Bailiwick News – January 17, 2020

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1.17.20 Bailiwick News – Scaffolding: Tools and things to think about while we wait for the collapse to pick up speed and for our local civic institutions to start addressing the local fallout.

Excerpts:

…Reform, Rebellion and Revolution: Reclaiming democratic sovereignty at community scale.

The future is localism, and its watchword is experimentation: local people trying new ways of organizing our common lives for mutual protection and livelihood, because the ways we’ve inherited are failing us.

We cannot rely on state or federal legislatures or agencies to protect our common or individual interests at the local level. The General Assembly, the Governor, the courts, agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Department of Transportation (PennDOT), Public Utilities Commission (PUC), DO NOT work for us as citizens of State College.

They work for large commercial corporations (such as Penn State, Toll Brothers and Raytheon) and for municipal government employees, to support those corporations and government employees as they in turn control us, and keep us and our elected local representatives from exercising true self-governance.

Nonetheless, civic institutions, and especially local governments, are the only vehicles We-the-People have to frame and address community goals and problems as a community.

So we have to reform, nullify, secede from or overthrow the systems we’ve inherited; replace them with functional, responsive local government; and confederate with other likeminded communities for mutual protection and benefit.

Here’s that list broken down, followed by a few specific experimental ideas:

  • Reform: Changing the structure of local government so that it protects the interests of the common people who live in the community, not the interests of the corporate state and its political party handmaidens.
  • Nullification: Smaller political units formally voiding and refusing to enforce laws promulgated by larger political units, in order to protect local citizens’ constitutional, charter-based and human rights. Contemporary examples from across the political spectrum: “sanctuary” cities that have formally adopted legislation to refuse cooperation in enforcing inhumane federal immigration laws; “Second Amendment sanctuary” cities and counties that have formally adopted resolutions to refuse cooperation in enforcing unconstitutional gun seizure laws.
  • Secession: Smaller political units preparing to leave, and/or formally leaving larger political units due to violations of social contracts.
  • Confederation: Small political units forming alliances with other small political units to provide each other with mutual benefits under new social contracts.
  • Overthrow: Smaller political units engaging in civil disobedience or armed revolt to drive larger political units’ tyrants out of power.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: I’d prefer to see the Centre Region make it from the current broken systems to new forms of self-government without armed revolt, by using the non-violent tools.

I’ll also say this: if it was legitimate for the American colonists to violently throw off the tyranny of King George, then it’s legitimate for us to follow their example and violently throw off the tyranny of King Corporatist-Statism, should non-violent efforts fail.

Right-sizing and reforming Penn State

The Penn State Faculty Senate should vote to take over the university from the current Board of Trustees, administration and General Assembly, this year during the transition between current CFO David Gray and his successor, while the overlords are in a little bit of disarray.

Faculty, students and staff should convert it to a worker-owned, worker-governed cooperative providing education to students, and nothing else.

The Commonwealth campuses should be granted independence to form their own worker-owned, worker-governed cooperative community colleges responsive to the educational needs of their local communities, before the University Park leadership cannibalizes them more by sucking more students and resources from the periphery to the core (a process that’s well-underway already).

The University Park campus should be separated into independent academic colleges (i.e. Agriculture, Engineering, Education, Medicine, Law, Liberal Arts) that are self-governing units, with elected or sortition-based councils of faculty, staff and students to operate each unit, and independent admissions systems.

The new governing councils should fire everyone from the assistant dean level upward. Interested deans, vice-presidents and presidents should be offered the opportunity to retrain and work as adjunct faculty, departmental secretaries or building and grounds maintenance employees.

Each academic college should elect a representative to the Office of Physical Plant unit, to operate utilities.

Campus should be de-electrified to the maximum extent possible, perhaps to 1950s technologies, and work currently performed by high-fossil fuel electronic technology like computers and other machines should be restored to human hands, using paper and microfilm files for records management.

