Rifts emerge over demolition regulations

Posted: October 04, 2013

ALTHOUGH BILLS to regulate demolitions following the deadly June 5 building collapse at 22nd and Market streets were introduced just yesterday, fault lines are beginning to emerge over how to shape those policies.

Mayor Nutter's administration, which issued its own demolition reforms the week of the collapse, is quietly pushing back on several key provisions of the five-bill package. And within the special Council committee that produced the bills, some members are at odds over what the scope of the legislation ought to be and how it will impact smaller contractors and undocumented workers.

Nutter issued a statement yesterday saying he shares Council's goals and will work with members on the legislation.

But earlier this week, in a letter obtained by the Daily News, Everett Gillison, Nutter's chief of staff, questioned the legality of some of the bill's provisions, including one that would require contractors to employ a full-time safety monitor at the worksite.

"We do note, in a number of places, the proposals could well raise legal, operational or policy issues," Gillison wrote to Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who chaired the special committee.

Federal law, he wrote, could raise "pre-emption questions" about worker-safety monitors, because that duty is ascribed to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who introduced that provision, said she had not heard the administration's complaint but believes the measure to be legal.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who sat on the committee, said she is worried that a requirement that all workers at demolition sites carry city-issued ID will create a "barrier" for undocumented workers. She faults federal immigration law for not allowing them to access proper channels.

Quinones-Sanchez said she's also worried that overly burdensome rules will be too costly for smaller contractors, many of which in Philadelphia are minority-owned firms, to compete with bigger shops that partner with well-resourced trade unions, which tend to have white workers.

"Our goal is safety, but we also can't be cost-prohibitive," she said. "Our safety plans should be based on scale."

Councilman Jim Kenney, a committee member, said that although he is dedicated to advancing minority opportunity, safety must come first with these regulations.

"We cannot create a situation where we intonate in any way, shape or form that we are willing to look the other way on tax evasion or safety evasion," he said. "If you're not big enough to do a job, you shouldn't do it."

To foster inclusion, he said, minority-owned contractors could "partner with a larger firm that has the capacity."

Six people were killed and 14 injured when a demolition caused a wall to fall onto an adjacent Salvation Army thrift store that was open for business.

The city was heavily criticized following reports that the contractor and property owner were cutting corners and running an unsafe work site despite being permitted by the Department of Licenses & Inspections.

Nutter issued an executive order following the collapse that increased regulation and called on Council to enact new rules as well. The Council committee held five hearings this summer and issued a 70-page report on demolition regulations that led to the proposed legislation.

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN


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