- By: Rashid Azar
- Land Bank Up For Vote at City Council http://t.co/lSlobvKsOY about 1 hour ago ReplyRetweetFavorite
- RT @ccommack: .@PhillyLandBank deal shows once and for all that @Darrell_Clarke is a despicable human being. #VotingAnybodyButClarke2015 about 20 hours ago ReplyRetweetFavorite
- @isaiah_thompson The only person around who wanted the VPRC preserved was Clarke. That’s it. about 21 hours ago in reply to Philadelinquent ReplyRetweetFavorite
- @isaiah_thompson Yeah, it’s the existing process as it is with another cmte tacked on. #FAIL about 21 hours ago in reply to isaiah_thompson ReplyRetweetFavorite
- @isaiah_thompson It will take months to even get the board fully established and more time to get the rules and policies drafted.Try a year. about 21 hours ago in reply to isaiah_thompson ReplyRetweetFavorite
- Land Bank Up For Vote at City Council
- Tacony Man: “We’re The New Badlands”
- No More Medical Offices in the Northeast–Unless You Go to Zoning
- Here’s How You Suck The Teet of Taxpayers and Do It In The Name of The Community
- Unless Your Face Is Buried In The Crotch of Someone Important In This Town; Forget Ever Buying Any Vacant Land
- Act 90
- Affordable Housing
- City Beautiful
- Gianni Pignetti
- How To Find Stuff
- Legal Threats
- Life In The City
- Municipal Incompetence
- Non-Profit Frauds
- Nuisance Businesses
- Orphans Court
- Property Squatting
- Public Property
- Reality Check
- Shady Contractors
- Sheriff Sales
- Stupid Unions
- Tax Deadbeats
- The Law
- The Lichtensteins
- The Suburbs
Well today is the day; Philadelphia will now have a land bank. City Council adopted City Council President Darrell Clarke‘s amendments which destroy almost everything considered to be progressive about Philadelphia’s new land bank. With that, Clarke stepped out of the way and ensured its passage.
Is it the fix that we’ve all been hoping for to speed up the sale of City property and get it back in the hands of owners who can do something productive with it? Hardly.
None of this goes away or gets reformed to speed it up and increase fairness, and it doesn’t change at all with the Land Bank:
- You must be either a friend of the Council member or curry favor with the Council member where the property is located. The prize you must get is a letter of support, because nobody in the Nutter Administration will lift a finger without first knowing that Council approves.
- The Vacant Property Review Committee, or VPRC, must then put your property you want to buy on its agenda and then chit-chat about it in closed doors in a secret meeting where the public input is precisely zero and the minutes of the meeting suck (and aren’t easily findable on the City website without the aid of deep-Googling).
- If it makes it this far, then Council staffers must draft a real estate transaction bill to authorize the City department to sell the particular parcel to you.
The Vacant Property Review Committee exists for a single reason: It allows a member of City Council to kill a real estate proposal with a “pocket veto” without getting his or her’s hands dirty with the blame for killing a deal. The VPRC doesn’t move any properties unless they already know ahead of time that the district Council member wants it to move.
Tiffany Green from Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze doesn’t like it either. She mentioned in testimony today to City Council that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission is ‘all-white and one token African-American’, arguing that the Land Bank Board should be entirely elected and not appointed by City Council.
Registered Community Organization direct input is not there. City Council is going to make the decisions and RCOs input is just “advisory”; and the channel for sending that input is harassing your member of City Council and the ward leaders in your area… which is Old School Philadelphia through-and-through.
The only benefit the City gets out of the Land Bank as it’s been amended by City Council President Darrell Clarke is this: one agency will be the custodian of some City property; but it can’t do anything until you schmooze over City Council, first.
If you want to buy City-owned real estate for ANY purpose at all, you get nothing.
Communities? You also get nothing.
This isn’t the Land Bank we originally thought would be the model already being put to use in other cities. It was originally structured this way, until Darrell Clarke fucked it up.
