Photo by Jesse Kudler, used with permission
Well, the title pretty much sums up what this reporter knows at the moment, but ...
More than twenty Occupy movement members were arrested tonight, during an ongoing nearly-weeklong Occupy National Gathering here in Philadelphia.
(Read all about it on the #natgat Twitter tag)
According to various accounts posted online, as well as the first-person account of an Occupier with whom Naked City spoke, those arrested had participated in a smaller march following the closing of Franklin Square, where most of the gathering's activities have been centered.
A large number of police — more police than marchers, by one account — followed the group and arrested them en masse, on Race Street near 12th or 13th. Several accounts pin the number at 27, but we can't confirm that (we've called Police Public Affairs but haven't heard back yet).
A group of Occupiers is now waiting outside Police HQ ("The Roundhouse") for the release of those arrested. According to a few accounts, the arrestees were charged with summary offenses.
The event will continue through Independence Day; you can catch live streaming of it here.
Follow Isaiah Thompson on Twitter.
In this week's cover story, I write about “cowboy” develoment around Temple Univeristy, where a booming residential student population has created a demand for housing that's made the area one of the most quickly developing in the city.
There are a lot of issues surrounding that development, not least among them how it will affect the longstanding African-American community in the neighborhood and who, exactly, is keeping an eye on how the neighborhood does develop. There exists no strong community organization representing the entire area, which means decisions on matters like zoning variances applications for vacant land go almost unnoticed.
In the increasingly tense problem of student behavior causing problems for longtime residents, Temple University has so far largely stayed on the sidelines – though the university recently voiced its support for the creation of a Neighborhood Improvement District, revealing in the process that it had been meeting for some time with the Temple Area Property Association, a group of Temple-area landlords who have pushed for the NID.
As I point out in my piece, Temple has a potential interest in allowing, if not promoting, the private development of off-campus student housing; it allows the university to outsource, for free, both the construction itself of student housing and the responsibility for the impact of that housing on the rest of the community.
Meanwhile, much of the development that is going on is sloppy, if not outright illegal, with developers cutting corners, breaking rules, and sometimes failing to post basic work permits. Above a just a few pictures snapped while walking around the area.
5th District Councilman and Council President Darrell Clarke says that the city's L&I department is simply overwhelmed by the task of enforcement (L&I told City Paper that it was stepping up enforcement in the area, but it's not clear why that's only happening now).
Whatever the case, finding violations of the city's building codes near Temple is as easy as, well, taking a walk.
Oh no they didn't. Last week in Harrisburg: Budget, school takeovers, fracking, surveillance state. PA generosity equals one Wawa “sub” for Romney and $1.65 billion for Shell oil.
“Oh no they didn't” is Daniel Denvir's weekly blog post on last week's moments in state politics. Philadelphians know precious little about the legislature or governor, though capitol lawmakers have enormous power over our schools, the care of our poor, and whether or not you can access a safe abortion. Are you an advocate, concerned citizen, legislator or aide with something to say? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for tips or comments. Follow him on Twitter @DanielDenvir.
Budget negotiations continue. Democrats cut out—at least for now.
Legislative Republicans continue their negotiations with Gov. Tom Corbett over the budget, due June 30: Corbett wants big cuts to education and programs for the poor and disabled, GOP legislators want fewer.
It's been a long week for the Actual value Initiative.
Yesterday, as you've probably gleaned by now from today's daily coverage (Daily News here, Inquirer here), City Council prepared to delay the implementation of AVI, over the mayor's objections, for another year.
As I'm sure you'll read in tomorrow's papers, the decision was a serious blow to Mayor Nutter, who has seen several big-ticket legislative items thwarted at the last second in Council — among them two attempts to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Instead of implementing AVI, according to the agreement within Council, the city would tax based on the current assessments at close-to-present levels, with a tax hike of 3.59% to raise money for the Philadelphia School District.
The problem is that those current assessments are wrong — and that means that tens of thousands of Philadelphians are going to be essentially cheated out of a fair tax for another year, while tens of thousands more will get one more year's exemption from paying what they should be.
That has political implications, but also legal (and therefore financial) ones: the city now faces the prospect of lawsuits by those whose assessments are wrong, though it's not clear how successful such lawsuits might be.
What's more, those opposed to the shift to AVI, or who seek special exemptions, have one extra year to organize and lobby Council for breaks — breaks which, however deserved or not, everyone else will have to shoulder.
And they'll be much better prepared to do so: Nutter had proposed passing AVI before residents got their first property tax bills showing their new assessments, which should be completed by this September.
Of course, it was the very fact that those assessments aren't complete that lead Council to quash AVI this time, especially as the city's estimates for the total city-wide property value shrunk, causing the expected tax rate to increase.
