This popped into the PDQ inbox from the Melissa For Mayor campaign…

PHILADELPHIA – In regards to the PPA calling on UberX to pay them $300,000 in unpaid fines, I understand that they are only doing their job. Unfortunately in this case, the law of Pennsylvania is the problem, not UberX.  I am calling on the State Senate to pass Bill 984 to authorize ride-sharing in all of PA, and the PPA to waive the fines once this occurs.  Innovations like UberX not only provide safer and more affordable transportation options for people in under-served [sic*] minority areas, but they also have provided over 12,000 jobs to Philadelphians with the majority of spots being filled by those that find it hard to get into the job market and Philadelphians looking to supplement their income like teachers, graphic designers and other entrepreneurs chasing their dreams. We are a Nation of laws, but when a law is wrong we must not ignore it, we must fight to change it.

In essence, Team Melissa is correct (but that 12,000 jobs part…  ¿Que?).   The Philadelphia Parking Authority just today announced a $300,000 fine smackdown on the UberX version of the car sharing “is it a cab?” service. [PhillyVoice]

The Parking Authority considers Uber Black, the more expensive Uber service, as a legitimate private limousine service.  UberX however is considered by the Authority as a taxi cab service, and to play in that space one must have a cab tags and a medallion stamped on the hood of the car.  Since the service entered the Philadelphia market, the Authority has been on a hunt to get UberX to comply with current law.

But, when the law doesn’t fit UberX, maybe changing the law will.  Statewide support for UberX and Lyft seems to be popular, so there might be a chance that a legal fix might have a shot and end the feud between PPA and the car share.    City Council certainly legalized AirBNB in a hurry, so that’s a good omen.

Even more significant about Team Melissa’s announcement today is who controls the Parking Authority.  In his first year as mayor, John Street lost control of the agency when former Republican state Representative John Perzel engineered a coup to take the agency away in 2001.   Its executive director is Vincent Fenerty, Republican leader of the 31st ward, with other Republicans on its board.

This is certainly a signal that PPA isn’t really interested in playing a cat and mouse game with car sharers.   Its mission statement also doesn’t mandate that the cost of a medallion should be astronomically high, either.  Perhaps with UberX and Lyft, medallion prices might come down.


*:  Typo correction.

Squatting in London is a tradition that goes back centuries
Squatting in London is a tradition that goes back centuries

Squatting in empty houses is not anything new, certainly not in Philadelphia.  It’s a tradition in London that goes back centuries.   Leave your office building empty for a minute and poof, anarchist squatters magically appear like roaches.

Squatting in Philly however is less about young unemployed and foreign emigrants trying to find a foothold in one of the world’s most expensive cities.   It functions as Philly’s shadow housing system.  Nobody has an accurate estimate of how many there are in Philly, but with well over 20,000 vacant properties in Philadelphia, many of them still have a building on them, the numbers of squatters are in the thousands.

Just a couple days ago I helped out PhillyMag‘s Victor Fiorillo out with his article covering the case of the estate of Kernie Anderson, the former general manager of radio stations WDAS and WURD-FM.   Anderson’s own Victorian has been taken over by squatters.  And mayor Michael Nutter lives just around the corner.  That’s gotta suck.

I’ve dealt with the problem enough times to learn what the ropes are and in this post I’ll share them with you.   If you own an unoccupied property–you better take my warnings. Because if you don’t, you will pay thousands.

Want to Squat in a Home?   Here’s how…

First:  Scope out an empty house.    It can be any house, but it should be quite empty.  For weeks.   Which means you need to visit the place frequently, especially on the neighborhood’s trash day, to see if any trash is being put out.   Get a peek in the windows, check the mail, all that.   You certain it’s gonna be empty?  Good.

Now:  Break in to the house.    This starts the clock on a two to three week period where you’re vulnerable to getting thrown out.  As you stay longer and do the right things, you will be insulated from the police and if the property owner ever does turn up, you’ll be immune from being thrown out.   Yeah, technically this is burglary.  The police could get called.

