Blogs > Daily Local Dan

A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The West Chester "alcohol plan"

Right now, the so-called West Chester "alcohol plan" (alcohol mitigation plan? alcohol enforcement and mitigation plan? get the drunks off my street plan? tax the bars plan? quixotic quest to teach WCU kids to enjoy the alcohol-free life plan? I don't know what the hell to call it) is in that amorphous, still-being-drafted phase.

The plan I'm talking about is the same, and different, than the "pour tax" plan I wrote about in February. But the "pour tax" may be losing viability, leaving the plan pour-tax-less.

The plan is supposed to involve police enforcement, codes enforcement, alternative sentencing for alcohol offenders, litter cleanup, weekend night bus transit, alcohol abuse education, and more! And it's got to be paid for somehow - either by a tax on the drinks local restaurants and bars serve (the "pour tax"), or by a combination of a "special assessment district" tax on liquor licensees, new Saturday night parking fees, funding from the university, and funding from the state.

"Multifaceted" would be a kind way to describe the plan. That multifacetedness was on display during the alcohol plan meeting State Sen. Andy Dinniman held in the borough on Tuesday night. The meeting wasn't open to the general public, but I was one of the invitees. Also at the meeting were borough council members, borough administrators, WCU representatives, and local restaurant owners. What I observed was an overflow of ideas, some of which sounded good, and some of which sounded silly.

For example:

- Local Realtor Stan Zukin (landlord of many a borough drinking establishment) suggested that the borough regulate the price of alcohol. Specifically, Zukin suggested that borough set the minimum price of a beer at $3. Borough Manager Ernie McNeely responded, "We can't do that, Stan." Zukin also suggested that bar owners get together to agree on a minimum beer price. "I'm not talking about collusion," Zukin added.

- District Justice Gwenn Knapp talked about Young Adult Community Conferencing, a restorative justice program she started three years ago. This program is available to 18 to 24 year olds busted for alcohol-related crimes. Instead of paying some of the standard fines, those who opt to participate in this program are put in contact with their victims. Working with a mediatior, the "perps" and victims figure out a way for the perps to make amends. Knapp said that young people who go through this program are far less likely than those who go through normal sentencing to be arrested for a second alcohol-related crime. Family services, the agency that runs the program, is seeking more funding YACC, so that it can be made available to more people.

- Several borough restaurant owners said they would like the alcohol program to be funded, in part, by new Saturday night parking garage fees. At the moment, it costs nothing to park in borough garages on Saturday nights. The restaurant owners said that while a pour tax might chase customers away, parking fees will not. To which I humbly respond: people don't know when they're being charged a pour tax. But they sure as hell know when they are being charged to park.

It goes on and on.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Why I wrote the sex shop article

A few readers wondered why I wrote last week about West Chester entrepreneur Jill McDevitt's unsuccessful attempt to expand her store, Feminique Boutique, into the King of Prussia Mall.

No, I didn't write the story just so I could throw around a few "naughty" words. I wrote the story because McDevitt is a controversial figure in West Chester. She has been making headlines since 2008, when she opened Feminique Boutique, a "female owned and operated upscale, shame-free, sex-positive sex shop," on North Church Street. (The quoted text is from the FB website.)

In 2008, shortly after the West Chester codes department gave McDevitt permission to open her store, the borough Planning Commission began to discuss whether the borough's zoning code should be amended to prevent another Feminique Boutique type store from opening in the downtown WC. It didn't take long for West Chester area residents to bring their opinions of the store before West Chester's planning commission. Then, the St. Agnes Catholic Church, located around the corner from Feminique Boutique, tried briefly to shut the store down. West Chester ended up changing its zoning ordinance so that another Feminique Boutique style store could not open in downtown WC. The pre-Feminique Boutique zoning ordinance only kept out porn shops, strip clubs and "massage parlors." (These types of businesses, however, were and are allowed in certain commercial districts in the borough's eastern and western sections.)

So, yes. What McDevitt does has been and, I would think, continues to be of interest.

