St. Patrick’s Day U2Charist, Downtown Allentown

St. Patrick’s U2Charist
7 PM
Zion’s Reformed UCC
620 W. Hamilton Street, Allentown PA

Sponsored by the fellowship group New Thing in a Church Basement and Zions Reformed UCC, Allentown’s first-ever U2charist takes a page from similar worship gatherings held across the country in recent years, adding its own Celtic twist in honor of St. Patrick Day’s and U2’s Irish origins. Put simply, a “U2charist” is a worship service that uses the music and rich spiritual imagery of U2 as liturgical guides. Calls to worship and responsive readings often reference the Biblical allusions of U2’s work, and the music for this liturgical hour will be taken from U2’s catalogue and re-imagined with an acoustic, Celtic style. Echoing the band’s long-stated concerns for social justice, this gathering will also highlight unique issues of equity and avenues of help in our local setting. 

Parking at Zion’s is widely available in the County lot directly adjacent to the church and at a lot off of Church Street just between Zion’s sanctuary and Walnut Street.

My Thoughts on the Delta Thermo Deal and Last Night’s City Council Meeting and What I Said There

I just got home from City Council.  I had to leave before the vote, but not before I waited 4 hours to share my thoughts with the public and with Council.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can learn about it here.  In the interest of time, I’m just going to post my thoughts as I shared them.  Some context:  you should know that there was a very large union presence at the meeting, so much so that before 7 PM the Council Chamber was packed out and people weren’t being let in.  It was at this point that some folks reached out to some local media, because it looked like the fairness, integrity (and possibly, legality) of the meeting was in jeopardy.  Thankfully, that got resolved (and the media was already there).  More context: the unions are strongly in support of the DTE project.  I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’m not.

What I ended up saying, in a nutshell, around 11 PM:

  • I live in Allentown, work in Allentown and pay taxes in Allentown.
  • I work for the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley – Berks, but I also sit on the Justice and Advocacy Committee of the Lehigh County Conference of Churches.  In both capacities, labor issues are extremely important.   The Justice and Advocacy Committee deals with issues of worker justice, livable wages, economic disparity, and I’m sympathetic to those concerns.
  • I was able to have a conference all today with Peter Crownfield (of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities LV) and permitting official with DEP.  That official explained to us that DTE does NOT have an air quality permit from the Commonwealth (they’ve used vague language to intimate that they do).  They DO have an exemption that pertains to research and development, not a commercial facility.  (Here I affirmed what Peter already said).
  • I talked about my discomfort with this and other transparency issues in this process.  I said that unions know better than anyone that when Business isn’t transparent, Labor doesn’t win.  The environment doesn’t win, our communities don’t win, and our politicians [in this case] don’t win.
  • The Mayor (he’s strongly in favor of the project) said he thought it was a progressive solution.  I said “I’m having trouble reconciling that with the fact that I’ve seen nothing in this discussion that shows me there’s anything in place to incentivize our communities to waste less and reuse/recycle more.  Progressive movements nationally have said with one voice that reduction and reuse are the way forward, and there’s nothing here that makes me think this project will reward that over the next 35 years.  (It’s a 35 year commitment to 2012 technology.  After 10 years, there’s an opt-out option, but  that wold require the City to buy out DTE’s interest and/or facility.  That’s a lot of money we don’t have).
  • With respect to the gentleman from DTE who talked about one of the other bidders having just gone out of business as a sign that the City was right to chose DTE, I said that frankly, that makes me worry more about the utility of this project and its long term prospect for success.
  • I said that as City Council knows, the Pennsylvania Constitution makes some pretty progressive claims about the environment.  Clear air, clean water, and clean land (all germane to this discussion) are a right of all Pennsylvanians.  We need to be committed to a truly progressive way forward, and a deal that locks us in long-term to today’s technology (actually, three technologies that have never been used together in the way DTE proposes, and never put into a practice in a plant anywhere by DTE) negates the possibility of us moving forward in truly progressive ways.
  • 35 years ago, Bethlehem Steel would have paid a  lot of the salaries in this room and put chickens in every pot.  Whatever happened to Lehigh Structural Steel?  Anyone remember Hess’s?  Things change, and they change quickly and that’s truer now than ever.  We know that this kind of technology is changing all the time: entering into this deal on these terms prevents us from pursuing truly progressive technologies as they emerge.
  • Thank you for the time.