The Lay-Low Period:  This and the next few weeks is when you’re most likely to be thrown out.  So in order to have that not happen:

  • Be absolutely quiet when you’re inside the house.  No TV, no radio, no loud music, no parties.   Cover the windows so nobody knows you’re there.  Be invisible.
  • Come/go at night, preferably out of the view of neighbors until you can get the locks changed
  • Don’t put out any trash.  Not for a few weeks, anyway.   That’s just a beacon that tells neighbors you’re there.
  • No drama.   If you’re the sort who gets lots of visits by the police and you can’t keep your shit together and stay on the DL during your 2-to-3 week lay-low period, you’re gonna lose the house.   Just try to avoid any human contact for a month, and don’t tell your friends where you are so they come visit you on your steps.
  • Don’t deal drugs.    If you sell/buy drugs, do it far far away from the house.  You’ll attract the attention of neighbors who may report it to the police.   Actually, you want to avoid doing this entirely because even after you can fake some proof that you live there, you’re still vulnerable.    I’ve managed to get squatters tossed even after they’ve been in a house for months.   The drug dealing and police visits helped motivate law enforcement to get rid of them.

Fake Your Way to Ownership:   The key to staying in your squat is getting through the time it takes to establish some documents that fake that you live there.  At minimum a Comcast bill should do it, but you should also try to get all the utilities hooked up, in your name, with the house address on the bill.

The reason why you need to do this is so you can show some method of proof to the cops that “you live there” (technically, you are living there, but you have no lease and the house is not yours).   The Philadelphia Police Department will go away the moment you show them a bill, a fake lease or a fake deed with your name and address on it.   If you can get your state ID card or driver’s license changed, that’s even better.   That’s solid gold.

Invariably, the owner may turn up, pick a fight with you and then call the cops.  The owner can do nothing, and the cops will even threaten the upset owner if the owner gets carried away about it.   Meanwhile, the cops can do nothing to you because you now have pieces of paper that say you live there.  It’s great, isn’t it?

Court:  If the owner is determined to get control over their property back, the owner will need to sue you and request two things:  A writ of execution after the owner proves to the court that they are in-fact the owner, and then a writ of ejectment, which is an order to the Sheriff of Philadelphia to do a forcible removal of you.   You will know way ahead of time that an ejectment is coming if you read the mail being delivered to the house.

Most owners will have to hire an attorney and then pay some hefty fees to the Sheriff in order to get an ejectment processed.   This takes at least three months from start to finish but it can take much longer than that.    If you know the owner is headed down that road, that gives you plenty of time to find the next squat and repeat the process.

Do you own an empty property and want to protect yourself from this foolishness?   This is how:

In order to prevent the squatting cycle from hitting your investment property you will need to do three things:

  • Install a wireless security system
  • Keep the electric connected to the property
  • Put the alarm company’s stickers on every window of every floor of the building

You can have the gas and the water shut off if the property is fallow, but whatever you do, you need to have a wireless security system installed, and most of them are these days, and you need power to keep the system running.

Your wireless system needs to have sensors installed on every opening of the house, on every floor.  Rear windows.  Side windows.  Basement windows.   Every door.  Install motion sensors to observe the staircases of the house.

When you arm the system, make sure it’s set to No Entry Delay.   This means the base unit will contact the alarm company the instant a sensor is tripped.   Put the base unit in a location somewhere in the middle of the house, preferably on an upper floor unless you have a skylight, then it should probably go in the basement [squatters love to remove skylights to get in].  The base unit will have sent the alarm trip signal to the alarm company long before the squatter can find the base unit and try to destroy it.    It’s your choice on whether to have the base unit make a noise when it trips.   If it makes noise, maybe that will scare the squatter away.   If you set it to silent alarm mode, the squatter will likely not know it’s there and tripped and will probably still be in the house by the time the police arrive.

Police calls to alarm trips are triaged as a Priority 1 call.   (Priority 0 is officer assistance / shots fired).   Response time on an alarm trip in some police districts can be up to two hours depending on what district you’re in and what time of the week.   Either way, your alarm company will call you immediately and you can return to the property to inspect it yourself.

