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Philadelinquency has just learned that Freddie Ramirez lost a challenge filed against him at Commonwealth Court to be on the ballot for the 197th Legislative District.   Eyewitnesses testified during oral argument that Ramirez was never seen going into his house he owns in the district and trash was never put out.   Records from PGW and from the Water Revenue Bureau showed little to any activity over the prior 24 months.   The Pennsylvania Constitution requires all candidates for office to live in the districts that they wish to represent.

It is quite rare for a candidate to be knocked off a Pennsylvania voting machine over residency.   An appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is expected.

Republican Lucinda Little is the sole challenger seeking to represent the district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

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We’re not entirely sure what’s going on here but Lucinda Little who is running in North Philadelphia’s 197th legislative district against part-time Bristol, PA-resident Freddie Ramirez was seen coming out of the Democratic City Committee headquarters.  Earlier this month the Republican City Committee filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court to knock Ramirez off the ballot and presented evidence including eyewitnesses and utility bills showing Ramirez spending very little time at his home address he has in the district.   So far Anne Covey, the Commonwealth judge in the case has not yet issued a ruling on the matter.

While it is not expected that Ramirez would be ejected from the ballot, if that were to happen the Democratic City Committee would be left without a candidate as the deadline to install a replacement candidate for the special election has expired.  Were that to happen, the only other possible way forward for Democrats to appear on the special election ballot this coming March 21 is to get one of the remaining candidates to switch parties.

Hmm.

Here’s the raw picture we got…

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And here’s the NCIS blow-up.  It’s definitely her!

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This is a post that should be obvious to most of you dear readers, but it’s not for most Philadelphians who live here.

The zoning process has not, has never been, and will never be a forum for you to talk about your property taxes.

In fact, developers love it when you spend a whole zoning meeting or a ZBA hearing talking nothing BUT your property taxes.   As long as you don’t say one thing with respect to the zoning issue being discussed–you’re actually not complaining about his project and you certainly are not going to be an impediment between him and the permits he’s seeking.

I’m not going to get into the specific circumstances that led me to write about this topic–but let’s just say there’s still plenty of people who are convinced that if a project comes to their own community seeking zoning approval that bitching about your own property tax bill will somehow influence the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s outcome in how they vote up-or-down on a particular development project.

Is the ZBA made up of some really uncaring people that were specially-selected to just hate you?   No.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment has one job to do:  they review permits that L&I have denied because the project falls outside the Zoning Code.   The Zoning Code only regulates three things:

  • The maximum size a building can be on a given lot type
  • What the lot is allowed to be used for (residential, commercial, industrial)
  • Signage

That’s it.   Taxes aren’t mentioned anywhere in the zoning code.   In fact, it’s quite unconstitutional for a municipal government to begin regulating what two private people agree to buy or sell a privately-owned house for.   Now there are price caps on rents in some areas of the United States, but rent control apartments have the nasty side effect of convincing landlords to take less care of their rental properties over time.   That’s mainly why New York City stopped expanding rent control and why Philadelphia doesn’t have it.   Philly does have a rent-hike cap for long-term renters who stay in the same unit for a long period of time but it’s only enforced if you take your landlord to court and challenge him on it.  Nobody sues their landlord for this.

Because the zoning code does not talk about taxes or property assessments at all, when you bring it up at your local community zoning meeting or at the ZBA–it’s mostly just hot air and time-filler.

Worse:  if you never raise any valid zoning-related objection to a project, that basically means you just endorsed the project.   If you took off work and paid to come downtown to sit in the ZBA hearing room for an hour and only talked about your taxes and nothing else–you just told the ZBA you want the project built.

If that’s the only objection the ZBA is hearing from the community–then there’s no zoning objection being made, so they’ll approve it.

It’s taken at least 10+ years for me to start seeing anti-gentrification types wise-up to this reality and start to come up with zoning-related objections to projects.   Some of the objections were really creative.   In one zoning case I saw a community group complain about the absence of parking.   When the parking was added, then the objection was changed to “too much parking”, forcing the developer to go back to planning again.   That zoning case was heard in front of the ZBA three separate times and in front of the Philadelphia Planning Commission two times before the ZBA finally made a decision on it [it was approved].

