Archive: March, 2012
Philly's share of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for fiscal 2013, beginning this July 1, has been slashed to $38.3 million. That's down from $71.8 million in fiscal 2002, and $46.2 million in fiscal 2012."These are enormous cuts, so you just can’t keep doing all the things you were doing," said Mayor Michael Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald. "You’ve got to decide. Something’s got to go."
"Block Grant" means the city decides what goes — and they're not yet letting the public in on what, exactly, will be cut. But Donna Henry, executive director of Southwest Community Development Corp. informed City Council last week that she's been told to anticipate an end to CDBG funding for her group's workforce training program as of this November."We see almost 400 people a year and work with a shelter for men that doesn't have any job counseling services, and meet with them once a week," she told CP. "But the Commerce Department told us they're eliminating employment counseling." She said she currently gets $44,000 in city-administered CDBG funds to help residents in the impoverished neighborhood.
McDonald said that the potential cut in funding to Southwest CDC, along with two other groups — The Lighthouse, Inc., and Parkside Association of Philadelphia—represents a "strategic" shift in the where the city is distributing economic development funding.
Noted Islamaphobe Pamela Geller will deliver a talk next week entitled, “The March of Islamic Supremacists: Implications for America, Israel and the West and How To Stop It,” hosted by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) Greater Philadelphia District.
“I consider her a modern day Paulette Revere,” says ZOA Philadelphia Executive Director Steve Feldman, “getting the word out about some practitioners of Islam.”
Geller is the wing-nut who started the whole “Ground Zero mosque” hysteria with a post titled “Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction.”
Penn award recipient unable to take stage after getting arrested protesting board of health feeding rules.
Khadijah White had planned to spend this afternoon hanging out with friends and family who'd come into town to watch her receive the Women of Color at Penn Award for 2012.
The award "recognizes individuals who have conscientiously endeavored to increase respect for women of color through leadership, service, positive impact on the community, and a commitment to enhancing the quality of life for women of color." White is a candidate for a doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania this year.
Instead, she spent the ceremony in jail, after getting arrested outside of the Municipal Services Building during yesterday's heated Board of Health hearing on proposed rules that would regulate food distribution to the homeless.
White was the only person arrested yesterday. The details aren't clear. When city officials announced that only 40 people would be let into the building to attend the hearing at once (at least a hundred had showed up), a protest erupted.
White says only that she hadn't intended to get arrested, or even protest — she had only stopped by to "show support" for her Occupy Philly friends attending the hearing.
At some point "there was an interaction with police, and my finger ended up getting broken in the commotion." She says that when police ordered protesters to move back, she was tending to her finger — and "they were like, 'Just arrest her.'"
Legal aide Jody Dodd, speaking on behalf of attorney Larry Krasner, who represented White today, says that White has been charged with two misdemeanors — resisting arrest and disorderly conduct — and one summary charge of harassment.
CP spoke to White less than half an hour ago, just an hour after she left jail. She said the last 22 hours had been unpleasant, but that the worst part had been missing the award ceremony, which she'd been looking forward to.
"The mayor was supposed to have been at the luncheon I was supposed to be at today," she said. "And I didn't want anybody to think they were wrong for supporting me. It was the thing that made me the most miserable while I was in jail."
"But it seemed like what was happening was that people don't like to see poor people and this was just an excuse to clear them out ... I believe in helping people who are less fortunate."
I should note first: Occupy Philly has not, in fact, been entirely dormant this winter: Occupiers have staged protests, cleaned vacant lots, held marches, stood trial, beaten charges, and even fed the hungry.
That said, it's been relatively quiet for the past few months — though many have anticipated that there would be fresh energy in the movement this spring.
Well: Occupy's spring has apparently come; and piping its tune, like some kind of (inadvertent) mayoral Pan, is Mayor Michael Nutter with a series of measures he's proposed or supported that would regulate the feeding of homeless persons in city parks (parks like the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which happens to be preparing for the Barnes Foundation museum to open).
No, Occupiers aren't the only ones opposed to this rule by a long shot, nor to another proposed by the city Board of Health, which would regulate "outdoor feeding" everywhere in the city — as proven by the diversity of voices in yesterday's hearing on that proposal.
[-4] Former Gov. Ed Rendell has attended rallies and made speeches in Paris and Geneva on behalf of an Iraq-based group of Iranian exiles which the State Dept. has labeled a terrorist organization. “I do not make deals with terrorists,” says Rendell. “They paid full price. So. Who wants some meth? I make meth now.”
[-3] The Treasury Department has subpoenaed Rendell’s financial records, since his speaking fees might qualify as transactions with a terrorist organization. So far, though, it’s just 15,000 receipts from Popeyes and a $20 million down payment on the Daily News.
 The Philadelphia Business Journal determines that the Market-Frankford El is Septa’s busiest route. We’re more excited for their next study: Which Philadelphia baseball team has the most fans?
