A Trolley unfazed and not so jolly Holly Days

photoIt’s not often that I write about my experiences as a consumer of products and services. Sometimes though, these experiences simply beg to be addressed for either for their positive or negative experiences.

This post will address an example of each.

Do Not
Eat Here …
You’ll never eat at home again!

This was the plaintive – and rather imaginative – plea and a tweak from the good folks at the Trolley Car Diner, located on Germantown Avenue in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, directed at protestors exercising their somewhat misguided 1st Amendment rights in front of their establishment.

Carol and I frequent the Trolley Car as part of our pre-game ritual for “Business Person Specials” Philadelphia Phillies games that starts at 1:05 PM.  As we had the game played last Wednesday, May 14 (a sleeper of a shutout loss to the LA Angels), we headed down early for the pre-game breakfast/lunch.

It’s only called “brunch” on Sunday’s, right?

Anyways, as we turned onto Germantown Avenue, we immediately noticed signs imploring the public “Don’t Eat Here!”.  My first reaction was “Crap! Don’t tell me we have to find somewhere else to eat!”  Then as we got closer we noted more signs, including one with a likeness of the owner and another that alleged the owner’s role in depressing fair wages and benefits.

My reaction was immediate.  “Unions …”, quickly followed by ” … Philadelphia!”

Those two thoughts, neither of them presented here as negatives within themselves, seem to always be connected.  And maybe my thought process was primed a bit by the ongoing union travails and controversy at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which included the unusual sight of union members in several trades crossing the picket lines of others.

Only in Philadelphia …

As we entered and were greeted by the host, I kiddingly asked him whether we should even eat there.  But he was immediately ready with a one-page letter, written by owner, Ken Weinstein about what was happening out front and why.  The letter, addressed “Dear Friend”, is a public relations homerun!

For my fellow Phillies fans, whose team currently ranks 28th out of 30 MLB teams in round-trippers, a homerun is a very, very good thing.  Just sayin’ …

Trolley Car Diner Mt. Airy, Philadelphia

Trolley Car Diner
Mt. Airy, Philadelphia

The crux of the matter – of course – was the inability of unionized electrical contractors to compete with subcontractors who use non-union labor.  In this case the very same International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, lead by Philly labor icon John Dougherty that had crossed the picket lines of carpenters and teamsters at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, had out-priced themselves from a Weinstein redevelopment project.

That, my friends, is karma!

Weinstein explains his plan to rehabilitate four vacant, historical buildings that previously served St. Peter’s Episcopal Church; his hiring of a general contractor; and the effort to solicit competitive bids from both union and non-union contractors.  Weinstein’s claim that the one union contractor to bid was 35% higher than the selected non-union provider.

This should be of no surprise to anyone, nor should the union’s reaction when losing fair-and-square in the market of competitive bidding.  They picket, not the site of the prospective work to be performed, but the wholly separate earning capacity of the developer – the Trolley Car Diner – with accusations of “depressing wages” and “denying benefits”.

They are nothing, if not dogged and disingenuous as to the cause of their particular problem!

Sorry, IBEW, you get no sympathy here.

So if you get the chance, show the Trolley Car Diner some love.  With a fine menu, great food, and a nice selection of bottled craft-brewed beers, you will not be disappointed!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Next is my negative experience with Holly Days Nursery, a well-regarded botanical nursery in Horsham.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I did not take my aggravation any further than the landscaping representative that decided to blow me off last Tuesday for a scheduled appointment for an estimate on planting a few trees and bushes.  After taking a few hours personal time from work to meet him between 3:00 – 4:00 PM, a quick apology and an offer to reschedule does not in any way recognize the fact that my time should be just as important as theirs and their other customers.

The only thing that prevented those few hours being a complete waste of my time was that the lawn needed cutting anyway.

I already had trouble with two previous trees from Holly Days.  Both were purchased at the nursery, but planted by another landscaper.  I do not necessarily blame the nursery for both losses; but simply chalk them up as further indication that for whatever reason our relationship was not to be.

