CENTRE COUNTY: The Parking “Pilot” Program Involves More Fines, and More SCREWING of Independent Downtown Business Owners.

The parking issue in downtown State College is NOT going away. It still confuses me how tax payers paid out millions for a county garage on Garner Street, under the guise that we were “fixing” this issue.

Don Hahn would like to cite traffic diverters (from over a decade ago) as evidence of his dedication to focusing on the issue. Hahn cited his past experience on borough council. He noted that in 1996 he voted in favor of traffic diverters in College Heights, which were favored by the College Heights Association. After they were implemented, he heard from many community members who were opposed and experiencing negative traffic impacts. I would like to point out that “traffic diverters” do nothing for the independent business owners and stores downtown who suffer as a result of the parking problems, increased parking citation prices and the county’s failure to address the lack of space. All that the traffic diverters are doing is eliminating through way traffic in College Heights, benefiting Hahn’s wealthy donor base and not at all alleviating the parking issues. It’s a moot and irrelevant point.

Monday night city council followed suit with Don Hahn’s veto. Council members David Brown, Cathy Dauler, Janet Engeman and Theresa Lafer voted in favor of overriding the veto, with Jesse Barlow, Dan Murphy and Evan Myers voting against. Despite that small victory, it seems the staunch old guard has maintained their footing supporting the old world state college, and opposing economic growth, downtown prosperity and the profitability of local business owners enhancing our economy and giving out jobs.

Somehow there was a layer of beauracracy also added: After the override vote, council unanimously voted to refer the proposal to transportation commission for review at its Sept. 11 meeting and to schedule a public hearing and vote at borough council’s Sept. 17 meeting. This is very confusing to me. Why can’t city hall council come up with an implemental solution? Any decision is going to piss somebody off, but ultimately the growth of the downtown economic structure is going to benefit Penn State, and the local economy, job market etc.

While housing prices have sky rocketed, so have rents. It’s nearly impossible to live downtown without paying at least 800 a month in utilities plus rent. You cannot buy a place downtown, unless you spend at least $250,000 and then you are stuck with a hovel or a “fixer-upper.” The inflation of housing prices has even had a ripple effect to the outskirts of State College in places such as Milesburg and even Philipsburg. The county seems to be pricing people out, and all the while lacking sustainable income/wages for the working class or the younger generation that is “starting out.” Along with this, come a boatload of privileged elite “old guard” State College, who are living in the borrough and insensitive to the needs. The growth will not be sustainable, and the housing inflation bubble will burst, unless some accomodations are made to include younger generations in the economy, provided sustainable wages and housing.

Not every member of the State College is a member of the Penn State economy. Further exasperating this issue is Penn State President Eric Barron who is cutting full time “blue-collar” jobs and eliminating the unions. Now Office of Physical Plant union workers are being “phased out” or offered early retirement because Penn State is “cutting costs.” As replacement, temporary janitorial staff is being hired as contractors for “temping” agencies, which provide insurance (at a very high cost and only because they are required to do so), in exchange for hard labor at just barely above minimum wage costs. They promise “possible” permanent positions at the university, yet it’s not in the interest of Penn State to employ full time janitors and provide them benefits, so in the interest of being cheap, they cycle through temps. Replacing these minimum wage employees (who sometimes drive an hour or more from rural areas such as Clearfield), when they are burnt out and/or give up on getting full time offer and/or get a better paying job (not hard).

But janitorial staff and general laborers are not only the ones who suffer. There is a trickle up effect. Once upon a time a Penn State “staff member” such as an administrative assistant, was paid a enough fair wage to afford to purchase a downtown home. Those days are gone. Administrative assistants make $32,000-$38,000 a year, and they cannot afford a home in the local economy. Even the Penn State faculty has been effected by cutting of budgets, and Penn State bearocracies, where adjunct professors are replacing long time professors in effort to curb costs. Meanwhile, President Barron (during his first term in office) was given a substantial raise for his “performance.” A “performance” which was anti-union and plagued with turmoil and further scandal, to include the Piazza case, the poorly handled Mike McQueary civil case, and a number of other despicable issues.

This community is by and large NOT Penn State, and has never been. Penn State employs a large number of people; however, Penn State functions in a community they do not own (nor lately seem to take an interest in) and there is no incentive for them to really benefit. Take a look at the county trash pick-up crew. These are non-PSU employees that clean up pizza boxes, beer bottle and rubble after football games. This is an added expense to taxpayers, that the university has not contributed to and that they refuse to take responsibility for the out of control behavior of their students (that is, until they recently faced a tragedy wherein they will be Defendant in multiple million dollar lawsuit – then, and only then, when they faced a lawsuit, did they start to pretend to care about issues that were effecting the locals for YEARS).

Penn State, back in the 1990’s, was a good neighbor. The wages were fair and even janitorial staff could afford housing, earn a retirement and make a career off of Penn State. Faculty members had job security, and the drinking rioting problems were tolerated without militant police, but disciplinary action within the university seemed to stifle some of these problems we have seen in excess within the past decade. Penn State certainly was not perfect, but they took care of the community, and especially took care of their own.

