Sour Grapes & Missed Opportunities at May EFCC Meeting

Eastfallslocal audience text

5-18-15: UPDATE:  Some really cool discussion opening up on Philadelphia Speaks — if you’re not already a member, please check out this great local resource for all kinds of neighborhood feedback.

Ooh boy.

Full Disclosure:  We started attending Community Council meetings last Fall and the climate has been reeeeally unfriendly from the get-go. Granted, video is kind of intrusive I suppose but on the other hand these are public meetings, and attendance has never been really stellar.

You’d think the Council would be delighted to have the opportunity to reach a new audience, maybe see the chance to connect with the many young busy professionals who don’t have time for meetings but might check into a blog post on an issue that was important to them, like development and dog parks and so forth.

Ridge Allegheny-Hunting Park, by contrast, has always welcomed us and our camera. They’ve opened their schools, their homes, their community spaces… Come see! Has been the message. Come help! “We’re all in this together!”  Rose Cooper always tells us (the head of their neighborhood RCO).

Point is:  I have been ranting quietly to myself about EFCC President Bartlebee Wittels’ “It’s-Not-Us-It’s-You” editorial in this month’s Fallser — You guys need a separate COMMITTEE to just talk to us neighbors, are you kidding me? — and last night’s meeting tipped me over. If there’s any doubt in Wittels’ mind why new residents don’t attend meetings, it’s the tone displayed in these video clips.

These Council members taking down Recording Secretary Heather Plataras about school grants are not just random neighbors but prominent community members:  Julie Camburn (who starts off the questioning) owns & edits The Fallser. Meg Greenfield has years of Council positions under her belt, plus still sits on many important committees and meetings. Not sure why the lovely Tree Tenders lady is on their side but mysteries abound in East Falls, indeed.

The grants involved include $800 to St. James School for the purchase of books to be given as prizes for Student of the Month recipients. And $1,682 to Wissahickon Charter School for natural noise-reduction barriers & litter stops & rain garden.

**TRANSCRIPTIONS FOR BOTH CLIPS AVAILABLE AT END OF POST PLUS FULL VIDEO**


Do these Council members have a point? Sure, maybe it’s weird to be giving out grants to neighboring private schools when our local public school needs books, equipment, computer software upgrades

But you know what’s weirder? Wasting one ounce of energy blocking grant money to schools other than Mifflin, when Mifflin could’ve had “a bunch of money” — had they only applied.   (That’s a direct quote from the speaker, btw.)

Here’s another contrast for you. A new resident to East Falls emailed us recently about negative stuff they’d been reading in “The Voice of the Community” and they were beginning to regret buying a home here.  During beers at Murphy’s, we gave ’em the best pep talk we could but weren’t surprised last week when they forwarded us an unsatisfying email thread with EFCC — they were asked for $10 in the first paragraph then told to come to meetings (presumably with ten bucks).

EastFallsLocal 5-11 Gina meets with Angela and Luis 2

We mentioned our back-and-forth to EFDC‘s Gina Snyder, and she met us all on Franklin’s patio last Sunday for a pow-wow over our area’s unfriendly reputation towards new business, and her specific challenges filling storefronts. For instance, Foodery (now in Roxborough) and Triumph Cycles (in Manayunk) both first approached East Falls, but were turned off after some executive members of our Community Council outright told them they would not approve such commerce in our neighborhoods

EastFallsLocal fooder -- if this is your reaction you get me text

WITHOUT A VOTE, people. Specifically, Foodery felt rebuffed when they put out feelers and Triumph actually came to at least one zoning meeting but gave up when faced with the gauntlet of meetings & negotiations requested. So technically, our Council never actually denies anything, they just send new business the message to move along, it’s not worth the hassle to set up shop here.

East Falls’ voice is in transition from this siloed “Upper and Lower” (Fallser and squatter?) mentality to a more inclusive, democratic demographic that wants more retail, more places to eat & drink & grab a cup of coffee. Adjustments will need to be made — but everyone will benefit, too, when local business thrives. We’ve got so much potential here!

A large part of Planning is trial-and-error, East Falls is kinda fortunate to be relatively late to gentrify:  we have the opportunity to learn from other neighborhoods’ mistakes. Instead of digging in against inevitable changes like traffic, parking, re-zoning, etc, we should be reaching out to (or at least studying) other communities who’ve gone ahead to figure out what they did right, and what they did wrong so we can try to avoid the same pitfalls. 

