Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jeff Warrn wins Easton City Council seat

Warren, 30, is chief legislative assistant to state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton. Warren will step down from the city's Zoning Hearing Board, which he served on since May 2006.

This year's election focused on three main issues: the Police Department, finances and economic development.

The three winning candidates all said they support Police Chief Larry Palmer and will find ways to hire more officers to the full complement of 64.

The winners also agree a full-time finance director would help collect more than $1 million in unpaid debts.

YP Peter Schweyer wins in Allentown

Peter Schweyer, 29, chief of staff for state Rep. Jennifer Mann has been elected to Allentown City Council.

Schweyer, who grew up in center city Allentown, said he was moved as he visited the polls and saw people he's known his entire life voting for him.

''I'm very humbled by the whole experience,'' he said. ''Allentown's my hometown. I'll do anything I can to protect its integrity and move it forward.''

Aide set to be youngest on Bethlehem City Council

Political newcomer J. William Reynolds on Tuesday captured a seat on Bethlehem City Council, making him the youngest council member ever and continuing the Democratic Party's monopoly of the board.

'I didn't run for council to set any record -- this is the town I grew up in, the town I love, and I ran to make it better,'' Reynolds said while watching the election returns with friends at the Bethlehem Brew Works. ''No one's life is going to get better by one election. It's what happens over the next four years that matters.''

Reynolds ran an aggressive campaign in the more competitive and crowded primary field and kept up the pressure during the fall as he, two incumbent Democrats and Republican Lee vied for three council seats.

At candidates' forums this year, Reynolds drove home the message that he had more at stake than any other candidate running. As a young professional, he said, he knows the challenges Bethlehem faces to get young people to stay and raise families in the city.

Before Reynolds, now-Mayor John Callahan held the distinction as being the youngest city councilman when he was elected in 1997 at the age of 28.

Reynolds was a star athlete at Moravian College and Liberty High School and now works as a legislative aide for state Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Northampton and Lehigh.

Bucks County approves open space spending

Bucks County voters appeared to speak resoundingly in favor of saving their scenic landscapes Tuesday, telling county officials to move forward with plans to borrow $87 million for a second round of open space preservation.

The open space question was at the top of many voters' lists of reasons for coming out to vote in a the low-profile, off-year election.

Most appeared to share the opinion of Dublin's Jennifer Berg, who voted yes on the ballot question.

''Bucks County has had astronomical population growth,'' said Berg, 31, outside her polling place Tuesday afternoon. ''Farmland and natural areas are getting eaten up.''

Some other voters, apparently in the minority, said they didn't think the open space money was being used wisely.

Wayne Wexler, 41, of Hilltown Township said he thinks there is little public benefit to open space expenditures, especially when land is preserved without public access.

''I'm not a believer in what they are doing with the money,'' Wexler said. ''I don't see the benefit.''

Bucks County officials plan to borrow the money in installments, reaching the full $87 million around 2014.

A decade ago, voters approved the county's first $59 million open space program by a margin of more than 2-1, resulting in the preservation of roughly 15,000 acres over the program's first 10 years.

The newly approved spending will allow Bucks County to continue preserving farmland, natural areas and park land throughout the next decade.

It is expected to cost the average taxpayer roughly $10 in 2008, rising to $30 a year in 2014.

Leading up to the vote, a nonpartisan group led by former U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, former county commissioner Andy Warren and Judge William Hart Rufe, formed to promote the initiative.

''The alternate is to permit the county to become overdeveloped, congested, paved over, all of which will require additional government investment in schools and emergency services, trash collection and schools,'' Fitzpatrick said.

The group lined up a long list of municipal officials, business organizations and environmental advocates as supporters of the ballot initiative under the banner: Save Bucks County.

The money will be split up this way: $26 million for municipal grants, $25 million for farmland preservation, $19 million for parks, $11 million for natural areas and $7 million for Delaware riverfront.

House approves federal protection for gay workers

From the New York Times:

"The House on Wednesday approved a bill granting broad protections against discrimination in the workplace for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, a measure that supporters praised as the most important civil rights legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 but that opponents said would result in unnecessary lawsuits.

