Wednesday, December 01, 2004
I don't know how many of you have been following the billboard saga. But, a quick run down is this:
There is a law in Philadelphia that says there are limits on the amounts of billboards within the City. Rendell, who has always been on the wrong side of this issue, ignored the bill, and let the zoning board approve billboard after billboard up and above the limits set out in the bill. Street continued the Rendell philosophy of ignoring the bill (wouldn't you like to have that option?).
Thankfully for Philadelphia, there was a constant thorn in the side of the billboard companies- SCRUB, run by Mary Tracy. SCRUB would, as taxpayers of Philadelphia, routinely appeal zoning decisions to court. And, since the billboard companies were clearly in violation of the law, SCRUB would win, over and over. So, you know, the billboard people did not exactly like SCRUB.
Over the past few years, City Council passed an anti-SCRUB law, that Street vetoed after much successful lobbying by Philadelphia activists. John Perzel, that wonderful humanitarian, tried something similar, as well. But when word got out about it, the law was abandoned... Until...
Rep. Josephs (Center City) and others sponsored a bill upping the fines for illegal dumping in the City. However, in the last minute session of the past week, late in the night, an amendment was passed to the dumping bill that changed the law to kill the efforts of SCRUB. The law changed the City Charter to say that only those who lived within 500 feet of the billboard could challenge a zoning decision in court. Without any debate, the law passed. Unanimously, because no one was paying attention.
First of all, we should thank Gov. Rendell for signing this. Thanks for doing what he used to so resent: allowing the State to routinely change the home rule charter to suit their needs (and their wallets). Also thanks for giving us the Bush-like explanation that we really needed the dumping law, so this was worth it.
Second, the law refers to all zoning decisions, not just billboards. The state has fundamentally changed the way Philadelphia residents are able to contest unwanted developments in their city, all to line the pockets of Clear Channel (yes, that Clear Channel) and other billboard companies.
A thanks is also in order to our glorious State Representatives. This is clearly another instance of a bill being passed that too little people read. So while I feel for someone like Rep. Josephs, who had her bill totally changed, why didn't she speak up sooner? Say, before a vote occurred? Am I that naive that I think someone should read an amendment to their own (small) bill?
In the future, when these types of issues come up, I would like to see if we can at least get our state officials on the record. Maybe we can start a scorecard or something to keep in our pockets for future use? Philadelphia has seen a consistent drop in power in the State House. At the very least, we should make sure our Reps are voting in the right way.