Oh no they didn't. Last week in Harrisburg: SRC debacle, payday loans, booze. And Corbett won't stop coming.
“Oh no they didn't” is Daniel Denvir's new weekly blog post on last week's moments in state politics. Philadelphians know precious little about the legislature or governor, though capitol lawmakers have enormous power over our schools, the care of our poor, and whether or not you can access a safe abortion. Are you an advocate, concerned citizen, legislator or aide with something to say? Email email@example.com for tips or comments. Follow him on Twitter @DanielDenvir.
SRC goes around Philly legislators, lobbies Republicans for more power to crush unions
The state-controlled School Reform Commission, which has run Philadelphia schools since 2001, continues to receive loads of criticism for its plan to dismantle the city's public school system and potentially privatize its management, while possibly outsourcing all blue-collar work and securing major concessions from teachers. (Whew! see “Who's Killing Philly Public Schools?” for details)
“The SRC,” writes Inquirer education reporter Kristen Graham, “has long maintained in public that never-used powers written into the 2001 state takeover legislation gave it sufficient authority to impose terms on unions.”
(Follow Isaiah Thompson on twitter, where he's confined to a mere 140 characters).
For readers with (deservedly) short attention spans: you'll find a summary of the following at the bottom of this post.
The weekly Thursday meetings of Philadelphia's City Council can often be theatrical affairs, heavy on pomp and low on substantive debate. Most of the time, votes have been arranged beforehand, and move through Council with the ease of a slice of bacon.
But every now and then, maybe once or twice a year, it doesn't work like that. Once and a while, the Council floor becomes the scene of an actual political showdown.
Such was the case on Thursday, when – after an eleven-hour marathon – Philadelphia's City Council passed three bills representing three different alternatives for dealing with an issue that might turn out to be one of the most significant they've had to vote on in years: how to collect the city's real estate tax.
Council President Darrell Clarke, after the meetings, described Council as having come together to pass a variety of options. But behind the three (rather confusing) votes, say Council sources, is anything but unity. Council is, as one source put it, “A zoo. There's no consensus on anything.”
At least two factions are now competing to get the votes of Council members who are on the fence over a tangled knot of tricky questions. And the questions really are, to be fair, quite tricky.
The Nutter administration is asking the city's legislative body to pass its Actual Value Initiative (AVI), which would base property taxes on a city-wide reassessment that is supposed to fix years of screwy property values across the city. Many residents would wind up with a lower property tax bill, but many – including longtime residents of more affluent neighborhoods – will pay more, in some cases much more.
But the administration wants AVI to pass Council before it has been able to finish the citywide re-assessment, which means no one knows exactly how AVI will affect which residents, or even – as grilling by Council over the past weeks has revealed – what the new property tax would be. Over the last few weeks, the administration has quietly lowered and lowered its own estimate of what the total value will turn out to be – which means, since the tax will be targeted to a fixed figure, that the likely tax rate is getting higher and higher.
That fact alone has been enough to turn some, including Councilman James Kenney, who is often an ally of Mayor Nutter, from a tentative supporter of the transition to a no vote. After learning the anticipated tax rate had climbed from an initial 1.2% to 1.8%, Kenny told reporters on the floor of Council Thursday night that he was "out."
Complicating matters significantly more is the fact that AVI, as the mayor has proposed it, effectively maintains a two-year “temporary” tax increase, includes a new real estate revenue increase, and seeks to generate an additional $94 million for the ailing School District.
And further complicating that mess are a number of proposals generated by Council members to alleviate the impact of AVI on residents, especially longtime homeowners (and not, pointedly, renters, who will bear a disproportionate burden).
Nutter's inclusion of school funding in AVI has been criticized, within and outside of Council, as a political move — there's no particular reason the two should be connected, and the politics behind his doing so are obvious: by tying school funding to AVI, Nutter can more easily secure the votes of a number of Council members for whom extra school funding — coupled with new leverage for Council in the form of "accountability agreements" — is a winner.
But maybe the biggest incentive for Council members to pass AVI now is simply a general sense of inevitability. It's either this year or next year, they figure — and waiting an extra year only gives more time for those opposed to the switch to raise a ruckous.
Three options came out of Council on Thursday: One, an amended version of the mayor's proposal, would implement AVI, but raise only $45 million for schools; another would simply increase the city's “Use and Occupancy” tax on commercial properties to raise $40 million for schools. A third, proposed by Councilman Mark Squilla, would delay the implementation of AVI for a year.
But virtually no one on Council is satisfied with any these proposals as they stand, and it's not totally clear what will become of any of them. Council may resolve these options by this Thursday — but, should negotiations go awry, could postpone a vote until the following Thursday as well.