And instead of grousing about how much money we’re giving outside our community, maybe we could work on what we can do, ourselves, to “be the ones we’ve been waiting for” — like, the ones who fill out paperwork for available grant money like other organizations do.  Sigh. 

How many other opportunities is Mifflin missing out on? Wish this was our only first-hand experience with Mifflin failing to apply for grant money offered, but we were personally involved in one other instance, where we really had to make some noise before they took the application seriously. Does Mifflin have a problem asking for help? Can we make it easier for them?

Maybe a grant-matching program so that whenever EFCC gives money to another school, Mifflin automatically gets the same or a proportional amount…? Just spitballin’,  here. Probably lots of better ideas out there if we crowd-source, and get some big brains on board for targeting & managing resources.

We have high hopes for East Falls but will settle for just a coffee shop. If any of this resonates with you, please come to Community Council meetings. And sit with us.

Something tells me the vibe might be extra-chilly at next month’s meeting, especially…

EastFallsLocal Foodery -- steve chooses beers from fridge text

TRANSCRIPTION FOR FIRST VIDEO:

JULIE CAMBURN: There’s limited funds here so less opportunity to go outside…

CYNTHIA KISCHINSCHAND: Well, how many students are there at St. James? At Mifflin there’s about three hundred and twenty five…

HEATHER PLASTARAS: I don’t know the total enrollment at St. James it’s not high it’s a pretty small school, maybe 100 or less.

JULIE CAMBURN: I have the same questions that St. James is in Ridge Avenue-Hunting Park area, and not in East Falls, you know… (unintelligible)

HEATHER PLASTARAS: They serve kids from East Falls, I’m mean, that’s…

JULIE CAMBURN: You’re assuming that, we don’t know that. (unintelligible crosstalk with EFCC speaker) We have limited funds… and you know… you could…. you could’ve…

HEATHER PLASTARAS: We didn’t get an application from Friends of Mifflin, we would’ve given them a bunch of money but I…..

(unidentified AUDIENCE MEMBER from behind camera): Could you just say that again?

HEATHER PLASTARAS: We didn’t get an application from Friends of Mifflin School.

TRANSCRIPTION FOR SECOND VIDEO:

MEG GREENFIELD: Following up on what Julie asked, is RAH giving to St. James or anyone…?

HEATHER PLASTARAS: I have no idea. No, I don’t think so.

MEG GREENFIELD: Well who makes…

HEATHER PLASTARAS: You mean their financial statement?

MEG GREENFIELD: I mean… do we know the reason we didn’t vote individually?

HEATHER PLASTARAS: Ummm… I have no idea what the rule is, actually.

MEG GREENFIELD: There is no rule, some years we haven’t and some years we have.

CYNTHIA KISCHINSCHAND: Just so you know, I just got an invitation to honor Aubrey Evans of St. James School a the Union League for $250 a ticket so they do a lot of fundraising. Serious fundraising.

FULL GRANT PROPOSAL VIDEO (no subtitles):

BONUS VIDEO — Can’t get enough EFCC Meeting footage?  Here’s more! Unedited for the most part, in all its amateur glory, enjoy.

Zoning Committee report:

Traffic report:

Also, I recorded 16 gigs of “Candidates Forum” but with only 2 minutes to speak, everyone’s message was remarkably similar: good schools, security, healthy business. Stay tuned possibly for some clips but really this local stuff interests me more.

Like the Judicial Candidates…

Speaking of, I understand the judicial candidates the Council invited were told they’d have a chance to speak but then after 2 hours everyone was ready to go so they were herded up to the front of the room and basically the moderator just went, “Ta da! Let’s go home.”  Then all the candidates shuffled processionally back down the aisle. OK, then.

15 Comments

  • Brian Kistler

    Couple of observations from the peanut gallery:
    1.) I don’t remember having to pay $10 for the right to vote in any election. Why don’t we just make the $10 a voluntary donation and if it is too much you can join and vote anyway. The $10 requirement responses from leaders really puts off new people from joining inferring (flat out stating) that if you don’t have $10, you don’t have an opinion or a vote. Move beyond this if you want to be inclusive.
    2.) Treat others with more respect at these meetings. Its embarrassing to see how invited guests and people offering ideas get talked to by key individuals at these meetings. (I wonder why more people don’t speak up?) Its another reason why people don’t come to the meetings. Its worse than the clips. Someone needs to start calling people out on their attitudes and behavior. Video at the meeting is excellent for that. If you don’t want to look like a jerk on the internet, don’t be a jerk at the meeting.
    3.) Is EFCC helping us get stuff accomplished or impeding us at this point, ask yourself that. Telling businesses I would frequent not to bother setting up shop here, leads me to believe the later.
    4.) Nothing is going to change unless we all say enough of this and get involved.

