Voices | July 9-16

Reactions, rants and other random musings from you, our readers

City Hall
This week, a councilmember responds to a reader, we want your thoughts on wearing a mask, people who just want peace in the valley and more in this week’s “Voices of Our City. | Image: Maria S. Young

Parker responds to letter re: proposed senior housing project

On June 11, Philadelphia Weekly published a “reaction, rant, and other random musing” from one of my constituents in East Oak Lane. In said piece, the constituent claims that “Parker is aggressively pushing through a zoning variance for a project for the building of a high-density, multi-unit apartment building, without off-street parking, in a narrow intersection in East Oak Lane.”  

First of all, there are two ways that someone can obtain zoning relief: 

  • A Councilmember can unilaterally introduce a bill changing a property’s zoning classification and try to obtain City Council approval, or 
  • The person requesting relief can go through the community-led zoning process, where a Coordinating RCO is assigned, a community meeting is required, and the ZBA ultimately makes the decision about whether to grant a variance.

If I really were “aggressively pushing through a zoning variance,” then why did I choose to use the route I always do – the community-led zoning process?  This project would be moving much more quickly if I had decided to change the zoning of the property via the legislative process. The bill would have already been passed, whereas now the zoning hearing has been continued until an uncertain date due to the pandemic. I didn’t go the legislative route because I value community input.  

The constituent further asks that the Zoning Board of Adjustment “deny this zoning variance to Parker.” Councilmembers do not request variances, only property owners or tenants can legally do this. In this case, the applying party is the property owner, Refuge Evangelical Baptist Church.  

The constituent then goes on to say, “There is solid, strong, vocal opposition to this project in East Oak Lane.” I am well aware that there are people who oppose the project, and I suspect they are being riled up and led by a few individuals intent on spreading misinformation about the project and my involvement in it. But these individuals do not speak for the whole community. There are also dozens of supporters for this project, but as we all know, the loudest voices are often the only ones that get heard. 

Speaking of this project – what is it? The constituent describes it as a “high-density, multi-unit apartment building.” What she fails to mention is that it is a four-story building with 40 units of senior housing at the site of a former church, designed for area residents who desire to remain in the community as they age but find their independence challenged by stairs and other aspects of their homes.

My independent, detailed research of this community shows that approximately one-third of its population is 50 and over with no independent senior living facilities available in this neighborhood. Thus, senior housing will become a great need in the coming years. 

Finally, the constituent makes an allegation that borders on libel, accusing me of corruption. There is no truth whatsoever to these crude allegations, and I am surprised that they would even be published without asking for my comment or doing the slightest bit of fact-checking. I am all for open discourse and public debate on projects such as these, but this attack was baseless and does nothing to further the issues at play for community development.   

– Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker – 9th District 

The SHOUT Out

“Masks are now required in all public spaces in Pennsylvania, per the governor’s order.”

Your turn: What’s your response when you see someone not wearing a mask in public? Do you ignore them? Do you “remind” them they need to be wearing a mask?

Congress should support voting by mail

Do you know who’s voting by mail this election? Donald Trump. And do you know who’s making it harder for everyone else in the country to vote by mail in the middle of a global pandemic? That’s right – Donald Trump. 

He and other White House officials have gone on record with false claims against mail-in voting, even though it’s one of the safest options for us to cast our ballots as the country recovers from this pandemic.

In the face of Trump’s hypocrisy, I expect Congress to do the right thing and provide both economic relief and expanded funding for no-excuse absentee voting, early voting, and other options to make voting safer this November. These are all common-sense reforms that a vast majority of Americans support and changes that would help increase voter participation during and after this crisis.

Even though Congress allocated some funds to help states implement these voting reforms, without an additional $3.6 billion in election assistance funding, some voters may not be able to make their voices heard during one of the most important elections of our lifetime.

We must prevent a situation where voters are forced to choose between protecting their health and casting a ballot – no matter what Trump says.  Congress has the ability to act right now and we need to make sure our representatives know that anything less than immediate action is unacceptable.

– Jean Wiant | Glenolden

Put dollars meant for police back into community

It’s time to defund the police. The resources that keep people safe and healthy are continuously defunded, and it’s time to take the dollars set aside for law enforcement and put them into our communities. 

