitor Joseph ‘Jay’ Leeson and Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority executive director John Rohal, we formed the city team that brought this economic development tool to fruition.

In a TIF, instead of the taxes going to the taxing entities, in this case the City of Bethlehem, County of Northampton, and Bethlehem Area School District, the tax revenues are collected in a TIF fund to be used to make public improvements. At the time we negotiated Bethlehem’s TIF, the construction of roads and parking garages were the primary use anticipated to support development in the Beth Works area. That area encompassed property between roughly the Fahy and Minsi Trail Bridges.

In the intervening years TIF was primarily used for the Stock House restoration and renovations, SteelStacks campus, Hoover Mason Trestle, and Southside Greenway.

Thinking of the Polk Street garage as just one more future project driving meter rate increases, I suggested extending the TIF for an additional 5 years so that proceeds could be used to construct this garage and thereby relieve area residents of additional financial burden. Extending TIF would require that the three taxing entities cooperate and agree to do this.

We have been repeatedly told that parking garages lose money and that the overall parking system, which includes meters and the revenue they generate, is needed to support these initiatives.

Extending TIF to generate the revenue needed to construct the Polk Street garage would remove that burden from the system and thereby from Bethlehem residents.

In preliminary discussions about building a parking garage in this area, TIF had been part of the original financing discussion. Why not make it a reality by exploring an extension and thus removing the need for the Bethlehem Parking Authority to bleed area residents with parking meter rate hikes for the foreseeable future?

Dana

Public Responses to the BPA Parking Fee Proposal: Part 4 (14)

(14th in a series of posts on parking)

Bruce E. Haines (not the same person as the previous BAH) and Al Wurth

The Gadfly will divide the responses from the public to the BPA proposal to raise parking meter rates into several posts for sharper focus, and at the end he will summarize the key points and identify the options offered to the $1.50/hr. meter rate. The Gadfly’s notes on each respondent are given below, but you are encouraged to watch the videos and to take your own notes.

8) Bruce E. Haines (not same as previous Bruce A. Haines)

video 6: 10:20-12
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooGL7g-f8Mo
video 7: 0-6:40
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImTUac2GhRw

23yrs working on Main, serves on DBA board.

Brings a smallbusiness person’s perspective.

Traditional retail, brick and mortar retail, is struggling.

He depends on locals who come several times a year.

In past 5 yrs has had fewer transactions every year.

“We have to think outside-the-box, that thinking in ways that aren’t creative is really just kicking the can down the road.”

Looks like the plan is a rate increase then check in a few years and raise again.

We need a “fresh look” at meters on the margin of the business district.

There’s no reason to have same charge on New St above City Hall the same as Main St —  “makes no sense.”

He endorses variable rate parking but not at different times of day – customers want predictability.

Rates could be less expensive on Broad St in the old movie theater section.

And take a look at the 9pm time, might be reasonable some places, but some are residential areas.

Good to take a look at different rates throughout the city, but don’t endorse changing the rates based on “market conditions” – people don’t like to be surprised.

 

9) Al Wurth

video 7:  6:40-12
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImTUac2GhRw

Will raising rates raise the revenue?

“That’s the death spiral the parking garages have put us in.”

Much more likely that it’s city residents using the meters on the more dispersed sites.

Long-term parkers are being subsidized by the short-term parkers.

Garages don’t make money in the first place, and yet we are building more of them — who they are serving is difficult to understand.

“Street parking is actually the life blood of the City.”
UNFORTUNATELY, THE TAPE RAN OUT. WE MISSED MOST OF AL’S REMARKS AND ALL OF ALISON’S

 

Public Responses to the BPA Parking Fee Proposal: Part 3 (13)

(13th in a series of posts on parking)

Bill Scheirer and Page Van Wirt

The Gadfly will divide the responses from the public to the BPA proposal to raise parking meter rates into several posts for sharper focus, and at the end he will summarize the key points and identify the options offered to the $1.50/hr. meter rate. The Gadfly’s notes on each respondent are given below, but you are encouraged to watch the videos and to take your own notes.

6) Bill Scheirer

video 5: 1:30-9:40
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLShFEbK4uE

Is there a recent copy of the Desman report? [Answer: “can’t say with certainty.”]

When available at $.20/page, it will be expensive to copy.

Funds are needed to pay for the current New Street garage and upcoming repairs to the Walnut Street garage.

The current fines are too low and therefore not a disincentive to park on the street.

