“Councilmanic privilege” is one of Philadelphia’s most insidious traditions. The unwritten law means, essentially, that council members can bend the law/ zoning code and let their supporters/ donors/ friends do or build whatever they please in their districts, regardless of what the community wants. The rest of City Council generally rubber-stamps whatever a district member wants to do in their own district, in a nod to this “privilege.”
The new land bank legislation that council is considering, which is a great idea on its face, threatens to write into law the privilege that’s already facilitated so much pay-to-play and abuse in the city’s history (Frank DiCiccio and Donna Reed Miller, both now departed from council, were especially notorious for trampling on constituent hopes and dreams to push through their own favored projects).
The legislation would make a one-stop shop for people or groups who want to acquire vacant land– currently the process is a tangled mess of agencies and regulations– and in theory give control back to the community over how to use and reclaim all the dilapidated, overgrown and nasty lots that are currently infested with rats, soiled mattresses, construction rubble and needles– NOT a good place for your kids to play. Groups could turn the eyesores into parks, or gardens, or low-income housing, or profitable developments.
Buuuuuttt . . . As the bill is currently written, district council members get final say as to how land can be distributed. Full stop. Really want that land? Better start sucking up/ writing campaign checks now.
A representative of one North Philly non-profit that was trying to acquire a parcel told me last year that a staff member in Darrell “Skid Mark” Clarke’s office straight up told him that he might be able to set up a meeting with the councilman about it, if the individual or non-profit made a campaign donation. The fact that the individual steadfastly refused to go on record with the story is a reflection of council members’ already Sauron-like powers in their districts– piss them off and you will never, ever get what you want.
Remember, Council threw a shit-fit two years ago when then-RDA Director Terry Gillen suggested that they were impeding the process of distributing parcels.
If the land bank bill passes as currently written, district council members’ grip on the land in their districts would be codified forever and ever. Oh well.
There is still time to revise the bill.