By having an alarm system set to trip at the first instant of entry, this gives you the opportunity to react and get the police out and remove whoever is in the property before they transition from burglar->squatter, which is about three weeks time.    At the moment of entry, police will still believe that the person who just broke in is a burglar, because that’s what they are.   When a burglar doesn’t leave because they’re taking the property—that’s when they become a squatter and the police will do absolutely nothing.

I have confronted Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey about this oddity with squatters and his advice is the same as mine:  if you get the police out immediately after break-in, we can get rid of them.

If you ignore it, you won’t alarm your house and you won’t circle around to check up on it every week–you can wind up with a squatter.   And you will be so, so fucked.  You’ll be trying to play musical chairs with the utility companies getting one service shut off while the squatter tries to get another turned on.   You’ll lose your mind.  And no one will be able to help you but the courts, which will set you back at least $1,000 on up.

So, get your investment property alarmed unless you just love dealing with squatters and setting your money on fire.

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Bok Technical High School was the gem of the New Deal-era of Great Spending under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Art Deco monolith was built to bring vocational skills to new adults in South Philly
The Depression-era Art Deco monolith was built to bring vocational skills to new adults in South Philly

Built under a grant from the Public Works Administration, the massive Art Deco castle was meant to guarantee that every child living near 8th and Mifflin would graduate from high school with direct marketable and employable skills; mainly in the building trades.

But after a 75-year run, the School District of Philadelphia was ready to give Bok up because of the huge plant maintenance costs to keep the building maintained and fully heated.  As newcomer parents tend to avoid the School District of Philadelphia wherever possible, family sizes are less than half of what they once were at the time Bok was built, and charterization of the school district has led many District kids to flee into the hands of charter school operators and Bok’s capital costs only increasing over time with fewer students, the SDP put Bok on the chopping block.

Under the 2013 round of public school closures, the vast floors have sat empty.  The SDP then sold Bok off for a cool $2.1MM to eccentric proprietor Lindsey Scannapieco, daughter to Rittenhouse condo builder Tom Scannapieco.   Lindsey has spent several years in London at a design firm that specializes in reinventing old spaces.   Obviously the future of Bok will involve something that’s going to cater to the creative classers–the ones who would be foolhearty enough to pay enough rents into the building to maintain the massive ancient plant systems in the basement needed to heat what amounts to  two city blocks of space compressed into one building.

Yes, a “makerspace“.

Le Bok Fin [PhillyMag cred: Michelle Gustafson]
Le Bok Fin [PhillyMag cred: Michelle Gustafson]
While Scannapieco has been trying to figure out how to repurpose the space she has opened “Le Bok Fin”, an homage name to the former kitchen at Bok Technical, which itself was a pun to the famous (now shuttered) restaurant of the Philly upper-crust, Le Bec Fin.   As it is on the roof of Bok, the space offers a stunning panoply of South Philly rooftops leading to the sharp peaks of Center City.  View-wise, it’s the urban version of the Teton Mountains few get to experience.   And no one did until the highly popular pop-up came into being.

Now here’s where we go into the bizarre.  Almost predictably, this disastrous hyperbolic-infused screed against the repurposement of Bok and everything wrong with society-in-one-blog-post gets penned and published to Teachadelphia by Kayla Conklin.

Conklin screws up everything ‘wrong’ with Bok by:

  • Completely ignoring how and why the school was built in the first place (and who paid for it)
  • Ignoring the legacy capital costs that led to Bok being put on the SDP’s shortlist of school closures
  • That Bok attendance had declined significantly enough by the time of closure that all the students were swallowed up by Southern.  The technical vocation programs at Bok were relocated.
  • Blaming the whole thing on white people who have jobs

In fact, Teachadelphia has been on a tear lately with multiple ‘Bok is teh terribles!’ trolldom over the last several of its articles.

In essence, this is classic nonsensical SJW tripe.

Conklin herself appears on a BillyPenn listicle of “16 young teachers and leaders shaping education in Philly”.   There, she’s described as a “9th grade English teacher at Esperanza Academy Charter High School” [emphasis mine].

