Ryan Briggs Ryan Briggs is a staff writer and connoisseur of City Hall intrigue, business dealings, neighborhood gossip and local lore. Ryan has studied, worked and resided in Philadelphia since 2004, covering politics and development issues for Hidden City, Next City and Metropolis, amongst other fine publications.
City Council just held hearings and advanced legislation to create a land bank - a long mulled, frequently misunderstood proposal to fold city owned vacant land under a single organization that could streamline land management in a city struggling against blight. After a dust up yesterday afternoon when a leaked email showed Council President Clarke's office attempting to rally community groups against a version of the land bank ordinance without his amendments, the Inquirer reported that pols have apparently hashed out a last minute compromise.
But some groups are already saying that the final version of the land bank was less of a compromise than a cave in. It cedes virtually all of Clarke's demands, reintroducing the troubled Vacant Property Review Committee, a tool of City Council, into the process and giving Council control of the land bank's strategic plan and its proceeds from land sales.
Some of those in council that supported an unamended land bank complained that the final bill gives the Council President everything he asked for while getting little in return, others said the "compromise" gives Clarke an opportunity to take credit for legislation he likely never wanted in the first place. One source said plainly, "sometimes no bill at all is better than a bad bill." Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who has tied her legislative career to the passage of the land bank, clearly thinks differently.
Community leaders who comprise the "Legislative Response Team", who were party to meetings and emails circulated by Clarke in order to drum up "grassroots" opposition the land bank, nevertheless appeared before Council to express their concerns - about a version of the bill that effectively no longer exists. Penelope Guiles, of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation, spoke about the dangers that would have been posed without Clarke's additions. Jihad Ali, a retired police sergeant and former director of the local National Association of Minority Contractors chapter, complained that he "didn't see black males" in the Land Bank Alliance, which lobbied for an unamended bill, and thanked Council for putting "checks and balances" into the process.
Tiffany Green, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze, who was also included on the "Legislative Response Team" email, but seems to have clashed even with Clarke's agenda, said that land bank board members, as well as members of the City Planning Commission and various zoning boards, should be publicly elected. She said that these groups were overwhelmingly white and suspected the land bank would be as well.
Members of Take Back Vacant Land, who had rallied for Sánchez's version of the bill also spoke. Circle of Hope pastor Jonny Rashid, a member of the activist group, said "the bill cannot wait any longer" and was crucial to effectively develop mixed-income communities in Philadelphia.
Council moved the bill to final passage, and it will likely be approved next week.
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