In an area where high-quality nurseries are easy to find, one would think competitive pressures would ensure a faithful adherence to the appointment schedule … or perhaps the drive to work a longer day when commitments are missed … or maybe a bit more than a “Sorry, I couldn’t get there. Let’s reschedule.”

The kicker was his response to my complaint of already having wasted 3 hours of personal time.  “Well, do you have to be there?”

Yeah … I do.  But you don’t!

About these ads

Random thoughts for Primary drowsiness

Slow, slow, slow today at the polls …

Saw an interesting blog post from The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Editorial Board that lauds Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett for adding 100,000 jobs in the State since January 2011!  It’s a powerful statement for no other reason than it comes from The Inqy’s Editorial Board …

* * * * * *

Just voted and I was #34 at our polling location.  We might be up to 40 now.

Have I mentioned how slow Primary Days are?

* * * * * *

In our little slice of Horsham heaven I note that the Philadelphia labor and trade unions are nowhere to be found.  The unions have a history for sending union outsiders here to “work” Horsham’s polls as Democrat “volunteers”. Given the almost uniquely Democrat event today’s primary is, it’s obvious the Unions are sitting this one out.

* * * * * *

Geez … Is it really only noon?!?

 

A Primary plan

primary-electionPrimary days … I hate them.

Off year elections can at least be interesting.  The upcoming November ballot will be much more intriguing with Pennsylvania Governor and mid-term Congressional elections to be decided.

That one will be fun.

Primary elections?  bleah …

As a Republican committee representative, it’s always a long day at the polls.  What makes it most interesting however, when the political conditions are right, are the interactions and discussions you can have.  People who make sure they get out to vote are those most likely to be keeping abreast of the political news.

The greater the interest, the more voters show up, the better the day …

Tomorrow, with only one significant Republican race (PA 13th Congressional District) in my district (Horsham 1-3) and a slate of State Republican committee nominees to select, there’s not a lot of sexiness to attract much attention.  I guess I’ll pass the day baiting what Democrats turn out for their primaries for Governor and the PA 13th, which is like trying to pick The Golden Ticket out of a bag of lemons.

For those waiting patiently for my PA 13th Congressional Republican endorsement, you won’t find one.  I am disappointed in what little I have heard – which is nothing – from Beverly Plosa-BowserDee Adcock put me to sleep in 2010.  To win the 13th, you must have the connection and the energy to make inroads into the Northeast Philly chunk of the district.  Neither has convinced me they will have what it takes, so let the voters decide!

I will be at the Horsham firehouse on Meetinghouse Road for most of the day tomorrow.  Stop in and keep me from falling asleep!

A look at the NAS-JRB Willow Grove EIS

(Dear Readers: This is a rather long-winded look at the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) recently completed by the U.S. Navy on the BRAC-closed NAS-JRB Willow Grove base in Horsham, PA.  I will not be offended if only the most local and interested Internet Wanderers have the strength and conviction to read it. – Mike)

nas-jrb-signOn January 13-14 the U.S Navy’s, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), BRAC Program Management Office presented for public review, questions and comments it’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) related to the Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority’s (HLRA) redevelopment plan for NAS-JRB Willow Grove.

The turnout for the two-day event was light, as one would expect for such dry subject matter devoid of emotion-provoking arguments like those preceding the decision not to accommodate an airport at the base.  But the 80-plus who did take the opportunity was a nice improvement over a public comment last year.

I picked Monday evening, January 13, to visit and submit those questions and comments I had regarding the evaluation the Navy was required to perform on the feasibility of the HLRA plan and the environmental impacts that could be reasonably projected from the plan.

EIS evaluations are not limited to impacts of redevelopment on the physical ecosystem.  An EIS also looks at scope and costs of each Alternative Plan as well as each plan’s effects on Population; Housing; local Economy including Tax Revenue and Employment; School Enrollment; Transportation; Air Quality; Infrastructure and Utilities; Water Resources and Biologicals (wildlife).

Several basic issues should be kept in mind when reviewing the EIS.  The EIS is mandated by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) law, that sets the framework for transferring excess Government facilities and property to regional entities for reuse by the public.  The EIS process requires that the evaluation address the broadest possible spread of Alternatives for redevelopment.

images-1This is why one alternative (Alternative 3) addresses the use of the closed base as an airport.