The bill, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, is the latest version of legislation that Democrats have pursued since 1974. Representatives Edward I. Koch and Bella Abzug of New York then sought to protect gay men and lesbians with a measure they introduced on the fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the brawl between gay men and police officers at a bar in Greenwich Village that is widely viewed as the start of the American gay rights movement.

“On this proud day of the 110th Congress, we will chart a new direction for civil rights,” said Representative Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and a gay rights advocate, in a speech before the vote. “On this proud day, the Congress will act to ensure that all Americans are granted equal rights in the work place.”

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and a longtime supporter of gay rights legislation, said he would move swiftly to introduce a similar measure in the Senate. Some Senate Republicans said that, if worded carefully, it would have a good chance of passing, perhaps early next year.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, has said that she would be the lead co-sponsor of the Senate bill. Ms. Collins, in a statement, said that the House vote “provides important momentum” and that “there is growing support in the Senate for strengthening federal laws to protect American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

President Bush threatened to veto an earlier version of the bill, but a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said the administration would need to review recent changes before making a final decision. Few Democrats expect Mr. Bush to change his mind.

The House bill would make it illegal for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

While 19 states and Washington, D.C., have laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, and many cities offer similar protections, federal law offers no such shield, though it does bar discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, sex, age, disability and pregnancy."

The bill, however, does not outlaw discrimination based on gender identity.

"To ensure passage of the bill, Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats, including Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who is openly gay, removed language granting protections to transsexual and transgender individuals by barring discrimination based on sexual identity, a move that infuriated gay rights groups.

The Democrats also carved out a blanket exemption for religious groups, drawing the ire of civil liberties advocates who argued that church-run hospitals, for instance, should not be permitted to discriminate against gay employees. The civil liberties groups wanted a narrow exemption for religious employers.

On the House floor, Ms. Pelosi acknowledged challenges. “History teaches us that progress on civil rights is never easy,” she said. “It is often marked by small and difficult steps.”

Bike commuter given lower car insurance rates

A recent bike commuter convert remarks on his journey to a smaller carbon footprint:

Can bicycles really make a difference in fighting global warming?

I had been pondering this question for several months, especially as I watched my colleague Tom bike to work from his home in Menlo Park to our office in San Francisco with an assist from the special bike cars on Caltrain. Tom was riding almost every day, rain or shine. He encouraged me to try it, but I didn’t think it was possible from my home in the Berkeley hills. My regular routine was to drive my 15-year old Honda Accord to North Berkeley and park the car in a lot, ride the train into downtown San Francisco, and walk the rest of the way to the office. The major hurdle to biking the Berkeley section was the 700 foot elevation change in 2.1 miles, which would be fine going down, but would require an arduous climb back up.

I also hadn’t owned a bicycle since I was in graduate school 20 years ago. After a little research, I bought a pretty basic Giant brand bike with hybrid tires, upright handle-bars, a cushy seat and 24 gears. It cost me $469 plus another $90 for a helmet, front and back lights, and a good lock. Nothing fancy, but the bike salesman said it would do the job.

I started riding in June. What a rush to go down the hill! Wind in my face, views of the City by the Bay, and no worries about finding a parking spot. I took the bike on BART and then rode from a San Francisco station to work. On the way home, I did everything in reverse. The hill was a bear, but I found that if took it slow and steady and used my gears I could actually make it all the way up without having to walk the bike. And it was an excellent workout. I arrived home drenched in sweat and pleased with my surprising accomplishment.

Along the way I learned some bike commuting tricks. I kept several sets of clothes at the office, including a suit and tie if important meetings came up unexpectedly. I installed a rack on the bike and used bungee cords to secure my backpack.

After a month, I could feel my legs getting stronger and I wasn’t huffing and puffing up the hill so much. I looked forward to the ride home, both for the exercise and the chance to decompress. I also found that I could use the bike for errands, e.g., grocery shopping, trips to the library, or sporting events at the university. Each time I had to go somewhere, I asked myself: is there any reason I can’t go by bike? Some weeks I realized that I never started up my car.

Now it’s been five months of biking to and from work every day. This weekend I measured my gasoline usage from January to May (115 gallons) and June to October (55 gallons). My auto-related carbon emissions dropped from 2,249 pounds to 1,031 pounds over a comparable five-month period.