Right-sizing and reforming local government

State College Borough Council should withdraw the Borough from the Centre Region Council of Governments, which will likely precipitate the disintegration of COG. Essential public safety functions now coordinated by COG should be transferred to the Centre County government or to individual municipalities. The regional parks program should be abolished and the independent Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority dissolved. Plans for additional, new parks should be scrapped immediately. Operation and maintenance of existing parks should be transferred to the municipality in which each park is located.

The Centre Area Transportation Authority, Centre LifeLink and Schlow Library should solicit each municipal government within their service areas for an annual contribution, providing data about annual usage by residency of users and operating costs, to support those funding requests.

All State College Borough advisory committees should be abolished; they waste participants’ time and taxpayer money, and have no legislative power.

Borough Council should update the Home Rule Charter to affirm that the elected local legislature has the power to adopt and enforce any and all laws the people of the Borough believe will protect our lives, liberties and property, within ecological carrying capacity limits and political limits as enshrined in the U.S Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Borough Council should update election procedures to establish local government by sortition (government by random selection of eligible citizens, similar to jury duty) on two-year cycles, to limit long-term representatives cultivating cozy relationships with campaign donors and corporate lobbyists.

Borough Council should limit government power to operation and maintenance of existing roads and pipelines at existing or reduced capacity, provision of basic police and fire protection, and basic public health services (trash collection and public sanitation).

Borough Council should bring code enforcement back into municipal control, and limit new construction through a simplified zoning code. See below.

Borough Council should limit government employees to those who directly operate and maintain roads and pipelines or maintain public safety through policing, firefighting and trash collection.

Borough Council should meet once or twice every week, as often as needed to directly supervise all Borough services without the intermediation of advisory committees and administrative/managerial staff.

Borough Council should annually hire an independent accounting firm to provide bookkeeping and audit services. An accounting firm hired for one fiscal year should be barred from the contract for the ensuing five years, to prevent corruption.

Borough Council should nullify preemptive state laws, especially the Municipalities Planning Code, that purport to restrict its authority to protect common air, water, fields and forests from degradation. Borough Council should create legal space for regeneration of ecosystems and local economic exchanges.

Borough Council should de-electrify Borough operations as much as possible, retrenching to 1950s technology as much as possible: replacing computers and other electronic equipment with human hands and paper or microfilm records management.

Borough Council should prohibit the deployment of 5G technology within Borough boundaries, to protect public, pollinator and wildlife health.

Borough Council should prohibit on-street parking throughout the Borough to promote pedestrian and bicycle safety and access, with an exception for vehicles used to transport people with limited mobility due to use of wheelchairs and walkers. Borough Council should privatize the existing parking garages, and refuse to fund new public parking garages, to discourage private vehicle use and encourage walking, bicycling and public transportation.

Borough Council should prohibit the incurring of any further public debt for any projects; when a population is paying for operating expenses and routine maintenance of public infrastructure by borrowing from banks at interest, it’s time to stop expanding and start deliberately contracting.

Borough Council should establish a local currency, pegged to gold or silver, as a hedge against the devaluation of the dollar and a means to facilitate local economic activity free of state and federal manipulation.

Zoning Reform

The current zoning code should be replaced with a simplified procedure to coherently address carrying-capacity and subsistence issues within a framework of individual liberty and a rejection of the nanny state:

“Any property owner may make any change to his or her property, provided the proposed change demonstrably reduces or maintains the existing, quantified burdens that parcel and/or land use places on public air quality; water quality and quantity; sewage conveyance and treatment; stormwater management/impervious coverage; police, fire and emergency medical services; traffic and road maintenance.

Each property owner interested in making changes to his or her property shall submit an application to Borough Council, concisely demonstrating how the proposed change will reduce burdens, or maintain existing burdens on the commons. Borough Council shall have unfettered discretion to review the proposal and independently assess the applicant’s claims for accuracy.

If burdens on the commons will be reduced or maintained at existing levels following the change, Borough Council shall approve the application.

If burdens on the commons will be increased following the change, Borough Council shall deny the application as representing an unlawful burden on the commons.”

Stabilizing water supply and sewage treatment systems

The governing boards of the State College Borough Water Authority and the University Area Joint Authority should vote to merge their entities under a single board, elected by sortition.

