Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 5: the favoritism factor (78)

(78th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69)

One more observation about the 2 W. Market proceedings before we move to 306 S. New.

One more observation that will, in fact, be a bridge to discussion of 306 S. New.

An observation about charges of

favoritism

rubber-stamping

pay-to-play

developer pockets

Heavy duty charges. We must be very careful about such charges. We must not throw them around lightly.

Gadfly has only had his wings three months. He has no history, no personal knowledge about such activity involving Mr. Rij or other investors/developers. He is a clean slate as far as stupid or unethical or criminal behavior of this type between elected officials and business people is concerned.

But you heard Mr. Clean Slate (or you can hear him for the first time by accessing the video in post #68) express worry December 18 over fairness, impartiality, and objectivity in the 2 W. Market decision – explicitly referencing CM Callahan’s very warm regards for Mr. Rij, very eager desire to please investors, and what felt like a chummy reference to petitioner attorney Preston’s boss “Jimmy” Broughal, who has been described to Gadfly as a power player in local politics..

Gadfly found such remarks perhaps innocently spontaneous but totally insensitive to a situation in which CM Callahan was acting as judge. The optics and the otics (good SAT word that I just learned) were bad even if there were no bad behavior.

In Gadfly’s opinion – Ha! speaking boldly as if he knew something about lawyering — Mr. Rij and the whole train of character testimony that followed him over the course of the three marathon meetings had absolutely no relevance to the core issue. If Jack the Ripper (retired) owned the property at 2 W. Market, the case should have been handled in exactly the same way! Justice is blind. To Gadfly, the character of the owner is irrelevant. If the opposition brings suit, I doubt the character of Mr. Rij will be considered at all in legal deliberations up the court chain of command.

CM Reynolds cut Mr. Rij out of his decision-making process – rightly so, Gadfly thought – and called for others to do so, but Mr. Rij-the-person factored in 3 of the 4 yes votes.

The optics and the otics (have you looked this word up yet?) were not good.

Let’s listen to the passionate voices of CW Van Wirt and CM Callahan December 18 on either side of this issue of favoritism. (Remember that you actually can and should listen to them in the flesh – there’s nothing like “being there” — by following the link at the top and the bottom of this page.)

CW Van Wirt:

I left the most previous City Council meeting feeling absolutely just sick in my heart, and it was because our Council meeting was capped off by a vote that allowed an illegal terrace on a restaurant in South Bethlehem [306 S. New: we’ll discuss this in the next post]. . . . There is a constant to decisions that have been made by this Council now and before my time, and it’s based on a woefully outdated concept that any development is good development. We have been told that the building at 3rd and New St. is better thanVan Wirt a vacant lot, as if that’s all the choice we have. . . . The rules in Bethlehem have become muddy. We give $800,000 grants to developers inappropriately. We let developers build an illegal terrace when they knew exactly what was allowed. We gave them 11 variances on the Armory project with no safeguards that the Armory would ever be protected and built. . . . So on this road where one or two developers get to blow out the red lights, we are in control, not the developers, and good community developers, people who want to invest in our city, stay away because the rules are ever changing, because the rules favor a few investors — be they developers, businesses, or home buyers, they want to know that the rules are clear, applied equally, and that their investment will be safe from changing rules. This Council and the administration has created an environment in which investors stay away due to exactly the thing we are talking about tonight, breaking the rules for a connected guy with the Benner terrace vote or the 2 W. Market vote. . . . This is our limited, parochial, swampy future we are creating here by eviscerating the rules that keep us on the road. We don’t have to accept just what the developers hand us; we can build our tax base by giving them straight rules to follow.

CM Callahan (combining selected parts from his two Dec. 18 comments):

The thing that’s upsetting me is that every time we have a debate or discussion there’s always people that have the opposite opinion and the thing that I find offending is that there’s accusations that we are rubber stamping, municipal ethics are being violated, that Mr. Rij is violating something, that he’s doing something illegal. . . . We got a letter from a resident saying it was pay-to-play. I barely know Mr. Rij, I’ve never taken a dimeBCallahan from him, nor would I, especially after this. But I’m making this decision based on what I see. . . . Nothing shady’s happened, there’s not this pay-to-play scheme that everybody’s trying to present. . . . There are some developers in the city. We are very fortunate that we have about six of them. I know Mr. Pektor, Mr. Ronca, Mr. Benner, Mr. Petrucci, Mr. Perucci – they’re two different people — and another developer with a property on Center and Dewberry [Atiyeh]. We don’t rubber-stamp like some people assume we do. Or accuse us of doing. We try to look at every single development on its own merits. And to accuse us of being in the pockets, or this was illegal. . . . We’ve tried to do our best with Mr. Rij’s property. . . . I think it’s a shame that developers are being attacked, Council people are being attacked, we’re on the take, there’s pay-to-play going on. . . . Stop it. It’s nonsense.

