Two firefighters were killed and two others seriously injured while fighting to control a massive five-alarm inferno in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.
The firemen were killed when the ceiling and a wall collapsed inside a furniture store that was burning at Boston Street and Kensington Avenue. They have been identified as Lt. Robert Neary, 60, and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, 25. Both men were attached to Ladder 10 of the Philadelphia Fire Department.
“It is with profound sadness that I announce the deaths of two of Philadelphia firefighters who perished early this morning in the line of duty during a five alarm fire,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “These firefighters made the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Philadelphia. This is a tremendous loss for their families and the city of Philadelphia. My prayers go out to their families and to the Philadelphia Fire Department, whose members have lost two of their brothers.
“My thoughts also go out to the firefighters and the families of those who were injured in the line of duty this morning. We are grateful that they are receiving the top medical care available. Our first responders — our firefighters, police officers and paramedics — are our heroes and make unimaginable sacrifices each and every day for the citizens of Philadelphia. I would like to thank them for their service, and our hearts go out to those who have lost their colleagues and friends.”
According to Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, the fire started inside a warehouse at East York and Jasper Streets at 3:13 a.m. Because of the high winds and dry conditions, the blaze quickly escalated to a 5-alarm inferno that spread to six houses and the Giamari Furniture Store. The fire was declared under control around 5:15 a.m.
"We have two firefighters that lost their lives," said a shaken Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers. Ayers said that Neary and Sweeney were with three other firefighters were inside battling the peripheral blaze when the ceiling of the store and a wall collapsed. It took almost two hours to dig the injured personnel out. "We're asking for prayers for the families. We’re getting a lot of support. Just as we serve our citizens, right now they’re serving us.”
As the fire engulfed the warehouse, high winds blew hot embers to six nearby houses, causing damage but fortunately, no further deaths or injuries. The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania was on hand and offered comfort and assistance to the displaced local residents.
According to a statement released by the firefighters’ union, Neary had 38 years with the Philadelphia Fire Department after serving three years in the Philadelphia Police Department. He leaves behind a wife, Diane and three adult children, Robert, Christopher and Dianne.
Sweeney, according to the union statement, joined the fire department in 2006, and is the son of a retired Philadelphia fire captain, David Sweeney. He was unmarried.
Seriously injured by the fire were firefighters Francis Chaney, 43, and Patrick Nally, 25. Chaney is an eight-year veteran of the department and Nally has served five years. Both were listed in stable condition, and Nally was released.
Hoping to pressure gun makers into voluntarily adopting certain gun safety measures, Mayor Michael Nutter this week said he is urging the city’s pension board to divest from companies that don’t formally adopt a standard code of “corporate conduct.”
“We deserve better and more importantly we can do better,” Nutter said, noting that he advocated for stronger gun laws, but that wasn’t enough. “We can’t wait. One of the most effective ways to make our voices heard is through our investments.”
Nutter made the announcement Tuesday at City Hall, where he also unveiled what he called the “Sandy Hook Principles.” It was list of 20 principles that ranged from requiring a national database of gun owners, stopping the sale and manufacture and conversion of assault weapons for sale to civilians, controls on sale to straw purchasers, restrictions on the sale of ammunition to including a serial number in four different locations on each weapon.
The idea, Nutter said, was based on the principles developed by Leon L. Sullivan, whose concepts pioneered in the fight against apartheid when many municipalities and institutional investors put pressure on the government of South Africa to end apartheid by refusing to do business with the country.
“We are proposing a code of corporate conduct based on common sense principals that Congress, institutions and many of the American people can agree on,” he said. “Corporations in the firearms business will be asked to adhere to these principles or risk losing investments.”
Calls to a local chapter of the Friends of the National Rifle Association were referred to the national headquarters. Repeated phone calls, made Tuesday and Wednesday, to the organization’s headquarters were answered with a recorded message that said all circuits were busy.