And don't judge who's where by last week's vote: as Councilman Bill Green put it Thursday night, “Don't think that tonight's votes reflect where Council members are.”
Instead, Council members traded votes for bills they don't support in order to keep their own favorite alive – including votes for Squilla's bill to delay AVI, which most Council sources say has a slim chance of passing.
Pushing for AVI and school funding is a block made of up Council members Cindy Bass, Blondell Reynolds-Brown, Wilson Goode Jr., Bill Greenlee, Curtis Jones, Jr., Maria Quinones,-Sanchez, Marian Tasco, and Council President Darrell Clarke.
That's eight votes – one short of the nine needed to pass AVI. Republican At-Large Councilman David Oh is one likely 9th vote – he told CP on Thursday that he was willing to vote for AVI with $45 million for schools, but not for an increased tax on Use and Occupancy, which he says will hurt small businesses.
On the other side, opposing the AVI vote, are Council members Jannie Blackwell, Bill Green, Bobby Henon, James Kenney, Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Squilla, Dennis O'Brien, and Brian O'Neil.
But their side of the equation is a little more complicated: while that group opposes the AVI vote, they don't all support the U&O tax, which will hit businesses, including small ones. In fact, there's probably more support for the U&O tax on the other side, which wants to raise as much money for the schools as possible.
“There is support for AVI,” says Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez. “The question is how much money we can get for education.”
Sanchez and Brown are drafting an “accountability agreement” with the District that would allow Council to be able to impose restrictions on how the increased revenue is spent.
But in order to get more than the $45 million included in the AVI bill, that faction will either have to support the Use & Occupancy tax or attempt to amend more revenue directly into the AVI bill.
It's not clear the pro-AVI faction has the votes to do that (Oh has expressed reluctance to turn more money over to the School District, joining several Council members critical of the District's asking the city for money when its deficit was caused in large part by state cuts).
That could put Councilman James Kenney in the spotlight. On Thursday, he traded votes in order to get voted out a gentrification protection bill he's been pushing. The bill, supported by the Council president, would do much to ease the burden of a sudden property tax hike in neighborhoods that have seen rapid gentrification – but it's also expensive, say some Council sources, and the burden of that expense would fall on neighborhoods that haven't gentrified.
The upshot: Take the Council members whose constituents won't take a major hit from AVI, throw in the general desire among many in Council to be seen trying to help schools and to excercise more control over the District, and add to that a disinclination among many Council members to have to defend AVI for another full year — and you've probably got the 9 votes needed pass AVI, despite the fact that an almost equal number of Council members aren't willing to pass it right now.
Although there's a small chance it won't pass, the odds are that AVI is about to become a reality. The question now is under what terms, with what political fallout, and what all of that is going to mean a year from now if or when AVI, for better or worse, has landed on Philly.
(For more on AVI and everything else Philly, follow Isaiah Thompson on twitter)
Who loses in switch to AVI? This adorable cat.
In the long weeks of conversation over the city's anticipated (but not yet certain) switch to the “Actual Value Initiative” plan for property tax assessment, the fate of this adorable cat has been largely ignored.
The cat, it's true, doesn't own any property or pay any property tax. And neither does her owner (ok, it's me). But her owner does pay rent (not to mention wage and other taxes) — and, under AVI, his rent might be about to go up drastically.
That's because while the Nutter administration and Council have been working on various measures designed to protect resident-homeowners from possibly drastic increases in their property values, there has been almost no conversation about protecting renters.
Politically, it's understandable: renters are by their nature more transient and less directly invested in issues like property tax — and therefore simply less important to elected officials. If a renter has to move, he or she can probably do so more easily than a homeowner.
But there are a lot of us: about 569,000 renters in Philadelphia, or 30% in 2009, according to United States Census American Housing Survey.
And while some are unmarried professionals who can afford to feed cats and such, many are not: In 2000, Philadelphia had the highest rate of low-income renters in the state, about 75%. Nearly half were labeled “extremely low income” by HUD standards.
And of the various proposals before Council now, none address the tax hikes that will in many cases be applied to that population.
Council yesterday voted on a bill that would provide a “homestead exemption” for owner-occupied properties of $30,000 worth of their new assessment. Councilman James Kenney, with the support of Council President Darrell Clarke, has pushed a bill that would help out residents in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Any ten-year resident whose property value will have tripled under AVI gets a break on assessments above that tripling for ten years.
According to figures compiled by CP from data supplied by the Nutter administration and the office of Councilman Bill Green, the two exemptions lower the average burden on the residents who qualify by something roughly like 22% — which, of course, means 22% more that everyone else, including renters, will have to make up.
Assuming the total property assessment is about $80 billion after AVI (a complicated assumption, but that's another story), that means that residents who don't qualify will have to share the burden of an extra $17.6 billion. (Sorry folks, not sure if these figures are correct; will update when I find out).