Some readers may have noticed that the Daily Local has given McDevitt a "Blogtown" blog. Readers may also have noticed that my story recapitulates the story she told in her March 11 post.

Well, a lead is a lead.

For those interested, here's a rundown of the coverage we've given the Fem Boutique controversy:

- April 2008: Just after McDevitt got permission to open her store, the West Chester Planning Commission began to debate whether to create a zoning provision that would prevent similar stores from opening up in downtown West Chester.

- May 2008: Residents, along with the pastor of St. Agnes's, came to a planning commission meeting to protest the borough's decision to allow Feminique Boutique to open.

- June 2008: St Agnes's appealed the borough's decision to grant McDevitt permission to open her store.

- June 2008: The church dropped its appeal and decided instead to lobby borough council to change the zoning ordinance so that no other Feminique Boutique-style shops could open in West Chester.

- June 2008: The planning commission discussed whether to amend the zoning ordinance to clarify what counts as a "sexually-oriented business" and to specify where such businesses should be allowed to open.

- November 2008: The planning commission completed a draft zoning amendment that would prevent another Feminique Boutique-style shop from opening in downtown West Chester. Such businesses would be limited to the borough's industrially-zoned areas.

- February 2009: Borough council tweaked the zoning amendment the planning commission developed.

- March 2009: Borough council passed the zoning amendment, effectively giving McDevitt a monopoly. No other businesses like hers may open in downtown West Chester.

- March 2010: The King of Prussia Mall denied McDevitt a lease to open a second FB.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hotels in West Chester

The Borough of West Chester currently has no hotels. But developer Brian McFadden last year obtained permission to build one on North High Street, and Stan Zukin is working on obtaining approval to build one at East Gay and North Walnut streets.

To some, this is scary stuff. But Hotels are not new to West Chester. In fact, they have been part of the borough for all but the last 45 or so years of its existence. Councilman Jim Jones, a history professor at West Chester University, just wrote a short article on the history of hotels in West Chester.

It's worth a read. You can access it by clicking here. (To find it, scroll down to the bottom of the page the link leads to).

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's Free Thought Society Season!

Yes, that's right. The Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia is at it again.

This year, the Free Thought Society has asked West Chester Borough Council for permission to hang above borough streets a banner that reads:

"Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia. Please visit our virtual Tree of Knowledge at"

If you are not aware, the Free Thought Society is the group of evangelical atheists who are responsible for the controversial Tree of Knowledge displays that for the past two holiday seasons have sat next to the Creche and the Menorah on the Historic Chester County Courthouse lawn.

The point of the tree, I'm told, is to make it known that people who don't believe in the God of Abraham still enjoy celebrating the holidays. The other point of the tree is to get you to read more Richard Dawkins - the tree is decorated with the covers of books that, according to Free Thought Society members, are "classics in the atheist tradition." Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are, unsurprisingly, top contributors to this particular atheist canon.

Anyway, borough council appears unlikely to grant the Free Thought Society permission to hang the banner. At its work session tonight, borough council members voted unanimously to deny permission. They will, however, discuss the FTS request again at their Wednesday, Nov. 18 regular meeting.

So, if you're concerned about the banner, that's the time to speak up. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Borough council members gave the following reason for denying the Free Thought Society permission to hang the banner:

In West Chester, non-profits, church groups, educational organizations, fraternal organizations, and civic associations may hang banners that advertise community events. Borough council members reasoned that the banner's main purpose is to advertise the Free Thought Society's website. The website, council members argued, is not a community event.

Council members said that, if the sign read: "Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia," all would be well. The "Holidays" are, after all, a (very loosely defined) community event.

Borough manager Ernie McNeely suggested that, if the sign read: "Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia. Check out our Tree of Knowledge display on the courthouse lawn," it would probably be acceptable. The physical Tree of Knowledge display, McNeely said, is a community event of sorts. Or it is, at least, physically in the community.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. I expect that the Free Thought Society may object to borough council's decision. The county's good Christians and Jews are likely to support the decision.