Mind you–while that bit of trickery certainly was creative about delaying a development project, the same objectors never really got their point across to who really needed to hear it:  City Council.

City Council is the one setting your property tax rate.   Given the rate of increases–we’re due again for another tax rate hike coming from City Council this spring.  The Office of Property Assessment is the one who is actually valuing your house; not the ZBA.   Even then, complaining to City Council about your assessment is still going to be more effective than venting at a community zoning meeting where no one can do anything, or at the ZBA who also has no power to do anything for you and is forbidden from rejecting variances solely because of its tax implications.

So.  If you’ve gotten this far and paid attention, I’m gonna give you some tips on valid zoning-related objections.   See if they apply to that zoning project you don’t like:

The proposal is too dense.   If the zoning code calls for a single-family use but the project is a multi-family and there are next-door properties selling as single-family, then the project is too dense and the property owner has not demonstrated a hardship that he can’t work within the confines of the zoning code.

Parking required but there’s no proposal to build any.   The proposal doesn’t include enough parking but the refusal says parking is required. Where will the cars go?

Uniformity.   The use being proposed (let’s say it’s a strip club) is far out of line with the adjoining use of an adjacent or nearby property (say, an elementary school)

The zoning (CMX-2) calls for ground-floor commercial but the developer won’t build any.   In many cases where single-family residential is not permitted by-right you can torpedo a house on a CMX-2 lot by demanding a storefront go on the ground floor as the zoning requires, and point out any nearby CMX-2 property in the neighborhood that’s being used successfully for that purpose (some other nearby commercial that’s got a storefront).   It helps if this project is also on a “neighborhood commercial corridor”.

Now, this won’t guarantee that you’ll defeat a proposal at the Zoning Board of Adjustment–you’ll have to argue and articulate before the ZBA how the property owner can comply with the zoning code and be able to use the property for something.   If you present an objection that makes it obvious the property owner can do absolutely nothing in the short-term with the lot, you’ve now proven the developer has a hardship and that’s a strong reason to grant the permits either by the ZBA or if the developer takes it to court–the judge may approve it.

 

One thing is always certain:  if all you have to complain about is your tax bill, you will get nowhere at zoning or with the ZBA.

 

(BONUS:  “We want affordable housing!!!” is the exact same thing as complaining about house prices and it has the same effect as complaining about your assessment+taxes which is a function of real estate value.  The ZBA cannot regulate the price of real estate because that’s not in the Zoning Code and the ZBA never votes up/down on any proposal based on what its retail price is going to be.)

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Tariq El-Shabazz (Inquirer)

A new candidate has now officially thrown his hat into the District Attorney’s race: Tariq El-Shabazz.   Or as I prefer to refer to him: the “orange bearded fellow”, visible from great distances, that magnificent mane that no one can help but notice.

There’s a lot of things that bring me pause to El Shabazz as well as those who serve in law enforcement who have been talking to me about him.

He’s financially destitute.   El-Shabazz owes the state and federal government loads of money in back tax liens.  Mounting tax liens in the six-figure range is not a sign of great financial management and it would seem he’s closer to declaring bankruptcy than he is declaring victory in a DA’s race.  He says he has it all wrapped into a payment agreement–but so far he won’t disclose any proof such an agreement exists.  Considering that new liens are being attached to him; it’s highly unlikely that what he’s saying can be believed.

His most recent experience has been as a defense attorney.  And it wasn’t a very successful career as one.   A few lawyers that know him mutually that I have spoken with did comment positively that he’s been effective at trial.  However his business acumen in keeping a defense law practice up and going?  Not so much.   Philadelinquency uncovered that his law practice was evicted for non-payment of rent.

These are just some of the basic things we know.   Today I have something to show you that’s a lot bleaker.

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A Montgomery County court docket that was sent to PDQ by courier shows that in 2009 an individual filed with a court a Protection From Abuse petition.   A “PFA” is a court order barring a stalker from going anywhere near a person they are abusing.  Usually they are filed due to domestic violence and for stalking cases.   If the order is violated this gives local police the right to immediately incarcerate an individual as violating a PFA order is itself a crime.

In this particular protection from abuse order Tariq El-Shabazz fought to have it upended by hiring a lawyer who got the PFA reversed.  While PDQ does not have copies of the actual court filings themselves, the docket seems to indicate that the PFA was indeed withdrawn.

