Lovett Memorial Library at Germantown Avenue and Sedgwick Street is a staple in local life, but it is facing extinction as part of a long list of  city service cuts outlined in Mayor Nutter’s “Doomsday Budget.” While it looks likely that state approvals will allow Philadelphia to avoid the drastic cuts outlined in Nutter’s alternative plan, the time it has taken the legislature to act has cost the city much in missed revenue. For more, see ‘Doomsday Budget’ below.



SRC: New Media Must Replace Current Leaders


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


After two earlier vote delays from the School Reform Commission (SRC), the embattled New Media Technology Charter School got an answer about its future: keep teaching, but do it under new leadership.


The SRC was scheduled to make its decision on the renewal of New Media’s charter late in the spring but it twice postponed that vote to give school district staff more time to investigate questions regarding the school.  It finally handed down its decision on August 19. 


“In the past… some questions were raised during our initial audit,” said Benjamin Rayer, associate superintendent for the Office of Charter, Partnership and New Schools. The School District of Philadelphia undertook an in-depth forensic audit of the school’s records, which in turn has “led to the conclusion that staff is recommending a renewal of this charter with a large number of conditions,” Rayer said.


Numbers One and Two of those conditions are that the school’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Ina Walker, must step down or be terminated by September 1, and that the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Hugh Clark, must also resign. In addition the SRC resolution requires the school to find a replacement for Walker by September 1. School begins in Philadelphia on September 8.


The third and fourth conditions call for the complete replacement of the existing board by October 1. Still more of the 25 conditions spell out all the ways the school must sever ties with Clark, Walker and all of their ventures, including the private school that Clark founded, the Germantown-based Lotus Academy.


Concerns over the school leadership came about following allegations of conflicts of interest and financial mismanagement involving Lotus Academy and two Mt. Airy businesses operated by Clark and Walker, the Black Olive restaurant and health food store.


The resolution also requires the school to maintain building code regulations at its middle school and high school buildings, located in Germantown and Cedarbrook, provide meals to eligible students, supply adequate numbers of text books and make timely contributions to the Pennsylvania Public School Retirement System for its teachers – all things the school is already bound to by law.


The SRC renewed New Media’s charter until August of 2014 for grades 9 through 12, but because of school district policy changes, and the fact that New Media was never approved by SRC resolution to serve grades 5-8, it requires the school to apply at the end of the next school year if it wants to continue its middle school.


Walker was present at the SRC vote but declined to comment. Efforts to reach Clark for comment were not successful.


When Rayer was asked to provide the SRC with clarity about its options should New Media decide to oppose any of the requirements, Rayer said that in that case, “you could revoke this charter at any time.”



‘Big Belly’ Trash Receptacles Coming to Mt. Airy



The Big Bellies are coming! The solar powered Big Belly trash receptacle and compactors that have been a Center City feature since last year are making their way to Mt. Airy. A grant secured by the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District will bring an as yet unspecified number of Big Bellies to the Avenue, with matching curbside recycling bins, sometime over the next few months. Photo by Albert Yee.


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


Thanks to a $140,000 July grant to the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District (BID), solar-powered trash-gobbling Big Belly receptacles will be coming to the sidewalks along Germantown Avenue.


“I put in an application on behalf of the BID for trash cans and the Commerce Department came back to us and said, ‘hey, would you rather have these Big Bellies?’” said Elizabeth Moselle, director of commercial corridor revitalization for Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA) and the executive director of the BID.


In addition to the trash compactors, which are said to reduce trash pickup costs because they can cram so much into, well, their bellies, Mt. Airy is supposed to get matching pedestrian recycling receptacles as well.


There’s no final word yet about how many Big Bellies are headed here but the expected fall-to-early-winter turnaround means Mt. Airy is likely to be the first neighborhood outside of Center City to get them. Moselle and other BID officials are excited. With the matching recycling bins, Moselle felt the Big Bellies “just fit” with the green vibe of the neighborhood.


