Darrell Clarke Trying to Manufacture Community Opposition to Broadly-Supported Land Bank Bill

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This post may be immediately obsolete because there may be some kind of a deal now, but it’s still worth engaging with Philly Council President Darrell Clarke’s view on the land bank bill since he’s a candidate for Mayor in 2015, and it gives us a window into his thinking on key issues in Philadelphia economic policy.

City Paper’s Ryan Briggs has a hot scoop that Council President Clarke is secretly trying to manufacture community opposition to Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s land bank bill, with the goal of tabling it indefinitely.

Mr. Clarke has a lot of bad ideas about the land bank which all stem from the following bad idea, helpfully summarized in this talking point:

“Overarching Message: Local residents, through their District Council Member, should decide what happens to the vacant land in their communities,” Bullock writes in the email. “The proposed legislation delegates a massive amount of power to the Land Bank Board without any checks and balances.”

Take a look at who is in the Philly Land Bank Alliance and you’ll see that it’s a very diverse array of public interest groups, non-profits, and professional associations.

Building Industry Association
Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land
Community Design Collaborative
City Wide NAC Alliance
Design Advocacy Group
The Food Trust
Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors
LISC Philadelphia
Next Great City
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
Regional Housing Legal Services
Sustainable Business Network

This is a big cross-section of the public. Many of the people who live in Darrell Clarke’s district are construction workers, architects, designers, gardeners and urban farmers, realtors, developers, environmentalists, and small business owners.

So Mr. Clarke is engaging in some constituent-speak here, using “local residents” as a stand-in for “Darrell Clarke.” It’s not like he is suggesting the voters of his district hold a special referendum election every time somebody wants to buy some property from the city.

The “local residents” he’s talking about are the small NIMBY groups in his district who want to block developable parcels from being sold. Mr. Clarke has more holds on parcels than any other Council member largely for this reason.

I think it’s important to understand that these are also special interest groups, with a weak claim on the broad public interest. They represent many fewer people than any one of the groups in the Land Bank Alliance. What Clarke is really saying is that he wants to retain his power to steer land to his favorite people, not let just anybody buy it.

As for checks and balances, look at how that’s working out. Philly has so much vacant land because there are so many checks and balances on which land can be sold.  More politician discretion hasn’t led to good results for the community, as evidenced by the 12,000 city-owned vacant land parcels, many of which are covered in trash. (There’s a great trash-strewn city lot with a Jersey barrier in it right out back of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s house in Point Breeze.)

Also, it’s a bullshit talking point because there are three veto points for somebody to block a land sale: the land bank, the Vacant Property Review Committee, and City Council. If those don’t count as checks and balances, then I think we have to say Council President Clarke really just opposes the whole premise of the land bank bill, which is to depoliticize and speed up the sale of city-owned land.


This entry was posted in Economy, Greater Philadelphia, Land Use, Open Government, Philadelphia 2015.

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