Last week, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass decided to take bold action against an unexpected target: children's day-care facilities. The councilwoman from the Eighth District — Germantown, Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, Tioga, and Nicetown — introduced a bill that would ban new day cares in her district.
A full ban on day cares is surprising. The obvious question: What's the problem that such a move is intended to solve?
The zoning bill proposed by Bass defines day cares — including in-home day care but excluding adult care — as one of the "prohibited uses" of any residential or commercial property. When pressed for a reason, a spokesperson for Bass said that there is "oversaturation" of day cares in the Eighth District and that the councilwoman is simply responding to complaints of residents of the district.
The councilwoman took to Twitter to reiterate that "this bill came after I heard from my constituents and even day care owners."
Bass' ban will force new day-care operators to go through a long process to get approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which is appointed by the mayor. While historically the board tends to agree with community sentiment on a specific project, it is not required to. No other district categorically requires ZBA approval for day cares.
The councilwoman is not wrong that there are a lot of day cares in her district. According to a recent report of the Reinvestment Fund, which analyzed the number of day-care centers in the city, the Eighth District has more day-care slots than children. But there is more to day cares than number of slots. Any working parent will tell you that finding high-quality and affordable day care is not a simple task. In fact, the report highlights Chestnut Hill — part of Bass' district — as one of the neighborhoods with the most severe shortages in the supply of high-quality day cares. Throughout Bass' district, only 36 of the 250 certified facilities are of high-quality, defined as receiving a high rating from the state's Keystone STARS program, which sets standards for certified day cares. If constituents were complaining about quality, it's hard to see how an outright ban would fix that problem. In fact, it could deter high-quality day care operators from opening in the district.
If Bass is concerned that day cares don't meet regulations or are unlicensed, why ban new day cares instead of ramping up enforcement of existing regulations?
If she is concerned about noise that comes from in-home day cares that bother neighbors, why include commercial properties under the ban? If she is concerned that day cares are taking space of other businesses on commercial corridors in her districts, why include residential properties under the ban?
If there are serious problems in day cares in one district, it's not unreasonable to wonder if those problems are surfacing in other parts of the city. That's why Bass should be more forthcoming about what exactly she's trying to fix. An outright ban is a heavy-handed tool that won't insure quality options for parents. Bass owes her constituents — and the city — more information about why this proposal makes sense.