After leaving the financial industry in 2008, Rhynhart served as city treasurer and budget director. She then served as city controller for four years, resigning in 2022 to run for mayor.
On protecting trees and natural spaces
Tree canopies help produce clean air, reduce C02, provide shade from the sun and actually reduce temperatures. Studies show the tree canopy also has positive effects on the life of our residents, facilitating higher levels of physical activity and lowering crime. A study done in 2018 showed that our tree canopy in Philadelphia declined between 2008 and 2018. Our most disadvantaged neighborhoods have the least dense tree canopies and as a result are more negatively affected by the rising temperatures associated with climate change. Restoring, maintaining and increasing our tree canopy is an issue of environmental justice that will help to create more equitable neighborhoods and a more equitable city.
The Kenney administration has commissioned a comprehensive strategy that will offer a 10-year plan to increase our city’s canopy. After delays this strategy is slated for release in the early spring of 2023. Once this study is released, I will review the findings and recommendations to best determine how to implement them to improve our city’s canopy.
Under a Rhynhart administration we will prioritize increasing our tree canopy and focus on creating an equitable distribution of trees. We will make a tree canopy map available to the public and include overlays that illustrate other important data points such as average temperatures, poverty rates and health outcomes. By providing this information publicly we can focus our efforts and resources on the neighborhoods most in need.
My administration will set goals and create a public dashboard to show the progress made towards our goals for increasing our tree canopy. Some metrics will include number of trees planted, percentage of canopy cover, tree cover equity and diversity of trees planted. The ability to track our progress on a regular basis will help us reach our goal and make adjustments if we begin to fall short.
My administration’s relevant departments will be brought together to be in alignment with achieving our citywide tree canopy goals. These departments will include but won’t be limited to the Streets Department, the Department of Planning and Development, the Department of Licensing and Inspection and the Department of Parks & Recreation. These departments will ensure that their policies and procedures, along with their regulations and rules are aligned with maximizing our tree canopy. Any rules, regulation or policy that is detrimental to maintaining and growing our tree canopy will be re-evaluated and reissued. In addition, these departments will identify the challenges and barriers to growing our tree canopy within the purview of their authority and develop solutions to overcome those obstacles. For example, we know that areas with higher population density tend to have less dense tree canopies. To mitigate this, my administration would consider new regulations requiring trees and the conditions to grow the trees in all new developments of a certain size.
Lastly, we will build upon the success of existing programs and initiatives. We will support Councilmember Gilmore-Richardson’s bills regarding our tree canopy and close any zoning loopholes that allow developers to skirt current tree protection laws. In addition, my administration will aggressively enforce the fees associated with removing trees for development with no plan to replace them. Increasing funding to the Tree Fund will also give our city more resources to maintain the current tree canopy.
On flooding in Eastwick
Historical disinvestment and severe weather driven by climate change have left the Eastwick community reeling. Plans for new development and airport expansion also leave the community even more vulnerable to flooding. For decades the residents of Eastwick have participated in community meetings and studies to determine how to mitigate the extreme flooding they continually experience.
The reality is Eastwick needs and deserves a massive investment into their local infrastructure to make their community more resilient to flooding. The best and potentially only solution to mitigate the flooding in Eastwick, while keeping the community intact, is to build and maintain a levee. This infrastructure project would be led by the Army Corps of Engineers. The City would have to identify which entity will maintain the levee and work directly with the Army Corps to facilitate its construction. This type of investment is more possible than at any point in recent history due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Two aspects of the bill can directly help the City with the levee project. The first is the $17.1 billion investment into the Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction on projects intended to reduce flooding. Secondly, the bill includes the STORM Act, which makes available $500 million for a FEMA program that will establish loan funds for resilience projects. As mayor I will work with Governor Shapiro to prioritize the Eastwick project and ensure our city gets access to these much needed funds to build a more resilient Eastwick.
On improving bicycling in Philadelphia
Improving our bike infrastructure will help us create a safer, cleaner, more sustainable Philadelphia. In order to make our city’s bike environment more safe and accessible, my administration would work with the appropriate departments to update the existing Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, which was last updated prior to the Kenney administration in 2015, to develop a citywide plan that will lay out specific goals for bike infrastructure in each of our neighborhoods. Once these updates are finalized, my administration will spearhead the creation and maintenance of a publicly available dashboard so that residents can see where we are making progress and where we are not. The goal of this dashboard is to help residents advocate for the infrastructure they deserve in their neighborhoods.
A primary goal of the master plan would be to expand Philadelphia’s bike lanes to create a network that reaches every neighborhood in our city. In addition to construction of these new bike lanes, the plan would ensure the ongoing expansion of the Indego bike share extends to neighborhoods where we need to create more equitable access to this service.
To improve the bike infrastructure Philadelphia has, currently, I would work with the Streets Department leadership to ensure that the proper mechanisms are in place to focus maintenance such as repainting or adding barriers in the most critical, unsafe areas. Beyond these key priorities, it’s crucial that the departments leading the charge to draft the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan convene stakeholders from neighborhoods across the city to gather input about the specific priorities for each of our communities so that their transportation needs are met.
Philadelphia is an amazing city, and I am excited about the potential of improvements to our bike infrastructure has to make our streets safer, more equitable and more sustainable.
Improving our procedures and internal policies combined with strengthening our workforce will ensure that L&I is a strong partner in our sustainability efforts.”