More information has come to PDQ that also seems to cast serious doubt as to Tariq El-Shabazz as being a resident of Philadelphia.   Like the case with Fred Ramirez who lives in Bristol but wants to be a state representative for North Philly, Tariq El-Shabazz has been known to live in Hatboro, PA for a number of years.    The person that filed the protection of abuse order against him also lives in Willow Grove in Montgomery County.

He Probably Won’t Want To Talk About It

Like his IRS liens, I’m pretty sure El-Shabazz won’t want to talk about protection from abuse orders to the media or even to the public who are voting in the election this May.  Leaving this PFA unanswered is not going to be a winning strategy.

There’s also been some vexing in the local press about there not being a black candidate running for DA after Keir Bradford-Grey declined to run for the position, even after (alleged) coaxing from the likes of billionaire Democrat-funder George Soros.

If Tariq El-Shabazz is hoping to ride into the District Attorney’s Office solely on the content of his skin alone and have identity politics carry him to the finish line that may not work.

While the voter turnout is expected to be low, this is the year where the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police matters a great deal.  Many in law enforcement who live in Philadelphia from the police (well, those who haven’t moved out of the city yet), prison guards, Sheriff’s deputies and Federal court employees not to mention all the other workers who interact with the criminal justice system on a routine basis as employees—that’s thousands of people here–do turn out and vote as they do care deeply about who the next DA is.   The DA’s office is something they interact with on a routine basis and have a personal interest in the outcome of the race.

Moreover, the Democratic City Committee has made it a point not to endorse any candidate, leaving ward leaders of the city who go to the expense of printing out sample ballots free to endorse whomever they want.   Usually a ward leader will tip their hat to whomever is the most generous with their donations to the ward.

Another factor will be where voters vote.   For instance, citywide elections matter little to areas like Fishtown, Point Breeze or Strawberry Mansion where voter turnout is traditionally low.  It will matter a great deal to Northwest Philadelphia where voter turnout performance in off-season elections is much higher than average and to law enforcement who lives in those wards and up in the Northeast.

This will also be the first District Attorney’s race where Black Lives Matter could possibly be a factor in the outcome.  It remains to be seen if BLM can organize anything by May to activate people to vote.   Don’t count on BLM endorsing Tariq El-Shabazz though–he is best-buds with DA Seth Williams and that’s how he landed in his role as First ADA in the first place.

What Now?

With the DA’s office now an anything-goes, anyone-could-be-DA situation, El-Shabazz’s entry doesn’t create any new certainties in this chaotic scramble to replace Seth Williams.

It also doesn’t help that Philadelphians aren’t going to be that good expressing what they really want from a District Attorney.   It’s up to the batch of candidates running to try to stand out on their own with a vision of what law enforcement in our city should look like.

Would a pro-criminal DA that’s light on enforcement prove more popular with the public?

Perhaps a return to Lynne Abraham’s tough-cookie rule would be more palpable?

I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that.   A lot of people in Philly are very passionate about what they think is wrong with the criminal justice system in Philly, and their answers on how to fix it are impossible to pin down–but they know they’re angry.  I know I am as well.

Illegal gun prosecutions in Philly have dropped by more than half since Seth Williams took office and our homicide rate has been climbing.

That’s not good.

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I run posts about a Democrat who doesn’t live in North Philly who wants to be the 3rd person in a row to walk into a State House Rep. seat in disgrace in North Philly and he doesn’t live in the district he wants to represent (the previous two occupants got convicted). Nobody cares. You also won’t care that this same dude also heads up Stenton charter school (remember charter schools? Don’t you hate those?) and there’s a wrongful-termination suit outstanding that also claims he’s being investigated by the FBI. That’s been covered here and by 2 other outlets. But of course you don’t give two shits—you’re too stupid to contemplate it.

But now… some dipshit comes out with a font with boards on it (I’m not even going to satisfy you with a link to anything about it–tough shit.) and you all lose your fucking minds. How much of a fucking simpleton are you? Not only are you whiny, you are weak. And your priorities are FUCKED UP. Go piss yourselves over a fucking font while yet another charlatan takes office over the poorest district in Philly, collects a check and does not give two shits about anyone he claims to represent.

You are fucking MORONS.