The mayor’s announcement comes a month after the shootings in Newtown, Conn. in which 26 people – 20 elementary school students and six adults – were killed. The deaths, at the hands of one man armed with an assault weapon, has provoked a national debate over gun control. Nutter made his proposal just one day before President Barack Obama announced his own measures.
According to Nutter, city Solicitor Shelley Smith will formally introduce his proposal at the pension board’s meeting next week.
If it’s adopted, pension fund officials will require companies in which the city invests to be notified of the requirement, and respond in writing with an endorsement of the principles and pledge to abide by them. If they don’t, the city will end its investment, Nutter said.
Philadelphia has an estimated $9 million invested in companies that do business involving firearms and ammunition – largely in retail and related businesses. It has no direct investment in firearms manufacturers or ammunition makers.
In addition to urging the city’s pension board to adopt his proposal, Nutter said he would use his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to push the idea in other cities as well. The national conference meets Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Washington, D.C.
He also hopes to coax other large pension funds, like the one administered by the teachers’ union and those associated with universities and other institutional investors, to divest too.
“I am asking all cities, states, transit systems, schools, colleges, hedge fund and pension fund managers, venture capital funds and all other organizations that hold investments with private corporations to review the Sandy Hook principles and consider their adoptions,” he said.
The mayor, long a gun control advocate, put his idea in a larger context, detailing the number of gun deaths across the nation since the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King. According to the mayor’s statistics, one million people have been killed with guns since that time. Since the shooting at Newtown, 900 people across the country have been killed by guns and in Philadelphia last year 331 were killed – 281 of them by guns.
Attorney General Eric Holder was in Philadelphia yesterday to announce a Department of Justice strategy that applies federal agents and technology to assist local law enforcement in targeting and taking down some of the city’s worst criminals.
The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership is a joint effort by the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Personnel from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service have also been working with local law enforcement to strategically target the city’s most violent criminals. Holder said that last month law enforcement authorities from the federal agencies began a “surge” to fight and prevent crime throughout the city.
As of Tribune press time, there have been 196 murders in the city; most of them directly attributed to gun violence.
“Despite the fact that the national violent crime rate has continued its downward trend, a number of major cities across the country — including Philadelphia — have experienced alarming increases in the number of homicides over the past year,” Holder said. “In response, the Department of Justice has developed a new initiative — known as the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership — to help target federal resources to areas in need of additional support. Early last month, more than 50 federal law enforcement officials — including agents, investigators and intelligence analysts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the United States Marshals Service; and representatives of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division — began a four-month surge of federal law enforcement resources in order to prevent and combat violent and drug-related crime across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.”
The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership came into being on June 4. Over a period of six weeks, the Partnership has made more than 300 arrests for violent crimes, drugs, illegal firearms and other offenses. The Partnership personnel have been using advanced technology to build intelligence on different crime organizations operating in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.
“Already, our agents have helped apprehend dangerous fugitives, investigate armed robberies, gather and process valuable intelligence, and bring criminals to justice,” Holder said. “They’ve deployed new, state-of-the-art equipment to support ballistics identification in gun-related crimes. And in the coming months — as they continue to work alongside, and reinforce relationships with key local partners like many of the leaders in this room — their activities will help to refine an innovative public safety approach that is beginning to show signs of tremendous promise.”
Last month $3 million in COPS grants were allocated to Philadelphia to hire 25 more police officers. Mayor Nutter said the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership represents the next step in the joint effort to make the streets of the city safer.
“The Violent Crime Reduction Partnership is the next stage in efforts by local and federal law enforcement to target the most violent offenders in our city and bring them to justice,” Nutter said. “We are grateful for the partnership and the support of the attorney general as we work together to make Philadelphia safer. To the violent criminals hiding in our city, I’m telling you, we are coming after you, we will find you. Your hiding days are over.”
Today marks the official opening of the Jon Paul Hammond Public Computer Center at Prevention Point offices.
