Future Focused Leadership to Make Easton Even Better, Together.
Parks and Recreation for our Children
There is no greater gift we can give to our future generations than to provide engaging learning opportunities that teach life skills. As an educator, I spent a career teaching, coaching, and leading our youth in the public schools. While academic learning is essential, we know that social, emotional, and physical development are just as important.
The role of a municipality typically consists of providing recreational opportunities through a system of parks and a program of activities. Our parks have become a higher priority in the city budget recently. For park design and capital improvements, $198,707 was spent in 2022 and another $200,000 is budgeted for 2023. The revenue for these improvements comes from the Open Space Fund through impact fees from property developers for public infrastructure, the city’s general fund, and the American Rescue Plan. Recent capital investment has been made to some of our larger parks such as Lachenour, Heil, Hackett, and Nevin. This needs to continue until all city parks are where we want them to be.
Easton is fortunate to have a tremendous group of staff members and volunteers who are leading the way in providing activities for our children. As a city, we can do even more to make sure our kids have access to healthy, stimulating programs. Athletics provides outlets for physical development as well as many lessons in teamwork, leadership, sacrifice, and hard work. Coaches and officials are always in demand to provide all the sports teams we would like to see, and we encourage our residents to offer their time.
Our adults have many other talents to contribute beyond athletics. Recreational clubs can be focused on skateboarding, bicycling, hiking, or running to name just a few as well as those focused on life skills such as coding, gaming, music, art, cooking, gardening, etc.
Accessible Transit for Every Neighborhood
Last week’s narrative was about parking as a quality of life issue. We can also limit vehicle congestion and make the city more accessible to all by increasing transit options in every neighborhood. Here are a few initial proposals to promote transit improvements for bus riders, cyclists, car drivers, and pedestrians, so that the city becomes safer and more interconnected than it has ever been.
The Lehigh and Northampton County Transit Authority (LANTA) provides transportation to and from destinations around the Lehigh Valley. The service across the region has been increasing consistently. For example, the Blue Line, which starts and ends at the Intermodal Transportation Center (ITC) behind City Hall, will be running every 30 minutes into the early AM hours starting in June instead of every 60 minutes ending at 11:00 pm. The future intent is to run every 15 minutes with 24 hour service.
While that is a help to Easton residents, there are limited regular stops and routes within the city. Right now there are no changes that would improve intracity access to and from each of our neighborhoods, though a flex option is open for certain routes. LANTA has made it clear that additional or revised regular routes will occur only based on increased ridership. This is an area of opportunity for the City to initiate public marketing efforts to encourage higher levels of use and a more open dialogue with LANTA.
An additional step would be to provide a city-sponsored electric bus operating at key times and locations. A hub and spoke service centered on the ITC would provide an effective, efficient way to reach high concentration areas in each neighborhood.
At the same time we could encourage electric, low speed vehicle operators to locate here to provide passenger service cheaply in an environmentally friendly way. Low speed vehicles (LSVs) have required safety equipment and must be registered and inspected, unlike golf carts which do not have the same requirements. LSVs are allowed on Pennsylvania roads at any time of the day where the speed limit is no greater than 25 miles per hour (up to 35 mph with special approval), useful on most streets within city limits.
In addition to these transit proposals, we should be looking to increase safety and accessibility for bicycles and pedestrians. Bicycle sharing programs can be found in many cities. Increasing the number and location of bike racks at public spaces would encourage their frequency of use. Roadway narrowing (also known as bump outs), speed humps, and raised intersections can help reduce speed and make the street environment safer for both bicyclists and pedestrians. Monitoring speed limits on city streets more regularly also promotes the well-being of motorists and non-motorists alike. We should lobby for the use of radar equipment by local police, which is not currently permitted by state law.
Again, the most important thing we must do is to listen to our residents, business owners, and visitors. We can then act appropriately to ensure we are enhancing our quality of life while we all enjoy the best of what Easton has to offer.
Parking is a Quality of Life Issue
Among the benefits of engaging with voters in all of our neighborhoods (we have visited over 1,500 resident doors during the month of March alone) is that I have gotten a clearer understanding of our shared needs and concerns. Like any growing and thriving city, one of the most important issues is vehicle parking. Development needs to be managed well to ensure that the quality of our residential life is improved as we grow. Additional residents and visitors put pressure on parking access in all areas of our city.