Now we have arrived at the core irony of her Bok pieces.

As Conklin is completely oblivious to local history and how Bok came to be closed in the first place, I’ll provide a rough timeline from memory:

  • June 22, 1997:  Pennsylvania enacts the Charter School Act.  One of the first pioneers of the alternative school administration method, it’s touted as a solution to the systemic and intractible failures of central district systems.   Intended for Philadelphia and adopted by a few other Pennsylvania counties, the law allows private entities to contract with the state and local districts to own and operate schools.
  • February 1998: Facing what was a severe deficit, the School District Superintendent David Hornbeck threatens to shut the School District of Philadelphia unless Harrisburg restores state aid funding to levels not seen since 1975 when the District reached peak population.  The move shocks state legislators who are met with waves of panic by angry constituents.  By April, Harrisburg legislators responded with a lightening fast maneuver to strip the school district away from the City of Philadelphia.  This sparks a deep legal battle between the City and the Commonwealth.
  • 2001:  Legal fighting between the City and Harrisburg finally ends and the City cedes control over the school district to the state.
  • 2001-2011:  The following decade sees several rapid bursts of charter school contracting, most notably during the 2005-2006 period.   Charters are seen by many inner city parents as a solution to intractable violence issues at their local schools as charter operators offload some of the burdens of legal liability and are offered more room to control discipline.   Charter funding causes more vacancies to form at District schools while legacy costs remain, making District closure an inevitability.
  • 2007-2008 – While the City has been able to enjoy some revenue growth from 6 years of a condo building boom, property tax revenues start to fall statewide, due to the effects of foreclosure, particularly across middle-class neighborhoods like East and West Oak Line, Mayfair and Tacony.   The Commonwealth also tightens up and state funding does not increase.
  • 2011-2012 – Facing job loss, attrition, population shifts, calcified plant costs and legal bills, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia dramatically retracts its school system offerings and embarks on an ambitious program of real estate sales, leading up to the sale of the megaplex campus of Cardinal Dougherty High School.  This provides a blueprint for the SDP who is also planning on massive closures.
  • 2013 – In one of the largest consolidations in the District’s history, the SDP embarks on a massive school closure spree, shuttering 24 schools, including Bok in a bid to slash capital and plant maintenance costs.

What’s done the SDP in, and took Bok with it, has been a perennial lack of stable revenue that local property taxes are simply not going to buttress.  Real estate is a good revenue source, but it’s not symptom-free and in poor districts like ours with a worst-in-the-nation tax collection record, we rely on state handouts which have never flourished.

When Harrisburg took ownership of the system which removed direct local management of the district it lifted the visibility of the state delegation that Philadelphia sends to represent itself in Harrisburg.   That opportunity has not produced much, save for some state pols like Senator Anthony Williams who are effectively circus fairground attractions who dote on parents and look like they care, but have been administering and brokering this failure for years by boosting charterization of the District, a process that has been financially destructive to the District’s balance sheet despite the unquantifiable blessings that the charter school cheerleaders champion.

What’s sad is that Conklin’s dystopian myopia is warped by simple-minded social justice classicism and unawareness of the facts I’ve outlined leading up to Bok’s closure.  She then she takes her venom out on unsuspecting white hipsters chugging Genny Cream Ale in former school desks on Bok’s rooftop, as if they somehow must be rejoicing in Bok’s catharsis and are somehow directly responsible for its fall; like hipsters must have devised this as some strategically-placed landmine in the Gentrification Wars.  Conklin even takes some time out in the comments to rail against dog parks.  Sigh.  She doesn’t get it.

Something tells me Conklin’s rage could just as easily be transmuted into joy if she was told the building was being repuposed into affordable housing.   Or perhaps a dildo factory that hires locals.  Anything but white people eating arugula salads.

As far as redeveloping Bok, there’s at least some good news in state case law.   In 2014 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard a zoning case over the shuttered Nativity BVM school in Port Richmond which will certainly be a legal template for any future repurposement of these dead city-block-sized behemoths that are in dire need of a new life.