Dear Wealthy School Districts: It’s Not Your Money, Anyway (A Note About Non-Property Taxes and the Earned Income Tax in Our Cities)

Even if you don’t live in Allentown or the Lehigh Valley, if you’re interested in infrastructure, urban renewal, and stopping suburban sprawl (let’s call it “mall creep”), this post is for you.

As you might know, the former Philadelphia Phantoms are coming to Allentown.  The Phantoms are the top-level developmental affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, and their new arena is being built downtown as the centerpiece of what will ultimately be at least a $600 million dollar redevelopment project in the Queen City.   Honestly, redevelopment doesn’t begin to describe what the special tax zone (the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, NIZ for short) will mean for Allentown.  The NIZ, created by a bill in the PA legislature, does things that make relocation to the NIZ very attractive.  You can learn more about that here.

Something else the bill that created the NIZ does is return the Earned Income Tax of people who work in Allentown but don’t live there back to city to help fund the arena project. Some people don’t like that.  Some, maybe most, local municipalities are used to using EITs to help fund the suburban school districts they support.  Some people are starting to say “why should School District So and So pay for an Arena in Allentown?”

Those people miss the point.

For the last 47 years or so, Earned Income Tax in the Commonwealth has gone back to a worker’s home municipality instead of staying in the place where it was generated.  Before 1965, this wasn’t the case.  Before 1965 (read, before our core cities started failing), Earned Income Taxes stayed where they were made.  Pennsylvania legislators, keen on seeing farmland turned to suburbs, put a stop to that and the townships blossomed with stripmalls, blacktop, and sprawl.  Urban cores and urban schools were left to wither on the vine.

Now, the same school districts and municipalities that have benefited from this tax grab for close to 50 years are crying foul because EITs are going back where they belong. Heaven forbid the core cities and the near-broke school districts in them get a fair shake in 2012.

For shame, township people on the wrong side of this issue.   The Allentown School District can’t afford year-long art, music or gym classes, even at the elementary level.

Look, I know it’s easy to get used to privilege, and then to expect it.  But as Jon Geeting and others have been saying, the cost of living and doing business in the suburbs has been subsidized from the start.  This isn’t about a hypothetically free market dictating that setting up shop in low-density townships made more sense than continuing to develop walkable cities.  This is about, and always has been about, the myth of cheap suburban sprawl.  Sprawl came at a cost to our economies, our infrastructure, our environment, and our mental and physical health. It came at a cost to our cities, to be sure, and to our schools.

No one is building an urban arena with money that should be going to buy football pads for rich school districts.  No one is suggesting that we slash the budget of the Parkland High School closed-circuit television station so Spanish-speaking kids in Allentown can live in a city with a future.  Who would ever suggest something like that?

Allow me to paraphrase one person who actually might.  “Render onto Allentown what is Allentown’s.”

UGI Paid $40 Million on Improvements Last Year, Quintuple that Amount to Investors

When I humbly tweeted UGI asking them to hold back some dividend payments and spend more this year on fixing the aging pipes under homes and businesses in Allentown, I didn’t know things that make the negligence that killed 5 city residents last year even more despicable:

  • UGI has paid dividends EVERY YEAR SINCE 1885.  So their dividend streak is about as old as the pipes that need replacing.
  • Dividend payments to investors last year totaled $207,000,000.  $207 million dollars.

Responding to my tweet, the PR operative charged with doing such things pointed out that UGI spent $40 million last year replacing old pipes. Excuse me if I don’t quite understand how that absolves the company from having totally corrupt priorities. Last year, when 5 people died because they had the misfortune of living above UGI’s compromised pipes, UGI, formerly United Gas Improvements, paid out $40 million on said improvements and  five times that amount to investors in the form of dividends.  That’s not technically a crime, but it probably should be.

UGI Responds, I’m Unimpressed!/UGI_Utilities/status/155286257566617600

My response?!/ccocca/status/155364704930377728

Seriously.  You spent $40 million on infrastructure last year?  You want a cookie?  How much of that was spent in Allentown?  Five city residents died last year because you’re not moving fast enough or spending enough money.

How does that $40 million compare to the dividends you’re paying out? Let’s tweet about that.