This is not an indication, as I overheard one interested citizen conclude, that the federal government still prefers to turn the property into an airport!  It’s simply the surprisingly efficient way the BRAC law requires all possible alternatives receive a thorough analysis in a single comprehensive treatment.  This eliminates the possibility of another lengthy and costly EIS evaluation should the preferred plan require any changes, including increases or decreases in development density.

One shot, and it’s all treated equally, thoroughly, and cost-efficiently!

Now that being said, I will readily admit that until they start tearing that runway apart into miniscule pieces of industrial gravel or they build enough stuff on and around the runway to make any potential airport a foregone not-gonna-happen conclusion, I will consider that very remote possibility of an airport a possibility nonetheless.

By way of full disclosure, I work for Big G Government as a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy.  I never had an issue – obviously – living within 1/4 mile of the airbase.  But a private/commercial airport is another animal altogether.  No thanks!

8dec19716dc5766c1a96425a9084d90bIf nothing else, besides its penchant for elaborate acronyms, the Navy’s EIS is extremely thorough in the depth and breadth of its environmental assessments.  The EIS report runs over 450 pages long, not including the Appendix (770 pages) provided as a separate document on the BRAC PMO website.

The EIS begins with a well-written Executive Summary (ExecSum), which at just 26 pages, is as far as I got in my initial reading.  My eyes tend to glaze over when confronted with an overabundance of detailed analysis, so I was content with reading the Summary knowing I could delve deeper into the minutiae if I wished on any specific area of interest.

Believe me, there was plenty of data to chew just on those livable 26 pages of summary presentation!

So that this post does not become overwhelming, I will concentrate on the comparative tables contained in the ExecSum.  These tables are most useful in presenting the collective data in an easy-to-digest comparison between the four Alternatives addressed.

Of course, I will be addressing only those features of the EIS I find most interesting.  My interests (density, economic impact, taxes) reflect those features I believe are most important to the long-term health of Horsham Township.  Other challenges like traffic, water usage, hazardous material cleanup, etc. are also important within the larger context of economic feasibility.

The four Alternatives evaluated are as follows:

  • Alternative 1:  HLRA-approved/preferred plan consisting of 1486 Residential Units (RU), 2.3 million sq. ft. of industrial/retail space (non-residential); 240 acres of Open Space.

    final preferred plan_8.5x11_630x487

    HLRA-preferred redevelopment plan

  • Alternative 2:  An even denser concentration of residential usage 1999 RU, 2.1 million sq. ft non-residential, 317 acres open space
  • Alternative 3:  The dreaded airport option … Take a deep breath and remember my discussion as to why this is included.  Allows for 70 RU, 1.5 million sq. ft. non-residential, 299 acres open space
  • Alternative 4:  Doing nothing at all to the property.  Obviously no development parameters, so there really is no treatment of Alternative 4’s impact.  But the most obvious to keep in mind here are no tax revenue; but still the costs of site security, wildlife control, vegetation control, etc. remain and there would be no cut-through roads.  One would assume this is no alternative at all, aside from serving as a baseline for the EIS comparisons.

Now my own personal opinion is that both Alternatives 1 & 2 contain higher density numbers than I would prefer to see.  I have in the past shared my own whimsical ideas for the base property, and others have suggested their own to me.  But that’s for another post at another time.

Here I will limit myself to comments on the EIS comparisons.  The following Public Meeting Fact Sheet, made available at all the public EIS presentations, is most helpful when comparing the three primary Alternatives.  It provides the potential impacts of all three alternatives in table format, making it easy to distinguish key elements.

Willow Grove Comparison of Alternatives

In addressing the HLRA-preferred Alternative 1, there is much to like … over 10,000 additional jobs, over $15 million in additional tax revenue, and 240 acres of new open space. But there are also concerns … an increase in population of 3500, another 570 children attending district schools along with increases in traffic, resource use, and demands on infrastructure and utilities.

banner_NAS-JRB-Willow-Grove

I am skeptical of the estimated construction expenditures (one of my comments to the Navy on the EIS).  These costs are estimated at $928 million to build out the entire Alternate 1 development plan.  As someone unfamiliar with the real-life costing of major development projects, the figure seems too low to me.  I find it difficult to believe the full build-out of this magnitude could be completed at level of investment.

