Connecting with Kenney

Readers’ questions, and mayor answers.

Mayor Jim Kenney continues to reach out to Philadelphia residents with a special Q&A initiative with weekly newspaper readers each month.

Kenney’s newspaper debut happened in The Northeast Times on Feb. 16, 2016, and the Star is excited to have a third opportunity to connect the River Wards neighborhoods of Bridesburg, Fishtown, Kensington, Northern Liberties and Port Richmond with Philadelphia with Philadelphia’s top public servant.

The Star asked readers to submit questions and we received plenty. Kenney answered six of them, based on space in the paper.

In the future, we hope to have the mayor answer questions already submitted by readers.

In addition to answering reader-submitted questions, Kenney shared his thoughts on the opioid crisis affecting our city, especially in sections of the River Wards.

Q: Please commit to increasing the tree canopy in Philadelphia. Can you consider a law that new home construction MUST include a curbside tree planting? And NEW businesses must also comply, add initiatives to existing homeowners and existing businesses to plant trees? — Lisa, Fishtown

A: Lisa, you are correct, increasing the tree canopy is something that will require the efforts of private property owners. Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation Tree Philly program educates residents about tree stewardship and provides free trees for planting on residential land. Parks & Recreation is also doing cutting-edge research and planning to make sure we’re planting tree species that will thrive in the hotter, wetter weather projected for Philadelphia. You can read all about it and even participate in some of the experiments at phillyforestscience.org/.

Additionally, the City has been able to increase the number of street trees planted by changing regulations. Previously, when the City wanted to plant a tree on the street we needed permission from the abutting property owner. Now, we may advise owners of planned planting projects and give them the opportunity to opt out. Our zoning code also preserves heritage trees and requires developers to replace all trees 2.5 inches in diameter or bigger. Furthermore, we require one tree to be planted every 35 feet of linear footage in front of parking lots or any other surface space.

Q: To the grand opening of the Sugarhouse Casino, then newly elected Mayor Nutter held a community meeting at the Old Brick Church located at Richmond and Marlborough Streets. He had all of his department heads there to answer questions and to quell the tension in the neighborhood. One community member asked for a review of the various street directions changed in Fishtown during the original build of I-95. The mayor referred the question to the Streets Department which said a new review could be done. Well, nothing was done, no report, no reversal of changes, etc. Can this old request be done currently while there is a rebuild of I-95? Could the lack of movement on the request be the result that the 18th Ward was always a solid Democratic vote (in the bag), whether anything positive happened there or not? — Andrew, Fishtown

A: The Streets Department is willing to meet with representatives of the community and Council to discuss this issue of changing the direction on some streets. We would like to get an understanding of the issue and work out a solution which is viable for everyone. Streets Department will do their best to accommodate all the changes in direction with all the construction occurring in the area and you can contact them by emailing csstreets@phila.gov.

Q: Mr. Mayor: Residents of this City are horrified by the slow processing of their payments to the City of Philadelphia of all types. We are being charged late fees and even told that our payments were not received. Not only is this causing the residents aggravation, it is also costing the City money. If the checks were deposited promptly it would result in not having to borrow monies to pay current obligations and incurring interest, and if the City is not borrowing at the time interest that could be earned as income. In reviewing my recent payment to the City, my check for the school tax was not posted to my bank for 25 days, and my water bills took two weeks to clear my bank. What will you do to correct this situation both for the well being of the citizens and for a reduction of interest costs or increased revenues? — Raymond, Port Richmond

A: Raymond, thank you for your question, and I am sorry for the delays you encountered. Like you, most Philadelphians pay their bills on time to the City, and we agree that it is essential that payments be processed quickly and accurately. Our goal is to process and deposit check within five days of receiving them in the mail or in person, and most of the time we meet that goal. One way residents can help us meet that goal is to use eCheck — within the past year we have eliminated the fee for paying by check online. This gets rid of delays in the mail and processing, and taxpayers and water customers get immediate confirmation that their payment has been received and they clear in three to five days.