The work of keeping the Avenue clean rarely gets such an eye-catching lift as with the Big Bellies, but nevertheless it’s been a central focus of the BID since it officially formed two years ago. The Mt. Airy BID is one of ten business improvement districts in the city. As such, it won City Council approval to asses an 18 percent surcharge on the real estate taxes of commercial properties within the district to support the BID’s activities. 


According to Ken Weinstein, chair of the Mt. Airy BID Board of Directors, that means about $125,000 annually to devote to trash collection and long-term physical and usability improvements to Germantown Avenue, from Washington Lane to Cresheim Valley Road.

So far the biggest and most important BID project has been to employ three year-round workers through MAUSA (one full time and two part-time) to clean the Avenue along that stretch every day. And many involved with the BID seem to agree, this move alone has had a huge impact on the pedestrian experience on the Avenue.


But as Weinstein sees it, it’s also the BID’s role to try to go beyond its annual budget and use its strength as an organization to make other things happen. Along these lines the BID is about to wrap up a $30,000 security grant from State Representative Cherelle L. Parker (D, 200th). The grant paid for new security lighting on 50 properties on or just off of the Avenue.


“We’ve been very busy,” Weinstein said. “It’s not one of those visual improvements as you’re driving down the Avenue, but it’s something that has helped to make the Avenue more secure and less susceptible to graffiti.”


If high visibility is what you want, the BID has been doing its share of that too, most notably with the June installation of 80 new Mt. Airy banners on SEPTA poles along the Avenue. This was also the result of a grant secured through Parker, Weinstein said, for $28,000. The point is to help shoppers identify with a consistent Mt. Airy branding message, Weinstein said.


That message? You can read it all over the neighborhood these days: “Mt. Airy. Shopping. Dining. Happening.”


But for some there is a priceless behind-the-scenes value to much of what the BID has been able to accomplish so far. As BID Vice President and co-founder (with Weinstein and George Butler) David Young believes, the commercial interests in Mt. Airy are beginning to work together in a more positive fashion than ever before, and he thinks the BID has had an important part in that.


According to Young and Weinstein, the governing structure of the BID was designed to balance out the various commercial interests along the Avenue by making sure representatives from all sections sit on the board, along with representatives from non-profits such as Cliveden of the National Trust, which Young directs, and related organizations like the Mt. Airy Business Association. In his view, it is particularly important that the three major commercial sections of the BID territory, roughly speaking the 6300, 6800 and 7200 blocks of the Avenue, see themselves as equals and that the 29 non-profit groups in the BID territory also play a part in the financial support of the organization.


Now, as a result of all this work, people perceive the BID as “a responsible and trustworthy arbiter,” even on hot button issues like parking, Young said.


Farah Jimenez, executive director of MAUSA, had a similarly positive assessment. To her not only does the existence of the BID represent the fulfillment of a long term MAUSA goal, but the increased commercial collegiality along the Avenue has turned out to be an unexpected bonus.


“It’s been our desire that we would eventually become the kind of commercial corridor that could support a business improvement district,” she said. “And probably the best side effect is that this has really brought together divergent parts of Germantown Avenue.”



Fresh Grocer Opens; First New E. Germantown Supermarket in Decades



First-time customers filled the produce section of the new Fresh Grocer at the Shoppes at LaSalle on Chew Avenue during the supermarket’s grand opening August 21. The full service market features a prepared food section and balcony dining area adjacent to the produce section. It is the first supermarket to open in the East Germantown area for decades.


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


On Friday, August 21, before the new Shoppes at LaSalle Fresh Grocer held its grand opening, scores of local residents waited outside the doors in mounting heat but seemed oddly content.


After all, it was quite a scene. Young women dressed as giant puffy grapes or bananas or apples passed out cold water to the waiting crowd as new store workers manned the doors. Inside, local politicians, city officials, media personalities and store executives soaked up the cool, pristine produce section at a ribbon cutting ceremony complete with the traditional remarks of victory before any maiden voyage.


All the while, picketers from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local (UFCW) 1776 paced in the sun wearing body signs and passing out literature, which claimed unfair labor practices on the part of Fresh Grocer.


But there was something a bit more going on here than your typical store opening. It hit not only at the heart of East Germantown (the store is located on Chew Avenue between Wister Street and Church Lane), but at major issues of health and equity throughout much of inner city Philadelphia. And it all had to do with food access.