On sustainable development and the understaffed L&I
We must address the staffing crisis occurring in the Department of Licensing & Inspection in order to overcome the capacity challenges at L&I.
In order to do so, we first need to work directly with the union to improve working conditions within the department to retain our current inspectors. Issues with management and newly implemented policies have negatively affected the morale of L&I inspectors. We must facilitate the collaboration of management and union leadership to create internal policies that better support the inspectors and other L&I staff and allow these employees to do their job to the best of their ability.
Secondly, to ensure sustainable development standards are met, I would ask the Department of Licensing & Inspection to interview their existing personnel to determine where the biggest challenges are in fulfilling these sustainability standards so we can find solutions to overcome these hurdles.
Thirdly, we must invest in recruitment efforts to fill the open positions at Licensing & Inspection and understand what other factors may deter potential employees from applying to or joining the department. To do so, I would ask L&I leadership to study other cities’ models for their L&I departments who have seen effective results. Learning what these best practices are will help determine how we can make these roles more appealing to qualified candidates. Then, we move resources to implement those findings.
Lastly we must align Licensing & Inspections policies and procedures with our sustainability goals. We can have the proper rules and regulations written into law, but without the proper procedures for inspection in place those rules and regulations are all for naught. Improving our procedures and internal policies combined with strengthening our workforce will ensure that L&I is a strong partner in our sustainability efforts.
On addressing the city’s backslide on waste management
The Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet provided a strategic action plan to address issues of litter and illegal dumping and to make our city waste-free by 2035. Unfortunately the cabinet became a budget casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic before many of the action steps could be implemented. Though the intentions behind the cabinet had the potential to make meaningful strides towards accomplishing our city’s waste-free goal by 2035, the cabinet’s recommendations were hamstrung by the need to be cost neutral in their implementation. In order to not only stop the backslide and move us toward a more sustainable low-waste future we must be willing to invest in changes and solutions that will make both short- and long-term impacts. This should include bringing back our litter index and making it available to our residents. Our resources should be deployed to the areas with the greatest need to help beautify our most vulnerable neighborhoods.
We must improve how our government handles residential and commercial trash collection and disposal. The first step we must take to improve our collection system is to improve the conditions our sanitation workers currently work in and provide an environment that sets them up for success. As an example, many of our sanitation trucks do not have working air conditioning or heat. Addressing this issue is the bare minimum we can do for our workers and will go a long way to boosting our employees’ morale.
Currently we collect trash and recycling once a week, but we lack an option for organic pickup. Residents who want to compost their organic waste can either pay for a private service to collect their compost or visit one of the locations of our community compost network. As we explore investing in waste removal technology and implementing new procedures to pick up trash more efficiently, we should shift resources to improve the way our city recycles and live up to the industry standard for recycling. Once we raise the standard of our recycling we should explore how our city can add compost as a third type of residential waste removal. In the interim my administration will look to expand our current network of community compost centers and work to educate our residents on the importance of composting as well as how they can participate. With investments in technology we can better examine the effectiveness of our trash collection routes and more responsively adjust to trends such as increased tonnage to minimize delays. Trash pickup delays contribute to our litter problem and to our residents’ dissatisfaction with city services. As controller my office reviewed the sanitation department’s on-time trash pickup and found that on-time pickup correlated to the neighborhood where you lived. This is simply unfair and under my administration will be directly addressed. Improving our trash pickup and moving to a more efficient model will allow the City to provide more service to our residents. A more efficient and effective collection system will allow my administration to explore bringing back city bulk pickup and bringing back twice a week trash pickup.
Though our city has rules and regulations established into law that address illegal dumping, we are unable to effectively enforce those rules and regulations. To address this issue, we must increase the number of L&I inspectors and Streets Department SWEEPS officers. These employees are the teams that issue fines, identify problem areas and respond to residents’ complaints and 311 requests regarding illegal dumping and other issues with trash. In addition, we need to reevaluate the rules and regulations of our sanitation centers to ensure those rules are not an impediment to keeping our city clean.
The task of moving our city to a waste-free future will take a coordinated effort from multiple departments, the private sector, community groups and nonprofits. In order to manage this effort I will reestablish the Zero Waste and Litter cabinet to focus on making our city cleaner and greener.
If we utilize our City-owned lots, we can protect these green spaces from development and give our neighborhoods a new asset to improve their quality of life.”
On using vacant lots to improve the community
The City of Philadelphia owns 8,500 vacant lots across the city. As controller, I had my office map these vacant lots and drove to a sample of the lots to understand what condition they were in. These vacant lots are by and large blighted areas burdening their neighborhoods. At the same time that the City is struggling to maintain its own inventory of vacant lots, our neighborhoods lack community gardens and green spaces and our tree canopy has become less dense.
My administration will analyze our inventory of vacant lots and determine which lots are potentially best suited for community greening and the development of community gardens. In addition we will use GIS to determine which neighborhoods are in the greatest need for green spaces and prioritize converting vacant lots in those communities to usable green space. We have an absolute need for more affordable housing and should use this inventory to produce that housing, but we have more than enough lots to develop more affordable housing and produce more green spaces.
My administration will also create community grants to help community organizations and block captains maintain and create community gardens. If we utilize our City-owned lots, we can protect these green spaces from development and give our neighborhoods a new asset to improve their quality of life.
Grid Magazine’s Mayoral Voters Guide is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit www.everyvoice-everyvote.org. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.