The new board should nullify state preemptive laws governing municipal authorities and water and sewage management.

The new board’s authority should be strictly limited to operation and maintenance of existing water and sewage systems.     Expansions to the system should be prohibited. Water and sewer authority employees should be limited to those who directly operate and maintain water and sewer systems.

The water and sewer authority board should annually hire an independent accounting firm to provide bookkeeping and audit services. An accounting firm hired for one fiscal year should be barred from the contract for the ensuing five years, to prevent corruption.

The high-rises

We’re going to need a plan to deal with all the high-rise luxury student barracks downtown after the investors bail and Penn State enrollment drops.

Perhaps some could be converted to tenant-owned housing cooperatives. Perhaps others could be converted to tenant-owned small business cooperatives, providing space for small manufacturing and professional services businesses like typewriter repair shops or nurse practitioner offices. Perhaps they could become housing for farm laborers who could live in town, and work farms on the periphery of the urbanized areas to develop local food and wood supply chains and labor markets. Maybe a shift of residents from older single-family homes to the high-rises will create opportunities to reforest parts of residential neighborhoods or set up urban farms.

However the high-rises are repurposed, it would be good if their use increases the proportion of goods and services produced and consumed by the working population here (keeping money circulating within the county); and decreasing the proportion of goods and services imported from outside the county and from abroad (exporting money).

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Preemptive state laws begging for nullification

Attached in Appendix A is a list of state laws that restrict the self-governing liberty of municipal citizens, from two sites: dced.pa.gov/local-government/local-government-laws/ and http://www.lgc.state.pa.us/frequentlyCitedLaws.cfm.

The main preemptive state laws that State College citizens should begin to nullify as soon as possible include:

  • Municipalities Planning Code, Act 247 of 1968, P.L. 805; 53 P.S. Section 10101 (“MPC”)
  • Sewage Facilities Act, 1965 P.L. 1535, No. 537 (“Act 537”)
  • Municipal Authorities Act, 53 Pa.C.S. Section 5601 et seq
  • Home Rule Charter and Optional Plans Law, 53 Pa. C.S. Section 2901 et seq.
  • Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, 53 Pa. C.S. Section 2301 et seq.

Another interesting one is the “Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act” which Penn State uses to justify its property tax exemptions, shifting the burden of funding all Borough public services provision – primarily for the 80% of residents who are students – off university books and onto the owner-occupied households.

But we should really just scrap all of the preemptive state laws, and start from scratch identifying local goals and problems and adopting local laws to address them…

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Good book.

A collection of Murray Bookchin essays: The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy.

Reading it at the suggestion of Mike Krieger, who writes about localism at his website Liberty Blitzkrieg, and recently posted an intriguing graphic there.

Krieger’s localism series so far:

 

 

News from CELDF

Reading the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s annual newsletter Susquehanna today:

“On October 3, [2019] history was made in Pennsylvania. House Representative Danielle Frield Otten (D-Chester) introduced HB1813, a constitutional amendment to recognize and secure the right of local community self-government (RLSG)…”

The bill includes the following language:

“The right to local self-government includes, without limitation, the power to enact local laws: (1) protecting health, safety and welfare by establishing the rights of people, their communities and nature and by securing those rights using prohibitions and other means; and (2) establishing, defining, altering or eliminating the rights, powers and duties of corporations and other business entities operating or seeking to operate in the community.”

Same CELDF report notes that many communities in Pennsylvania that have adopted rights-based laws to protect themselves (including State College voters who adopted the Home Rule Charter Community Bill of Rights in November 2011) have been attacked in court not only by rapacious corporations, but also by the Pa. DEP and the Attorney General:

“It cannot be overstated: both corporations and state agencies (funded with taxpayer dollars) sue to force communities to accept toxic waste (and other harmful activities) against their will.”

Posting this just to reinforce that if Borough Council tries to stand up to Penn State and DEP over the air quality degradation from the West Campus Steam Plant expansion, the most likely outcome is that we’ll finally see past the illusion that the consent-of-the-governed matters to the-powers-that-be at all.

