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.
The land bank bill would help the city deal with its collection of vacant properties
UPDATE: Inquirer City Council reporter Claudia Vargas is now reporting a compromise has been struck to pass the land bank with the inclusion of the Vacant Property Review Committee, a much maligned oversight board.
Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilwoman María Quinones-Sanchez are taking their much publicized land bank feud to the streets.
Sources have told the City Paper that Clarke's office has been organizing meetings with community leaders across the city, in an attempt to whip up opposition to the current land bank bill backed by Sanchez, which Clarke says does not contain enough Council oversight. An email, obtained by the City Paper, from Clarke's special assistant Donna Bullock summarized talking points from an invite-only meeting with about a dozen community leaders, mainly from North and West Philadelphia, yesterday afternoon. Reportedly, the thrust of the meeting was to promote a goal of tabling the land bank legislation indefinitely.
"Overarching Message: Local residents, through their District Council Member, should decide what happens to the vacant land in their communities," Bullock writes in the email. "The proposed legislation delegates a massive amount of power to the Land Bank Board without any checks and balances."
The email outlines a strategy to forment opposition through the media, and instructs leaders that the Philly Land Bank Alliance, a broad-based group that has pushed for a streamlined and transparant land bank, "doesn't speak for our communities." Along with an attached document outlining nine points of opposition to the current land bank, the email compliments the leaders as "a group of superheros" and calls for secrecy.
"I also ask that you respect the any [sic] confidences or sensitive information shared during our strategic meetings or emails," writes Bullock. She promises future meetings on the land bank and other issues, and says she wants to refer to the group of leaders as the "Legislative Response Team".
The current land bank legislation would fold thousands of vacant properties owned by the city under a single organization that would, in theory, be able to sell or donate land in a more streamlined manner than the current bureaucratic system. Clarke has strongly argued for amendments that would insert additional steps and review boards into this process, which critics say is an attempt to make it easier for Council members to steer properties to favored individuals at the expense of efficiency.
Clarke's organizing with community groups is a peculiar turn of events, particularly because Sanchez's land bank was hashed out over the course of years with a multitude of neighborhood organizations. Additionally, Sanchez has struck a concilliatory tone, and Clarke has already extracted a number of concessions.
Sanchez's office had issued rebuttals to some of Clarke's objections earlier in the week, saying her "bill proposes a governance structure that ensures these powers are implemented wisely without creating an overly burdensome process". Sanchez's office, asked if they were aware of the email, confirmed they had been sent a copy by one of the original recipients.
Roughly ten community members and associates have reportedly committed to testifying against the current land bank in council during hearings tomorrow.
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