[-2] Overhead wires fall onto a trackless SEPTA trolley in the Northeast, momentarily trapping passengers who were afraid of being electrocuted. Witnesses claim to have seen Rendell fleeing the scene by rooftop, a pair of gardening shears in his hand, his lush carpet of back hair sticking up and smoking.
[+1] A Philly woman who faked cancer to get out of a four-month prison term in 2007 is sentenced to five years. Sounds like somebody needs schemotherapy. (Sorry. We have trouble walking away from puns.)
[+1] Commissioner Charles Ramsey vows to find whoever has been slashing tires around the city, saying, “there’s some idiot somewhere bragging about it.” “Am not,” says Rendell.
 The drunk driver accused of crashing through a fence and driving across runways at the airport faces 20 years in prison and a million dollar fine. “Rendell told me to do it,” pleads man. “He said it was a matter of national security. Then he sold me some meth.”
[+1] An offshoot of Occupy Philadelphia plans to summit this summer near Independence Hall to make a list of grievances to be presented to the President, Congress and the Supreme Court. First item: “We stink. Anything that can be done about that?”
[+1] If their petition — which will call for the end of Citizen’s United and the war in Afghanistan — is not acted on within 100 days, the group plans to run its own candidates in 2014. “That’s it?” says Rendell. “I thought we were gonna like blow something up. Pussies.”
Even potential allies on Nutter's homeless food policies are wary, and say support is conditional on progress.
Follow Hall Monitor Isaiah Thompson on Twitter.
The 45 minutes the Nutter administration gave reporters to hurry to a City Hall press conference yesterday, in which the mayor announced a proposed citywide regulation banning the outdoor distribution of meals in city parks, wasn't the only thing about it that seemed rushed.
There was the fact that the ordinance would go into effect in just 29 days — timing that happens to coincide almost perfectly with the grand opening of the Barnes Foundation museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where church groups and other volunteer groups like Food Not Bombs have distributed meals for over a decade.
There was the fact that the announcement came just a day before tonight's Board of Health hearing on a separate rule that would require those who distribute free food to meet certain food safety regulations and obtain permits from the city.
There was the fact that while the mayor announced that he had "created a working group of external stakeholders" to come up with a better solution for meals for the homeless, CP found that no such group actually exists yet — and at least two major providers of meals to the homeless in the city say that had no warning of the mayor's announcement, let alone input into it.
And then there's the fact that even those homeless advocates who might support the mayor in this are expressing deep reservations — and warning that their support is contingent on the city's doing much more than the mayor has so far proposed.
Take Sister Mary Scullion, for example — who appeared alongside the mayor at yesterday's announcement. This morning's Inquirer reports that Scullion "backed the proposal but would monitor it carefully."
That's accurate, but in a conversation with CP yesterday, Scullion also stressed the her support is conditional. Scullion does see this proposal as an "opportunity," — but an opportunity to do significantly more than Philly as a city has done so far. What's more, Scullion has refused to be a part of the mayor's working group, partly because she wants to able to criticize it if its recommendations aren't up to snuff.
"The mayor can use this as an opportunity to move the ball forward and provide additional resources and opportunities for people who are homeless and hungry in our city," Scullion told CP yesterday.
"If it doesn't come through, we'll have to take more dramatic and more visible ways of saying this is a sham. I honestly don't today believe that's the case. But we'll see."
As for the timing of this announcement, Scullion added: "Of course it's totally related to the Barnes."
In discussing the mayor's announcement with CP, the mayor's press office also mentioned Minister Bill Golderer of Broad Street Ministries, who has been critical of outside meals as lacking dignity and nutrition that people deserve. His church recently spend nearly half a million dollars on an industrial kitchen facility to prepare indoor meals for the homeless. They hope to expand from two to nine meals a week.
But Golderer — just the sort of "external stakeholder" the mayor would presumably want on board — had been caught by surprise himself by the mayor's announcement, and says he supports the mayor's plan only if it is just that: a plan for better services for the homeless:
"If we're saying yes, we're going to do nutrition with dignity inside, I will lead that charge with others — but we have to commit to that. Banning one thing without a resource alternative is not an answer," he told CP this morning. "Getting tough on homelessness is not my position at all and I hope the mayor and others don't get any bonus points for cracking down or getting tough - because I'm afraid that some people are like, 'Finally, I don't have to look at that anymore and that's not he goal."
"The goal is really authentically to build a comprehensive integrated system to deal with hunger and homelessness sand utter disenfranchisement."
In other words, any support from these folks for the mayor's regulation is dependent upon a plan for real long-term change. And so far, the mayor hasn't mentioned any such plan: he did announce that meal providers will be allowed to distribute meals on City Hall's apron for one year; but he has so far committed to no funding, offered no indoor facilities, or articulated a vision for how the city will ensure that something better is going to replace a volunteer service many people clearly rely on.
Meanwhille, services for the homeless in general have been declining for years. The city has cut funding for case managment in shelters; several private meal programs have gone belly-up; and cuts in the state budget could mean a drastic cut to the city's already-threadbare shelter system.