The meters have the capability of “dynamic pricing” – can be changed by area and by time of day — this should be seriously considered.

What are the “industry standards,” and how do they apply to Bethlehem? [Answer: general practices, not a blanket policy, tailored to specific place.]

Industry standards: “smacks of speaking ex cathedra.”

Often overlooked is the danger of setting rates so high that people don’t come.

The suggested raise might seem minimal, but there are some people who are on the cusp, and an increase might affect them, a raise might tilt them in favor of the Mall.

 

7) Paige Van Wirt  (see post 4 as well)

video 5: 9:40-12
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLShFEbK4uE
video 6: 0-10:20
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooGL7g-f8Mo

1) Our parking garage rates are ½ of other cities: $65/mo v. $118/mo. Why not raise rates for larger users (St. Luke’s, Lehigh), who we are basically subsidizing? [Answer: have recommended re-evaluating these rates on a more regular basis.]

We are “subsiding larger people who asked for this garage to be built on the backs of the small businesses who are trying to attract people downtown. I think that [change] should be an enormous part of how we generate revenues.”

Look closely at who is using the garages. Why are we not asking them to pay their fair share “instead of putting it on the backs of people who live in the city?”

Re-evaluation of garage rates should be done now and part of this recommendation.

There are “more equitable sources of revenue for what we are trying to do, which is build another parking garage for a few users. I think that the people who are going to be using the garages, the larger businesses, really need to have some skin in the game. The first step is to have them pay the market value for what they’re using.”

2) We have variable rate meters: “Why are you not recommending that as an efficiency in the system?”  [Answer: parts of southside and northside would be further penalized, would be a perception of penalizing users and defeating what we are trying to accomplish. There is not enough disparity of demand.]

Under this plan the few streets with over 80% occupancy rates would have higher rates, but majority of the streets would have lower rates.

*Target % occupancy rather than flat rate.

Suspicious that drop in revenue is the reason for not going with this option.

Variable pricing: “This is how all efficient cities nowadays price their parking, on occupancy levels not on flat fees.”

If we increase fee of fines, it would offset decrease in meter revenue.

“We need to stop putting up impediments to drawing people downtown.”

“Most of the places where we have parking are underutilized, and therefore we should be dropping the rates to encourage the target occupancy rates.”

There’s a “lot better ways to find money for this parking system than putting it on the backs of the small businesses and the people who use the downtowns the most.”

Liked the idea of free parking.

Need to “take longer looks at what we are trying to accomplish here.”

Should give 2 hrs of free parking in garages to transient parkers.

“Is there any of the BPA board here tonight.” [No.] “I’m kinda shocked at that. . . . I’m surprised they don’t want to hear what we have to say.”

Meetings should be after 5 and in City Hall not in the garage.

“The purpose of this public meeting, it’s not just perfunctory, it’s not just we can sit here and see what you have recommended and we have to go home and say well that’s how it’s going to be. I hope the purpose of this public meeting is to legitimately hear alternative ideas, alternative propositions because I think as you’ve heard here . . . there’s a lot of real concern about how this meter rate increase is going to impact our small business and the economic viability of our downtown. So I urge you to please keep an open mind, please consider some of the ideas that you’ve heard here tonight.”

 

Public Responses to the BPA Parking Fee Proposal: Part 2 (12)

(12th in a series of posts on parking)

Bruce A. Haines and Stephen Antalics

The Gadfly will divide the responses from the public to the BPA proposal to raise parking meter rates into several posts for sharper focus, and at the end he will summarize the key points and identify the options offered to the $1.50/hr. meter rate. The Gadfly’s notes on each respondent are given below, but you are encouraged to watch the videos and to take your own notes.

4) Bruce A. Haines   (see post 8 for Haines elaboration)

video 3: min. 9-12
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s2Rpalxkx0
video 4: min. 0-7:30
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKPHJWsCMfk

We need to rethink ourselves but not in the peer group of this study.

We need to think of ourselves in a different peer group. That of Progressive cities. Not of the old model of traditional parking logic.

“.50 more an hr. to drive people to the parking garages is pretty meaningless.”

“I don’t really think it changes behavior to do a .50 increase in the parking meter rates.”

The real reason for the rate increase is “generating more revenue.”  $250,000/yr. from meters expected, and fines will generate another $400,000.

“Downtown Bethlehem is a unique progressive downtown,” not like cities in the study’s peer group, not like Reading and Allentown, etc.