Philadelphia FIGHT, an AIDS service organization, will host a ribbon cutting ceremony today at 11 a.m. at Prevention Point, located at 166 West Lehigh Avenue.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez and members of the AIDS service community are expected to join in the celebration.
Philadelphia FIGHT is one of thirteen local agencies and educational institutions participating in the program led by the city of Philadelphia’s Division of Technology and the Urban Affairs Coalition.
The computer centers were made possible through $18.2 million in grant funding from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (B-TOP).
The program is designed to provide broadband Internet access, computers and training to the most economically and socially vulnerable areas of the city. In total, 77 public computer centers will be created and 15,000 individuals will be trained in how to use computers thanks to the citywide initiative.
“This partnership will help more residents develop valuable digital literacy and workforce skills so they can remain competitive in today's 21st Century economy,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter.
“We thank Philadelphia FIGHT for partnering with the city to make valuable resources and services available to residents directly in the heart of communities across Philadelphia. Through this initiative, residents, particularly those in less advantaged neighborhoods, will have an opportunity to enhance their ability to work toward a better quality of life.”
Philadelphia FIGHT’s Critical Path Project has over 15 years of experience addressing the digital divide and serving citizens who do not have the resources in their own homes to access the Internet. For its part, FIGHT will expand the computer lab and staffing in its AIDS Library, Institute for Community Justice, and Youth Health Empowerment Project. FIGHT will also assist in creating or enhancing computer centers at 27 of the 77 locations, including shelters and drug recovery houses where FIGHT currently makes HIV counseling and testing available.
The new site contains five computers and is open to the public Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m. Classes take place at various times and include lessons in basic computing skills, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, digital storytelling, and blogging as well as FIGHT’s signature workshops “Finding Health Information Online” and “Finding HIV/AIDS Information Online.”
For information about computer classes, call (215) 634-5272.
It was billed as “The Philadelphia Story,” but the narrative took a different turn.
To be sure, Philadelphia state senators Vincent Hughes and Anthony Hardy Williams did turn up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for a discussion of “Natural Gas and Public Opinion” in a workshop at the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s recent conference, “Shale Gas Insight 2012.”
But although the Coalition’s stated intention in bringing its second annual conference here was to acquaint Philadelphians with how the Marcellus energy boom benefits the whole state, much of the “Philadelphia Story” conversation centered on the efforts of a senator from the other end of the Commonwealth, Tim Solobay, to convince Philadelphia’s legislative delegation to support Gov. Tom Corbett’s bill authorizing “local impact fees” to support counties where drillers are working the booming energy development reshaping Appalachia’s economy.
The fees, since authorized by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, produced $197 million for the Commonwealth by early September, and are expected to top $206 million by year’s end. Portions of the state’s share of that money are to be distributed to municipalities across the Commonwealth, including Philadelphia.
Workshop moderator Solobay, whose 46th District spreads over parts of Allegheny, Beaver, Washington and Westmoreland counties and all of Greene County, had invited Hughes and Williams out to see for themselves what life was like in the poorer communities of Southwest Pennsylvania as the natural-gas boom ramped up. For the Philadelphians, that was an eye-opener. New approaches to hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” in common parlance — have brought accelerating development of Marcellus Shale resources, taking Pennsylvania from the bottom rank of natural-gas-producing states to near the top, second only to Texas, by the end of 2011.
Learning on the front lines
“I started out largely hearing about ‘fracking’ through documentaries and news reports,” Williams said. “I was not persuaded so much by Governor Corbett as by the real-life stories of people living in the ‘wasteland’ of Western Pennsylvania. I looked at the poverty in those communities and the jobs being produced, and that, more than anything else, persuaded me to support the impact fee.
“I voted ‘Yes,’ and got pilloried on billboards,” Williams said. But looking at what he saw — especially the rapid economic developments in communities that had been desperate pockets of unemployment and poverty — Williams was convinced it was the right thing to do.