Advocates like Golderer and Scullion hope that the city is ready to "step up" on these fronts — but they also appear prepared to fight back if he doesn't.
Meanwhile, the city's Board of Health will hold a hearing on its proposed regulation on outdoor food distribution at 5:30 tonight, Room 1450 of the Municipal Services Building. Various groups plan a pre-hearing food sharing and rally on the Parkway at 4:00.
The neon yellow-clad University of Pennsylvania security guards, who pedal around the University and adjacent neighborhoods, want to organize a union. Officers cite working conditions, wages, benefits and fair promotions as motivating factors. If these workers win their election — set to take place in early April — they will be the first anchor institution security guards to unionize in Philadelphia. (Both Penn and Drexel have low overall unionization rates, but even the guards at heavily organized Temple lack representation.)
Anyone who lives in the University City District, or the Baltimore Avenue corridor, will be familiar with outdoor “Penn Park” and “Penn Walk” guards who regularly patrol the area. The officers largely work night shifts, which run 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. or 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Officers are either on bike patrol or stand at an appointed spot, where they observe the surrounding area, acting as a “security deterrent to any would be troublemakers, anyone planning on disturbing the neighborhood in any way,” says Garnet Grant, a “stand on” officer. The officers cannot make arrests, although they are equipped to contact the police.
The officers are attempting to join the Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU), a small, local organization that just won its first collective bargaining agreement last year. According to a March 7 press release, 75 of the 100 guards have signed union recognition cards.
Once property-tax reassessments are completed this year, Philadelphians will end up paying out an estimated $90 million more altogether. Mayor Michael Nutter, who insists the fix to the city's arbitrary assessment system is not a tax hike, conceded in last week's budget address that it “isn't the easiest, most popular reform that we could have taken on.” But it might not be the hardest. After all, wealthy nonprofits like the University of Pennsylvania will pay somewhere between little and nothing to the city this year ― and Nutter, despite Philly’s desperate financial straits, seems content to let them do so.
Many universities contribute what are called payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, to their host cities: Baltimore, in recent years, received $5.4 million annually from PILOTs, Boston $17.4 million.
Not in Philly. Here, nonprofits contributed a piddling $420,223 in 2010, $496,810.40 in 2011.
Susquehanna River Basin Commission to vote on massive water withdrawals for fracking tomorrow morning, has threatened disrupters with arrest.
NPR State Impact Pennsylvania reporter Susan Phillips reports today that the Susquehanna
River Basin Commission, which will meet tomorrow to consider accelerated permitting for massive water withdrawals from that river for fracking, is open to having arrested those who disrupt the meeting.
Last week, the SRBC released a new set of rules for Thursday’s meeting, which include having attendees show photo I.D., forbidding public comment, and no video or taping by anyone but credentialed media. The media will be sectioned off in a specific area, as will anyone who wants to hold up a sign.
Susan Obleski, the spokeswoman for the SRBC, says after activists shut down the December meeting, Commissioners are committed to getting through Thursday’s agenda without disruption.
“It’s not our desire to have people arrested,” said Obleski. “But if it comes to that, then that’s the action we will take.”
Obleski says Capitol Police will be present, as well as plain clothed security officers. The SRBC has hired a private security firm as a consultant.
Protesters will certainly be there anyway, including a delegation from Phily-based Protecting Our Waters, which is urging citizens to call officials in opposition to the water withdrawal permits going before the commission tomorrow.
Organizer Iris Marie Bloom says that "we intend to exercise our first amendment rights. We have no desire to get arrested or go to jail, but we are willing to lose our freedom for a short period of time because the stakes are very high and somebody's got to step up."
In a media advisory issued today, Protecting Our Waters points out that the permits are going to be approved despite the lack of a cumulative environmental impact study and a state health impact study. You can read more about it here.
A crowd of undocumented young people and allies with Dream Activist Pennsylvania blocked 16th Street for more than half an hour before police arrested two female students, both undocumented immigrants. The "coming out of the shadows" rally began in Love Park and concluded in front of the Immigration Enforcement Office on 16th Street.
Cesar Marroquin, a native of Peru who lives in Wynnewood with his family, came to the U.S. at age 9 but says the notion that there is any pathway to legalization is a myth. "There is no way to legalize my status," he said. "We're tired of being dehumanized in our communities."
Tania Chairez, a Penn student and undocumented immigrant from Mexico, and Jessica Lee, a Bryn Mawr student who's here illegally from North Korea, were blocking the street to demand the release of Miguel Orellana Garcia, who has been detained for eight months, according to a letter they submitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "We identify and reject the terror ICE uses against our communities in Pennsylvania," they wrote.
Though they risk deportation, Marroquin says that no activist arrested during a similar action has been deported from the U.S. "This is about convincing the youth to come out of the shadows and not be afraid."
Photos & video to follow.
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