We compete with the Promenade and other life-style centers, where people park close and free.

We should be comparing ourselves to places like Sarasota, Naples, Corning, Saratoga Springs where meter rates are $0. They are not in our peer group but should be.

These are progressive cities competing with the life style centers – and thus models for us.

“We need to rethink our whole philosophy.”

A fine of $25 plus free meter rates will get the desired turnover and the same revenue as the study’s projection.

$0 meter rate + $25 fine will create turnover and the same equal financial bottom line as the study.

And better perception by users.

Yes, fines need to be onerous.

We should “join the progressive cities that are trying to foster their downtowns.”

Harrisburg and Easton have $25 fines, so raising to that level is not out of the question for us.

He’s confident in his numbers: now taking in $800,000 in fines and $500,000 in meters = 1.3 mil, you’re asking for a $650,00 increase to bring revenues to 1.950 mil = will get same revenue and free parking from his plan.

This is a “complete game changer.”

Also, Polk street is not in CBD, so according to BPA charter outside the CBD parking is the responsibility of the developer.

We should “look at Bethlehem as a transformational progressive city when it comes to parking.”

Bottom line: his proposal = 0$ meters, $25 fine.

(If it’s just about revenue generation, why not meters around City Hall?)

 

5) Stephen Antalics

video 4: min. 7:30-12
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKPHJWsCMfk
video 5: 0-1:30
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLShFEbK4uE

— Parking meters are counter- productive for increasing turnover, some areas go 4, or even 10 hrs.

All meters should be either 1-2hrs. max, forcing cars to garages.

Many people park on the street because they don’t know how to use a credit card in the garages; A lot a people are not proficient in English and find it easier to use a quarter.

— Of total parking spots available for transient use, what % of those parking spots are occupied on a daily basis?  [“I don’t have that number.”] How efficient is that garage?

— Bethlehem is out of line with many communities.

Meters running at 9pm is clearly a revenue-generator at the cost of the public.

Parking meters on E. 4th st., 10 blocks from the business district, till 9pm “makes no sense.”

— increased rates are necessary because of poor planning.

”do you really need the 3rd Street garage?”

— Sees absolutely no reason to have meters till 9pm in areas where we have no businesses.

We are “punishing residents to gain more revenue.”

Public Responses to the BPA Parking Fee Proposal: Part 1 (11)

(11th in a series of posts on parking)

Dana Grubb, Jack Noname, and Jean Tobias

The Gadfly will divide the responses from the public to the BPA proposal to raise parking meter rates into several posts for sharper focus, and at the end he will summarize the key points and identify the options offered to the $1.50/hr. meter rate. The Gadfly’s notes on each respondent are given below, but you are encouraged to watch the videos and to take your own notes.

Dana Grubb

video 2: min.9-12
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vcuoWDySGY
video 3: min. 0-4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s2Rpalxkx0

 Rate of inflation since 2012 (last time the meter rate was raised) is 10.8%, but you are asking almost 5 x that.

The referenced problem of equal rates between on-street and off-street parking is a self-inflicted situation, and residents should not be responsible.

“On on-street parking, meter rates are essentially a tax. Their [residents’] streets, and they pay a tax to park on them.”

Part of the reason for the increase is debt service. It is disingenuous that residents are expected to carry debt for garages built in specific instances for development. And also pay to park in garages.

Why aren’t we looking at ideas for better ways to market the garages, like free time to bring people in? We have smart meters that can do flexible rates, zone rates.

Fines definitely should be increased. Out-of-town people like our meter and garage rates and don’t mind $10 for a ticket.

TIF funding (Tax Increment Funding) was originally looked at to underwrite costs of garages. TIF is not available now but can be extended. The primary purpose for TIF was public infrastructure, but the money never ended up where it was intended to go – streets and parking facilities. TIF probably could be extended for 5 years and could pay for the Polk St. garage, and residents would not have to worry about higher parking rates.

The impact on small businesses has not been considered. History tells us that the increase to a dollar in 2012 had impact on small businesses. It “drove them out.”

 

2) Jack [didn’t catch last name]

video 3: min. 4-5:40
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s2Rpalxkx0

Have you done any cost-cutting measures? Now you have 4-door gas-guzzling jeeps, for example.

“This study did nothing on cost-cutting, did it?”  [Answer: “It did not.”]

Any thought of privatization? [Answer: “No.”]

