At-Large: Justin DiBerardinis Response to 5th Square Questionnaire

Read At Large Democratic candidate Justin DiBerardinis' responses to the 5th Square 2019 City Council Candidate Questionnaire. Visit our 2019 City Council Campaign page for more candidate questionnaire responses.

Candidate Name: Justin DiBerardinis

Candidate Introduction

I'm a lifelong Philadelphian who grew up in Fishtown in the 1980's and 90's. The dense, working class urbanism of my youth made a huge impact on me. A community where people lived close, shopped locally, used mass transit, and had an incredible investment in their neighborhood, it's institutions and each other. My career has been committed to building that sense of community and public space in Philadelphia. I define public space very broadly. Certainly our schools and parks, but also sidewalks, roads buses and trains.

As a young organizer, I led the campaign for a new Willard Elementary school in Kensington. As a legislative aide for Councilwoman Sanchez I led many efforts to help communities revitalize neglected public spaces throughout her District. McPherson Square, Benson Park, Rivera Rec Center. We knew that capital improvements alone weren't enough. These spaces needed sustained human investment and neighborhood leadership to reach their full potential.

For the last 6 years, I've led the Program and Community work at Bartram's Garden. The transformation there reflects my commitment to community ownership of public space, bold and innovative use land and of rivers, and a belief that urbanism must accessible to people of across racial, cultural and socioeconomic lines.

I believe that in a gentrifying and increasing inequitable city this approach to common spaces is vital and urgent. I believe the greatness of cities is not a measured in private wealth, but measured in common wealth. I would like to bring this commitment and belief in common wealth to City Hall.

Streets

The below questions are related to policies that reflect use of the streets are used by all Philadelphians including pedestrians, as well as bicycle, bus, car riders and drivers. A priority of 5th Square is placing front-and-center the concerns of the elderly, children, and residents utilizing mobility assistance.

1. Many curb cuts and sidewalks in the city are blocked by parked cars, resulting in inadequate and unsafe crossings for seniors, residents utilizing mobility assistance, and parents with small children. In your view, what should City Council do about this problem?

I don't believe street parking is a right in Philadelphia. A century of public policies that has favored automobiles has not served this city well. While I believe public street parking is important I don't think it takes precedent over pedestrians cyclists and mass transit. Council needs strong advocates for the needs of pedestrians. But it is already illegal to block crosswalks in Philadelphia, we should be enforcing public safety laws.

2. What is your opinion of the Kenney administration's progress on their Vision Zero street safety initiative? Is the current pace of progress acceptable to you? If not, what would you do differently? How would you use your Council position to accomplish this?

I'm glad this mayor has articulated a Vision Zero goal and taken steps to implement it. I applaud the creation of the office of Complete Streets, a holistic approach to the street that is badly needed. But pedestrian and cyclist deaths remain unaccpetable high in this City, and we are not keeping pace with peer cities. We need acceleration of traffic calming efforts, safe real estate for pedestrian and bicycles, and I also believe the creation of traffic enforcement officers to shift the current automobile culture.

3. Will you support “daylighting” intersections to restore clear lines of sight near crossings for drivers and pedestrians through the use of plastic bollards and curb bumpouts, with prioritization for school zones, intersections with high pedestrian volume, and high crash intersections? How many intersections should be "daylighted" each year?

Further reading on daylighting: https://www.streetfilms.org/daylighting-make-your-crosswalks-safer/

Absolutely, as a life long Philadelphian I've seen the difference the make first hand. It is a vital tool for pedestrian safety, and cost effective compared to curb bump outs. I don't think I'm in a position to say the exact number, but I would be broad and aggressive in the application of daylighting

4. Philadelphia has some of the lowest per-capita spending among our peer cities on basic street maintenance, slowing down the rollout of life-saving design changes that are part of Mayor Kenney's Vision Zero initiative. If elected, will you advocate for a larger Streets Department repaving budget?

Yes

5. Will you support a Mayoral initiative to create a municipal street sweeping program, even if it means motorists will need to move their vehicles a few times a month?