To help us clear checks more quickly, we’ve also adopted a new cashiering system. While the implementation did have some challenges that caused delays earlier in the spring, the system is now up and running. So far this month, we have been able to automatically process over 9,000 payments for $45 million that previously would have had to be processed manually. We’re giving taxpayers and customers quicker ways to pay, and investing in technology to improve the speed and accuracy of payment processing.

Q: Why is I-95 and the surrounding streets being dug up all at one time? People have to go to work, children have to go to school. Detours can change from day to day. When is this going to be done? Whose idea was it to put up all the no parking signs on the street where residents were able to park before? Do you realize you are making a serious problem worse? Maybe you should check the plates of out of state cars that are residing here. Give the former residents a break. — Joan, Fishtown

A: Joan, all the work is the result of the widening of I-95 by PennDOT, the state’s transportation agency. Detours do change, and PennDOT has been having community meetings and updating their website and press releases to keep residents informed. www.95revive.com/

As for the no parking signs, we will need more specific information to see where this has occurred to see if this was done by the state or if it’s a city issue. Please contact 311 and ask that this be relayed to the Right of Way unit of the Streets Department.

Q: Philadelphia is so filthy. Could the City institute sidewalk cleaners, like there are in the Center City District, but around the neighborhoods? Or regular street cleaning like in New York City? This could also create jobs for local residents. Also, would you consider banning plastic shopping bags like California cities have done to reduce the amount of trash? — Rebecca, Northern Liberties

A: In December, I launched the Zero Waste and Litter cabinet to address trash and litter on our streets. They should be releasing their comprehensive plan to reduce the amount of trash on street in the coming months and we’re confident that through their recommendations we’ll be able to devise a cost-effective plan to help keep our city clean.

With regard to banning plastic shopping bag, regrettably, the state legislature just passed House Bill 1071 prohibiting municipalities from instituting a ban or taxing plastic bags. If you disagree, please call your state legislator and let them know.

Q: Philadelphia developers continue making garages. This takes away street parking. Can the law be changed law so that new construction may not include a new curb cut for a garage, only existing curb cuts may be honored? Maybe offer incentives to not use existing curb cuts? — Lisa, Fishtown

A: Philadelphia’s zoning code already prohibits garages in front of the house in many of our residential neighborhoods, including in front of rowhomes in the most densely-developed areas of the City. In those neighborhoods, if there is to be parking, it must be accessed via a shared driveway, alley or rear street. So, where you see a front-loaded garage, it is either in one of the few residential neighborhoods without that prohibition or a variance has been granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, an independent agency.

A word from Mayor Jim Kenney:

The opioid epidemic has been particularly devastating to Philadelphia. Last year, 900 overdose deaths were reported; that’s more than three times the number of homicides recorded last year. And, of course, that doesn’t account for the lives of family members and friends who were devastated by their loved ones’ addiction. To better address those in need of addiction services, the city has increased methadone treatment slots by 500. We are also increasing distribution of the overdose reversing and lifesaving drug narcan to 10,000 at risk Philadelphians in high risk areas, like the West Kensington/Fairhill. We are also in the process of creating a real-time database to track openings in treatment facilities so that those seeking treatment can quickly be placed in the appropriate facilities.

Furthermore, we are increasing our outreach efforts to keep individuals from falling into the grasp of addiction in the first place. This year’s budget asks for the necessary funds to create a database of doctors who prescribe the most opioids and make them aware of the consequences that over prescribing can have. Also, on May 1, we launched a media campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription opioid painkillers. Just because a doctor prescribes it does not mean that it is not an addictive substance.

I remain committed to significantly reducing Philadelphia’s poverty rate and creating a city where everyone can succeed, regardless of their ZIP code. This cannot happen until we make a real difference in regard to the number of individuals suffering from opioid addiction.