    Just my 2 cents

    • Steve Fillmore

      Here’s an idea–instead of denying St. James’ request (and carping about it) because they already have a strong fundraising network, why don’t we make our donation and TALK to them to find out how they did it? We are so allergic in this community to reaching out to our Allegheny neighbors but you really should see the magnificent job they’ve done with that school. And their neighborhood is far worse off than ours!!! Couldn’t we learn something about business and donor partnerships from them? Who wants to see Mifflin with gardens, beehives, chicken coops, more financial support for our teachers (and the computer programs and supplies they rely on)–oh, and an innovative kitchen sponsored by DiBruno’s? Instead, we talk about borders and “us” and “them”, to the detriment of both communities.

    • Carolyn Fillmore

      Totally agree with letting go of the $10 thing, like you said, make it optional!!!

      $10/year might seem like a pittance but for a lot of people on budgets, that’s “treat money” we’re asking them to give up — for what? You get to attend meetings where members take other members to task over acts of human kindness??

      If this is how they treat each other, no wonder newcomers aren’t feeling the love.

  • Mike Daigeaun

    (FYI, your back function when there is an error erases the text in this block. Has happened to me twice now.)

    With the $10, there is indeed a barrier to participation that I believe the EFCC wants. In the past when I have attended meetings, I suggested the meetings rotate locations to other parts of East Falls. Abbottsford Homes are part of our community but the leadership neglects to work hard enough to include them. And I would strongly accuse them of purposefully not. They may say otherwise but their actions tell the story.

    The EFCC exemplifies the upper and lower falls divide. And the divide amongst other community groups in East Falls does not serve the community well either. That is the fault of all the organizational bodies not just the EFCC.

    I do applaud the EFCC for having the grant program. However, it should be noted that Friends of Mifflin is an extension of the EFCC so you have to wonder about how proper it would be for them to put in for a grant.

    What those who are disenfranchised should be asking is, can another community group come together to speak for those in East Falls who tend to have no voice or be turned off by the actions of the EFCC? It may be the only way to speed change and have an active dialogue among all the citizens of East Falls.

    • Carolyn Fillmore

      Thank you so much for your comments! (sorry about that back/text issue, so maddening when that happens — will look into, thanks for following thru on your post!)

      Very heartening, to read your words and know others, too, have felt turned-off by what they see at meetings here. Thank you for pointing out EFCC’s commendable grant program — and also, we appreciate how a lot of these folks really are dedicated to East Falls, in their own way. It’s just… you know.

  • Heather

    Everything you touch on in this article is the exact reason I stopped participating in EFCC meetings. I’ve never felt more unwelcome in a community than when I tried to get involved with my own neighborhood.

    It’s depressing to hear that businesses like The Foodery and Triumph were considering East Falls as a new location, but were discouraged or given the runaround during the initial stages of that process. For what? So we can preserve the beauty that is currently Ridge and Midvale, the beloved “business corridor” of choice? The litter-strewn sidewalks, lack of parking, and ramshackle mix of businesses and empty buildings is a major turn-off.

    East Falls will never be the next Chestnut Hill or Manayunk. It seems with all the hoops that EFCC presents to prospective businesses, we also won’t be the next East Falls, either. How many other businesses have not moved to 19129, or have left after only a year or two, not because they would not or were not successful, but because they were not offered respect and support from the community leaders?

    This is an edited comment to one I originally posted, before fully engaging the brain. Originally, I claimed that Gina Snyder has only ever had negative things to say to me. That’s not entirely fair to say, especially when Gina contacted me after I posted that comment to first apologize for previously offending me, and then to ask what it was she’d done. To be honest, I don’t even remember the conversation I had with Gina that left such a negative impression, and I am now the one apologizing to her for making a blanket statement, and not clearly separating other claims in the original paragraph (I mentioned EFCC, Ms. Snyder, and Ms. Camburn all in the same paragraph, though as Gina pointed out, she’s not ever been an officer with EFCC). Quite frankly, my perception of what sort of person Ms. Snyder might be could stem from what boils down to a bad day 10 years ago, and our personalities being different. Likewise, I made the claim that I’ve only ever had negative experiences with Julie Camburn. That is somewhat true, in a more indirect way – former Fallsers have approached Julie with ideas for the monthly paper, and they’ve had bad experiences with her. I misrepresented my experience with Ms. Camburn, thinking it would be easier to lump those experiences of my friends into one sentence, wanting to have their general experiences aired, but not crediting them. I am also sorry for that.