Legal and illegal rental property has proliferated across the entire Lower Northeast section of the city. Housing code enforcement by L&I lacks any serious teeth to solve the quality of life problems that is created when the rental quotient in a neighborhood increases.
Namely that quality of life problem is slumlords whose only consistent obligation they care most about are renting to people who pay cash and have a pulse and extend little responsibility beyond that.
Slumlords tend to provide most of the privately-owned shelter for Philadelphia’s criminal classes.
This has now enveloped the Tacony neighborhood to such an extent that residents are throwing in the towel.
Take the case late this past Saturday night [DN] as the Phila. Police Dept. was taking down a robbery suspect wielding a 20-gauge shotgun…
“We’re the new badlands,” said Jeff Gannon, 53, a retired construction contractor, who was seated next to Grogan at the bar, drinking Buds and smoking Camels while Grogan stuck with ice water.
“I’ve been living a block from here on Marsden Street since 1992, when I never locked my doors,” Gannon said. “Now, I got three dogs, six registered guns, three locks on my front door. And to think, I moved up here to get out of Kensington.”
The twist here is that vast parts of Kensington are improving in both crime levels and property values. Homes in the eastern and southern stretches of Kensington already cost more to buy than a typical Tacony airlite.
City Council passed Bill 13-077000, which bans medical offices in Northeast Philadelphia. While it doesn’t specify methadone clinics, it’s clear that methadone clinics along with all other types of medical practices will now need to go seek variances and meet with Registered Community Organizations before they can open.
CityPaper this morning tells us the tale of how affordable housing developers and others front-run the City and profit off it.
Unless Your Face Is Buried In The Crotch of Someone Important In This Town; Forget Ever Buying Any Vacant Land
I’ll let my bud Adam Lang explain it:
We’re probably the only place in the whole state where you can plea-bargain your sex crime down to not even making it on to the Megan’s Law database. [6abc]
Transportation funding died in Harrisburg last night. [Inky]
It’s not just mass-transit funding that died, it’s everything. And I mean all of it.
Those closed bridges scattered all over Pennsylvania that GPS services like Garmin keep directing you to because the map makers still don’t know yet that the bridge is out? Closed forever.
It also takes SEPTA a lot closer to its Doomsday Budget plan that most Philadelphians think is just policy fantasy for now. Unsympathetic Philadelphians are conditioned to hear SEPTA begging for dollars annually. And rural Pennsylvanians who receive more in transportation spending from the state than they pay in transportation taxes will sit content while bridge-heavy eastern and western sides of the state ponder their futures.
One remarkable thing struck me when I moved to Pennsylvania a decade ago from Texas: all the potholes and bad roads. Literally everywhere. Of course it’s worse in Philadelphia where the City is charged to maintain its own streets where many of Philadelphia’s main thoroughfares resemble the surface of an alien planet that’s fit for a moon rover to roll around on than the family sedan, but you’ll encounter the same problem far away from Philly.
We Philadelphians do have one comfort: our most important bridges to New Jersey are outside the full control of PennDOT and Harrisburg politics, and Jersey suburbanites who work on the other side of the Delaware certainly don’t want to lose their connection to their incomes and livelihoods.
During the 70s and early 80s Texas had its own crisis with its roads, which see heavy amounts of big-rig traffic with its commerce to Mexico. It was the favorite place to raid the budget to raise cash and control state deficits. That created a cycle of despair: transportation problems echo into commercial businesses by driving up the costs it takes to maintain fleet vehicles. It also rises municipal fleet expenses as bad roads damage all vehicles. Soon enough, California was looking more enticing a state to be located in: your trucks were far less likely to break their axles. Railroad shipping also saw a boomlet as international shippers scrambled to move away from trucking companies and on to an aging and dying system that saw comparatively better maintenance.
And for anyone who has to insure large numbers of vehicles, which is just about every local government in the state, a bad road network dramatically raises the cost of carrying auto insurance. Before long the savings gained by starving transportation multiplied costs elsewhere.