Downtown is a focus given the recent development there. As chairman of the Planning Commission, I have been especially attentive to parking as a key component of any development plan. I can report that nearly every Downtown project has provided plans for their own parking (one will even provide additional spaces for public use), and we must insist that this continues to be the standard. The select few variances granted by the Zoning Hearing Board have been based on the developer using public garage space or having largely walking customers.
Weekend visitors are also a pressure point for Downtown parking. I would engage the county in discussion to consider city access to the administration complex lot at Washington and Union Streets for public parking on weekends when the offices are closed. Shuttle service could be added to make it easier for visitors to park for the day without adding congestion.
Parking access in the other neighborhoods is a critical issue too. Single family homes are sometimes occupied by many drivers, increasing the number of cars parked on the street and crowding out room in front of other people’s homes. I would consider an ordinance to register the vehicles of all residents for a nominal fee with limits per household. Residents could register guest vehicles for a short-term stay, while unregistered vehicles would be subject to warnings first and then ticketed for additional violations. Funds collected from registrations and fines would offset the costs of Parking Authority officers to enforce the ordinance and reduce congestion.
Festivals are opportunities to share the joys of Easton with visitors, but they put pressure on street parking within walking distance of the event, forcing residents to park further from their homes. I would consider modifying the regulations for festival management to require a plan for shuttle service to larger lots during the event.
The most important thing we must do is to listen to our residents, business owners, and visitors. We can then act appropriately to ensure we are enhancing our quality of life while we all enjoy the best of what Easton has to offer.
Why I Love Easton
After writing about several of my key platform priorities, I thought I would turn to a more personal reflection about why I love Easton, and why that feeling has sparked me to run for City Council.
My wife Diane and I moved to an apartment here 14 years ago, while we were planning to build what we expected would be our final residence elsewhere. We began to interact with our neighbors, experience the rhythms of the city, and enjoy the richness of the arts, the foods, and the festivals. After living here for two years, we decided we did not want to leave and instead changed our plans to make Easton our permanent home.
Since then, we have both become deeply involved in serving this community. We founded the Friends of Easton PA along with others in 2014 when we learned of financial concerns that threatened to cause a coverage reduction for the Easton Ambassadors. We continued to raise funds for our “safe, clean, walkable” mission and donated to the resurgence of Easton Block Watch. We then developed our ongoing campaign called “Bright Lights, Vibrant Easton”, which has resulted in the widely-admired lights in the trees of Centre Square and on South Side hill. Our next project will be in West Ward.
We have been grateful as well to have served on Easton’s governmental boards: Diane was appointed to the Historic District Commission, and I was nominated to the Planning Commission. We recently accepted the city’s designation as “Volunteers of the Year” to represent all those who give their personal time and effort to make Easton the best it can be.
We love Easton because our city has an inclusive energy to it that is diverse, vibrant, and welcoming of everyone. We felt embraced by the people we met, and we’re honored to pay that forward with others who come here. A while back, I posted a brief excerpt of an article that captured for me the essence of why I think Easton is such a wonderful and energetic place. I repeat it here because it still speaks to me, and hopefully will to you too:
"Urban dynamism is not simply a function of geography or the built environment. Neighborhood character does not arise from architectural quirks or accidents of history well preserved. What makes cities ‘optimistic, diverse, dynamic’ and forward-moving is people: people of all types who choose to live there, create there, build businesses and grow families there; different sorts of people who come into contact with one another and produce interesting foods, ideas, art, and ways of living together. A healthy city attracts wealthy, middle-, and working-class people; it pulls newcomers into its orbit while leaving room for natives. That’s the type of city that produces the sense of ‘character’ that makes people want to call it home." (Jerusalem Demsas, The Atlantic)
This passage points to why I think we are at a pivotal time in our history, and why I have chosen to run for Easton City Council. We are a potent and growing city, a jewel in the Lehigh Valley, and people want to move here. We need to elect leaders who will strike the right balance to protect the treasures of our celebrated past, continue the successful momentum of our recent era, and grow in a planned and thoughtful way so that all of us can share in our prosperity now and in the future.
I hope to earn your support and your vote for Easton City Council in the May 16 Primary Election.
A Seat at the Table for All Residents
The 2023 Easton City Council election comes at a critical point in time. We have experienced a wonderful renaissance over the past decade and a half, particularly in Downtown. However, staying in place by rejecting development is not going to keep things the same. We must plan and act now with clear thinking and future focused leadership, if we are going to realize a better quality of life for all through continued prosperity over the next 15-20 years.