“We haven’t had a supermarket in this area for years,” said local resident Jackie Upshaw. “I’ve been here over 25 years and we’ve never had a supermarket.”


Like many in the crowd, Upshaw was excited to be within walking distance of a new, well equipped market for the first time in memory. Not to have to drive or take the bus for groceries would be a big improvement, she thought, not just for her but for the many seniors who lived in the area.


Inside the new market, the length of that East Germantown supermarket drought grew. Forty years was the estimate by store officials like Fresh Grocer Owner and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Burns.


Donald Hinkle-Brown, president of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), put that long dry spell in a larger perspective. Considering that low-income, inner city communities tend to have high rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, he thought opening a store that would provide good quality fresh food in a neighborhood that hasn’t had it for so long could be nothing less than transformative. He hoped that greater access to healthy food might level out some of those health trends.


“This store sits at the center of an area that for miles in each direction did not have supermarkets,” he said. “This was the biggest food desert in Philadelphia and we’re happy to say that that’s cured.”


TRF is the primary lender for the Fresh Grocer project. It provided a $4.5 million loan along with a half-million dollar subsidy to the supermarket. In addition, the project received $3 million in a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, while Fresh Grocer was responsible for covering the rest of the overall $14.5 million undertaking, according to Burns.


The other businesses at the Shoppes at LaSalle so far include Dunkin Donuts, Game Stop, T Mobile, Beneficial Bank, Rite Aid Pharmacy and Americas Best Contact Lenses. But it was the possibility of providing a neighborhood grocery store to the community that sparked LaSalle University to give up the 8.2 acres (meant for an athletic field and a parking lot) in a long term lease to the Shoppes.


Bill DiVito, the executive assistant to the president of LaSalle, recalled the reaction when State Representative Dwight Evans (himself a LaSalle alum) suggested the development plan to the University.


“We were just crazy about the idea,” DiVito said.


And while Evans could not make it to the store opening, speakers at the ribbon cutting characterized him as the “spark plug” for the development. Yet they also noted how all the area elected officials played important roles.


State Senator LeAnna Washington (D, 4th) said the Shoppes at LaSalle were part of a plan to develop the entire Chew Avenue corridor. 


“We are on the move,” she said. “Chew Avenue is on the move.”


And State Representative John Myers (D, 201st), whose office was involved in the project from the beginning and played a central role in organizing the job drive that ultimately staffed the store with 210 mostly local employees, said the new Fresh Grocer, “is just the beginning.”


As for those union demonstrators outside, according to Wendell Young, president of the UFCW 1776, they were there out of concern for the new Fresh Grocer workers. They wanted to see them get a better deal.

“The project was built with a lot of taxpayer support,” Young said. “And I think that taxpayer support deserves a return on your investment.”


To Young that meant jobs with good wages and benefits, something he thought Fresh Grocer was not offering.


“The whole idea of these programs is to lift the community and you don’t get a whole lot of lift with low wage jobs and no benefits,” he said.


According to Sheila Lajoie, Human Resource director for the Fresh Grocer, most of the jobs in the store will indeed be relatively low wage, starting at $7.25 per hour for clerks and cashiers. They will be relatively low hours too, typically 30 or less, she said. But since many of these positions are filled by young workers who are working while attending school, a flexible part time schedule is important, she said in an earlier interview. 


Moving up the ladder, managers at the store make between $8 and $12 per hour and meat cutters make $13 to $19 per hour, she said. But as far as union representation goes, Burns said, his workers were indeed unionized through the Teamsters Local 929, so he wasn’t sure just why the UFCW was making such a show.


In the end, labor questions and union relations did not seem like pressing concerns for many shoppers. They spilled through the door moments after the ribbon was cut, filling the produce section almost immediately. And within a half hour the checkout lines were buzzing with new workers and new shoppers in East Germantown’s first comprehensive grocery store in decades.



Youngblood Has Temporary Office

State Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood (D., 198th), announced on Wednesday, August 19, that her temporary constituent service office located at 5520 Wayne Avenue is now open.