I’m not saying everyone can make such changes in personal transportation. But if 20% of urban dwellers in the U.S. would shift from a car to a bike as their primary way to get around town, it would add up to a lot of tons of real carbon reductions.

As an added benefit he was able to reduce his car insurance by $186:

This morning I called GEICO to see if my reduced driving habits would lead to a lower insurance rate. I told the agent that by biking to work and for errands I would drive 3,000 miles less for the year. I also reported that I no longer parked my car in the public BART lot each day, thus greatly reducing the risk of a break-in or theft.

Because of these two changes, effective today my annual car insurance rate dropped by $186. I then estimated other savings from becoming a bike commuter.

  • Gas savings @ $3.25/gallon: $468/year
  • Parking fees (no more $1/day to BART): $250/year
  • Oil change (one less needed during year): $30/year
  • Total savings: $934/year

In sum, if I can keep up the biking through the Bay Area winter (we do get rain here), my bicycle investment will pay off in eight months, five of which have already passed. So by the end of January, I will reach break-even financially. And that’s in addition to the carbon and health benefits. This is a good deal.

DeSales Screendance Festival this weekend

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Allentown Brew Fest

Bethlehem's Christmas Open House This Weekend

Jim Thorpe receives funding for a new band shell

The sound of a check being cut was music to the ears of Jim Thorpe officials Monday as they accepted a $75,000 state grant to build a new band shell and bathrooms at Memorial Park on the borough's east side.

The new buildings will replace ones that council voted in January to demolish to make way for new offices.

The band shell and bathrooms will be at Memorial Park at 10th and Fern streets, on what is now an empty lot near Jim Thorpe Area High School. They will be close to where the original band shell stood.

State Rep. Keith McCall, D-Carbon, said the grant is through the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

''It's a very important community project here in Jim Thorpe,'' he said. ''It's a park that is utilized very heavily, not just by people from Jim Thorpe, but from all over the county.''

The band shell and bathrooms will be a stone's throw from Memorial Park Hall, where the administrative offices were housed for decades until moving, along with the Police Department, to a rental building on North street several years ago.

The Police Department had been housed on the other side of town in the old YMCA building on Broadway.

A new office building is needed because the owner of the North Street building wants the site vacated to use it for other purposes.

Whether to build or rent elsewhere is still undecided. The proposal to build new offices died in early summer when council failed to approve a $430,000 financing package for the project.

Construction on the band shell and bathrooms is expected to be completed by midsummer, Councilman Justin Yaich said.

Councilman Jeremy Melber said engineers figure the band shell and bathrooms can be built for about $75,000.

"The bandstand was always a landmark in Memorial Park," he said. "It was always the site of the musical entertainment for the Fourth of July celebration, and it also housed the only public restrooms the park had."

However, the band shell had "become so deteriorated that all we could do was tear it down," he said.

Yaich said bringing the band shell up to current government safety standards would cost at least as much as building a new one.

"When you are spending state money or any tax dollars, you have to bring everything into state compliance with the building code," he said. "The amount of money we would have spent renovating that band shell and making it [Americans with Disabilities Act]-accessible, along with all the other building codes, would have amounted to what we would spend on a new facility. Now you're going to have something brand-new that's going to last 80 years or longer."

Melber said council wants to restore the park to its former glory.

"This is one of the last great parks in Jim Thorpe," he said. "A lot of people bring their kids here to play, and we want to have a bathroom facility for them."

He also said council was planning to spend $20,000 in grant money on new rides for the park.

"We're really trying to build the park back up to what it used to be," he said.

Memorial Hall is a large social venue the borough rents for wedding receptions, bingo and festivals. The borough's annual Stay at Home Festival on Fourth of July weekend is held there.

The downstairs of the building contains a skating rink popular with area youths.

Allentown poised to invest in parks

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity, along with NET's Sports Chair Cory Crawford, to sit down and discuss Allentown's valuable park system with parks Director Greg Weitzel. Thanks to a guy named Trexler, Allentown has more park space per capita than any other city in the country.