That's not, of course, to say there aren't plenty of good, important reasons to support homeowners — there are, not least among them the preservation of longstanding neighborhoods under threat by renters.
But it's fair to say that while those residents have been at the heart of this public conversation, renters — who do, after all, comprise close to a htird of all occupied homes — have been flung to the furthest edges of it, cats and all.
As seems to happen when City Council is up against a deadline, a regular Council meeting has become a marathon session of closed-door negotiations, this time over the passage (or not) of the mayor's proposed Actual Value Initiative and the details therein.
The mayor wants Council to pass a bill that would set a revenue target for the citywide reassessment, and allow the actual tax rate to be set to match it.
After weeks of grilling by Council members, though, the administration has hit some snags: it can't say, within multiple multiples, how much the city's property is actually expected to be worth when the assessment's over. It nontheless wants Council to come up with a firm number from those stick ones: $94 million extra for the School District, accompanied by about $80 million for the city to replace the revenue scheduled to disappear when a two-year “temporary” tax increase ends after this year.
Councilman Wilson Goode says he believes Council will pass something of a compromise: a bill that would raise about $85 million for the schools, partly through AVI but partly through a hike in the Use and Occupancy tax for commercial properties, as proposed by Council President Darrell Clarke in an alternative bill to mayor's.
CP couldn't confirm any of this, and Council members appear to remain in negotiation. Not in the room with them at the moment: Councilman Mark Squilla, who helped lead the charge to delay AVI until the administration has solid numbers. Squilla hopes to pass out of committee today a bill that would do just that.
After weeks of budget hearings, hours of complex testimony by administration officials and often-frustrated questioning by City Council members, a single figure has emerged at the center of the political showdown coming to a head in Council today: $94 million.
That's the amount of extra money the mayor wants the School District to have this year, as a result of the city's anticipated switch to the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) — and there appears to be unanimous consent within Council that the schools should indeed get more money.
But why $94 million? There are two answers. One is the administration's: that $94 million simply represents extra money that the city hadn't captured over the past few years, while reassessments were frozen.
The other answer, offered up by critics of the mayor (including Councilman and possible mayoral contender Bill Green) is that $94 simply represents the number the mayor had to come up with to make it look like he's not raising property taxes -- which, they say, is exactly what he's doing.
According to the Nutter administration, the $94 million — which represents about a 25 percent extra from what the city gave the School District last year — reflects a 25 percent increase in property values citywide since the last reasessments. The switch to AVI would "capture" that newly created value.
Yesterday, Philadelphia City Council passed a bill designed to protect residents from the full force of gentrification if and when the mayor's Actual Value Initiative (AVI) goes into effect.
The bill will go a long way to reduce the impact of AVI on some neighborhoods that have seen rapid gentrification, including Fishtown, Mantua, and Spruce Hill.
But it will also reduce taxes for residents of Rittenhouse Square — not exactly the folks you might think of as needing an anti-gentrification bailout.
The bill, which passed out of committee yesterday and has the support of Council President Darrell Clarke, would exempt homeowners of ten years or more from paying taxes on more than three times their current assessed value. In other words, if your property assessment quadruples, you'd only pay taxes on triple the assessment. The idea, of course, is to protected longtime homeowners whose neighborhoods have seen gentrification, the effect of which has been effectively masked by the city's broken and frozen assessment system.
Here's the catch: the exemption makes no distinction as to a resident's home value, income, or other measures of actual wealth and ability to pay.
In other words, while gentrification relief will offer huge relief to folks like lifetime Fishtowners whose property values are about to skyrocket, it will also protect high-income longtime Rittenhouse Square residents — all paid for by an estimated 2% hike in the real estate tax for the average city taxpayer.
Here's the breakdown:
According to numbers supplied to Council by the administration, the average residential property in Rittenhouse is valued at about 177K, but really worth about 554k, which would become its actual assessed value under AVI.
Because the value will more than triple (177k X 3 = 531K), the Rittenhouse homeowner qualifies for gentrification relief, and wouldn't have to pay taxes on more than triple the current assessment, or about $23,000 worth of value).
A resident in Central Roxborough, on the other hand, has a current average home value of about $80k, and that value is likely to rise to $233k — just under the cutoff for gentrification relief.
The amount the gentrification relief is allowed to cost is capped at $30 million citywide, so taxpayers will have to make up that difference, to the tune of an increased tax rate of about a two per cent.
That applies to everyone, but the result is that gentrification relief winds up saving money for wealthier Rittenhouse residents and costing money for less-wealthy Roxborough residents — a scenario that doesn't necessarily bring to mind the usual narrative of gentrification displacing low-income residents.
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