After the dust settles in the courtrooms and judges uphold the doctrine of preemption yet again, we’ll confront the truly brutal face of our ugly government, when Governor Wolf calls up the National Guard to enforce a court order on us at gunpoint: literally forcing Penn State’s pollution down the throats of the people of State College.

Which is, of course, why Borough Council is highly unlikely to take up the fight.

Like most, they probably prefer to pretend that our “freedom” is meaningful, rather than acknowledge that we can be used and abused with utter impunity by those who have the money to buy the legislatures, courts, administrative agencies and police-state enforcers.

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Proposed revision to the DEP “Environmental Justice” Policy I sent to DEP yesterday, cc: to Borough Council, in response to an email from Zaman:

 

For the July 2018 version of the DEP public participation policy, click here.

See also: 1.22.20 Zaman to Watt Re Public Partipation Policy as applied

Transparency and Citizen Engagement in the Borough

= lip service only.

Had to file an appeal to the Pa. Office of Open Records, after Borough Manager and Open Records Officer Tom Fountaine denied my request for a copy of the taxpayer-funded consultants’ current draft zoning rewrite document…

…because the Borough’s commitment to transparent government and an informed, engaged citizenry — with plenty of time to equip itself with the requisite knowledge to participate fully and forcefully in the zoning rewrite process — is just that strong.

Pa. OOR said it will render a decision on or before February 20.

Limited context:

The last time any members of the public had input in the process was Fall 2017. Since then, the project has moved slowly, arguably due to staffing shortages in the Planning Department. However, Planning Director Ed LeClear informed the Planning Commission earlier this month that he was reviewing a 600-page draft report written by the consultants. Neither the Planning Commission, nor the “Zoning Rewrite Advisory Committee” have been forwarded copies of the consultants first major work product to review. The ZRAC has been dormant for more than two years, and the only publicly-accessible work product is the shittily-edited “Zoning Ordinance Assessment Feedback” document dated Dec. 6, 2017.

Opinion:

Zoning is super-important. The zoning code hasn’t been overhauled since 1959, so this update is long overdue. However, the piecemeal updates were working reasonably well to maintain town scale and character, until the massive, avoidable self-inflicted wound of August 2013, when Borough Council [5-2: Daubert, Dauler, Filipelli, Morris and Rosenberger in favor; Hahn and Klinetob opposed] adopted the Downtown Master Plan and the “Signature” high-rise zoning provisions that paved the way for the Metropolitan, the Rise, Fraser Center, and all the other horrifically out-of-scale, luxury student barracks-filled apartment buildings built, under construction, or in the land-use planning process.

They told us the town needed to grow vertically, because it’s built-out horizontally, so as to increase the tax base and prevent or minimize tax increases on owner-occupied homes.

Citizens argued that the addition of high-density student housing would increase demand on public services, and drive additional tax increases, higher than what would be required to simply maintain public services at the 2012 levels for the 2012 tax base.

In 2013, the Borough’s property tax rate was 11.04 mills.

In 2020, it’s 18.26 mills, a 65% increase in seven years.

Only now we live in a shithole city with no character and enormously overpriced residential and commercial real estate, and we still can’t afford to pave our streets or repair our fragile water and sewer pipeline infrastructure.

That’s why this year’s zoning rewrite is so important.

And that’s why citizens – on and off the Planning Commission and ZRAC – who want to help this year’s Borough Council repair some of the damage wrought by earlier Councils, and lay groundwork for better land use in the coming decades, need full access to all the work product under review by staff, as soon as it’s submitted to staff by the taxpayer-funded consultants.

DEP blesses Penn State’s plan to spew more pollutants on State College citizens

For those following the West Campus Steam Plant expansion project covered recently…

  • 11.14.19 Bailiwick News – Air quality/public health threat updates: Penn State plans for West Campus Steam Plant expansion; UAJA sewage plant upgrade problems.
  • 11.26.19 Bailiwick News – Three letters. (Compilation of recent public letters to Penn State officials, DEP officials and COG officials).
  • 12.3.19 Bailiwick News – NVEC Letter to Pa. DEP requesting public hearing on Penn State’s plan to add a Combustion Turbine-Heat Recovery Steam Generation unit to the West Campus Steam Plant in downtown State College.
  • 12.12.19 Watt to Zaman 2 re CT-HRSG
  • 1.14.20 Bailiwick News – Further attempts to ask State College Borough Council to block Penn State’s West Campus Steam Plant expansion, or at least publicly investigate and plan for the likely public health and air quality degradation.

