Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Easton needs to have her citizen’s back

“The People are in truth the only legitimate proprietors of land and government.”

                      —Thomas Jefferson

I’m an early riser but the sound of heavy equipment and cement block being unloaded in front of the Juvenile Justice Center along Ferry Street (across from my home) at 6:15 in the morning is simply too early. The Center is currently under construction to expand the facility.

What adds insult to injury (or should I say rude awakenings?) is despite pulling together city and county officials way back in March to take action in their best interest and the folks who live in the neighborhood, it has been ‘radio silence.’ At the end of the meeting, with a number of excellent recommendations agreeable to city, county and residents, Becky Bradley, director of Planning & Codes for Easton, committed to ‘sending them across the mayor’s desk.’ I know she was sincere and has been a good listener and taken our concerns seriously. But what happened? I’m not privy to the process once it goes into the matrix of city hall but I think I’m asking a reasonable question.

In all fairness, after sending out a terse ‘what gives?’ note nearly three weeks ago to Jim Onembo, NHC court administrator and Bradley, then copying NHC, Executive John Stoffa and Mayor Panto, to his credit Stoffa called me within an hour with a promise to resolve at least the County’s end—but no calls from the Alpha building...

Months of construction have gone by since that meeting and not a single representative from the city (to my knowledge) has taken the time to poke their head out, look at this neighborhood or knock on a door and pay attention to our frustrations. To ask for residents to get involved, and when we do at our time and expense, and then to ignore us, lends credibility to the primary complaint from many residents to city hall—we’re not taken seriously and we have no power to provoke change within the current ‘system.’

The hard-working residents face problems well beyond construction noise violations including; declining property values, loss of parking spaces, traffic hazardous, diminishing green space and exploitation by county employees from judges to law enforcement (BTW, I’m going to post soon on this hypocrisy because it is a shameful, glaring example of status quo elitism and total disregard for the citizens of Easton). Is it fair for the tax-paying citizens to pay the price while the county moves forward and the city sends mixed messages? Isn’t the right thing for the city to do is to come alongside the folks who live here and watch their back?

The county has made a step in the right direction. Unless the city steps up to the plate it seems as though the residents of the West Ward will simply have to address the issues through other means. Wouldn’t that be unfortunate?

The relationship between the county and the city in a word ‘stinks.’ We get stuck in the middle with no apparent recourse to prevent the very stewards we trust to prevent us from being squashed, from squashing us! Residents don’t want to see the finger pointing anymore or to continue to drown in the muck and mire of government bureaucracy and territorialism.

I don’t want to seem a bit radical here. But I have an idea. How about representatives from both bodies along with citizens get together (again!), throw on a pot of coffee, and work through these issues in a framework of cooperation and communication and do what is mutually beneficial?

Terrence Miller


noel jones said...

Terrence, are there any important County meetings coming up where the various versions of the prison expansion plan will be voted on, so that residents can come out to support Stoffa's plan to NOT expand the jail in the WW, but build a new facility in Gracedale?

Timothy George Hare said...

I hear you loud and clear Terrence!

I also hear the construction racket loud and clear.

Guess they can't build a "gated" luxury-cost community without breaking eardrums LOL?

As you know, Earl and I submitted a long written list of concerns at the City Planning Commission and Zoning meeting that you and Theresa also attended a year ago to try to find out anything about the "little" Juvenile Prison expansion project.

We were especially concerned about the church parking lot upgrades planned right next to our home.
Ours is the only home that borders contiguously with the church parking lot.

We were shocked to learn at that meeting that the County has been renting many spaces from the church. The County spends tax dollars to plow and gravel it!

Yet the county representatives would/could give absolutely no details about the details of their lease with the church.

That church parking lot was completely off the radar screen on our "meeting notice" - until we showed up and asked.

In fact, our meeting notice said we don't need to attend since the expansion doesn't affect our property. Yet ours is the ONLY private (a.k.a. tax-paying) property that is contiguous to the expansion project!

We believe the meeting was mis-advertised in that we, so far have yet to learn of any other neighbors on this side of Ferry St. who were notified about the meeting - even though the church lot borders on Sandts Court which has many property owners within 100 or 200 feet.

That church parking lot was needed for the County to obtain a parking variance by the City for more than two dozen cars in order for the Juvenile Center to expand. The variance was, of course, granted by the City, how nice for all of us property owners.

We have yet to learn of any neighbor bordering Sandts Court who was notified that the County might dump untold numbers of cars and visitors onto Sandts Court from the church parking lot when the church parking lot (where maybe you park?) is "upgraded." We would fight any such upgrade.