“This, I think frankly, is one of Pennsylvania’s defining moments,” Williams said. “I think the news here (in Philadelphia) is dominated by narrow-band communications from people who think solar energy is the alternative energy source. But we are a Northeastern city.” He understood the environmentalists’ concerns about fracking and the potential of spills contaminating water supplies, Williams said, but in his mind, those dangers are “no different from the consequences of coal.
“To lead the country to miss this size of an opportunity,” Williams said, “is frankly irresponsible. This source of energy will have a positive effect. The benefits outweigh the negatives.”
Environment not neglected
“This is not an industry that’s looking for public relations nightmares,” Solobay said. The pipeline rights of way, and the well-pads they (gas producers) develop are creating wildlife habitat” as part of the developments, Solobay said. “This industry is probably more friendly to the environment than the people protesting realize.”
Perusal of the Shale Gas Insight Conference program booklet reveals that not only the Coalition’s daylong pre-conference meetings, but 15 workshops and presentations — half of all the regular conference sessions — were focused on environmental protection, safety, and regulatory concerns. One telling revelation was that, although shale formations are being drilled and fracked in many states, beginning with Texas’ Barnett Shale in 1985 and continuing with the Haynesville Shale spread across several Southwestern states, Pennsylvania is the only state where the gas producers are using special treatment plants to clean up the chemically treated fracking fluid once it flows back up the well bore, and re-using it to frack new wells.
Talking, but not listening
The protesters outside the Convention Center, arguing with arriving conference attendees about potential harm to Pennsylvania’s drinking water supplies, but with no representatives listening to the presentations inside, missed out on their opportunity for a full-bore discussion of whether the energy companies’ efforts actually were as well worked-out as the environmentalists would like.
State Sen. Hughes agreed with his western Pennsylvania colleague.
“We’ve got to move forward, helping people understand what shale gas means,” Hughes said. Getting the impact fee bill passed “was a pretty tumultuous process, especially here in Southeast Pennsylvania.
“Solobay said, ‘I want you to come out here and just see what this thing is all about’,” Hughes said. “I took him up on it — he did not believe I had jeans and work boots, but I did. Solobay put together a program so we could see up close — to the executives and the people on the ground. We shared and dialogued, and it opened my eyes in a number of different ways,” Hughes said. At dinner one night, people there asked, ‘why is there this contention?’ People in Southwest Pennsylvania experience this industry in their lives. In Southeast Pennsylvania, people don’t get a chance to touch it.”
Effects seen in utility rates
Solobay, for his part, noted that natural gas prices have fallen because of the Marcellus Shale development, producing a 48 percent decline in PGW rates. The availability of so much fuel, Solobay said, was cutting the cost of electric power across the state as well as cutting gas bills.
State Sen. Hughes said his experiences in the western part of the state had made him want to become more knowledgeable about the new energy boom.
“Not until you have that on-the-ground experience (do) you come to see what it means,” he said. We have to have an engaged conversation, and a thoughtful conversation,” Hughes said. “We (Southeast Pennsylvania) are 50 percent of the state’s economy,” he told Solobay. “You can’t ignore us. There’s always going to be a back-and-forth conversation about environmental issues, but the idea of getting people engaged is important.
“Southeast Pennsylvania has to be part of the enterprise, and not just users of the product.”
Not enough local leaders
That point might have been more easily made if more of Philadelphia’s community and government leaders been involved in the shale conference. Gov. Corbett spoke to a packed opening session at Shale Insight 2012, the second conference the gas producers have held in Philadelphia, but his audience was almost entirely made up of well drillers and pipeline builders, contractor companies of various kinds — some 300 counted on the exhibit floor — and representatives of law firms, investor groups and their business associates.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter spoke before another opening session, on the second day of the shale gas conference, but was not involved in its major workshop sessions. Ditto for Philadelphia’s City Council members, many of whom continue to express concern about the risks inherent in the use of chemically treated water — in large amounts — to “frack” underground rock formations to free up natural gas for harvesting. Their distrust has not been addressed.