…I received DEP communications via email yesterday, noting that DEP has approved Penn State’s power plant expansion plan.

Interestingly, Zaman responded to one of my questions by noting that DEP left the door open for the State College Borough Council to invoke the Home Rule Charter Community Bill of Rights to address the project at the local level:

As a reminder, the State College Home Rule Charter Community Bill of Rights provides:

So the DEP permit is invalid under our municipal charter.

Will Borough Council enforce the Home Rule Charter to protect the people of State College against the corporate-state predations of Penn State and the DEP?

Jab – January 7, 2020 – CRCOG Regional Parks Planning

Millbrook Marsh Nature Center boardwalks need costly repairs

The Steering Committee for the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Regional Comprehensive Plan met on January 7.

This ad hoc Centre Region Council of Governments committee was formed a year or so ago to steer a team of consultants hired, at taxpayer expense, to conduct an inventory of Centre Region parks and recreational facilities, and make some recommendations for programming going forward.

The impetus for hiring the consultants was mostly municipal disgruntlement with the ham-fisted 20-year process of designing and debt-funding three regional parks (Oak Hall Regional Park, Hess Field and Whitehall Road Regional Park) without any community-wide understanding of the existing parks and recreation facilities and programs, and without any community-wide vision for future parks and recreation operations.

Whitehall Road Regional Park planning increased the pressure, as legislators wrestled with the possible loss of the Toll Brothers-subsidized sewage treatment system and the impact that could have had on the overall Phase 1 budget.

Despite horrible mismanagement of funds and construction by the Centre Region Parks & Recreation Authority and Centre Region Parks and Recreation Agency for the first phases of the first two regional parks (Oak Hall and Hess), the CRCOG municipalities a few weeks ago ratified a 2020 COG budget that hands over millions more in taxpayer-backed loans for those same incompetent staff and appointed municipal representatives to move forward this year with Whitehall Road Regional Park construction, along with a multi-million dollar expansion of the Millbrook Marsh Nature Centre facilities.

At today’s meeting, CR-COG Executive Director Jim Steff – probably inadvertently – provided a scathing indictment of CRPR facilities and financial management, reinforcing points made by Bailiwick News during last fall’s budget discussions to the effect that regional taxpayers are unable to properly maintain and operate the infrastructure we’ve already built, and so should stop expanding that infrastructure.

Steff informed the steering committee that a recent safety assessment by Centre Region Code Administration Director Walt Schneider at Millbrook Marsh Nature Center found that the boardwalks used by visitors to cross the wetlands are unsafe, and will likely need to be closed in the relatively near future while the management team (Centre Region Parks and Recreation Agency, Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority, Centre Region Council of Governments, Penn State, and the Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) figure out what needs to be done to shore up the boardwalk, and how to pay for the repairs.

The cost is likely to be “very high,” according to Steff.

Millbrook Marsh is arguably the crown jewel of the regional parks portfolio, giving visitors direct experience with wetlands ecosystems crucial to sound watershed management in our groundwater-based community.

Yet over the last 20 years, while CRPR paid staff and appointed authority members have been preoccupied with panhandling local and state taxpayers for three new regional parks, the same people allowed the existing Millbrook Marsh boardwalk foundations to crumble, apparently without monitoring their stability or planning for their proper, timely upkeep.

Bailiwick News takes the editorial position that Centre Region Council of Governments should be deliberately dismantled as soon as possible, based on its lack of accountability and abundance of double-dipping bureaucracy.

Given the news about the Millbrook Marsh boardwalks’ condition, it would probably be good if the dismantling started with the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Agency and Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority, devolving park maintenance and management back to individual municipalities and their residents.