When I hear about these parking wars, I grow infuriated. It seems the old wealthy elite in State College (normally over 60 years old in age, who benefited from the Penn State golden age) want to have their cake and eat it too. They don’t want the nussiance of vehicles on the street in their wealthy campus neighborhoods, and lack consideration for the microcommunity that is downtown, justifying their positions by saying “without Penn State there would be no downtown.” I got news for these people who resist economic development and want nothing to change: There would be NO PENN STATE, without the residents of this community.

A “business incubator” run by Penn State is a poor solution to the problem. It’s a public relations stunt by the university that really has done little in terms of job creation to combat the cutting of the middle lower class jobs at Penn State, that the upper administration and BOT has implemented. For some inexcusable reason, Penn State has seen it fit to line the pockets of executives and the BOT, raise tuition and cut out jobs for the middle and lower classes, both of which now are desperately seeking alternatives in an economy Penn State has intentionally and deliberately tried to hold back and stifle.

When I see these parking wars, I see another deliberate and intentional attack by the “old guard” on the micro community trying to thrive and sustain itself outside of the Penn State wage roll. I was, perhaps, wrong in thinking that Don Hahn was catering specifically to this old guard. I was very wrong. What Don Hahn is doing is trying to please everyone, failing to take a leadership role, and failing to come up with viable solutions while he vetoes. If you veto something, come up with a better solution.

I do not think there will be a solution that won’t piss somebody off, but the idea is to prioritize economic development (outside of the Penn State machine), fair wages, jobs, and at the barest minimum affordable housing. Citing negative effects of increased traffic and street parking, Highlands Civic Association requested in 2017 that the borough try enforcing the 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. restriction during football weekends. Borough staff studied the issue and transportation commission recommended enforcing the restriction at all times. Borough council instead decided on the permit pilot project, which was not reviewed by transportation commission.

I don’t want to hear about a bunch of beaurocratic, press hound people pleasers saying too much and doing nothing. This local economy will collapse due to inflation and unaffordability of the housing prices, and due to this resistance of change or development by old world State College. They don’t want new high rises because the elite own most of downtown property, and competitive student housing would crush their monthly incomes from rental properties. They don’t want tenured faculty members, because that’s expensive and it would be easier to get an adjunct. They don’t want to hire janitors or laborers full time, because it’s cheaper just to pay temps minimum wage and that way they don’t have to pay benefits. They want some sort of feudalistic society, where Penn State admin and BOT are executives, and where economic prosperity is not encouraged due to “parking” or “traffic”.

The debate over lifting the parking restrictions is the antithesis of this. The borrough now wants to impose taxes on people parking in wealthy borrough neighborhoods because they find it bothersome. Despite having Manhatten-esque home prices, they refuse to deal with city traffic, and don’t like cars parked on curbs six weekends out of the year. Now they want to charge for it, which is in essence, just discouraging it.

Additionally, I find it astounding that there is a lack of vocalization by business owners themselves (the chamber of commerce, etc.) It seems that multiple businesses this year have been run out of business, and the downtown economy is precarious at best (relying on hot weekends like arts fest) and scrimping and saving the rest of the year.

The idea that a university and college community can function in an urban environment is not new. Look at Boston University or Temple University. Those campuses are in the center of urban settings where housing prices are reasonable, and while the universities may not be the driving forces of the economy, they are encompassed in the ecosystem of a booming economy, and they emphasize (instead of stifle) development.

“I do tend to err on the side of caution and deliberation,” Hahn said. “When staff proposed the pilot program on April 16, I thought it was a step forward. Others thought it was mission accomplished. I thought it forwarded the debate, others thought it ended the debate at least for 20 months.”

The message? Hahn did nothing. He let this contention fester and grow until it became an all out crisis. Perhaps as a new mayor he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or step on any tales, but a crisis does not get better with time. There is a saying in the legal field that I am certain Hahn is familiar with: “Law is like a jealous mistress.” As in, mistakes don’t get better over time. Addressing things head on, with confidence, and proposing solutions (not just vetoes) is the preemptive and productive way of doing things.

The pilot program does little to benefit downtown business owners or their employees (who sometimes drive out of county and pay for parking out-of-pocket). It benefits an elite social class, that is resistant to change and wants State College to remain as the same static entity as it was in the 1960s. With the inflated home prices, the lack of Penn State jobs and the unaffordability of the area, compromising on parking and supporting local business owners is the very least. Penn State Alumini doesn’t drive into town expecting to pay for parking tickets or parking costs that are equal or greater to the price of football tickets. That type of thing is not Penn State tradition.

Lifting this parking ban would be beneficial to the economy. While city council might not care about the local downtown business owners, many of us do.

Lift the overnight restrictions, do NOT require permits. End of story. Or be selfish, and let city council cater to the old guard and stifle economic growth. Either way, come up with a solution, and stop dicking around and adding more beaurocracy. This should have been addressed months (I’m sorry), — YEARS AGO. Clearly City Council fooled the public when they said that the Garner Street parking garage was going to “fix” the problem. And any profits by way of the parking authority, should be put back directly in the county, used at the will and to the benefit of taxpayers and downtown business owners.

That’s why I voted Michael Black, because of clusterf#cks like this oneIn short, City Council – GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER. .

CITATION

 

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