The starvation of transportation didn’t take long to reverse. The State of Texas changed its transportation policy in the late 1980s and early 90s after enough business lobbyists and trucking organizations held sway. The state started supplementing interstate highway projects where Federal dollars fell off. More bridges to Mexico were opened and the veins that carry the lifeblood of commerce across the state were massively upgraded. Most Texas cities dramatically expanded their ring road systems to get the heavy international freight trucks past their cities and out of commuters hair. Texas even reached for some measures considered extreme and controversial, like toll roads.
The reversal from starvation to plush spending on transportation changed the face of doing business in Texas. It made the state attractive again.
Transportation spending also poured into local systems. The City of San Antonio along with its public transit system, Via, is now reintroducing streetcar service which hasn’t existed there since the 1950s, and Houston has expanded light rail. Dallas has also added to its metro system.
In our state as our roads grow worse, snow doesn’t get plowed, bridges close and mass transit is poised to shut down, Pennsylvania has the feeling of a failed state.
Will I have to walk 4 miles to work every morning if SEPTA goes dark for me? I certainly won’t be blowing $12,000 a year on car expenses (gas, tires, insurance, trips to the mechanic, service, not to mention our infamous parking) to drive on our crappy roads.
We have one of the highest paid governors in the land, the fattest state legislative body in America with more people representing such small constituencies than any other state, and yet driving from Point A to Point B in our state is fraught with danger because we refuse to set basic priorities–like making sure Pennsylvanians can do their work and get where they need to go to live out their lives. Amazing.
I wonder where my PA income tax money goes to. Call-girl whores and cocaine prices must have gone up.
Ori Feibush is going to run in the 2015 Democratic primary to replace Kenyatta Johnson. [PhillyMag]
For once a controversial development in Point Breeze that isn’t OCF Realty. A couple weeks ago the ZBA in lightening-fast fashion denied variances for 2055 Federal Street, a multi-family development proposed by developer Reuvan Mosheyev.
After 3 public meetings with two different registered community organizations in Point Breeze, residents had repeatedly expressed their displeasure at… *gasp* condominiums. Zoned for commercial as a CMX-2 property, 2055 Federal has been a blank space in Point Breeze for years.
Making an appearance at the ZBA hearing was Dawn Chavous, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s wife who both live a block from the parcel. Mrs. Chavous testified to the ZBA that Mr. Mosheyev at the South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. meeting only communicated that the buildings he was proposing for 2055 Federal Street was for single family homes; not condominiums, nor apartments.
However the proposed use of the property, the L&I refusal for Mr. Mosheyev clearly indicated that he was building multifamily on each reconfigured parcel he was proposing.
Greg Pastore, one of the board members on the ZBA, then explained to Mrs. Chavous what CMX-2 means:
MS. CHAVOUS: I don’t really understand CMX-2.
MR. PASTORE: He can build multifamily there. What he’s asking for is not to have to put commercial there. And he’s also asking for how many units of living he can have there. And he’s also asking about — he wants to build more on the lots than he’s allowed to. Whether this is one lot, four lots or eight lots, he can’t cover the whole thing, if he wants to build on 85 percent of it, instead of, say, 75 or 80 percent.
So there’s the size-of-the-building issue. There’s the total number of units in each lot as he makes the lots. And there’s I don’t want to have commercial. But he’s allowed — he can build one large building on this with only 12, 13, 14 apartments with no parking. He could make two lots and build maybe siz unit in each one with a store and no parking. He can do four lots. He can do eight lots. I’m just letting you understand what the framework here of what his rights are.
As a special treat to PDQ’s readers who’ve never sat in a ZBA hearing before, I ordered the transcripts for you so you can see how a ZBA hearing goes for yourself. Enjoy!
Last year and this year Josh Kruger, now a columnist for Philadelphia Magazine unearthed a bizarre network of contracting used to prop up several local newspapers with cash distributions from the Sheriff’s Office for advertising services. His focus was the Philadelphia Gay News, a publication owned by the Philadelphia Multiculural Media Network.
