Someone sitting in on City Council's Rules Committee last Thursday might have had a sensation of déjà vu as the chamber filled with angry residents, come to rail against a proposed Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) — and met by a Council seemingly baffled by their opposition.
The scene was not unlike what played out in another Rules Committee meeting last fall, when crowds showed up to protest a different NID, proposed by Councilman Frank DiCicco, that would have taxed residents of the Callowhill area. DiCicco came close to openly mocking those opposed.
This time, 5th District Councilman and Council President Darrell Clarke, who has proposed a NID for the area around Temple University, did not mock. But he did appear similarly confused by the rebellion.
After all, as Clarke pointed out, his NID would exempt owner-occupied residences. It would tax only rental-property owners — the developers, for example, of housing for Temple students, companies that residents accuse of being bad neighbors, employing shoddy practices and threatening to displace them. As residents listed the alleged infractions of these developers, a frustrated Clarke responded: "I agree with everything you said — I'm just trying to solve the problem!"
As Clarke presents it, he's trying to use the NID to collect revenue from the alleged problem developers and give it back to the neighborhood, Robin Hood-style. So, why wouldn't residents support him?
Council members seem to perceive a recurring problem of residents just not quite getting it when it comes to their beneficent legislation, but that's not giving residents enough credit.
In the contentious Callowhill NID hearings, Council members dismissed too quickly the legitimate concerns of residents — especially Asian-American residents — that they wouldn't be represented by the NID's controlling body. Temple-area residents share those concerns — not least because this NID was concocted by Clarke with developers including the influential Temple Area Property Association, whose members have given generously to Clarke's campaigns. The purported Sheriffs of Nottingham are the main voices supporting the NID.
Is that just more generosity? Of course not. Big Temple-area developers see the bill working to their advantage in one way or another. It may be a compromise — and it may be a fair one — but Clarke can't be Robin Hood and Solomon at once. His constituents are smart enough to know that.