Growth expected here as well
Several conference speakers, including Corbett, pointed to the Carlyle Group’s rescue of Sunoco’s South Philadelphia refinery, with its plans for a new, Marcellus Shale-gas-fired, 100-megawatt co-generator, new equipment to refine natural gas into petrochemical feedstocks, plastics and synthetic fibers, etc., as well as upgraded oil refining equipment to boost the refinery’s output of low-sulfur diesel fuel, which it exports to other countries.
That development, as well as the recently announced plans to bring 100-car trainloads of Utica Shale petroleum from Eastern Ohio to the Sunoco refinery and shale oil from Colorado and North Dakota also, will re-energize Philadelphia’s chemical manufacturing base. With more trainloads of North American oil headed for Delta Airline’s Trainer, Pa., refinery — and with still other trainloads of natural gas already rolling to Marcus Hook for processing and export to Caribbean countries and a “Mariner East” pipeline set to boost the flow by 2015 — that means this energy boom is as likely to prompt new economic and jobs growth in the Delaware River communities of Southeast Pennsylvania, as it is in the Commonwealth’s southwestern corner.
In other words, people in Philadelphia — and all along the Delaware river as well — are set to see expanding effects from the economic activity flowing out of the drill fields in Southwest Pennsylvania: refinery activity, re-invigorated manufacturing activities because of lower energy and feedstock costs, new port developments and increased river traffic, gushing out of the exploitation of the deep shale hydrocarbon reservoirs almost as fast as the hydrocarbon substances themselves pour out. In turn, that suggests Philadelphians can likely expect shares of the rampant jobs growth the Shale Coalition sees happening mostly in Appalachia — 200,000 new jobs by the state Labor Department’s most widely cited estimate — as well as increased contracting opportunities for small businesses here, just as is happening in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
That message was almost lost in the background noise, as the energy companies and their stock-market boosters celebrated another boom year in an energy development that, as state Sen. Williams said, has produced “a defining moment for Pennsylvania.”
Mayor Michael Nutter Thursday signed into law a bill that rewrites and simplifies Philadelphia’s zoning code for the first time in 50 years.
It took four years, 50 public meetings, extensive interviews and surveys for the Zoning Code Commission to modernize Philadelphia’s development regulations concerning land use throughout the city.
“Today, we all have the distinct honor to be able to help Philadelphia take an enormous leap forward in terms of planning and protecting our communities,” Nutter said.
The mayor described the previous zoning code as intense and challenging to decipher. The new code includes changes to the city’s development regulations and approval procedures such as making the zoning code more user-friendly; reducing the number of zoning classifications; incorporating a civic design review process and establishing the role of citizens in the zoning approval process.
In 2007, there was a unanimous vote by City Council to approve a revision to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter to create the Zoning Code Commission. The revision was submitted to voters, and 80 percent of Philadelphians voted in favor of reforming the city’s zoning code.
“It was the thousands and thousands of Philadelphians who came out to meetings, who learned why zoning code was important, they made recommendations, they gave their advice, they gave their time, they gave their effort, because they too care about this city,” Nutter said.
Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger said the innovations to the code will advance business and community development in Philadelphia.
“Our new code will help to attract investment to Philadelphia, and will also give our communities an organized means for their thoughts, concerns and input to be considered in the planning process,” Greenberger said.
“This transformative code will prevent many of the roadblocks that currently inhibit growth and will make Philadelphia’s development and planning more coherent, consistent and predictable in the future.”
Eva Gladstein, executive director of the Zoning Code Commission, explained the significance and use of having a revised zoning code.
“The newly reformed zoning code will be a tool that all Philadelphians can understand and use. The ZCC received tremendous and valuable feedback from citizens that drove this process and is reflected in the final code. The engagement of Philadelphians throughout this process contributed greatly to its success,” Gladstein said.