As far as I can tell, though, borough council's decision is based on a legal technicality rather than on an ideological conviction. At least half of the borough council members said that they are not opposed to the Free Thought Society.

Every holiday season, I celebrate the fact that I work in a town that regularly serves as a battlefield for our country's silly "culture war." I'm waiting for a brave Muslim to ask for permission to put a "Holiday Crescent Display" on the courthouse lawn. However, it appears that the county commissioners are trying to restrict the number and size of the holiday displays. Might there not be room for anyone but the aetheists, Christians, Jews and businessmen?

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Voters of a certain age

In the West Chester region on Tuesday, old people voted, and young people didn't. Republicans voted, and Democrats didn't. Observe:

Hershey's Mill is a large, age-restricted community in East Goshen Township. Residents of this community vote at two precincts, East Goshen Five and East Goshen Eight.

On Tuesday, turnout at these two precincts was 49 percent. Of the 2,346 registered voters, 1288 came to the polls. Republicans outperformed Democrats in both precincts by about 2.5 to 1.

West Chester Borough is loaded with college students and young professionals and has a strong Democratic majority. Average turnout across the borough was less than 20 percent. Here's a breakdown:

WC's young voters: In the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth precincts, where many students and young professionals live, turnout was 12 percent. Of the 6865 registered voters in these precincts, 828 came to the polls. Democrats outperformed Republicans here by about 2 to 1.

WC's minority and low-income voters: In the Second Precinct, where many of the minority and low-income voters live, turnout was 10 percent. Of the 1,549 registered voters, 150 came to the polls. Democrats outperformed Republicans here by about 3.5 to 1.

WC's older, more affluent voters: The borough's First and Seventh precincts contain the bigger houses, where many settled, financially well-off adults and senior citizens live. Voter turnout was 22 percent. Of the 3,323 registered voters, 729 came to the polls. Democrats outperformed Republicans here by about 2 to 1.

To put a finer point on it, Hershey's Mill has 2645 registered voters, 1288 of whom came to the polls. West Chester Borough has 11,737 registered voters, 1,707 of whom came to the polls.

If the Democratic West Chester Area School Board candidates performed worse than expected, young West Chester Borough voters are to blame.

Perhaps the borough's Democrats are too new to this whole voting thing. Perhaps they are too young. Perhaps they exhibit the existential ADD brought on by too much exposure to Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, Blackberries, iPhones and Google News. Perhaps they'll only come to the polls if an exciting presidential candidate uses this ADD-inducing media to disseminate to them vaguely optimistic catchphrases.

My concern here - my motive for writing this post - is not partisan. I am really, really angry that people my age don't vote. I want healthcare reform, and I don't care whether it comes through a government-run program or through more effective competition in the private marketplace. I want a decent, affordable policy I can take with me from job to job - I believe that, like auto insurance, health insurance should be mandatory and should not be an employee benefit. Many people my age feel this way. Yet we don't vote. The legislators, therefore, don't care how we feel. They care how the Hershey's Mill voters feel. The Hershey's Mill voters vote in every election, and the Hershey's Mill voters, most of whom already have "socialized medicine" (it's called Medicare), will use whatever twisted logic they can to keep their Medicare intact. Basically, they don't want socialized medicine for young people. And the Democratic majority in Washington doesn't want to try increasing competition in the private healthcare marketplace. Legislators, lacking enough support among the electorate (read: seniors) for Medicare-for-all-ages, and lacking enough support among their own ranks for a private healthcare solution, will come up with some muddled thing or another that does nothing for people my age.

I feel like I'm yelling at a pickett fence. I do not want to hear anyone with Medicare complain about "socialized medicine." Unless, of course, they give up their medicare and join me on the private healthcare market.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is not an undercover vehicle

This month, West Chester Borough Council is reviewing departmental budget requests. Todd Schaeffer, the guy who manages the borough's "fleet" of vehicles, told borough council on Monday that the police department wants money to buy a few new undercover vehicles.