Bottom line: consider cost cutting like we do in our own houses. It could reduce the amount of revenue needed, maybe significantly.

 

3) Jean Tobias

video 3: min. 5:40-9
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s2Rpalxkx0

She loves the Mobile App.

She understands the desire for turn-over but is concerned about loss of foot traffic.

Are there any studies from other cities that increased their rates?  Did they have the same amount of people visiting, or was there a reduction in foot traffic?  [Question about studies was not answered directly – answered by an “expectation” not studies.]

Are there studies of the impact of rate increase on small businesses before we go ahead with our increase? [No answer, I believe.]

Do we have enough space for off-street parking during “Fests” and Christmas, etc.?  [Answered that the industry standard designs for normal condition.]

Bottom line: not a “fan” of increasing rates for fear of losing foot traffic and of impact on small businesses. She urged BPA to look at cost cutting.

The Bethlehem Gadfly Anniversary! All of One Week!

It was exactly one week ago at this time – but after an Eagles loss! – that the Gadfly pulled the trigger on this blog. Except that this week Gadfly had to wait to see the Tiger Woods comeback. (A one-television house. Mrs. Gadfly not happy – “I was watching John Wayne in ‘The Comancheros,’ ” she complained. Sigh. Can this marriage last?)

It will take a while to establish a rhythm and a trust between us, but the Gadfly thinks we are off to a reasonable start.

In short – to borrow a follower witticism – the Gadfly is a Gladfly.

The Gadfly aims – to borrow from another follower – for “healthy public dialogue.”

So far we have started conversation threads on the proposed parking meter rate increase and on the proposed Banana Factory expansion.

The Gadfly hopes the parking thread even thus far, for instance, demonstrates the quality (serious), the tone (moderate), and approach (balanced) that will characterize our conversation.

Democracies are noisy. They are meant to be. In the classic American story (Gadfly taught American literature, you know), Rip Van Winkle returns from his twenty-year sleep through the generation of the American Revolution to what Washington Irving calls a “Babylonish jargon” in the new democratic republic. So many voices. So many opinions. But we can listen. And we can be courteous.

*In addition, in the parking thread the Gadfly is experimenting with including video recording so that followers have direct access to the primary sources on which to make their own judgments. (A dry run for what the City may do in the future?)*

“Reviews” have been good. The Gadfly prizes especially, “Some intelligent discussion. Rare online these days.” “Intelligent discussion” – yes, that’s what the Gadfly wants.

Well known local blogger and provocateur Bernie O’Hare gave us a nice notice: The Bethlehem Gadfly “has certainly hit the ground running. . . . I am happy to see this new blog.”

It takes a while to build an audience. A large and diverse audience is essential for healthy public dialogue. For every issue to get a fair shake, we need all sides represented.

We have made a good start but have a long way to go.

The Gadfly is especially grateful that the mayor and most of Council are following (not the solicitors yet, as far as Gadfly knows). The Gadfly thinks that is amazing. Courageous. Gutsy. Tricky. Risky politically. Voluntarily willing to be “in the arena” where things could get dusty for them. (Yiii, I’m channeling Theodore Roosevelt.) They really don’t have to be here. Give them a high-five. The Gadfly appreciates it, respects it, loves it.

*The Gadfly bets that in this willingness to participate by elected officials we are damn well unique among cities in the country.*

I like unique for Bethlehem.

But we need more followers.

Let me challenge you, each and every one. I estimate that we have 100 followers. I’d like each of you to look at your contact lists and pass the word to 10 others. Probably an easy thing to do with the technology now available to us. If only 3 follow (and please ask them to be sure to “follow” not just to look), we still will have made a significant increase in encouraging public participation in important City issues.

The Gadfly especially would like the elected officials to bring our site to the attention of the – ha! – “power brokers” you deal with: Downtown Bethlehem, Chamber of Commerce, Historic Bethlehem, Democratic Committee, BASD, ArtsQuest, the local colleges, Northampton County Council, Boscola, Samuelson  . . . etc., etc., whomever and whomever you deal with on a regular basis in the course of your regular work. We want the right people listening when the people speak. Ask them to “follow.” Demand that they “follow.” Encourage them to contribute.

And – everybody — this is not “my” blog but “ours.” I hope for your contributions. I depend on your contributions. I anticipate with pleasure your contributions. I hope to be more moderator, gatherer, organizer, channel.

