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Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton Mayors Form '3 City Coalition' to Tackle Regional Issues | WDIY Local News

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds, and Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. announce the establishment of the 3 City Coalition during a press conference at Bethlehem City Hall.
Mayor J. William Reynolds
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds, and Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. announce the establishment of the 3 City Coalition during a press conference at Bethlehem City Hall.

The mayors of the Lehigh Valley’s three major cities have formed a coalition to address some of the region’s biggest issues.

At a recent news conference Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds, and Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. announced the establishment of the 3 City Coalition.

Reynolds said the partnership will work together on shared solutions to regional problems, and that it is intended to be a “permanent structure” that would outlast their individual terms in office.

“What we’re trying to do here is build something that is able to elevate the public interest and the public voice of the three cities to a permanent place that honestly, it has not had in the Lehigh Valley traditionally,” Reynolds said.

Through the coalition the mayors, their staff and city departments will hold meetings monthly to share resources or information.

Collaboration will be a key factor of this joint effort; Tuerk said that the region faces many complex problems that need to be addressed in a unified effort.

“We can’t solve the challenges that we face in the Lehigh Valley all by ourselves,” he explained. “Our partners in Bethlehem, our partners in Easton, our partners across the Lehigh valley need to be part of what we do together.”

As a previous example of cooperation, Tuerk said a “pilot” version of the 3 City Coalition was the Regional Dirt Bike Task Force, which was formed last year to address the illegal use of dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and illegal motorcycles in the Lehigh Valley.

“We worked closely with our neighboring communities, and worked to speak with our legislators about the need to establish legislation that would allow third-class cities like Bethlehem and Easton to seize and destroy dirt bikes, which has led to – in Allentown – a decrease in that particular nuisance crime.

“We know that this model works, and this now can allow us to tackle the bigger issues that we face – together.”

Panto added that the new partnership is an opportunity to communally address topics that stretch beyond the municipal boundaries.

“We don’t have departments that deal with climate change, we don’t have departments that deal with some of the issues we’re going to talk about today,” Panto said. “But we do have a desire to get it done for our residents.”

He also spoke about the benefits of working together as a region to tackle problems, rather than as individual municipalities.

“We love being 62 communities, and every community has its own identity…and traits, but we got to start looking at the region as one community, not one city,” he explained.

“We don't want Matt to be mayor of the Lehigh Valley, or Willie to be mayor of the Lehigh Valley, but we do want the Lehigh Valley to address the regional issues that we cannot do effectively and efficiently on our own.”

The first three major issues the coalition will address are housing, homelessness and sustainability. Reynolds said the coalition partners will take a three-pronged approach to tackle these topics in a unified way.

“If they’re doing something in Allentown that helps out our housing crisis, that is a good thing for people in Bethlehem,” he said.

“If Sal does something in Easton that is helping to make a more sustainable Lehigh Valley, or help to reduce homelessness, that helps us in Bethlehem. These issues, as we said, know no municipal bounds.

“We are going to work together to be able to advocate for city and regional solutions that are beneficial to our individual cities and our cities collectively,” Reynolds explained when discussing the coalition’s operating model.

“We are going to educate on the idea that our futures are tied to each other. They’re tied to each other morally and ethically because people are people, and it doesn’t matter where they live, but also as far as their own city’s future economically, culturally. Within our neighborhoods, our futures are tied together.

“And then finally, we’re going to find different ways to partner.”

As an example, Reynolds spoke about Bethlehem’s climate action plan, which calls for the establishment of a green ribbon commission to draw together local institutions and advocate for sustainable practices.

He said internal conversations raised questions about why Bethlehem was working on this subject alone.

“It’s like, why are we doing this in a silo, why are we doing this in the city of Bethlehem,” Reynolds asked. “This is something we should be talking to Mayor Tuerk and Mayor Panto about, and then going across the Lehigh Valley, and this is just a first step as far as bringing together that partnership.”

Reynolds said more announcements about the commission will come in the near future.

Regarding housing and homelessness Reynolds spoke about the ongoing housing shortage, the soaring rent and home prices, and the lack of space to build more housing units within the major cities.

“We had this conversation last night that there’s not a lot of open land in the City of Bethlehem…but there is one housing market in the Lehigh Valley,” he said.

The mayors said the coalition will look at advocating for efforts to increase housing developments outside of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, which Panto said could include looking at space in suburban or rural areas.

“Nowhere is it written that poor people can’t live in townships,” he said. “Cities are core communities that have high percentages of poor people, and people who live below the poverty level.

“But that doesn’t mean that one of the townships couldn’t dedicate 100 acres, just 100 acres to an affordable housing development where they have the land. We don’t have the land.”

The mayors said they hoped the new coalition would endure, and said creating new initiatives, involving the community, and showing successful progress and results will be important to its longevity.

Tuerk said he hoped the current administrations will be able to build the 3 City Coalition into the structures of their local governments, so that future leaders will be able to utilize it as a resource.

“We have time to start this work, and to build it into an institution that successive generations can anticipate being part of their future, and a tool they can rely on to accomplish meaningful change within their communities,” he said.

(Original air-date: 2/15/23)

Sarit "Siri" Laschinsky was WDIY's News and Public Affairs Director until 2023.
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