Claims of unethical or criminal behavior by elected officials may indeed be nonsense. And such claims, even innuendoes, should not be made capriciously.

But it is not nonsense – it is far from nonsense – to be wary of a vigorously stated position that could look or sound (optics and otics!) like it is willing to do just about anything to favor investment/development, using increased tax dollars as rationale.

It comes down to examination of behavior in specific cases.

Gadfly was ill-at-ease with the optics and otics (I’ve fallen in love with my new word) of the investor-friendly behavior in 2 W. Market.

Now let’s look at 306 S. New.

The actual words from the December 18 meeting on which these observations are based can be found in The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69). Gadfly always suggests that you go to the unmediated source and make your own observations. Gadfly’s reflections on the first round of supporting statements can be found in Critiquing the votes (65)

CAVE people do not oppose every issue (77)

(77th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

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

Gadfly:

When Council members refer to CAVE people, they don’t seem to have noticed that these people do not oppose every issue—only when the city or council proposes to do something that (1) violates its own ordinances, including the historic guidelines; (2) ignores the immense citizen investment in a reasonably sound comprehensive plan; (3) has no clue about the SouthSide—that neighborhood quality & community vibrancy is measured in people’s daily lives, not in ugly new buildings or more gentrification; (4) gives tax dollars to developers to boost their profits even if they ignore social & environmental responsibility in their projects; or (5) ignores the people’s arguments because they would require putting a damper on certain types of development.

Peter

little professionalism shown by some on Council (76)

(76th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

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.

I would also like to add, that under Council Rules, personal attacks are not permitted. Councilman Callahan should have been gaveled by the Council President for these personal attacks on both a resident and City Council colleague. The fact that he wasn’t speaks volumes about the overall quality of the current Council.

In the meetings I’ve attended I’ve noticed a definite undertone in comments made by 2 or 3 male members of City Council toward both female members and anyone who happens to disagree with the status quo majority on Council.

I have attended City Council meetings since the 1960s, and in my opinion based on my observations there is little professionalism shown by some on Council. That is a very sad commentary on both their integrity and ability to respect all viewpoints.

Dana

 

Cave people? (75)

(75th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

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.

Gadfly:

“CAVE people?” How about people who actually care enough to show up and make suggestions for better proposals and don’t roll over and say yes to everything that gets shoved down their throats. How dismissive can an elected official be?

Steve Antalics was actually born on the Southside and lives there today. He has research privileges at Lehigh University. He fought to keep his church open when the Allentown Diocese closed several churches. Where was Mr. Callahan during that process? Councilwoman Negron owns a home on the Southside, raised a family there, serves/served on boards of agencies based on the Southside and has worked there.

What are Councilman Callahan’s connections to the fabric of the Southside community? His visits to his barber?

I’d say that residents like Steve and Olga have a lot more invested in that section of the Bethlehem community than Councilman Callahan. Haircuts, meals, drinks, and campaign contributions don’t invest you in a portion of the city, but living there and becoming part of the every day ebb and flow does.

Their thoughts and opinions have much more value to the community than someone who “spends time” on the Southside.

Dana

Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 4: the Great Divide (74)

(74th in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69)

To Gadfly, one of the most noticeable rifts between Council members centered on visions of the Southside.

Let’s remember that Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics – a perennial Southside warrior – introduced the powerful cancer analogy in his testimony against the 2 W. Market petition. He pointed to the cancer that attacked Southside neighborhoods several decades ago by a small zoning change to favor developers – a change in the definition of family to include five unrelated persons. He raised the specter of the same thing happening in the Northside Historical District through an analogous seemingly small, seemingly innocuous zoning change.

CW Negron linked her negative vote on the 2 W. Market text amendment petition directly ONegron-Dipinito the image Antalics raised, recounting the sad feeling she felt driving with her daughters through the neighborhood from Hayes St. toward Five Points.

In the second statement supporting his yes vote at the December 18 meeting, CM Callahan vigorously denounced the consistently negative image of the Southside promulgated by Negron and Antalics and perhaps others — as well as, Gadfly feels, the implication that the City has not done enough for the Southside.

The rift is stunning. The Great Divide is stunning. Where CW Negron sees the Southside through the prism of neighborhoods sadly changed into student housing, CM Callahan sees the new life of charter schools, shops, restaurants, and so forth breathed into the Southside by huge amounts of development dollars.

CW Negron looks to the past, what was once there, what’s been lost. CM Callahan looks to the present and the future.

Put CW Negron at the corner of 5th and Polk and CM Callahan at 3rd and Polk — .2/mile and a 5-minute walk apart – and they might as well be on the North and South Poles.

The vision chasm between Negron and Callahan on the issue of the soul of the Southside is stunning.

And complex.

Because it’s tied in to money and seeming favors given to people with big money.

So discussion of the Southside here in this post bleeds into Gadfly’s next post on 2 W. Market and then into discussion of the recent 306 S. New case.

