City Council meeting tonight, Tuesday, November 19, 7PM, Town Hall

Our next City Council meeting — the “face” of Bethlehem City government — occurs tomorrow night Tuesday, November 19, Town Hall, at 7PM.

These meetings are video-recorded and can be viewed LIVE or later at your convenience on the City’s website after the meeting at https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Calendar.

The YouTube channel for live or archive viewing is “City of Bethlehem Council.”

Find the Council agenda and documents here: https://www.bethlehem-pa.gov/Calendar/Meetings/2019/CityCouncil/38

As always, as long as he has flutter in his wings, Gadfly urges attending City Council live or virtually — one way or the other.

Be informed.

Planning Committee needs to take public-trust-building steps

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Gadfly earlier this week reported the desire to have last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on the Armory moved from 4PM to a later time to accommodate the work schedules of more residents who wanted to attend. That didn’t happen, though residents were afforded the opportunity to make appointments to view planning documents in City Hall. At the meeting, moreover, residents were thwarted by and complained about inability to see the plans proposed, which were displayed on easels in front of the Head Table and visible only to the Commission members. Resident spectators could not see what the developer was showing the Commission. Beginning January the PC will move its meeting time to 5PM, which, though not perfect, is a step in the right direction. But, as Armory neighbor Jeff Pooley points out in the audio clip from the meeting and this email below, there are additional steps needed to make PC meetings resident friendly. Jeff describes that the effect if not the intent of PC practice is to “exclude” the neighbors, of creating a feeling of “not encouraging public comment.”

November 15, 2019

To: Darlene Heller, Director of Planning; Tracy Samuelson, Assistant Director of Planning; Rob Melosky, Planning Commission Chair

Dear Darlene, Tracy and Rob (if I may),

I am writing a quick follow up to the Planning Commission meeting last night—not about the substance, but about the public-input issues I raised in my comments. (I was one of the members of the public who spoke about the Armory application.)

Let me first say that I was, and remain, very grateful for your kind help, Tracy, when you showed me through the plans and answered my questions. Rob, I want to commend you for running a humane and fair meeting, with real empathy for residents and their concerns. It was noticed, and appreciated.

If I left with a bad taste in my mouth, it was entirely about the process up to and including the meeting—and that’s why I’m writing. (I am cc’ing Ed Gallagher, who I know shares some of these concerns.)

The news about the shift to 6pm meetings is genuinely thrilling, and answers one of my concerns. The City and Planning Commission could make additional, small moves in the same spirit—to encourage public input.

The first would be to post all application materials, including the City’s reply letter, as one or more PDF downloads on the City’s website.

The second would be to project those plans/PDF on the existing projection system during meetings, so the public is not shut out (as happened last night).

Every document in any application—even the large architectural renderings—now exists as a digital document. It would be a trivial matter to collect them into one or more PDFs for (1) download prior to a meeting and (2) digital display during the meeting. If materials are now delivered in paper form, the City could require digital copies too.

(Just to be clear, the PDF download that *was* posted prior to the meeting was a tiny, and completely uninformative, subset of the application that the public is entitled to. That is not what I am referring to.)

In the meantime—while a system like this is being implemented—my strong recommendation is that members of the public be permitted to take photographs, and or make copies (at a reasonable fee), of these public documents. I honestly wonder whether that restriction is even legal.

These seem, from the outside, like legitimacy- and public-trust-building steps that are nearly cost-fee. There’s certainly no justification, in 2019, for not sharing digital copies, nor for relying exclusively on unidirectional easels that, in effect, exclude the public.

I would love to work with you, and help in any way (including technical advice, given my day job 🙂 ), to make these small changes happen. I was pretty frustrated, and want to channel that feeling into helping to make a change—one that seems utterly feasible.

Thanks for reading.
Sincerely
Jeff
Needless to say, Jeff’s points apply to other City agencies as well using Town Hall. We need to keep pushing for the means for effective public participation in all areas of City government.

The cost to the quality of life from development could be greatly lessened if there was a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration

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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,

I have to chuckle at the “we’re communicating” comment. Communication suggests two way listening and achieving some sort of consensus and compromise as a result. That has certainly not been the case here and in a number of other areas of Bethlehem. It’s a lot easier for some to cry NIMBY, but the usual fact of the matter is that residents in established areas are open to development, but they want it to be compatible with the established environment, which it usually isn’t. I think it’s fantastic that people want to invest in Bethlehem, but it comes at a cost to the quality of life, which I believe could be greatly lessened if there was a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration between those already here and those who are coming. Establishing that kind of landscape in any community takes leadership. I’ll leave my observation at that.

Dana

Gadfly imagines a defibrillator moment at the Planning Commission meeting on the Armory

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Armory 1

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So there was considerable kumbaya from the Head Table at the end of last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting on the Armory, what is probably the last public meeting before construction begins.

Two of the Commission members really and no doubt sincerely applauded the value of the resident participation.

