Point Breeze Moratorium: Anna Verna’s Side Of The Story

The scene outside of South Philadelphia HOMES on the 1400 block of Point Breeze Avenue last night at 6pm was a disarray of violent protesting. Members of the Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze held signs that read “Save Point Breeze,” calling anyone who dared to enter “gentrifiers.” The meeting that was scheduled to take place inside was one that Philadelphia city council president Anna Verna asked community leaders to arrange in conclusion to the ‘grueling and redundant testimony’ on March 23, 2011 over the Moratorium Bill No. 110134. Neighborhood leaders of Point Breeze, including Al Brown of the Point Breeze Performing Arts Center, Alice Shockley of the Neighbors In Action group, Claudia Sherrod of the Point Breeze Community Development Coalition, John Longacre of Longacre Property Management Group, Antoinette Johnson of the Point Breeze Pioneers and Jim Resta and Andrew Marx of Newbold Neighbors all gathered to hear Anna Verna’s story about how the moratorium came into action. Senator Larry Farnese and state representative Kenyatta Johnson (who is also running for Verna’s seat) were invited but were a no-show.

“Tiffany Green and Betty Beauford pleaded with our office [to introduce the moratorium bill],” defended Verna. “The only way to let it come to a head, to see if the entire community was indeed behind this, was to introduce it.” (Beauford and Green are notorious oppositionists who fought Toll Brothers Naval Square development and who, as Verna recalls, “[changed] their story each time we met over the [Toll Brothers] matter, once even stating that the sewer drains were not large enough.”) As the heated meeting continues, Verna admits that of her decades spent as the Second District Council woman, this was one of the most controversial issues she dealt with, having received hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters in opposition to the bill (any relation to our breaking of the story?).

“I will not stand up for these issues if anyone here dares to dumb them down by making it about race,” Verna explained as she pointed her finger at each and every one of the community leaders. Verna grew up at 22nd and Dickenson Streets in Point Breeze, during a time when the community was composed of mixed incomes and race. Anna explains that years ago she couldn’t get any developer to even consider the 36th Ward (Point Breeze and Grays Ferry). “Now, it’s one of the hottest neighborhoods in Philadelphia,” Verna explained. And apparently the mayor’s office thinks so too: in a letter to Verna’s office, the mayor’s office writes “. . .our concern with this legislation is the extreme negative effect that the proposed moratorium will have on property values in the Point Breeze neighborhood and adjacent communities.”

During the meeting last night, Jonathan King (the resident who started the online petition for the bill) questions Verna. “Do you think this bill has any chance with whoever takes your seat next year?” Verna responses simply that based on the aforementioned letter she assumes that the mayor will veto it. King asked if Kenyatta Johnson had a position in this matter and unfortunately the answer was unclear.

The meeting ended with Beaufort standing alone out front, wondering what came of the meeting and when she could meet with Verna again.