I would. In addition to mechanical street sweeping, I am a big supporter of more people cleaning streets with brooms and shovels. I see this as one component of a comprehensive approach to street cleanliness

6. Will you vote to repeal Council's 2012 legislation requiring a Council ordinance to remove travel or parking lanes, and once again empower Streets Department safety professionals to make these decisions administratively?

Further reading: https://bicyclecoalition.org/lawsuit-takes-on-city-council-bike-lane-ordinance/

Yes


Transportation

Our goal is to shift the city's overall transportation mode share radically toward transit and active mobility for the benefit of public health as well as the environment, and away from single occupancy vehicles, for the benefit of public health as well as the environment.

1. Philadelphia currently only funds around 11 percent of SEPTA's budget, with the state and federal governments funding the majority of the operating and capital budgets. This is one of the lowest local contributions in the country, per-capita. If elected, will you advocate for increasing dedicated local transit funding? If so, what revenue source is best?

Yes. I think the conversation about tax code is and reform is complex. My core belief around taxation is that I beleive broad base, low rate tax policies are in the cities best interest, as opposed to single industry or sin taxes. I believe that wage taxes, gross receipts based taxes, and commercial real estate taxes are the sensible way to fund our city. Within that framework I could support dedicated funding for SEPTA from any of these revenue streams

2. The City Bus system works to improve air quality as well as reduce traffic congestion. Unfortunately, city bus ridership has fallen dramatically over the past few years, and route performance has become increasingly unreliable. Which of the following measures would you be willing to advocate for to increase bus ridership?

  • Bus-only lanes on more major streets Yes
  • Automated photo enforcement of bus-only lanes and bus/trolley stopping zones Yes
  • All-door boarding with off-board fare payment Yes
  • Free transfers between buses, trolleys, and subways, funded by the City Yes
  • Stop consolidation to speed up buses Yes

3. Will you support funding a City pilot program to provide free SEPTA transit to all children under 12 years of age?

The current cut-off is 4-years-old, after which children are required to pay the full fare

Absolutely

4. Over 30,000 Philadelphia public school students are currently ineligible for subsidized TransPasses, because the School District does not provide passes to students living within 1.5 miles of their local school. Do you support universalizing student TransPasses so all students can use them?

Yes

5. Residential permit parking needs an overhaul. The current cost for an annual parking permit for car owners to store their private vehicles on public streets is just $35, and many streets do not require a permit. Which reforms to permit parking would you be willing to consider, if elected?

  • Capping permits at the number of available spaces in each parking district No
  • Neighborhood-wide opt-in for permit parking, as opposed to block-by-block petitions Yes
  • Blacklisting addresses of new buildings with no parking from eligibility for street permits No
  • Employer permits for commercial corridor workers near residential permit zones Yes

Other: If caps are employed, prioritizing senior citizens and other residents who may have mobility issues in the issuance of permits

6. SEPTA and the City are exploring a bus network redesign that could greatly improve bus service frequency and usability at little additional cost. Improving service will involve some trade-offs, however, like more stop consolidation and transfers. How should Councilmembers be approaching this initiative?

Further reading: http://planphilly.com/articles/2018/06/21/overhauling-its-bus-network-may-be-on-septa-s-schedule-soon

We need to improve bus performance and the trade off will be stop consolidation. Ultimately, faster and more reliable bus service is important enough to equity and sustainability in Philadelphia that we must push ahead. I don't think individual councilmembers should be driving decisions around bus routes, but rather empowering our transit agencies to innovate.

7. Do you support Council President Darrell Clarke's Charter change proposal to create a new class of unarmed officers to enforce traffic violations?

Further reading: http://www2.philly.com/philly/business/transportation/philadelphia-traffic-pedestrian-bicycle-safety-police-darrell-clarke-20180920.html

Yes


Land Use and Zoning

Our goal is to promote the most efficient use of land in our city, fostering accessible, walkable communities in which all Philadelphians can reside, regardless of economic status. We believe in building more housing, reducing costs, increasing the vitality of our commercial corridors, and facilitating transit-oriented development. Philadelphia made great strides toward this vision with the 2012 Zoning Reform package, and the next City Council should defend and expand on that progress.