For example, just before the vote that perhaps once and for all green-lighted the developer, one member said, I “really appreciate the comments from the public today, some very good suggestions, some great dialog here today . . . we’re communicating.”

Whoa! Not so fast.

The residents spoke. But the best they have is hope that the developer was listening and will/might act on their recent ideas and suggestions.

What the neighbors were left with was hope.

Why couldn’t the Planning Commission add some conditions based on resident input?

For instance, the neighbors thought they had a “verbal agreement” with the developer to work together on the barrier fence between the new construction and the adjoining properties.

Likely, nobody mentioned that agreement to the architect. She said that the fence “probably will be that shadow-box type of fencing” that apparently the neighbors had previously talked about.

Probably.

It is not obvious that the developer remembers such an agreement. And Gadfly is no expert in voice tones, but the developer’s “I’m open to discussing it with the neighbors” doesn’t sound to him all that enthusiastic. Listen, see what you think.

And all the PC chair can say, while explicitly agreeing with the neighbors, is that kind of fence “would be something I would hope the developer would consider.”

Hope.

Why could it not have been a condition of approval that the developer and neighbors agree on the fence type?

Period.

Then no need for the neighbors to hope.

A second example.

The subject is tree removal.

Look at how in these words from the PC chair, hope — fragile hope — is the soft pivot (literally in the center of his statement) around which glittering encomiums (good SAT word) about the value of resident ideas orbit.

“The dialog that we’ve had here this evening is important. It’s so important to hear what the neighbors and the taxpayers and the citizens have to add. One thing that was mentioned . . . I hate those lantern flies. I hope the developer does something to remove those trees so that those things don’t come back. Little things like that, those are details, and I won’t even say like small details, those details are vital.”

Damnation, if what the neighbors had to say is so important, if the tree “little” detail is so “vital,” then why not make it a condition of approval that the developer do a certain action?

Period.

Instead of hoping that it will be done.

Does not the PC have that power?

A third example.

And the most significant.

Jeff Pooley describes the “suburban strip-mall type parking area” along Second Avenue in the proposed design and says the “Planning Commission has the opportunity to prevent what could be a kind of a self-inflicted wound,” for all authorities would agree that best practice is to move the building to the street and put parking behind. Even Gadfly knows that from his summer reading in Jeff Speck that he reported on in these pages multiple times.

But all Jeff can do is hope. “Putting suburban strip-mall parking along the street is a great mistake,” you heard in his conclusion, “and one we hope you would prevent.”

Hope.

Now this is a big point. A major revision of the design. And one determining the look and feel of a gateway to the West Side.

If ever there was an invitation to “great dialog,” there it was.

Wouldn’t it have been a great moment — for Gadfly a defibrillator moment —  if the PC chair had turned — politely — to the architect and asked for her professional response to Jeff’s comment?

Instead there was a polite “Thank you, Mr. Pooley,” and the chair moved on.

That kind of design comment/question might as well be spoken in another language in meetings like this.

Gadfly is reminded of his recent muddle over 548 N. New (see the sidebar to refresh on this pertinent series of posts). By the time that Bill Scheirer, Kim Carrell-Smith, and Jerry Vergilio questioned the design, it was too late in the process.

The process is then too far along for a proposal to be questioned much less for it to fail.

Something is wrong with such a process in which such significant and informed public commentary is not aired and addressed earlier.

Planning Commissioner backpatting was well meaning but a bit self-serving. Communication is two-way. The PC didn’t act when it could have. Didn’t speak when it should have.

Discussion of the golf course budget drifts off the fairway

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Before going any further, Gadfly invites you to spend a light few minutes with the public comment by Jack Hoy (Huy?) at the last City Council meeting.

82-year-old Mr. Hoy gave us all a few chuckles as, bringing several clubs as exhibits, he proclaimed his pride and appreciation in the Bethlehem Golf Course that signaled the dramatic, positive change there over the past year.

Hoy was such a great warm and sincere salesman for this major part of our recreational system that at Wednesday’s budget hearing Council members quipped that he was a plant by Business Manager Eric Evans to support the Golf budget statements.

You might remember that back in 2018 the golf course was a hot issue. It was losing money and deteriorating in quality. Should we sell it, lease it, dedicate a pot of money to it??  Tricky issue. And a high priority for many vocal residents.

There was a meeting in which Town Hall was filled with angry and concerned golfers, the like of which Gadfly hadn’t seen and won’t soon forget.

Business Manager Eric Evans seemed to take charge of the course’s fate, advocating for a viable future path. The decision was to make the course operate as a business and to be self-supporting, and Larry Kelchner — a retired businessman — was hired to manage the course.

Mr. Kelchner was impressive at the budget hearing Wednesday, and the performance of the course over the year has even changed Councilwoman Van Wirt’s mind about it — because last year she was skeptical about the course’s future.

So Mr. Kelchner pretty much simply received plaudits and engaged in congenial conversation till it was if someone stepped on a landmine unobtrusively planted in a fairway and for several minutes the meeting blew up.