In the BVM case the entire project to repurpose the shuttered Catholic elementary school into senior apartments was held up by one neighbor over a single street parking spot.

After the appeal was sustained in Commonwealth and then reversed in Pennsylvania’s highest court, any zoning attorney that would be advising Scannapieco right now might want to keep that case handy in the fan file.

While it’s difficult to live next to such large single-purpose buildings built in an era when owning cars was a luxury, there’s not many car-free uses that could come to Bok to completely re-use the building, short of imploding the place and turning it into a paid surface lot.

The community as a whole will have to deal with Bok’s 75 year history as an urban city school being over.   That might not mean that education will never be a use that’s inside the building.   No community is meant to live encased in amber for all eternity.

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This is really, really sad.

I coined a phrase over ten years ago:  “There are three political parties in this town:  The DCC, the FBI, and the IRS.”

The DCC is the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee… the organization which has ruled this town since 1952, where its official homepage looks like some sh*tty 1997-esque GeoCities website.  It’s a political cesspit.

Here’s a list from my memory of DCC candidates who have been investigated, indicted, charged, forcibly-resigned or pled guilty within the last few years.  I’m sure I left out a few since there’s just so, so many of them:

NEW!  Democratic District Attorney Seth Williams – Is now under investigation by the FBI and the IRS for his campaign finance expenditures.

Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah – Currently under indictment for racketeering charges related to a scheme to repay a campaign loan he took out in 2007 to run for mayor of Philadelphia and also pay off his son’s college debts.   His son, “Chip” Jr. is also under indictment and awaits trial.

Democratic State Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery – Nicknamed “Famous Seamus”, he was the first Philly cop ever to become a high-ranking judge and made his mark in history presiding over “Eagles Court’ in the old Veterans Stadium which was the former home of the Philadelphia Eagles.   Apparently being a mook was in his DNA because at his advanced age he was still forwarding porn throughout the state law enforcement community like some dirty uncle.  He resigned the bench in disgrace after four of his colleagues decided to vote him off Supreme Court Island.

Democratic State Attorney General Kathleen Kane – Currently under indictment for leaking secret grand jury testimony.

Democratic Sheriff of Philadelphia John Green – After three Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office employees pled guilty to fraud and an investigation launched by the City Controller’s office, the Sheriff after 23 years in office rapidly resigned and took his pension with him.   Later, under current Sheriff Jewell Williams, the office is raided by the FBI.   A forensic audit reveals that the Sheriff’s Office improperly distributes funds.  Current civil suits underway against Sheriff Williams indicates that the practice continues.

Democratic State Senator Leanna WashingtonPled guilty to conflict of interest charges.  In a vary rare event in this city, Washington was defeated in her re-election because her district represents part of Montgomery County as well as Philadelphia.   She is famous for shouting at a staffer: “I am the f—ing senator […] I do what I want” when her behavior came into question.   In response to her attitude, her suburban voters turned out in droves to get rid of her [Philadelphians tried to vote her back in and failed].

Democratic State Representative Michelle Brownlee – Pled guilty to conflict of interest accepting cash for favors.

Democratic Traffic Court Judge William Singletary – Pled guilty:  Perjury.  Was banned from the bench for showing “the judicial penis” to a court employee, and was also ticket fixing (acquitted of that).

Democratic Traffic Court Judge Fortunado Perri, Sr. – Pled guilty to wire and mail fraud.

Democratic Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes – Pled guilty to perjury which also included a separate investigation over accepting this really fugly Tiffany bracelet valued at $2,000.   Seriously, who wears that?

Democratic Traffic Court Judge Robert MulgrewPled guilty to wire and mail fraud.

Democratic State Representative J.P. MirandaPled guilty to putting a “ghost employee” on the state payroll.

Democratic State Representative Ron WatersPled guilty to nine counts of conflict of interest accepting cash for favors.

Democratic State Representative and Democratic Ward Leader Harold JamesPled guilty to conflict of interest accepting cash for favors.

In the last five years, what’s the Philly Republican bodycount?  One.

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