Youngblood said the phone number for her constituent service office will remain the same, 215-849-6426. She stressed that it may take until Friday for the phone lines in the temporary office to be connected, but constituents who need assistance can visit the office to talk to her staff.


In July, Youngblood was forced to close her former constituent service office located at 5736 Greene Street due to water damage.


Youngblood said she continues to look for a permanent new office and will notify the public when one has been found.



Mt. Airy, USA announces its participation in the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation’s “Targeted Housing Preservation Program,” which will provide $15,000 in home repairs to qualified homeowners in East Mt. Airy, between Germantown Avenue to the west, Gorgas Lane to the north, Chew Avenue to the east, and Washington Lane to the south.


Mt. Airy USA, in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia, will work to find homeowners in need of repair work, ensure program eligibility requirements are met, and coordinate contracted repairs. In keeping with its mission to improve the quality of life for Mt. Airy’s residents, the organization hopes to match as many eligible homeowners with the appropriate resources as possible.


Interested homeowners are encouraged to attend a briefing session held at the Mt Airy, USA headquarters, 6703 Germantown Avenue, Suite 200, on September 3, 6 p.m. Application requirements  will be outlined at the briefing session. Questions should be directed to Gretchen Heckman at 215-844-6021 ext. 212 or GHeckman@mtairyusa.org.



The Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) invites its neighbors to the Third Annual Ice Cream Social on Wednesday, September 2, 3-6 p.m., on the lawn outside their offices at 8708 Germantown Avenue. This event features free ice cream, activities for the whole family, and the chance to meet with FOW’s staff and volunteers. Members of the Friends of the Wissahickon are encouraged to wear their FOW t-shirts and hats. For information about FOW and its family memberships, visit www.fow.org or call 215-247-0417. 


Start Smart Back to School at Janes

Janes Memorial United Methodist Church, 47 East Haines Street, will present its fourth annual “Start Smart Back 2 School” event on Saturday, September 12, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Janes Church, 47 East Haines Street. This year’s event features books bags filled with school supplies, entertainment by Philadelphia youth poets and Janes anointed Hands, a career roundtable for students in grades 7-12, arts and crafts projects for students in grades K-6, lunch and refreshments, workshops for parents, and PHEAA workshops for college applicants. This is a free community event.


Janes Memorial United Methodist Church has been part of the Germantown community for over 135 years. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Andrew Foster III, Janes invites guests to join in worship at  the church every Sunday at 10:45 a.m. For more information call 215-844-9564.


Mt. Zion 2009 Fall Revival

The 2009 Fall Revival of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Germantown kicks off with its “Don’t Come Alone – Bring Your Family And Friends“ morning worship service  Sunday, September 13 at 10:30 a.m. This year’s theme is “It’s Time To Pray and Praise.” Speakers include: Sept. 13, 10:30 a.m., Rev. Dr. Robert A. Emberger, Whosoever Gospel Mission; 4  p.m.,  Rev. James Edlow, Faith Memorial Baptist Church; Sept. 14, 7 p.m.   Rev. Julius Renwick, Mount Ephraim Baptist Church; Sept. 15, 7 p.m.,  Rev. G. Edward Griffith, Gibson Temple Baptist Church; Sept. 16, 7 p.m.   Rev. James A. McGruder, Faith Immanuel Baptist Church; Sept.17, 7 p.m.,  Rev. Dr. James S. Allen, Vine Memorial Baptist Church. For more information, call 215-844-7614.


Vote May Avert ‘Doomsday Budget’ Cuts


By PATRICK COBBS

Staff Writer


With luck Philadelphia could get a final answer on its budget related requests from the Pennsylvania state legislature as early as this week. With still more luck that answer  might allow the city to avoid what has been dubbed the “Doomsday Budget,” which would involve massive layoffs and the closing of all libraries, rec centers, park facilities and more.


“Now it’s been approved by the House and there’s a version that’s been approved by the Senate [Finance Committee], so we’re hoping that it goes through,” said Rob Dubow, city finance director, on Tuesday August 25.