Greg, who has been in his position less than a year, has big plans for Allentown. He unveiled a working plan for a total revamp of Cedar Park. And let me tell you with a sculpture walk, a skate park, a cafe, and a new pavilion for weddings and other special events - it was cool. This is a long term plan which we probably won't see complete for another 3-4 years, however there are some more immediate things in the works. In many of the entrances to Allentown, you may have noticed new "Welcome to Allentown" flags. The city intends to build upon this with greenscaping at entryways into the city and more "Welcome to Allentown" signage.

I have experienced first hand what a little clean up, signage, street lamps and greenscaping can do. I attended college in York, Pennsylvania which has many similarities to Allentown. Recently on a jaunt through the city I saw some major improvements including brickwork, flower boxes and plentiful, quaint lighting. It made a world of difference in my perception of that area. Greg is a big supporter of greenscaping, and I hope to see similar improvements in Allentown.

Finally, Allentown has been working for along time to connect all its parks together with one giant bike path. It seems that progress is being made, albeit slowly. They are working closely with Rodale and the Wildlands Conservancy to connect even more land. I made a suggestion that would go hand-in-hand with this master plan - rental bikes.

In my trip down to Louisville in September to the Young Professionals Summit, I learned about a unique bike rental system they have there. There are bike stations throughout the city where you swipe your credit card and money is taken off you card which releases the bike. When you return the bike to any of the stations you swipe your card again and get your money back. Similar systems are in place in Paris and Munich, but it really hasn't caught on here in the states. I think a similar system would be a great thing to implement here in Allentown, and would perhaps help with some traffic concerns as well.

Your president,

Vanessa Williams

Lehigh Valley Wine Trail Nouveau Weekend

From the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail Association:

It is a great time to celebrate! The 2007 harvest is now complete. This should be one of the finest vintages in years. The warm, dry summer and fall have added many unique and special components to this year’s crop. These components are complemented by the mineral-rich soil of the Lehigh Valley.

Nouveau Weekend, Nov. 17 and 18, will be your first opportunity to sample some of the unique components of this year’s vintage. The nine wineries of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail will each share their individual specialties as listed below:

• Nouveau Weekend at Vynecrest – Enjoy caramelized onion herb focaccia bread with our 2007 Gamay Beaujolais Nouveau wine.

• Big Creek Vineyard and Winery will pair Pasta Ossabaw (pasta with Gorgonzola sauce) with the 2007 Marechal Foch Nouveau.

• Franklin Hill will serve pierogies with assorted toppings, dips and cheese paired with our Nouvelle wine.

• Pinnacle Ridge Winery has done a twist on the Nouveau tradition this year by producing a white wine called “NuVo.” From Sémillon grapes, the winery has created an easy-drinking table wine reminiscent of Austrian pub wine. This unfiltered, semidry white is a hearty companion on a rainy, raw day with the rib-sticking goodness of a thick soup. Paired with the 2007 NuVo at the event will be a rich, golden corn chowder.

• Galen Glen will feature a classic French-style Nouveau produced from 2007 gamay and sweet potato scallops with caramelized onions. The onions are an especially good match to the fruitiness of the Nouveau; just add a turkey, and Thanksgiving is on the table!

• Amore will debut two new releases: Raspberry Romance and 2006 Chambourcin Reserve. Also, a tasting of this year’s Niagara will be available. Assorted bread, cheese and “almost-famous” homemade dipping oil will be offered.

• Celebrate Nouveau Weekend at Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery. Wine and food pairings don’t always need to be fancy dishes. Join us as we sample mini pulled pork sandwiches with Turtle Rock Red, a local favorite! Learn how to make an everyday dinner more enjoyable!

• Blue Mountain will offer an assortment of artisan bread and cheese provided by F. Crivellaro Italian Cheese & Bakery paired with our newly released 2007 Nouveau Beaujolais. Enjoy our Mountain Spice mulled just right and paired with an autumn pumpkin loaf.

Nouveau Weekend is also a great time to start planning your Christmas gift giving. Remember to order your custom labels early. Also, it is a great opportunity to stock your wine racks for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.


Today is local election day. Polls are open until 8 p.m. Please don't forget to vote!! Info on yp candidates.