The Gadfly

Bethlehem Moments: A Proposal (1)

(1st in a series)

The Gadfly can sometimes be impetuous. You don’t often associate impetuosity with a person of tender years, a person of senior seniorness. But there the Gadfly was on the night of April 17 being impetuous — and in public, right before City Council. The minutes tell the story.

(By the way, do you know that City Council minutes are online, both in print and audio versions? Far out! How can you resist taking a gossipy peek to see which of your neighbors has taken advantage of the 5 minutes of free time at the top of the meeting? Check it out. THAT TIME IS A GIFT. And while you are there, see what the Council is up to. Democracy in action.)

The Gadfly was reflecting on Bethlehem history and the role it plays (or should play) in our urban identity. “We are a town that values history,” Gadfly said, “We have Historic Districts. . . . you will always hear people talking about how history enhances livability.” So there the Gadfly was verbally embracing the wonderful comment by Greg (Greg, who are you, where are you? I want a hug) at a previous meeting that “Bethlehem has a Capra-esque kind of quality.”

With gadfly gland fully smokin’, the Gadfly mourned the sometimes lack of the Capra-esque quality and the sense of history in our architectural actions (he whose architectural qualifications don’t extend further than the structure of sentences). Picking on the Gateway building (no doubt recklessly raking old wounds and thoughtlessly scorning the hard work of scores of sincere people to get a long-standing eyesore corner developed), Gadfly whined, “where was history when that building was decided on [couldn’t figure out how not to end with a preposition], where was the Capra-esque quality then.” Verbally embracing a fellow gadfly’s plaintive rhetorical question in the Morning Call: “What does this building have to do with Bethlehem?”

In full crescendo mode, Gadfly suggested standing in front of Lehigh Pizza looking south across the street at two older buildings probably from the era embraced by our historical code rubbing shoulders with the new big one that seems to have poked its head through the historical code. “History was not at the table when that building was designed,” the Gadfly solemnly intoned.*

By this time fully adrift in a gadfly high, the minutes record that the Gadfly “mentioned the idea of adding a 30-second vignette on the history of Bethlehem beginning every Council Meeting. Maybe young kids or teachers could get a bright student to come every meeting like a Minister or Pastor does and give us 30 seconds of history just to remind us of much of what we value in our town.”

O, god. What was Gadfly thinking? Ideas are like babies. They cry and clamor. They must be paid attention to (damn preposition again). Gadfly will talk in a later post of how this idea-baby has grown.

*Gadfly does, of course, have no architectural creds, but he would like to come back and discuss these comparison pictures at a later time.

Video of the Sept. 20 Bethlehem Parking Authority Presentation of the Proposal to Raise Parking Meter Rates to $1.50/hr (10)

(10th in a series of posts on parking)

Bethlehem Parking Authority https://bethpark.org/ 
Desman Design  http://desman.com/

video 1  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wfBWKjO3yI
video 2  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vcuoWDySGY   (stop at min. 9)

On September 20, 2018, the Bethlehem Parking Authority held an open meeting for the public on one final report recommendation of the Desman Design study of parking in our two downtowns. About 25 people attended.

This meeting focused on the BPA proposal to raise on-street parking meter rates in Bethlehem’s two downtowns from $1/hr to $1.50/hr.

Mayor Donchez is charged by City ordinance to act on the proposal, and he was present at the meeting in a listening posture.

Tim Tracy of Desman presented the proposal, and the Gadfly’s collection of bullet points from Tim’s presentation can be found in post 7 of this series. Gadfly hopes that Tim’s PowerPoint will soon be on the BPA web site. Currently on the BPA web site (under “Recent News,” lower left) is the draft report dated 2/6/18 and presented to an open meeting for the public on 4/12/18. The final Desman report, accepted by the BPA board at their May meeting, is not yet available.

After Tim’s presentation about a dozen members of the public spoke.

***Our first priority is to understand the rationale for the BPA proposal.***

So, see Gadfly’s post 7 for some key bullet points from Tim’s presentation.

Most importantly, however, here on video is Tim’s entire presentation for you to see (two videos, approx. 25 mins altogether, stop at min. 9 of the second video).

video 1  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wfBWKjO3yI

video 2  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vcuoWDySGY   (stop at min. 9)

Here below Gadfly presents some key quotes from Tim’s opening portion of the meeting, but Gadfly encourages you to watch his presentation in its entirety.

And to think about it. And to make comments below.

The Gadfly will later provide video of those who spoke at the meeting, but first let’s understand and respond to the BPA proposal to the mayor on its own terms.

