Community residents criticize Temple’s special services district plan

Some community residents said they feel left out of Temple’s plans to improve the community.

Board president and community resident Joan Briley laughs with Temple officials at the North Central Special Services District launch event on Friday. | DYLAN LONG / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Goretti Goss clutched her granddaughter Amaya’s hand outside Diamond Park, the senior housing complex where she lives, and watched the commotion at a building across the street.

University officials announced the North Central Special Services District at Hillel at Temple University on Friday. The district, which will span from Broad Street to 18th and Dauphin Street to Oxford, is meant to address the quality of life issues caused by student life off-campus.

The district’s independent board will have four university employees and five community residents, who will address common concerns like trash and noise. Temple is a founding partner, but community residents have majority voting power.

“I don’t understand how anybody would approve [the district],” Goss said. “…It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Some residents said they felt left out of the process of creating the district because only five residents will make decisions for all community members who live within the district. Others said they felt the SSD was Temple’s way of garnering community support for its proposed on-campus football stadium plan, which is a point of contention between some residents and the university.

Two protesters yelled and held signs about Temple’s community relations on Friday, attempting to interrupt President Richard Englert as he announced the district. 

When the news cameras filed out of Hillel at Temple, Goss remained outside. She needed to know what happened, she said, but she has never spoken with a university official. Though she’s lived in the community for six years, Goss considers herself new to the area and said she doesn’t understand how her neighbors have tolerated disruptive student behavior for decades.

One of the protesters at Friday’s event, Jackie Wiggins, a prominent member of the Stadium Stompers, had just finished what she called “civil disobedience,” disrupting the kick-off event by yelling during Englert’s remarks. 

Wiggins was “outraged” by the district and said she wasn’t aware of the kick-off until the morning of the event, she told The Temple News on Sunday.

The protests at Temple’s community events are recent, said Judith Robinson, the chairperson for the 32nd Democratic Ward Registered Community Organization. They’re the result of the “deafness” the university has toward the community.

Last year, the university repeatedly linked the district to its plans for an on-campus stadium. Englert prepared to call the stadium “the linchpin for a special services district” during a March 2018 town hall speech before protesters disrupted the event. Temple began having closed-door community affairs meetings with a pool of residents after stadium plans got underway, and through these meetings, selected the SSD board members.

Englert told The Temple News on Friday that the district has nothing to do with any proposed on-campus stadium plans. 

Robinson and Wiggins said they’re not represented by those on the SSD board.

“What Temple did is picked the people…that would be the path of less resistance,” Robinson said.

Lupe Portillo, who lives near the corner of Norris and 15th streets and works as a housekeeper in Facilities Management, receives a monthly invite to Temple’s closed-door meetings and attends every month, she said. She doesn’t miss them unless there’s an emergency.

At the meetings, university officials discussed creating a district, Portillo said, but never directly asked the group who would be interested in serving on the SSD board. She’s unsure how the university picked who would serve, she said.

“People should not think that…,‘Well they picked these specific people to be on the board, so they’re going to side with Temple,’” Portillo said. “That’s absolutely not true.”

Portillo, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, said the people on the board are long-term community residents who are going to bring the concerns of the community forward.

Joan Briley, the SSD Board’s president who lives near the corner of Norris and 15th streets, told The Temple News on Friday what she expects for the SSD Board’s future.

“I’m glad we finally got [the district] started,” Briley said. “We’ll start having more meetings and bringing in more people from the community and take it from there.” 

Bill Bergman, the vice president for public affairs, told The Temple News in February that the SSD Board members were chosen from community residents that meet regularly with the university, and their opinions on issues like the proposed stadium were not taken into consideration.

It may have been better for the university to select property developers to sit on the SSD Board, because they may be encouraged to give money to the district in the future, Robinson said.

The university should have more open meetings with community residents to determine issues the SSD Board will focus on, Robinson added. Specifically, she’s concerned that parking isn’t part of the district’s plans.

Robinson also believes the boundaries of the district are flawed. New student housing is being built as far west as 19th Street, she said, but the district ends at 18th.

The Temple News examined trash-related sanctions and complaints within the borders of Poplar Street to Lehigh Avenue from south to north and from 6th Street to 25th from east to west. Only 13.8 percent of the more than 11,000 trash-related 311 complaints in the area made from 2015-19 were located within the districts’ borders.

The trash issue should have been addressed years ago, Robinson said. And the district shouldn’t have started without a broader conversation with community residents.

“Having a person with no expertise on the board will leave us still with trash on the street, still with the bad community relations, still wasted time,” she said. “And then when the money goes, we’re back to square one.”

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