Philadelphia’s 2024 Primary Ballot Question Explained

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The Question:

Should the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to require the City to provide for the indemnification and defense of registered community organizations in connection with claims made against them arising directly out of their lawful participation in the city’s zoning variance process?

Breaking it down:

What is the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter?

The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter is our city’s constitution. Residents of the city have the opportunity to make changes to the Charter by voting on ballot questions, like the one above. These ballot questions are decided by City Council and then sent to voters.

What does indemnification mean?

Indemnification just means compensation for loss.

What is a registered community organization (RCO)?

Registered community organizations are community groups that are concerned with different types of development in their neighborhoods. They receive advance notice of development plans and have the right to challenge them if they believe the plans would not benefit current residents. Developers are then required to attend public meetings conducted by the RCO, where community members can comment and vote on planned developments. Although their vote is non-binding, it provides the opportunity for residents to collectively negotiate with local developers, who generally want the support of the neighborhood.

What kind of claims can be made against an RCO?

When a developer believes that an RCO does not have a legal basis for a challenge, they can sue the RCO for trying to halt the development. These lawsuits, called SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation), can have harmful ramifications for RCOs, such as insurance rate hikes and unmanageable legal fees. SLAPPs have caused RCOs to shut down in the past.

Yes or No?

Voting “yes” on this ballot question means you think the city should help with RCOs legal fees when they are issued a SLAPP by a developer.

Voting “no” on this ballot question means you think the RCO should be responsible for any legal fees they incur from a SLAPP.

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