That means reinvesting funding into social services, like access to mental health professionals and addiction specialists to handle crises police are not trained for. It means protecting our right to vote by funding election protections and building the infrastructure to expand voting by mail. Finally, it means investing in taking care of our loved ones, whether that’s expanding access to affordable child care or elder care. I call on our community and our elected leaders to join the movement to ensure safety for our communities. 

Tali Ruskin | Philadelphia

We must strive for just, equitable society

The brutal murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have saddened me deeply. These events highlighted the long history of racial inequality and injustice against the Black community. As an Ahmadi Muslim, I stand in solidarity with the Black community in their demand for equality.

Islam has taught me that all people are equal despite their color, creed, or origin. Our diversity is something to be celebrated and appreciated, and we should try to get to know each other despite our differences. In the Holy Qur’an God states, “We have made you into tribes and subtribes that you may recognize one another. Verily the most honorable among you, in the sight of God, is the one who is the most righteous among you” (49:14). The color of the skin doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what’s inside. And only God is the best judge of character.

Islam condemns the concept of racial superiority. In his farewell sermon, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) declared, “An Arab has no preference over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor is a white one to be preferred to a dark one, nor a dark one to a white one.”

Let’s strive to be a just and equitable society with no place for systemic racism and racial killings. Let’s examine our own racial biases and make sure that Black lives truly matter.

– Nazahat Durryyah | Women’s Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Distillers need Congress’ help

The coronavirus pandemic has produced thousands of everyday heroes, from doctors and nurses to grocery store workers and delivery drivers. 

Distillers have also emerged as heroes – and not only because they crafted your whiskey. 

Across the country, distillers of all sizes have revamped their facilities to produce desperately needed hand sanitizer. Huber’s Starlight distillery in Indiana, for example, is providing hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer to first responders, health-care agencies and others in the community. All told, more than 700 distillers have stepped up to help stop the spread COVID-19.

These spirits-makers have poured their energy into helping others. But now, they could use some help themselves. 

COVID-19 has forced restaurants, bars and distillery tasting rooms across the country to close, significantly impacting revenue. And making hand sanitizer, which many distilleries are donating to charity or selling at cost, isn’t a long-term solution.

The spirits industry experienced a short-term boost as Americans stocked up on alcohol while preparing to shelter-in-place. But this demand is expected to dissipate and doesn’t help restaurant owners and small distilleries, whose now-closed tasting rooms generate 40 percent of their total sales.  

Many craft distilleries have been forced to lay off workers or suspend production. And some are wrestling with the decision to shut down permanently. 

Overall, the distilled spirits industry and its supply chain accounted for more than $190 billion in GDP in 2018. The industry directly employs 848,000 people and is responsible for nearly twice as many jobs overall – from farmers who supply grain, fruit and vegetables; to warehouse operators, distributors and truck drivers; to glassmakers who supply bottles. Jobs across this supply chain are now in jeopardy. 

Obviously, the stimulus measures Congress has passed will help. The forgivable loans for small businesses and the streamlined underwriting process could provide short-term relief.  

But we’ll need industry-specific measures to ensure speedy and permanent recovery. For starters, suspending federal excise taxes for the 2020 calendar year and making temporary reduced rates permanent would bring significant relief to the industry. Such measures would provide distillers with the liquidity needed to keep their distilleries running and employees working.

Here’s how. The federal government collects a tax on spirits based on the amount of alcohol in the product. The rate is generally $13.50 per “proof-gallon,” one gallon of liquid of 100-proof (50 percent alcohol) strength. Under the circumstances, waiving the excise tax for 2020 would be a smart move.   

The administration should also keep reduced excise tax rates in place. Many Americans have noticed an influx of craft spirits at their local markets and in their communities over the last couple of years. One key reason was the 2017 tax reform package, which included the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. The provision lowered the excise tax to $2.70 per proof-gallon for the first 100,000 proof gallons – a huge boost to entrepreneurship in the industry. 

The original tax cut was for two years, but last year Congress extended it through 2020. Thanks to a scheduled tax increase in January 2021, many distillers fear that by American life returns to normal, their federal taxes will climb 400 percent. 

Over 70 members of the U.S. Senate and 342 members of the House have co-sponsored legislation to make lower rates permanent. The more Congress can do now to reduce future uncertainty, the quicker businesses will rebuild once the pandemic ends.

Chris Swonger is president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.