Nutter thanked the 31 members of the Commission for their efforts.
“I think it is quite remarkable 31 people from all over the city taking on the complicated, bizarre zoning code of Philadelphia and revolutionizing our zoning code,” Nutter said.
Councilmen Frank DiCicco, Brian O'Neill, William Greenlee and Darrell Clarke served on the commission, as well.
After his remarks, Nutter signed Bill 110845 into law.
“I am delighted to sign this once-in-a-generation legislation that makes Philadelphia more attractive to developers, promotes growth, and brings our zoning code into the 21st century,” said Nutter.
“Good planning is our best way to preserve the past and to anticipate the future. This modern code will help Philadelphia, in the years to come, to ensure healthy, sustainable development that protects our neighborhoods and grows our city.”
Public testimony continued Thursday in City Council over Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposed actual value initiative, or AVI, a plan to radically overhaul property tax values in Philadelphia.
None of those who spoke during the hearing expressed total opposition to the plan; in fact they acknowledged that the current property tax assessment system is unbalanced and extremely flawed. The greatest concern was the fear that Council could vote on the issue before all of the property reassessments are completed — which won’t be until 2013.
“We’re not against AVI,” said James Foster, publisher of the Germantown Chronicle. “But we are concerned about how its passage will impact the economy of the city. I call this an awakening to the reality of neglect in the city. We have one of the best transit systems in the country and I would ask that Council members take a ride on a train, get a window seat going just outside the city and a window seat going back in. All of these trains go right through the hearts of your districts. You will see what’s left of the economic base that made Philadelphia great. Dilapidated buildings, abandoned houses, impromptu junkyards, and of course, empty blocks where buildings once stood. What do all of these properties have in common? They are paying no real estate taxes. They are paying no business taxes and are employing no residents of Philadelphia. Bad decisions drove people out before — and if this passes you will once again see another several hundred thousand leave in short order.”
Foster also said that Council and the Nutter administration should put more emphasis on collections of tax delinquent properties.
Last week, City Council approved to the new property tax system, but the final vote is pending. The proposal, which if passed along with the Use and Occupancy tax, would bring more than $85 million more for the financially limping school district. But public support for the new measures is shaky and residents are concerned that council is being pushed to pass the bills before all of the property assessments are in. The vocal residents who testified on Thursday, along with some members of Council are asking for a one-year delay in AVI, a proposal offered by City Councilman Mark Squilla.
“Our primary concern is the long term impact that raising the tax bills will have,” said Jeff Carpineta, president of the East Kensington Neighbors Association. “Some residents could find their tax bills going up from $800 dollars to $2,500 or $3,500 dollars. These residents could wind up making late payments on mortgages or in some cases even face foreclosures, decreasing the values of the communities and dumping more properties on the market. We’ll see more residents dislocated. If we don’t have a year to work this out, it could be a disaster.”
Residents stated their agreement that the current tax assessment system needs to be fixed. Mayor Nutter wants to fix Philadelphia’s broken property-tax system by reassessing all homes and businesses, and in the process, raise millions for the school district. Revamping the property-tax system will give city residents the most accurate assessments in years.
AVI would change the way the city assesses real estate, moving from assessments based on a fraction of property value to the full market value.
“No more fractions. No more complications. You should not need a math degree to be able to figure out what your taxes are,” said the mayor in a previous interview. “Once the new values are in, we have to use them.”
Councilmen Bill Green and Mark Squilla have announced their opposition to the proposal, calling on the administration to delay implementation for another year. And state Sen. Larry Farnese has also come on board, saying he was introducing legislation in Harrisburg that would give Council that option. Opponents say they’re being asked to vote on something before all of the information is available and assessment figures will not be available until July.
Over and over during Thursday’s hearing, residents and business people alike implored Council to delay the process for one year.
