Those who damage art or memorials could face jail, $1,000 fine
Skateboarders, bikers and rollerbladers who damage public art or private memorials could face fines up $1,000 and 30 days in jail, under a bill approved Thursday in City Council.
If signed by the mayor, the bill would boost the fine from the current $300.
“That has not stopped nor deterred the persons who damage and violate both public artworks and memorials in that fashion,” said Councilman David Oh, who sponsored the bill for the administration.
Council voted 12-4 for the bill.
Four members, Jannie Blackwell, Cindy Bass, W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Kenyatta Johnson – voted against the bill. Councilman Jim Kenney, who said he had mixed feelings about the proposal, tried to abstain. But, as council attorneys researched whether he could, he simply walked out of the chamber until after the vote.
Council spent almost 40 minutes, an unusual length of time for public debate, going back and forth over the issue while a group of veterans looked on. Arguments have centered on the damage done by skateboards at war memorials. In October, when Council David Oh introduced the bill on behalf of the mayor, a group of skateboarders successfully had the bill tabled until Oh could amend it.
The bill approved this week cut the fine in half from Oh’s original proposal of $2,000. Jail time would be imposed only after a third offense. Oh noted the penalties were civil, not criminal.
Nevertheless, Blackwell and other opponents of the bill worried that it would criminalize violators, leaving the blemish of jail time in their background.
“I feel the decision today is about whether we’re going to create a fine or create a crime,” Goode said. “We should not be creating a crime. Maybe we should be creating a fine, but I don’t want to criminalize this.”
Opponents all said they’d prefer to see more stringent enforcement of current law.
Many of the veterans urged council to vote for the bill.
“These monuments are greater than the sum of their mortar, bricks, steel and stone. They’re lasting memories of brothers lost. They’re grave reminders of the selfless sacrifice of men that allowed our nation to stay strong, safe and free,” said Terry Williamson, a Vietnam veteran.
Mayor Michael Nutter is expected to sign the measure into law.
In other news, council approved — with a 16-1 vote — a bill permitting the construction of a digital billboard at site of the old Electric Factory night club at Seventh and Callowhill streets. Only Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. voted against the bill, which amended the city’s new zoning code to permit the sign.
Councilman Mark Squilla’s proposal met stiff resistance from neighbors with one man, attorney Steve Masters, warning that putting the sign so close to a federal highway could cost the city as much as 10 percent of its share of federal highway revenue.
Nutter vetoed a similar proposal last year on those grounds.
The building has been at the center of an ongoing dispute over signage. Its owner Myron Berman has promised that 20 percent of annual revenue from the sign would go to three local schools.
Berman estimated the sign would generate about $2.5 million a year. That would yield $500,000 for Center City North Improvement Fund, which would split 75 percent of the proceeds between the Home & School Associations at Spring Garden, Kearny and McCall elementary schools. The remainder would go to neighborhood associations in the surrounding area.
In other news, council unanimously approved a resolution asking the administration to delay, for six months, its plan to re-deploy firefighters in five-year rotations.
“We hope they listen,” Kenney said.
Under the administration’s plan, which is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 293 senior firefighters – those with 10 or more years of service – would be put into a five-year rotation that would force them to work at firehouses across the city rather than the ones where they’ve spent the majority of their careers.
Thursday’s meeting was the final meeting of 2012. Council will reconvene in January.