The full Senate could vote on House Bill 1828 as early as Wednesday, August 26. The bill would allow the Philadelphia to defer payments to the city Pension Fund and raise the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent, two options critical to its proposed non-doomsday budget.

But since the Finance Committee amended the bill, it will have to come back to the full House for a final vote after the Senate makes its vote. 


Barbara Fellencer, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee, thought it likely that the House would approve the Senate’s amendments. The changes simply open up pension deferments and sales tax hikes to smaller cities, she said. 


In Philadelphia budgetary terms, though, the timing is cutting things fine. Philadelphia is required by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), the state agency that oversees the Philadelphia budget, to submit an alternate budget by August 30, one that does not rely on state action. Hence the “Doomsday” scenario.


Yet it is entirely possible that the state legislature won’t be done with its work by then. So then two budgets could be at play, the Doomsday Budget and the one city officials hope will eventually take hold.


In addition, there is the problem of lost revenue do to the time it has taken the state to get as far as it has. Since Philadelphia has not been able to raise its sales tax to the requested 8 percent, PICA Executive Director Uri Monson estimated the city has already lost about $20 million in revenue for this fiscal year. Even with speedy state approvals from here on in, the city will need to do something to get that money back, Monson said. And if previous city communications are any indication, that will likely mean more cuts.


‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’

The first female president in Temple University’s 125-year history will be a guest at a one-of-a-kind event that’s helping revitalize the Mt. Airy community.


Supporters of Northwest Philadelphia are invited to enjoy an evening with Dr. Ann Weaver Hart, president of Temple University, at Mt. Airy USA’s annual signature fundraiser Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.


Dr. Hart will be amongst the 35 Philadelphia-area celebrities who will host tables for a festive evening of food, drink and conversation with some of the region’s most intriguing personalities. Dinner will feature a decidedly Spanish flair and the chance for attendees to choose at which celebrity’s table they’d like to dine. The event is scheduled for Saturday, October 24, at the Commodore Barry Club, 6815 Emlen Street. The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. and includes a cocktail reception, silent and live auction, and a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream bar. Tickets are available at www.guesswhoscomingtodinner.org or by calling 215-844-6021.


Mt. Airy, USA’s mission is to preserve, empower and advance a vibrant and diverse Mt. Airy by stimulating development responsive to the community. It seeks to improve the quality of life for Mt. Airy residents through three program areas: Real Estate Development, Commercial Corridor Revitalization, and Neighborhood Programs. For more information, call 215-844-6021 or visit www.mtairyusa.org.


Trails to Devil’s Pool Closed for Repair

The Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) will begin work on trails leading to Devil’s Pool in Wissahickon Valley Park in August as part of their ongoing Sustainable Trails Initiative (STI). The project includes the lower trail between Valley Green Road and Livezey Lane, crossing at Devil’s Pool, along with a section of the upper trail from Livezey Lane to the switchback near Cresheim Creek. The lower trail is a pedestrian-only trail that is not open to equestrians or bikers, while the upper trail is open to all park users.


These trails will be closed from late August until mid-winter while trail work is being conducted to ensure the safety of park users.


“In recent years, FOW has seen a dramatic increase in visitor use of this beautiful natural area,” says FOW’s Executive Director Maura McCarthy. “The planned trail work will help to minimize the impact of this use and reclaim damaged habitat.”


 STI is a three-phased, multi-year project to make the 50 miles of National Recreation Trails in the Wissahickon a physically and socially sustainable system that works for all park users. It is a project of the Friends of the Wissahickon in partnership with the Fairmount Park Commission with support from IMBA. 


Back to Germantown Newspapers Home Page

 

From the Independent • Mt. Airy News Stories

August 27, 2009

SRC: New Media Must Replace Current Leaders


‘Big Belly’ Trash Receptacles Coming to Mt. Airy


Fresh Grocer Opens; First New E. Germantown Supermarket in Decades


Youngblood Has Temporary Office


Start Smart Back to School at Janes


Mt. Zion 2009 Fall Revival


Vote May Avert ‘Doomsday Budget’ Cuts


‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’


Trails to Devil’s Pool Closed for Repair