Like they say, it ain't over till it's over, but meanwhile, now the "big" prison is due for the next huge expansion.

So, I wonder why the surrounding property owners would expect to suddenly receive respect and information from the County for the big prison, when the 'little' prison expansion project just appeared with such amazing secrecy?

Maybe it's simply time for us all to do what the County would love - pack up and let them make us all an offer to buy our properties, all the way down to Northampton St.?

They could then build the biggest hi-rise prison in USA? Who would/could stop them?

Gee, starting to sound like deja vu all over again when they expanded on the east side of Union Street.

To offset their costs and tax increases, perhaps they could charge admission and lead tours, handing out souvenirs to the tourists visiting the gigantic Police State Museum?

We sometimes feel so sad depriving them of their appetite for gobbling up as much land as exists nearby.

Speaking of which, not long ago, I may have read in the newspaper deed-transfer section that the County paid $1.4 million at an estate sale for a much smaller parcel across from the courthouse on Washington St., to demolish a building on it for surface parking? That building hasn't come down.

Ironically, the City government agencies seem happily complicit with anything the County wants to do in the West Ward these days regarding expansion of the prison(s). The City seems to talk a good talk, but when push comes to shoving around by the County, they haven't walked a good walk.

At least we're keeping the City Code Office busy doing something, with their harassing us and our neighbors with citations about some few weeds and sticks. We complied within the seven days, or threatened with fine of $1,000 per day!

It's comforting to know that the West Ward is so immaculate now that our few weeds and sticks are such an urgent target.

David Caines said...

It was always my understanding as a contractor that you couldn't start work before 8 Am, though maybe that was a local thing. And yet another prison is maybe a bit too much. One of the reasons we supprot citizens based non-enforcement actions is...let's be serious here for a minute-the fact that if we busted every drug dealer in America...we could never house them, much less afford to do so.
Taking the local numbers at conservatively let's call them and the gang bangers a thousand...where the hell do we put them?
And nationally the numbers are ungodly. According to international stats, we already have roughly 5-7% of our population in jail, on parole or on probation. Jails have become big business and saddly have become privatized as the multi-million dollar scandal in Wilkes Barre should point out to us all.
This issue within the U.S. is saddly epedemic and useful treatment for adicts is hard to find. I'll take a non-12th step rehab over more jail space anyday, even if I do to some extent support enforcement. The answer I think lies in both aproaches, not either single one.

Anonymous said...

There is a window of opportunity with Stoffa, being a responsible executive, to improve communication and even define a the path and nature of future communication between the City and the County or if the City can't handle it - between the County and the West Ward which is its host. This would be a most strategic move towards improvement in the neighborhoods. When I first bought my house on Locust it was a sweet little street with a vintage building at the top of it. Now as you walk up Locust from Northampton Street your eyes are met with a big sign PROBATION with the barbed wire of the prison fence glinting right behind it. What happened to labeling civic buildings in inspiring ways? Something like JUVENILE JUSTICE would at least not define the streets around it in such a negative way. I feel sorry for children that have to live with this. And I feel sorry for the effect it has on property values. They should also do some planting around the new building so that the two sides of the street match - its just too institutional on one side with beautiful houses that no one will buy on the other.
I did already speak on this at a Council meeting but it was about six years ago. PS Spent Saturday night reading these blogs and really enjoyed all of them.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Prisons - like highways - follow the same development pattern. Someone makes a prediction of future need. These are always based on previous patterns and of course those patterns presume similar conditions into the future.

If you think about it for a minute, there is no doubt of the outcome whether it is a prison or a highway that is expanded; that additional space will be filled.

Traffic engineers look at traffic counts, level of service, average speed and congestion delay and then design a bigger road to handle future traffic, assuming all conditions that created it will continue to grow at the same pace.

Problem is that when you give people more room it only leads to incentivize the trip. So, you end up with the traffic you projected plus all the induced traffic from making it easier to drive alone in the first place...and this doesn't even consider the additional traffic developed by new buildings and uses that inevitably pop up along new roadways. This inevitably leads to the next expansion and the whole cycle starts over again.

But what if we stopped planning for more of the same and started facilitating other ways to get around (bikes, trolleys, better walking environments) and disincentivized driving alone (road tolls, higher parking fees). Soon, we would be creating new and different environments we desired instead of the fait accompli we get through simply feeding the animal we wish to get rid of.

If instead of assuming an ever growing prison population into the future - a rather pessimistic view of society - what if we were to create ways to prevent their need? Lets face it...what politician is going to build a prison with public money for presumed future hoodlum storage and then keep it empty? Can anyone say white elephant?