Was the case for the rate increase “made”? What did you like and not like? What questions do you have?

If we get a lot of comments, Gadfly will summarize them.

Video credit: Owen Gallagher

*———————–*

Quoting from Desman’s presentation by Tim Tracy (remember to see a full list of bullets from the presentation in post 7):

“The Parking Authority was established to operate the public parking for the city of Bethlehem. It administers, supervises, and enforces both the on-street and off-street public parking facilities within the city limits.”

“Parking is an extension of the city’s infrastructure. . . . [The BPA] “has a responsibility to be fiduciarily responsible. . . .[its] primary revenue resource is user fees.”

“Over the last several years, the authority has made significant strides to begin to address some deferred maintenance that has occurred over the last 20 years, but over the next 10 years the capital repairs are budgeted at $6 million.”

“Additional added expanded infrastructure [is needed] to meet parking required both in Northside and Southside . . . to promote economic growth, support small businesses, support the arts and entertainment community that you have established and grown here in Bethlehem.”

“The byproduct of the increase should not be solely considered as revenue based. Certainly increased revenue is an expectation and has been part of the forecast which really should be a tool to encourage turnover, continue to move long-term parking off-street, with that it should actually create more availability for on-street parking . . . ample capacity, as we speak, off-street at what might be considered a discount rate 1$ v. $1.50, therefore the expectation should be that there would be more on-street parking.”

“Additional revenues would be generated by the users fees to continue to allow the authority to operate and maintain its capital and debt service obligations. . . . Should additional revenues be realized, those revenues get fed back into the system. They’re not siphoned off, not taken out, not put in some hope chest. It allows the Authority to continue to operate, it allows the Authority to institute a much needed if not critical capital repair program. So all of these revenues will really be put back into the system.”

Video credit: Owen Gallagher

A Tale of Two Headlines (9)

(9th in a series of posts on parking)
Interesting.
Was the gadflying at the parking meeting “panning” or “offering”?
Gadflyers must be offerers.
———
Kurt Bresswein, “Parking meter hike? Bethlehem residents offer alternative suggestions.” LehighValleyLive September 20, 2018
Daryl Neri, “Bethlehem residents pan plans to raise parking meter rates.”Morning Call, September 21, 2018.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-nws-bethlehem-parking-meter-rate-increase-20180920-story.html
———-
The LVL article is pretty good, thinketh the Gadfly.

“a completely different model for funding parking” (8)

(8th in a series of posts on parking)

Bruce Haines is a Lehigh graduate who returned to Bethlehem after a 35-year career at USSteel. He put together a 12-member Partnership to rescue the Hotel Bethlehem from bankruptcy in 1998 and lives in the historic district.

Gadfly remarks tonight were spot on in confronting the Parking Authority about documenting public comments from the April meeting as well as tonight’s meeting. The fact that the Desman report was never finalized from its draft state with revisions based upon public input is equally as disturbing since the draft report contained numerous errors that were pointed out at that meeting & in other communications.

This report & its recommendations are extremely biased & based on outdated thinking from a company that demonstrated their incompetence in the New Street garage study. Their model is that of generating data to justify new garage construction & parking meter rate increases. To justify the huge New Street garage, they had to reduce the parking study radius from 500 feet to 300 feet to get the answer they were charged to produce.

In the case of the Walnut Street garage in this study, they had to grossly exaggerate the repair cost to get to the tear-down recommendation they were charged to produce.

In the case of last night’s meter increase, they simply used outdated philosophy combined with a distorted “peer group” list of comparable cities to Bethlehem to justify their recommendation.

My comments last night were focused on a completely different model for funding parking versus what Desman preaches. Progressive cities understand that their downtown businesses compete with lifestyle centers like Promenade. They have free meter parking combined with heavy fines for exceeding the time limits posted to encourage turnover. Downtown Bethlehem’s biggest parking problem is people (including business owners & employees) tying up meters at the expense of the shopper looking for space. My proposal was to eliminate meter fees completely on city streets coupled with the same $25 fine that Easton employs for overextending the posted times.

By the BPA’s own financial report this alternative will generate the same revenue for the Parking Authority than the 50% increase they are proposing in meter rates & fines at 1.50/hr & $15 fines.

This solution eliminates meter change dumpers from the payroll to put more enforcers walking the streets of downtown.