Schaeffer said the detectives told him that the unmarked Crown Victoria is not really the ideal car for undercover work.

Schaeffer was referring to the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, a car that Ford only sells to police departments and cab companies. While you or I could buy one used, it would be fairly difficult to get a new one.

That's why, if I saw a black Police Interceptor parked across the street from my house, I'd do a quick examination of my conscience.

Perhaps police should use rental cars for undercover work. The VW Bug, the Toyota Matrix, the Dodge Stratus, the occasional Jeep. They should get creative. I wouldn't be worried at all if I saw a Minicooper parked out front.

The state police might also want to consider getting creative with their unmarked highway patrol vehicles. Imagine getting pulled over by a supercharged 1996 Dodge Caravan.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chelsea Visits the Chesco Campaign Headquarters

An organizer at the door told me there was a special section set aside for press. I walked to the back room, where chairs were set up, and looked around.

Couldn't find it.

Then I saw two chairs in the corner. A blue string was wrapped around them and taped to the wall behind. Hanging from the string was a piece of paper that said "press."

Two people were sitting in the chairs. They insisted they weren't in press seats.

"Then where's the press supposed to go?" I asked.

They pointed to the space behind the string.

"Seriously?" I said.

I know Cheslea never talks to press, but this was ridiculous. Danny DeVito wouldn't have fit in that tiny, tiny corral.

I asked a few organizers if I was really supposed to stand behind that string. They halfheartedly nodded. When I decided to ignore them and mingle with the crowd, no one stopped me.

Fifteen minutes later, someone with a blackberry announced that Chelsea was soon to arrive.

The crowd hushed. I picked out a nice spot in the middle of the room and pulled out my notebook.

Through the front window we saw a limo drive up. Chelsea stepped out, and the crowd oohed and aahed.

"Oh, she is so pretty!" several older women said.

Chelsea came in the door, walked across the front room, and stepped into the brick archway that set it off from the room where the crowd was. (Clinton's headquarters is in a historic rowhome).

More oohs and aahs.

I felt like I was at one of those picture taking sessions that precede the more important high school dances.

After briefly addressing the crowd, Chelsea made her rounds through the room.

I put my notebook into my jacket and assumed a non-reporter persona.

When Chelsea got to where I was standing, the guy next to me asked, with an excited quiver in his voice, if I would take a picture of him and the former first daughter. I complied.

Then Chelsea walked up to me.

I had a brief moment of panic.

All the other people had told her things like, "Your mother will make such a great president! I'm so glad she's running! I'm such a big supporter!"

But I'm not supporting any candidate, and I had no intention of lying to Chelsea Clinton. What could I possibly say?

I shook her hand, looked her in the eye, and said, "You're such a good daughter for doing this."

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Where oh where is the Clinton Campaign?

Just got over a case of bloggers flu. I'm feeling much better now. Expect daily posts.

Two hours ago, I left the grand opening party at Barack Obama's Chester County Headquarters.

Former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford delivered the rev-em-up speech, and afterwards, he took a few minutes to talk to me.

I asked him why, even though he's been involved in Democratic Politics for so long, he's supporting the party outsider.

"[Obama's] the one people are ready to be moved by," he said.

That struck me. Earlier, Jennifer Dean, who works for a publishing company in Phoenixville, said nearly the same thing.

"When I hear Obama speak, I want to live in his America," she told me.

Everyone else I spoke with had their own version of how the Illinois Senator changed their outlook. There was so much enthusiasm from so many people, a surprising number of whom said they'd never been involved in -- or thought much about -- politics before. I started to wonder if Clinton could keep her Pennsylvania lead.

Speaking of which, where is the Clinton Campaign?

Hillary hasn't opened a Chester County office. And, unlike the Obama Campaign, which has been sending people door-to-door since the beginning of the month, her campaign has just started it's door-to-door efforts. Phone banking has been her campaign's main form of outreach in Pennsylvania so far, according to campaign director Mark Nevins.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of reaction the Clinton Campaign generates once it gets here.

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