As a starting point, we have to provide every resident a seat at the table. This means we must listen carefully to all of our constituents in every neighborhood, because there is no one size fits all approach. As Planning Commission Chairman, I have facilitated our public meetings to promote and encourage a broad range of voices to include those of commissioners, developers, and citizens alike. I want to ensure everyone can have the opportunity to speak and be heard before decisions are considered.
We need to insist upon government transparency, so that those who are interested can feel more informed. We also have to foster continued expansion in voter registration and participation, so that our democracy can be even better.
The three Council seats up for election this year are called “at-large”, because these members are supposed to represent people throughout the entire city. It isn’t just about one neighborhood: it is about hearing the concerns and meeting the needs of every community on a range of issues.
I have and will continue to listen to the perspectives of every Easton voter. I will meet with residents, business owners, and visitors regularly to ensure that we stay in touch with the real issues our people are experiencing every day. And I will never stop working together to make our City of Easton the best it can be.
Growth and Prosperity in Every Neighborhood
Easton’s population is growing for the first time in decades. Downtown has the smallest but most rapidly growing sector. Concentrated living space is zoned for the city’s center and should continue to be promoted to bring the tax dollars necessary to fund larger portions of the city budget.
Occupancy has grown in other neighborhoods too, and we must continue to act on housing solutions for all levels of income. Owners of poorly maintained buildings need to be held accountable and made to make necessary improvements. If not, we should ramp up the certification of blighted properties that get approved regularly by the Planning Commission. Then the city can market to and incentivize young home buyers, incoming residents, and new businesses.
In order to take Easton from good to great and truly reach our highest potential, we must harness the opportunities to build upon the unique histories of each of our neighborhoods. To make that happen, we can:
Enhance South Side’s residential character with quality of life improvements while taking advantage of its emerging potential for commercial development, especially along the St. John-Old Philadelphia corridor that serves as a gateway to the city for so many people;
Build the immense potential in West Ward by investing in community development, local services, and incentives for owner-occupied housing. We should also promote strategic business development, especially on the critical arteries of Northampton Street, Walnut Street, and Wood Avenue;
Bring the College Hill community into more regular dialogue with Lafayette College, our city’s largest taxpayer. There is common interest in developing the transitional zone between Cattell and McCartney Streets with neighborhood services that can benefit everyone; and
Ensure Downtown remains our focal business and entertainment center, where continued success is essential to the vitality of our entire city. We can help developers and entrepreneurs understand it as a diverse neighborhood with a proud history that must be respected and preserved.
Public Safety and Cleanliness
As an educator for 35 years and the last 13 as a superintendent of schools, I know the importance of maintaining a safe, clean community. This is “job one” inside of our schools. Our kids should also feel safe with their friends on the playground, in the park, and going to and from school. As adults, we deserve to feel we can meet up with our neighbors outside of our homes in an open, pleasant, and comfortable environment. By not addressing these basic needs, some municipalities have found themselves withering from within.
As treasurer of the nonprofit Friends of Easton PA, I understand the vital role that citizen groups can play as partners in enhancing our safety and cleanliness. Lighting solutions, like the ones developed by Friends of Easton PA in Centre Square and South Side, bring attention to areas of our community in need of improvement as well as those that are already well developed. Easton Block Watch is a critical organization that can and should be expanded, if we market it well and each of us gives just a little of our time. Our neighborhood associations also provide an outlet for citizen input, but only if we attend meetings and follow through with action.
Maintaining Easton’s safety and cleanliness also requires public resources. We have an outstanding, fully accredited police department, and I am proud to be endorsed by Easton’s Fraternal Order of Police. An important added value would be to employ personnel such as a victim advocate, social worker, and mental health professional to assist with the complexity of issues impacting our citizens. We can also do our part by negotiating highly competitive salaries and benefits, providing best-in-class equipment and training, and expanding the department as our city’s population continues to grow.
We should also focus on complementary resources toward our goal. I believe we should increase our Ambassador coverage in core commercial zones in every neighborhood starting with Northampton Street in West Ward; along St. John, Old Philadelphia, and Berwick Streets on South Side; and between Cattell and McCartney Streets on College Hill. Their eyes and communication are as important as their street cleaning. We can also assign our public workers to more regular cleaning routes, so that every corner of our city shines.
I will work hard to listen, learn, and advocate for every Easton resident to ensure a safe, clean community.