Our peer group for parking needs to be changed from Reading & Newark to Sarasota & Naples, Florida, & Corning & Saratoga Springs NY. Hopefully the Mayor listened to a different model proposal last night & a potential game changer for public perception of downtown Bethlehem if he were to adopt this outside-the-box thinking for our city & discard Desman as our parking consultant going forward.

Bruce

Desman Recommends 1.50/hr Parking Meter Fees (7)

(7th post in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly will flesh out and fact-check his notes below after looking at the video. 

At the Sept 20 meeting, Tim Tracy of Desman Design made a presentation on the recommendation to raise the parking meter fees to $1.50 that included the following:

  • The Bethlehem Parking Authority must cover its operating expenses, capital improvements, infrastructure, and debt through user fees
  • Capital repair over the next 10 years is estimated at $6 million
  • History shows that the on-street parking meter rate in 2002 was .50 and raised to the current $1.00 in 2012 (importantly, the off-street rate moved to an equivalent $1.00 as well in 2016)
  • Meter rates are a “management tool,” and on-street rates can promote favorable turnover and drive long-term parkers into garages
  • Since on-street and off-street rates are now equal, there is no incentive to use garages
  • Comparison with a dozen or more other cities shows that the Bethlehem on-street rate is “under market”
  • Hence, the recommendation to raise our rates from $1.00 to $1.50
  • Benefits of the increase: increased revenue, more on-street parking available, and yet we would be at market rate
  • A reminder that all BPA expenses are covered by user fees
  • And that any surplus is fed back into the system
  • The timeline: the mayor decides, projected implementation is January 1, and Desman would market and promote the change
  • There is a plan to ease the transition into June, for instance, people using an app will pay the old price into June

The Public Meeting on Parking Meter Fees Sept 20, 2018 (6)

(6th in a series of posts on parking)

The Gadfly is new at this. Call me Gadfly cub reporter. Let me give a brief report on the meeting tonight. Staying pretty factual. Gadfly is a bit stressed for time tonight but will return tomorrow with more info and a “reaction.”

The Bethlehem Parking Authority hosted the meeting. Executive Director Kevin Livingston handed off to Tim Tracy of Desman Design, who did the parking study. The Mayor was also at the head table.  Tim gave a ½ hr. or so presentation of the Desman final report (accepted by BPA at their May meeting at which Tim presented). The Desman report was accepted in May with the promise that individual parts would be discussed individually.

Apparently, the parking meter fee recommendation brought forth tonight was discussed at the July meeting (June and August were cancelled), but the minutes of that meeting will not be approved until next week at the September meeting, so at this point we don’t know what exactly was discussed.

The Mayor is the key player here, lucky him. According to the City Code of Ordinances (Gadfly thinks he has that right), the Mayor is charged with responsibility over parking fees. In effect, then, the Desman final report and the presentation tonight was aimed at him.

No surprises in Tim’s presentation. No changes from the draft Desman report dated February 2018 and presented at a public meeting April 12. Surprisingly, no copies of the final report are available yet. The draft report, however, is on the BPA web site under “News,” and I have a link to it several posts back in this thread (post 2, I think).

Three recommendations were presented, only the first of which – fees — was the direct focus of this meeting:  raise parking meter fees from the present $1/hr. to $1.50/hr. The Desman plan calls for implementation of the new rates January 1, 2019.

There followed by Gadfly count 11 responses from the audience of 25 or so, heavily, heavily slanted toward taking issue with the report or presenting options. The meeting went long. Filled with Gadfly kind of talk. Gadfly has said time and again that he is in awe of the range, the imagination, the creativity, the passion, the power of our public responses. In fact, that’s what got him into the blog business. It pained Gadfly to see these ideas, these words evaporate. Gadfly wants them to have a home here.

Ha! Which is the cue for some of those powerful voices to “follow” me and capsule their ideas and/or reactions here.

Gadfly is not sure where this process goes. It sounds like it is totally in the Mayor’s lap. Literally that’s where his note pad was!  He certainly can say yes.  He certainly could modify the $1.50 recommendation. But Gadfly is not clear what happens if he says no. Start over?

The Mayor is “following” the Gadfly. He is here with us. That’s incredibly gutsy. Gadfly thanks him. Many of Council are “here” too. Again, gutsy. They didn’t have to join. So we’re all in this together. Let’s help the Mayor to a decision in a courteous, helpful way. (And not get hot under the collar like Gadfly did tonight! Bad Gadfly! Down boy!)

Gadfly will have more to say tomorrow.