“Really, I’m very pessimistic about Philadelphia’s prospects for the future,” said real estate developer Richard Snowden. “The notion that this Council is even considering a property tax increase, coming on the heels of other recent large tax increases and a jump in virtually every fee the city imposes on businesses indicates a blatant disregard for the people of this city. Due to the unreasonable scale and lack of phasing of this policy I have alerted our employees, tenants and members for 2013 includes enormous rent increases which many simply cannot afford to pay. We’ll see layoffs and curtailments in restoration and rehabilitation of buildings — all so the city can get its thirty pieces of silver. Many small Mom and Pop businesses will simply close their doors.”
A controversial new curfew intended to keep teens off the street after 11 p.m. was signed into law this week by Mayor Michael Nutter.
“By adopting this legislation, we are updating and enforcing a law that was already on the books,” said Nutter, noting that the city has had a curfew since 1950.
Expanding the law was necessary, he said, to combat the ongoing problem of flash mobs, which popped up several times this summer in Center City and several other neighborhoods.
“During this past summer, our city was faced with a small percentage of our city’s youth impacting all of our citizens. This law will help our law enforcement to respond more effectively and quickly to apprehend the offenders,” he said.
The law, which was passed 16-1 by City Council last month, over vocal public objection, creates three different curfews according to age. Those 13 and under have to be off the street by 8 p.m. during the school year and 9 p.m. during the summer months. Kids ages 14 and 15 have a 9 p.m. curfew throughout the school year and 10 p.m. during the summer. Those 16 and 17 have to be inside by 10 p.m. through the school year and 11 p.m. in the summer.
Parents of violators can be fined up to $500.
According to the mayor’s office, curfew violators will be taken to the closest police station and held until their parents or guardians can be contacted. Parents will receive a notice or citation when they collect their child from the station. If a parent or guardian cannot be reached, police will contact the Department of Human Services (DHS) to initiate an investigation.
The law does provide a few exemptions.
Working teens or children acting on their parents’ orders or with their parents are excluded.
Nutter pushed for the new curfew hours after several flash mobs this summer. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who introduced the bill on the mayor’s behalf, praised him for quickly signing the bill into law.
This measure gives law enforcement officials an important tool that they have requested to deter youth violence,” she said. “Provided that it is used fairly and compassionately, it can be an important piece of the puzzle to building a safer city.”
Critics of the bill compared it to Jim Crow and apartheid.
“Let’s call it like it is. It’s a step back to Jim Crow,” said Adan Diaz, when he opposed the bill last month in City Council.
He then had harsh words for Council.
“You are a shame to yourself, your city, and yes, your race if you pass this,” he said to a round of applause.
Philadelphia will receive a $10 million federal grant to upgrade aging traffic signals, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Mayor Michael Nutter announced Thursday.
“We’re replacing about 100, forty-year-old traffic controllers with the latest fiber-optic technology,” Nutter said, noting that the entire project will cost about $20 million.
The remainder of the funding will come from the city, state and SEPTA.
New signals will include technology that prioritizes movement by buses and trolleys, extending a green light when a bus or trolley is detected. Other improvements include upgrades to handicap curb cuts, pedestrian countdown signals and other improvements for pedestrians and people with disabilities.
Among the city’s top targets, traffic lights on Woodland Avenue in the Southwest and at Bustleton and Castor Avenues in the Northeast.
“The money for these upgrades will improve the commutes for 92,000 drivers, transit riders and pedestrians,” said Nutter. “Reinvesting in and maintaining our infrastructure is key to improving Philadelphia. The Administration understands that cities and municipalities cannot wait for Congress to get the job done.”
Philadelphia was one of 40 cities receiving a federal TIGER grant to fund traffic flow improvements, LaHood said, adding that communities across the country requested a total of $14 billion from about $500,000 in available funds.
Those figures pointed to the need for Congress to act on a transportation bill, LaHood said, during a routine announcement that quickly turned political.