    But, I am not sorry to say that when I’ve approached the EFCC with ideas and questions, I have been ignored, or worse, treated like an uneducated outsider. I bought my house here over 10 years ago. I’ve made more friends and established meaningful relationships in these few square miles than I have growing up in a rural community, at college, or even at work.

    So much of what is being done in East Falls seems to stem from a rather select group of residents. Is it because I don’t live on historic Penn Street? Or because I’m on the wrong side of Queen and Henry?

    I don’t want to be part of the problem. I’d much rather be part of the solution. Gina Snyder reached out to me in an objective, non-defensive way, and I respect that. This is exactly the sort of productive discussion that East Falls needs.

    Thank you for sharing this real article. It’s not surprising to see that EFCC operates the same as they always have. But, I hope this is the beginning of a new discussion and that old and new residents can work towards the shared goal of making our community better for all.

    • Steve Fillmore

      Thank you Heather for your thoughtful comments. We need more of this kind of discussion in the neighborhood. We have heard from many residents (from old-guard Fallsers to “newbies”) that they’ve felt shut out of the EFCC meetings. We’ve witnessed several occasions when residents/visitors who wished to speak at meetings (dog park, EPPI reps) were berated or denigrated. We’ve also attended meetings (crumbling wall between Penn and Midvale, String Theory) when residents showed up en masse only to have their topics dropped from the agenda. This is unacceptable behavior from those who claim to represent our neighborhood and proclaim themselves “the glue of the community.” EF Local, like EFCC, is only one voice in this community (who could claim to represent the whole thing?) We want our blog to be a platform to get EVERYONE talking. In our experience, there isn’t enough thoughtful, genuine community dialogue. Thanks for adding to our short supply.

  • Michael Smith

    I do think the key is increased participation at EFCC as a block and not accepting any disrespect. I personally haven’t been to a meeting yet because Mondays at 7 is precisely when I have to go do my side business work – but maybe I could rearrange something to make more meetings.

    I’ve lived here 4 years and I see your website/participation as an excellent rallying point for people who wanted to be more involved but maybe didn’t know how, or were put off by the tone of meetings and members. I’d like to be more involved, particularly if we can commit as a group to adequately represent the kind of young professionals that East Falls is already full of.

    • Mike Daigeaun

      Also, while it is only one Monday a month, 7PM can be a tight time for a lot of people. I do understand a delicate balance of not trying to be too late.

  • Matthew

    I too stopped going to EFCC meetings after only a few. I’ve lived here 7 years. It just seemed like a club that I would never be able to have an active voice in.

    I don’t disagree with every stance the EFCC takes, but the tone of the meetings is really a shame. The group dynamic is really set by a select few influential voices (with a good measure of scowls and eye rolls to vocalize their thoughts even when they’re not speaking). It’s not a healthy discourse.

    I’ve been dissatisfied that I let myself feel shoed away and I like the idea of rallying more people to come to the meetings. I don’t subscribe to a “us v. them” notion in this case, but I think discussions need to include more diversity of opinions.

    I’ll do everything possible to be at the next meeting.

  • Juliet

    As someone on the “newbie” side of the spectrum (moved to East Falls 1 year ago, but am a native Philadelphian), it pains me to see a neighborhood that has the bones of a walkable, sustainable community languishing in purgatory. The neighborhood has so many assets — location along the river, proximity to Center City and the park, commuter rail, beautiful domestic architecture — but the lack of walkable amenities in our commercial districts is shocking coming from Fairmount, where I’m from originally. East Falls is unique in having both urban and suburban settings within its bounds, but perhaps that’s part of the issue? Either way, I am excited by the dialogue that is going on here — keep up the good work, East Falls Local!

  • Carla

    I am totally bummed that we could have had The Foodery. I LOVE that place.it does seem like we need more change. I am appalled by what I am hearing about the meetings. I would love to come but it is hard with two little ones. However, we do plan on being here for at least a few years and I hope that I can get away to see this for myself and possibly vote. Also, I noticed in Barnaby’s piece that he will not be running. How are the EFCC elections shaping up?