1. Only 13% of land in Philadelphia is covered by the multifamily zoning categories eligible for City Council’s new Mixed-Income Housing program. Do you believe 13% is the appropriate percentage? If not, what is the right number?

Fundamentally, i believe in density. For the vitality, diversity, and sustainability of cities. I don't think we should idealizing suburban models of development. I also believe that multifamily structures create an opportunity for socioeconomic integration in neighborhoods dominated by larger parcel, single family homes. My answer is more, I would say significantly more, but I don't feel qualified at this time to say an exact percentage.

2. In 2012, City Council voted to eliminate or reduce minimum parking requirements for many zoning districts, because parking minimums increase housing prices, driving, and traffic congestion. Will you vote to eliminate the last of the minimum parking requirements still remaining in the zoning code, which would mainly affect Center City, University City, and areas near the subways?

I am not a fan of parking requirements. And I completely support the elimination of parking requirements in the core and along train lines.

3. The same 2012 zoning reform bill contained language legalizing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which allow property owners to have an additional rental unit on their property. City Council unfortunately never finished the job, and didn't write in which zoning districts should permit ADUs. Where would you allow ADUs?

I'm new to ADU's. but consistent with my overarching views on density and diversity in housing stock, I support the broad use of ADU's. My only guiding concerns would be that lot size and the amount of open space is realistic for the installation (I imagine these would be a stretch in a typical South Philly or Kensington backyard) and that implementation respects the architectural character and sightlines of neighborhoods. For instance, I like them better in back yards than in front yards. Beyond these initial thoughts I would need more education on the issue to get into more specifics.

4. In 2017, City Council revamped the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Overlay ordinance, which would allow greater density and less parking within 500 feet of designated transit stations. Will you support a citywide bill designating TOD overlays for all city transit and regional rail stations?

Absolutely

5. What should be Philadelphia's strategy for keeping neighborhoods affordable as they see more growth and development? Is City policy striking the right balance now, following City Council's recent affordable housing package? If not, what is left to do, in your opinion?

Great question! I think it's important to hold that this is a city simultaneously dealing with rapid redevelopment and gentrification in some areas, and continued blight and decline in others. And in some neighborhoods (like the one I live in, the Wayne Junction area of southern Germantown) both at once. Too often we propose policies that respond to one of these conditions, and rarely both. Philadelphia's core neighborhoods will likely continue to get more expensive. We will likely continue to be a high poverty American city. And these two conditions are happening during a American moment where investment (and perhaps belief) in public housing at a national level is in decline. What are cities like Philadelphia to do? Obviously we need to do what we can to increase our spending on affordable housing and find the right incentives to spur inclusionary developments. But I don't think municipal efforts can match the powerful economic forces driving urban redevelopment. Often we we are talking about gentrification and redevelopment we are circling an even larger issue of equity and ownership among the citizens of Philadelphia. Those issues are best tackled proactively, ahead of redevelopment of a neighborhood and get increasingly harder to address as redevelopment advances. Too often we are reactive.

I believe this city must first and foremost commit itself to battling poverty and inequity. To do that we need a growth in living wage jobs, but private and public, I see a clear need for a Philadelphia New Deal, a vast expansion and redefinition of public work that serves our communities and is scaled to make a major dent in our rate of poverty.

Additionally, my personal experience of growing up in a gentrified neighborhood has reformed my belief that working and lower middle class home ownership, ahead of redevelopment, is one of the most important tools we have to ensure equity, shared prosperity and socio-economic integration in a changing city. I think we can do vastly more to support first time home ownership for low and moderate income Philadelphians. I don't offer this as a perfect solution, I don't think there is one. But I believe our best chance is a dual strategy that seeks to expand publicly backed affordability, while tirelessly working to expand equity and ownership among the population of Philadelphia.

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