Phila. City Council passes tougher demolition rules

Posted: February 08, 2014

PHILADELPHIA A five-bill package intended to strengthen the city's regulation of demolition practices, impose more requirements on contractors, and demand closer supervision by city inspectors won unanimous passage in City Council on Thursday.

Many of the changes - such as requiring safety plans as part of an application for any demolition permit - have already been implemented by the Nutter administration, spurred by the building collapse in June that killed six people at 22d and Market Streets.

Other elements of the legislation include:

Experience requirements and safety training for all demolition contractors, with enhanced background checks on their work history and finances.

A requirement that all demolition workers complete a 10-hour safety course developed for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Mandatory site inspections by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Mandatory safety training for city inspectors and their supervisors, and a requirement that contractors hire independent safety monitors for their work sites.

"All of these things will come together, along with some money in the budget, that will help us be a little safer," said Curtis Jones Jr., chairman of the Council committee that developed the legislation.

Jones estimated that L&I would need an additional $2 million a year to hire more inspectors and other personnel to make the enhanced requirements effective.

The administration is expected to provide its estimate for the cost of L&I improvements when Mayor Nutter submits a budget proposal to Council next month.

Meanwhile, a panel of construction and regulation experts appointed by the mayor is working on an overall review of L&I, to be completed by July 1.

A spokesman for Nutter, who is in South Africa this week for a conference on sustainability, said it was too early to tell if the mayor would sign the bills.

Passage of the bills comes in the same week L&I came in for criticism from another direction - a Philadelphia grand jury's report on the deaths of two firefighters, killed while battling a blaze at a vacant Kensington mill in April 2012.

That report bashed L&I for failing to hold the building's owners accountable for its deteriorating condition, which may have led to the fire.

On a day with an otherwise light agenda, Council members were buzzing about their colleague Bill Green, who was confirmed Tuesday as the next chairman of the School Reform Commission. A Democratic at-large councilman, he was appointed to the schools post by a Republican, Gov. Corbett.

Green said he would submit his letter of resignation from Council in the next week, effective upon his taking the oath of his new office, expected before the next SRC meeting Feb. 20. Next week's Council meeting is likely to be his last.

Among those praising his confirmation Thursday was Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, chair of the Education Committee.

"We're expecting great things," she said, "and greater access."

Also Thursday, Councilman David Oh reopened debate on the city's oft-reviled tax structure, calling for the wage and net profits taxes to be reduced $100 million over 10 years.

The Nutter administration has been lowering the wage tax in small increments, and Council is likely to debate this year whether to continue or speed up those reductions.

Oh characterized those cuts as "insignificant" and advocated a bolder approach.

"It tells employers they can stay and expand in Philadelphia, and invites new employers to come into the city," he said. "We are facing some serious job loss if we don't take some action."


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730

@troyjgraham

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