As Sheriff Sales (or in our case, the slow pace of them) have a lot to do with how quickly or how slowly certain areas of Philadelphia can be rehabilitated, I took a look-see.
My biggest question: why is the Sheriff’s Office spending a huge amount of money to run ads in papers with such small circulations? Is that really helping attract buyers? If so, how many new buyers are as a result in paper-based advertising in these small publications? That last question we’ll probably never know the answer to because the Sheriff’s Office fights every Right-To-Know-Law request it receives.
I discovered the same thing and managed to get my hands on an actual invoice that the Sheriff had paid out for just 2 weeks of advertising (for PGN, they used to be owned by Liberty City Press, which has since renamed itself).
Now AxisPhilly has taken a look-see for themselves and have discovered the same thing: self-dealing contracting and political operatives holding their hands out for cash.
Yet another reason why the Office of the Philadelphia Sheriff should be abolished and its functions turned over to city departments that have more accountability than the Sheriff does.
Kensington Hospital, located in the Norris Square neighborhood of West Kensington, is moving their methadone treatment facility over to 2100 Front Street, which is near the Berks EL station on the Market-Frankford Line.
East Kensington Neighborhood Association, which is located near the project site, released the following zoning announcement:
On November 12th, at 6:00 PM EKNA will be having a special joint zoning meeting with Norris Square Civic Association and Hope Street Neighbors for Better Living at West Kensington Ministries Presbyterian Church, 2140 N Hancock St (corner of Susquehanna Ave).
The meeting is regarding a proposed renovation of the building at 2100 N. Front Street (corner of Diamond/Coral and Front Streets). The property owner, which is Kensington Hospital, proposes to renovate the existing building and construct a new addition to be used as a Group Practitioner Counseling and Medical Assisted Treatment (MAT) Facility whose services will include methadone dispensing and counseling. The proposed location of this facility is very close one of our high schools, Kensington CAPA, and the Berks stop, which many of these students use to get to school. Please come to the meeting to voice your opinion and any thoughts you may have on the impact of the proposed facility location on students getting to and from school safely. Neighbors who live closest to the proposed location are strongly encouraged to attend.
Many moons ago I told you about 1532 E Berks Street in Fishtown, which was a popular house for squatters given its location in trendy/safe Fishtown.
The house was put through the civil forfeiture process which is a special tool used by the Philly DA’s office to take away property that is used as a base of crime, such as narcotics, human trafficking and prostitution.
Today it’s a market rate fully-restored 2 story row home up for sale.
The likely buyer will probably be some newcomer to Philadelphia, who will be paying Wage Taxes for the first time. Maybe even living here for a spell and raising a family here, who will in turn go to school here.
And so another cog in the virtuous wheel of redevelopment churns.
No major public grant money was needed for this, no politician palm greasing (the house moved through the courts, not City Council), no lining of pockets, etc. The entire 19125 zip code, of which Fishtown is a part, is a market rate real estate area with buyers sitting on the sidelines waiting around for properties like this to become available so they can rehab them.
Wouldn’t it be nice to speed this process up and get more houses back to market like this? It sure would help our tax crisis in the city.
To repeat offenders of violent crime in Philly who are looking for their third, their fourth, or for some… their 16th chance at turning their life around, getting Judge Means is manna from heaven. You are very likely to get a very lenient sentence. Cops across the city hate him. District Attorneys employees can’t stand him.
But for the rest of us who don’t regularly get the urge to point a gun at an innocent human being (and sometimes even a pet), and pulling the trigger, Judge Means is helping boost Philly’s recidivism rates, and that directly affects ALL of us. Multiple violent offenses being rewarded with light sentences is not uncommon for Judge Means and it’s not because of sentencing guidelines, which Means routinely strays away from.