“The overwhelming demand for these grants clearly shows that communities across the country can’t afford to wait any longer for Congress to put Americans to work building the transportation projects that are critical to our economic future,” LaHood said. “That’s why we’ve taken action to get these grants out the door quickly, and that is why we will continue to ask Congress to make the targeted investments we need to create jobs, repair our nation’s transportation systems, better serve the traveling public and our nation’s businesses, factories and farms, and make sure our economy continues to grow.”
President Barack Obama has been pressing Congress to pass a transportation bill — part of his jobs bill — for several months. After the Senate blocked Obama’s larger $447 billion jobs bill in October, the White House announced that it would try and get several components of the bill passed individually.
The president touts transportation projects as a practical bipartisan way to put people to work. Administration estimates suggest that his bill would put more than 1 million unemployed construction workers back on the job.
In several speeches Obama has said the nation’s aging transportation network costs U.S. businesses and families about $130 billion a year. Failing to upgrade the network could cost the U.S. hundreds of billions dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs by the end of the decade.
But, the legislation has been uniformly opposed by Republicans and a few Democrats who object to any new spending and to the president’s plan for a new tax on the wealthy to help pay for it.
LaHood took the opportunity Thursday to remind voters of that fact saying that Congress’s intransigence was unprecedented.
“Here we are in the waning days of a Congress that has done nothing to put friends and neighbors to work,” he said. “And, has done nothing to pass a transportation bill. Republicans have stymied the opportunity to put friends and neighbors to work.”
Angela Allen didn’t know the first thing about computers, but thanks to an innovative new program she’s got the basics down pat and is poised to learn more through the city’s KEYSPOT program.
“We’ve had someone teach us so many things about the Internet,” Allen said. “I actually learned how to Google.”
Allen took basic computing classes at the LIFT center at 56th and Chestnut in West Philadelphia. She didn’t need anything except the desire to learn.
“I am able to bring just myself to LIFT,” she said. “We have an instructor in front of us and a computer in our hands.”
Classes at LIFT, which are first come first serve, run about two and half hours every Monday and Saturday, and cover everything someone needs to get started.
“I learned how to go into Word and open documents,” she said. “We learned about search engines. Browsers. I learned that I can talk through my email. This just amazed me.”
KEYSPOT has been around since June 2011. It’s a program that brings together a number of non-profits throughout the city in an effort to bridge the city’s digital divide. However, this week, the Freedom Rings Partnership rolled out a new segment of the program – mobile units, akin to bookmobiles, that will take the Internet and between 15 and 19 computers into underserved neighborhoods across the city.
Ultimately, organizers hope to have four vans operating around Philadelphia. They will be operated in conjunction with 77 KEYSPOT centers, which will be hosted at 19 recreation centers, 10 homeless shelters, 15 PHA sites and 29 by various community groups.
Seventy of the sites are already open and serving an estimated 3,000 people a week.
According to Mayor Michael Nutter, who attended the launch Monday at Philadelphia OIC in North Philadelphia, 41 percent of Philadelphians lack Internet access. In addition to bolstering computer literacy, the program will create about 120 jobs. And, allow more city residents to get the skills they need to get a job.
“Digital literacy is no longer an option, it’s a necessity,” Nutter said. “Education is what lifts people out of poverty.”
Cheryl Roane said computer classes at OIC helped her get her GED, and now she’s in community college studying to get a degree in early childhood education.
“It’s a lifelong dream,” she said.
The mobile units will be run through OIC.
“We’re taking technology to the neighborhood,” said OIC President Bob Nelson. “If people can’t come here, we’ll go there.”
At a cost of $25.1 million, KEYSPOTS program is paid for through federal stimulus money and private funding from a number of sources.
According to data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce in December, just 55 percent of Black households have wired Internet access at home. That compares to 57 percent for Hispanics and 72 percent for whites.