That’s a problem for Developers however, not so much for Government or for Taxpayers.  Assuming there is no public financing options provided to whomever qualifies to execute any build-out (other than tax incentives), the problem is one of developer financing and return-on-investment.

Alternative 2 with over 500 more residential units adds only an estimated $1.3 million in tax revenue because, although there are more residents, there are also fewer jobs (roughly 450-500 fewer).  Not being a fan of Alternative 1’s level of residential density, it’s no surprise that I am not all that excited about Alternative 2’s even higher density level.

museumlogo2Alternative 3 – of course – is a non-starter for me.  However, the airport alternative would cost $274 million for build-out; includes 70 housing units for homeless veterans only. (This is included in all the alternatives.); 1.5 million square feet of non-residential space; but also generates only $4.2 million in annual tax revenue, most of which is coincidental to an airport operation.  This revenue would come primarily from the planned hotel conference center and other non-residential development.

The airport alternative still provides for 7500 jobs in the business park and hotel conference complex.  Few jobs – one would surmise – would be directly related to airport operations, since airport proponents continuously tell us that this will be only a small private, limited commercial operation.

I do not buy that line of thinking.  In my view, the only way an airport makes sense – both in self-sufficiency and local economic impact – is if much heavier commercial use exists there, be it commuter air services or freight operations.  The pro-airport crowd will tell you otherwise however.

The last alternative – Alternative 4 – involves doing nothing, so there’s not much to address there.  One piece of data from the HLRA consultant group is that it would cost the Township $20 million to take the property to pasture conditions (basically just grass and trees).  This includes tearing up the runway and leveling the remaining buildings.

Obviously, not much of an option.

80f29160cf7b6eb72606f23c8a5a3e10

As anyone who pays attention to this process and the seemingly endless evaluation, recognizes that this process through the full build-out – in whatever form it takes in the end – will be a long tortuous road requiring a vision and insight into a future a lot of us might be too old to appreciate … me included.

None of the Alternatives nor their preferential rank means a twit without the development money and a perceived return-on-investment to the entity taking all the risk.  To speak of town centers, golf courses, retail space or whatever at this juncture is simply a way of putting a very abstract vision into a form that can be valued and analyzed.

What the EIS helps to illustrate – in an indirect way – is the complexity of the picture, the range of permutations possible, and if one listens closely, the importance of taking our time in carefully putting the puzzle together.  This leads me to laugh at stories on local media sites where people complain about a lack of progress in the base’s abandoned state.  Articles bemoaning a lack of progress in activity on redevelopment forgetting rather conveniently that Governor Rendell caused a few years worth of  delay by pursuing a well-intentioned solution to keep the runway as a regional asset if a solution could be found to make it economically self-supporting.

When it comes time to stick shovels into earth, those with the deep financial pockets will certainly want a say in what is developed on the NAS-JRB property with their money.  Any interested developer will – no doubt – have a significant say in that decision-making process.

A healthy vision – represented by the preferred HLRA alternative – serves as a starting point from which those inevitable revisions can be properly evaluated.  Regardless of what the final product looks like, such a structured approach is intended to ensure the best possible decisions are made for the future of Horsham Township and the surrounding community.

The long road already in the rearview mirror is unfortunately only the beginning of a very long journey.

Allyson Schwartz a distant 2nd to State Dems

Watch out Rob McCord!

Watch out Rob McCord Democrats!
Allyson wields a Big Stick!

In news sure to warm the hearts of those who constantly wonder, “Where is Allyson Schwartz? What has she done for us lately?”, Pennsylvania Democrats not only failed to agree on an official endorsement for the April Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary, they dealt a significant blow to Schwartz’s expectations for wide-spread Party support.

In a showdown in Hershey on Saturday, Schwartz finished a 2-1 underdog to Treasurer Rob McCord (154-77) after two rounds of balloting.

In fact, Schwartz barely beat out York County businessman Tom Wolf, who garnered 59 votes!