Please go to the City video of Wednesday’s budget hearing #2, part 4 min. 21:20 to the end and part #5 up to min. 12:15.

You know that an important part of Gadfly’s mission is to help and encourage you to know your Councilpeople so that when it comes time to vote you are doing so as well informed as you can be.

This 15 mins. is well worth viewing in this respect.

Councilman Callahan raised a legitimate question about the difference in cost between adults and kids for greens fees and season passes but not at the driving range and claimed that was driving (no pun intended) kids away from golfing there.

For instance, a round of golf on the 18hole course is $24 for adults, $16 for kids, but at the driving range it’s $10/bucket for both — same price. At one point BC seemed to be asking for a reduction to $5, on the grounds that the differential in the other fees made the case that we recognized that kids can’t afford the same as adults.

And, said BC, the consequence was that the kids were not using the facility because of the cost — kids whom BC wanted there to keep them off the streets.

So far so good.

On its face, that is not unreasonable.

Then things went out of bounds.

At one one point BC seemed to be saying that there were no kids at the course because of this fee differential while LK was saying that there were plenty of kids there.

In answer to BC, EE and LK said the fee at the driving range was “industry standard” and documented various examples of their generous involvement with and solicitation of junior golfers.

But BC wouldn’t seem to accept that explanation and pressed on.

Tension escalated when Councilwoman Van Wirt tried to get the discussion to move on, which met with a curt response from BC, and pretty soon there were hard words between President Waldron and BC, including suggestions that BC was arguing for special interests — for example, “paving” was mentioned, seemingly totally unrelated to the golf discussion.

Odd. Where did that come from? One of those times where other people know things you don’t. Other issues bubbling under the surface. And you feel left out of the conversation.

Paving?

Gadfly was not sure of what AW spoke, but he immediately thought of BC at the first budget hearing indicating twice that major road work was needed. Major paving.

Had BC been promoting paving interests there?

In any event, BC was rather heatedly defensive, and protested unfairness.

Now Gadfly — as always — suggests you go to the tape yourself and make judgment if judgment needs to be made.

Perhaps Gadfly will only say that there is a “history” of BC interactions with Council members that has resulted in short fuses among his colleagues.

Tempers escalate quickly.

After a previous Council flare-up involving BC (the Zoning Board nomination issue about which Gadfly devoted 10 posts), Gadfly responded to President Waldron’s invitation (to us all) to comment on the way he handles discussion.

Gadfly suggested that President Waldron consider a discussion rule based in Roberts Rules:

  • a limit of 10 minutes, then others are given an opportunity to speak
  • after others have spoken or passed on the opportunity to speak, another 10 minutes
  • any further 10-minute time after that only with majority vote of the other Council members

After you view the tape of this heated episode, however, Gadfly suggests that you go back and bask in Mr. Hoy’s ray of golf course sunshine again.

Gadfly bets his game is as sharp as his wit.

Single-payer: reduce cost but reduce quality

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Gadfly:

Peter’s comments indicate that single-payer would “dramatically reduce overall healthcare costs.” Yup, and it would dramatically reduce healthcare quality when healthcare providers work for minimum wage. And, yes, we should definitely get rid of the private healthcare insurance industry. According to some, the millions of people put out of work when the healthcare industry is nationalized could find work selling life insurance, or maybe they could open car washes. At least they would stay in private industry. And it will not be Medicare-for-all, it will be Medicaid-for-all. The wealthy will still get great medical care. They can afford it. Everyone else, including Peter, will be waiting in long lines. Maybe they can run up to Canada for shorter long lines.

Al Bernotas

Note Al’s comment on Peter’s previous post too.

Followers differ over how to handle healthcare. Gadfly suggests a pause in this thread till after the two more posts he has with video from Wednesday’s Council.

The Medicare for All resolution: “not necessarily a priority for the city”

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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:

I’m not sure what actually prompted someone to put this [Medicare for All] on the agenda. It doesn’t seem like “city business,” but the resolution does make the point that ever-increasing healthcare costs do impact the city budget. Other than that, it seems to be factual, but not necessarily a priority for the city. And I agree with Bruce that it might make more sense for Council to focus more on the many areas of city operations and legislation that seem to need more attention.

It should be obvious to all that Bruce knows how to run a successful business (having been a key person in bringing the Hotel Bethlehem back from collapse to its current position as a thriving business).

We should, however, consider some facts about “Medicare for All” and what it could accomplish:

1. The US has the highest healthcare costs of any of the “developed nations”;
2. US healthcare outcomes are among the worst of any of these countries; (year after year, global statistics put the US around #40 in the ranking of healthcare systems—just above Slovenia);
3. Financial analyses show that nationalized, single-payer coverage would dramatically reduce overall healthcare costs. It would, obviously, cause an increase in taxes, but that would be more than offset by the elimination of premiums for private health insurance.

Peter