    • Steve Fillmore

      Hi Carla: We too were shocked when we heard about Foodery (only a few days ago). We’d known about Triumph on Midvale Ave but, since I’m not a motorcycle rider, it wasn’t as tough (though I wonder how much better that area would have been with a cool motorcycle shop rather than a bargain thrift store). Love my beer though (and visiting Roxborough to get my Foodery fix). Yes, Barnaby is not running again. His successor Bill Epstein, like almost all the candidates (except at-large positions) is running unopposed. As I understand it, the candidates are vetted and chosen privately by the nominating committee, with no input from the general membership. The only opportunity for members to add a candidate is to nominate one from the floor during a meeting (as Meg Greenfield was at the April meeting). This election then will be a choice between a few at-large candidates, with no options for the far more influential executive positions. I’m not sure why the general members have no say in the nominating committee’s process (or why only one person is nominated per executive position) but greater input from the community and more choices on the slate would go a long way toward true community representation.

  • Raymond P. Lucci

    I mostly agree with the expressed sentiment that the current make-up of the EFCC, both leadership and membership is not fully representational of both the demographics and opinions of the greater community of EFCC. But I do not agree with the repeated mantra that the lack of progress in neighborhood development, particularly commercial, is solely the fault of the EFCC. Yes, certainly, many times, it comes across as anti-development and can scare off potential developers or entrepreneurs but they are not the only players in this act. You need to be more objectively looking at the record of the EFDC and our leadership in City Hall, who after all hold the ultimate strings in any pot of activity in our town and city as a whole. Right now, PHA is reneging on it’s legal obligation to develop a tract of land on Ridge Ave across the street from the Rivage site. A careful review of history will demonstrate that EFCC fought a hard battle to make certain that market rate housing will go in there and under a set number of units. PHA is making moves to disregard at least one of these obligations. Only EFCC is raising the issue of how this can negatively impact the area. EFCC heartedly endorsed the proposed River Flat development on the “Rivage” site by the noted development team of Onion Flats but there has been little movement in the past few yeas on this. What’s up with it? No one and I mean no one seems to be able to give anyone a straight answer! EFDC heartedly endorsed the Delaware Valley Schools to take over the two small brick buildings down the road on Ridge Ave. despite healthy skepticism from the community. A few years later, the school, it’s lawyer owner and his business partner, Cong. Chaka Fattah’s son were charged with fraud and diversion of school funding to the tune of millions! When we looking to buy here or in Mount Airy 16 years ago we were lead to believe that Ridge Ave. would be well on its way to be a thriving commercial district with shops catering to daily consumer needs. 2015’s view of the river is not very different from 1999. Our carbon footprint is still too large because we drive into Roxborough and Ardmore to do our shopping. The realities of life and relationships in this burg are very complex and not subject to simple solutions. I agree that EFCC needs a major major shake-up but I remind you to look beyond them and hold all parties accountable.

    • Carolyn Fillmore

      Thank you for chiming in! It’s interesting to me that you bring up PHA, which my article doesn’t mention. What about Foodery? What about Triumph? What about the hot dog place, the seafood take-out, the water ice place they tried to make sign a contract that says they’ll never “scoop” it…?

      Whoops, my article didn’t mention those last few, either. But my point is: this piece isn’t about EFCC as an organization that should or shouldn’t exist in East Falls. Your comment seems to wanna address that, and just want to underscore that’s not an issue here. That’s an issue for people who want to promote EFCC.

      No interest in promoting EFCC, they’ve got their own sandbox and they have not been welcoming to us, not even the very first meeting when we paid $10 and didn’t even so much as get a thank you (this was before EFL.com, so dunno what their problem was).

      This ain’t NewsWorks, we’re not journalists — I’m just a neighbor living in this town, same as you. You seem to see EFCC as an organization worth working with, and maybe I’m wrong but I suspect they’ve been more welcoming to you personally. And that’s cool, I’m glad the organization has been worthwhile for you.

      But for me, no. Not just the personal thing, but they’re also kinda incompetent in that I have video’d four solid examples of EFCC giving flat-out incorrect information (and I’ve only been to like five meetings, sigh). In my book, you only get to be smug if you’re good at your job.

      I dunno, man. No local political agenda to support, here. Just trying to get a cup of coffee in town after five. 🙂 Thanks again!

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