Then there’s the perfect display of Judge Means’ character: Judge Means has been slammed in the past for running a slumlording operation and using employees of the Common Pleas court to carry out tasks for him. Some of his rentals were nothing more than tenement housing with no water, no smoke alarms, nothing of the basics landlords are required by law to provide. [Inky]
When I volunteered for CeaseFirePA’s CourtWatch program — where volunteers sit through sentencing hearings for defendants convicted of gun charges — most of our court sittings were in Means’ courtroom. Waving around a gun at someone on the street? No problem. Off to parole and probation you go.
Suffice to say, out of the VERY long list of judges you’re being asked to retain next Tuesday, please remember one name: Judge Rayford Means. Vote NO.
If you’re against gun violence, vote NO.
Philadelphia will be a safer place without him. 1,000 times VOTE NO.
As AxisPhilly has recently noticed, the recent FBI investigation of activities at the Sheriff’s Office has expanded past the troubled administration of Sheriff Green.
For this post we’re going to go back into the past a little bit and showcase a very important former employee of the Sheriff’s office: former chief deputy sheriff Janet A. Pina.
Pina worked many years under Sheriff John Green as one of the most senior staff members on the Sheriff’s real estate unit and was styled as Chief Deputy Sheriff. [Fun fact: Way back in 1990 none other than Mark McDonald who is now Michael Nutter's press secretary wrote this piece mentioning Pina as well as Sheriff Green's award of no-bid contractors Reach Communications and RCS Searchers, since fired after Green left.]
In 2003 a company called The Tyler Firm, LLC was set up as a real estate services unit, established by Janet Pina and her husband Stephen Pina. Its own website (here) explains what the company does beautifully:
Janet Pina along with Patricia West (another long time ex-Sheriffs employee) combined forces to consult for the Sheriff’s office after they stopped working for the Sheriff. After John Green left, the Sheriff’s office inked a no-bid contract to do business with The Tyler Firm [AxisPhilly].
Quitting government work and going back to work as a consultant to the same employer certainly isn’t a novel concept, but it appears Pina isn’t having good luck with it.
Janet Pina’s Home Foreclosure
Pina’s financial troubles surface in 2009 when Governor’s Court Homeowners Association sued Ms. Pina and secured a judgement to the tune of $10,000 worth of fees and expenses.
In August of 2011 Wells Fargo bank filed a foreclosure suit against Stephen and Janet Pina’s home at 415 Brown Street in Northern Liberties. The bank secured a judgement for $452,306.02.
In May of 2012 the house was then listed for Sheriff’s Sale and put out to auction according to court records. Despite that, the deed is showing that possession reverted to Wells Fargo. Whether the auction failed or the Sheriff’s office actually carried out the auction isn’t known. [Law.com]
The Tyler Firm Gets Evicted From Its Headquarters
Just 11 days after Wells Fargo starts foreclosure on the Pina’s residence in Northern Liberties, the landlord leasing space to the Tyler Firm sues and secures a judgement against the company and Janet Pina. (below)
It’s in this suit that reveals Janet Pina has moved The Tyler Firm into her new apartment in the historic Alden Park apartment manors in Germantown. Further lawsuits involving Pina then start pointing to the Germantown address from then on.
IRS and PA Revenue Department Start Slapping Pina With Liens
In January of 2010 the PA Department of Revenue hit Stephen and Janet Pina for $6000 in tax liens on their personal state income tax returns.
Then in 2010, not long after Pina was sued by her homeowner’s association, the IRS slaps her with a $42,000 income tax lien against her 2007 and 2008 tax returns.
And earlier this year in May the IRS hit Pina again for another $40,000. Ouch.
Usually when someone sets up a line of contracting work with their former employer and builds a business model around that it’s a pretty lucrative deal. But it appears for Pina that she got swept up in the wave of Great Recession bank foreclosures that swallowed up and spat out distressed homeowners.
That’s kind of ironic given that Janet Pina’s former job and her self-made company specialized in handling those very same foreclosures.