Bummer …

Certainly, Allyson has been distracted lately, working hard and long into the night to get her 13th Congressional District constituents plugged back into the power grid, right?  I mean you have all seen and heard of her efforts, haven’t you?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

Maybe it was her vote in Washington, D.C. to cut food stamp subsidies by an average of $65/month per recipient that did her in.  Heck, even Senator Bob Casey saw the light after initially supporting the bill that included farm subsidies!

Needless to say, there are a lot of Pennsylvania Democrats now on Allyson’s Naughty List.  Just ask Nate Kleinman how much fun that’s gonna be!

A Walking Expiration Date

(A “poetic” look at two days in blackout conditions following The Great Ice Storm of 2014 … Southeastern Pennsylvania)

BRAMPTON ICE STORM CLEANUPA Walking Expiration Date

Their humming, it fills the frozen black night,
These machines that bestow us the Heat and the Light.

Our fear of Ah-nold’s scary Terminator coup
Just doesn’t seem as bad as having to go through
This cold and dark that so easily suppresses
Our heat, TV, and electronic excesses.

We furtively glance with growing exasperation
At iPhones, the Mac and muted game stations.
This equation is stark in granting a peek;
When civilization collapses, I won’t last a week!

Be it nuclear winter, a banking collapse,
Zombies, global warming, mega-virus attack;
The end will come quickly, I hope that it does.
Who really wants to be here when Is becomes Was?

When the fit hits the shan …

Whoa!  Sweet PECO!
Our ‘lectricity popped on!
No more running for gas
With my PJs still on!

Raced for the Mac, my iPhone clipped on
Before I forget this silly blog on
Nothing so much as a slight inconvenience
On a daily routine too full of dependence.

Then I turn on the Tube to catch up with the world.
The lessons and fears already starting to blur.
For few of us care to indulge or to linger
On our powerlessness at the end of God’s finger.

The End

(In-person reading events are now being scheduled!  Get yours scheduled now!)

Drivers, start your Engines!

PA 13th Congressional District

PA 13th Congressional District

Tomorrow night I hope to attend the campaign announcement of yet another candidate for Pennsylvania Congressional Representative Allyson Schwartz‘s (PA 13th Congressional District) vacated seat this November.

Her name is Beverly Plosa-Bowser.  If I told you I knew of her before receiving a mailed invite to her campaign announcement just this morning, I would be lying.

(UPDATE:  This head cold is probably going to prevent me from attending tonight.  Pretty sure I’m not going to feel up to it by the time I get out of work.)

The 13th District seat has been an impossible nut for Republicans to crack, having held the seat for all of 4 years since 1993.  Normally, one would surmise that Schwartz’s absence (and with it her substantial war chest and her take-no-prisoners politics) would make this row a bit easier to hoe.  But with a huge chunk of the district residing in ultra-liberal Philadelphia and plain old liberal eastern Montgomery County, I wouldn’t be caught counting any chickens.

Plosa-Bowser will surely have a great deal of company on the Republican side in challenging whoever the Democrats put up from their own crowded field of candidates.  Besides former 13th District Rep Marjorie Margolies (D), state Rep. Brendan Boyle of Northeast Philly; state Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery County; and Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have a lll thrown their headgear into the ring.

On the Republican side, joining Plosa-Bowser, is Dee Adcock who lost to Schwartz handily (like a lot of Republicans have) in 2010.  Personally, I am hoping Joe Rooney is willing to take another run at the 13th, but I have not found any indication that he is running in 2014.

Plosa-Bowers’ bio shows her to be a local product.  Her father was an assistant principle at Hatboro-Horsham High School; her mother a nurse.

She was one of the first women admitted to the Air Force Academy.  She served for over 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and USAF Reserve, rising to the rank of Colonel.  Plosa-Bowser served in Iraq, building a Security Cooperation relationship with Iraqi officials.

She retired from the Air Force in 2010 after being awarded the Bronze Star for her efforts in Iraq.

As always I am hoping for sanity to return to the 13th Congressional District in the form of sound Republican guidance in public sector economics, the national economy, and matters of National Security.  But in any case, the race is on and it oughta be a darn good one!