BY PHILIP BROWNDEIS & LEE QUILLEN/ Earlier this month, the Rules Committee of City Council approved Bill 120920, which will permit a digital wall wrap sign on the Electric Factory building at 7th & Callowhill Streets.
Our issue is not so much that we will clearly see the proposed digital sign from our windows; it is in this exercise of power by City Council that it chooses to spot legislate exclusively for the Callowhill Center Associates, the owners of 421 N. 7th Street, rather than expect them to adhere to the new zoning code. Those of us who reside in the effected neighborhoods become mere puppets to this type of legislative tinkering.
For over 10 years, the Callowhill Center Associates have sought a zoning variance for their sign. Last year, former Councilman Frank DiCicco had a similar bill passed by City Council, only to see it vetoed by Mayor Nutter because it endangers federal monies coming to the City for the maintenance of Route 76.
But the rich and powerful never cease in their efforts to bend City Council to their selfish purposes. Every new ordinance concerning property or revenue presents an opportunity for schemers like Jeff Hornstein, a former City Council candidate, who watch the changes and plot to their advantage.
Hornstein concocted a plan to create the Center City North Improvement Coalition, with himself as its political broker. In exchange for supporting the proposed zoning ordinance on behalf of the Callowhill Center Associates, Hornstein expects $500,000 of the revenue generated by the digital sign for himself to dole out to the parent-teacher associations of the Kearny, Spring Garden and McCall Schools and the West Popular CDC.
We do not believe for a moment that the Callowhill Center Associates are so motivated by civic virtue that they are willing to donate $500,000 to charity. Nor do we believe Jeff Hornstein’s altruism is for the sake of the children of Philadelphia. He calls his charge an “impact fee,” his euphemism for the new price of doing business with City Council.
With the bill’s passage, Hornstein will collect an annual fee for service, his 30 pieces of silver for facilitating this deal and thereby establish his reputation as a man of influence.
It is hard to blame the parents, who honestly and sincerely care about the education of their children, for casting a blind eye to the source of this money. But they must realize personnel costs make up the majority of the school budget, particularly medical benefits and pension contributions rather than spending that directly benefits their children. They should demand and expect accountability from the School District of Philadelphia for its expenditure of our tax dollars rather than accept money tainted by this corrupt bargain.
In City Council, bills are being passed to grant exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the influential more powerful, while the rest of us who have neither the time nor the means of obtaining similar benefits, only have the right to complain of the injustices of their government.
The time to guard against corruption is before it has gotten hold of us. It is better to keep Jeff Hornstein out of our neighborhoods with his community-based agreements ready for signature than to entrust him with newfound power. There would be no abuse of power, if City Council would confine itself to equal protection and opportunity for all. Let there not be special privileges for some; let the new zoning code be the guide for all property owners.