But for now let’s try just to parse out CM Callahan’s agitation about negative views of theBCallahan Southside. He sees such criticism almost as a personal affront. You can see here how developers and development money are wrapped up in his bruised feelings. Use the link at the top or bottom of this page to listen to the full second comment on December 18, for you should hear his urgency in his own voice. But here is a selection focusing on his Southside feelings.

“I want to say something that’s been bothering me for a little bit. So last meeting we had people criticizing stuff going on in the Southside, and as Mr. Waldron said, every time there’s a controversial topic there’s a variety of people who come out and start listing all these variety of uncertainties. . . . We spent $65m in investment in the last year on the Southside, and we have a regular speaker [Antalics] here who every single meeting rips the Southside about how terrible it is. We got a Councilwoman last week who was doing [Negron] . . . I went over there, the mayor of the Southside, Joe D’Ambrosio, been in business 55 years, lived there this whole entire time . . . tell me [speaking to Joe] when this euphoric state of the Southside was? Was it better 10 years ago? No. Was it better 20 years ago? No. [etc.] . . . . I don’t know when this utopia Southside occurred. . . . I’ve never seen in my lifetime . . . 45 years . .  . I’ve never seen the Southside better. It’s thriving, it’s vibrant. And there’s been a lot of effort on many administrations and many different people on Council to try to better that area — 3rd and New St, people against it. 510 Flats, people against it [etc.]. . . . I would hate to see where we would be as a City with some of the same people criticizing 1 E. Broad. . . . Sands bring in $9.5m. . . . Sands brings in more money per year than the Bethlehem Steel in its heyday. There were naysayers against it. . . . This stuff doesn’t just happen because it’s a sure thing. It’s because people are doing their due diligence and trying to do their best for the city. Who’s paying the damn bills? . . . . 300 people, professionals, with disposable incomes down to that corner, people complained and bitched and moaned about it. Some people call them CAVE people, Citizens against Virtually Everything. No matter what you do, no matter what you say, it’s always, there always a group that comes out of the woodwork.”

A couple things jump out at Gadfly.

Like “Who’s paying the damn bills?” That line stopped Gadfly short. He does not think of money first. He is glad that somebody (somebodies) does. Gadfly recognizes that he does not know nearly enough about how the City raises (and spends, for that matter) money. And could use several good tutorials on that score. CM Callahan sees himself as a man with eyes firmly fixed on the bottom line.

Like the CAVE people. Ugh. The undisguised scorn, the cynicism, the lack of understanding in that characterization is very disturbing.

Does the Great Divide matter? Is there hope of bridging the divide? Should anybody care about bridging the divide? Does the divide have operational consequences? Can CW Negron and CM Callahan work together?

Gadfly thinks their views on and values of the Southside sure tell us a lot about who Council-folk Negron and Callahan are.

What do you see, think?

The actual words from the December 18 meeting on which these observations are based can be found in The 2nd round of supporting statements on 2 W. (69). Gadfly always suggests that you go to the unmediated source and make your own observations. Gadfly’s reflections on the first round of supporting statements can be found in Critiquing the votes (65)

Addendum to Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 2: The motion to table (71)

(73rd in a series of posts on 2 W. Market St.)

Final observations on 2 W. Market – Part 2: The motion to table (71)

Gadfly obtained from the City a copy of the property info the City sent to CW Van Wirt and received by her and others on Council the morning of the December 18 meeting.

The cover memo: City memo 12-17-18

A color-coded map: City map 12-17-18

A spreadsheet (just one page here, total of 427 entries):
City spreadsheet 12-17-18

Gadfly thinks followers will agree that the info is not self-explanatory. In fact, generating even some provisional tentative useful conclusion from the data required further steps. CW Van Wirt needed a link to yet another map that she could blow up in order to count color-coded lots, and there were still uncertainties because of lack of clarity in the text amendment and inability to tell if all the color-coded lots were eligible.

Motion to table for further study in order?

Especially since no city official attended the meeting to answer questions and to help clarify.

Gadfly thinks so.

Easy call.

******************************

And here’s the text of the resident email that CW Van Wirt read during her December 18 statement leading up to the motion to table:

“One analogy that keeps coming back to me (as I think about this zoning case and the historic preservation case for the 3rd & New building) is the city’s haphazardly allowing a few people to run red lights.  Not in a systematic way (fire trucks with sirens get to run red lights) but just a few random unmarked cars. It doesn’t seem like a big deal; statistically, few people are likely to interact with those few cars at intersections.  But this means that everyone becomes less confident in green lights. As another driver, I’m now always going to check to see if some of those lucky few are about to blow a red light at any intersection I’m at — the whole set of rules (go at green, stop at red) suffers. While zoning isn’t life-or-death, most of the people investing in housing or neighborhoods like some reassurance that what they invest in is likely to stay the same or at least change in a way that they can foresee. (That’s one of the big points of zoning.)  Where there’s not that level of predictability, people become less likely to invest.”