Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Look at Steve Santarsiero

The Bucks County Democrats kicked over the traces this year and endorsed two challengers for county commissioner instead of the incumbent Democratic commissioner. One of those challengers is Steve Santarsiero. Husband, father of three, lawyer, social studies teacher, and Lower Makefield supervisor, Santarsiero brings both breadth and depth of experience to the campaign. For those unfamiliar with Bucks County geography, Lower Makefield is the area surrounding Yardley.

Before deciding to teach Santarsiero worked at a variety of law firms, including Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey, and Klett, Rooney, Leiber & Schorling, where one of his areas of specialty was class action suits.

He came to politics via community involvement, specifically the Residents Against Matrix, a group opposed to commercial development on a plot near the Oxford Valley Mall. The property was later slated to be used for an age-restricted community. Santarsiero ran for a slot on the Lower Makefield government study commission but was not selected; the commission was never formed. In 2003 he was elected to a six year term on the Lower Makefield board of supervisors; the vote was 3,901 to 3,053 (11/05/03). At that time he was the sole Democrat on the five-member board, having won against a Republican incumbent. In 2005 Democrats won a majority on the board and Santarsiero became chairman of the board; this year when the board reorganized he became secretary-treasurer.

The Lower Makefield board of commissioners under Santarsiero’s chairmanship has shown real leadership in a number of issues that face not only that township but the surrounding area, the county, and in some cases broader areas. Some examples are energy independence, smart growth, and child safety.

The Matrix project is not the only time Santarsiero has shown an interest in zoning, development, and environmental issues. He came out against subdividing Patterson Farm and for restoring Satterthwaite buildings (01/19/07). He voted against allowing transportation of hazardous materials through Lower Makefield as part of a journey from Indiana to New Jersey; the vote was unanimous (06/07/05).

The board voted unanimously to purchase a minimum of 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by the year 2010 and to promote the renewable energy market to its residents and businesses. The township also has to convince at least seven percent of its population to sign up for clean energy; given the number already signed up that means an additional 200 residents. Lower Makefield was the first community in the Commonwealth to make a commitment to renewable energy through SmartPower’s Clean Energy Communities Campaign. The first ten communities to meet the required guidelines will receive a free 1 KW solar energy system (9/28/06). Other municipalities in Bucks County have since made similar commitments.

Yardley is prone to flooding and the Lower Makefield board commissioned a flood control study (9/07/06), which recommended repairing culverts and building floodwalls as alternatives to buyouts and building elevations. The board has moved ahead on some of these suggestions. Flooding is a regional problem and Santarsiero has shown a commitment to regional planning by being a founder and chair of the Southeastern Bucks League of Municipalities, a group of representatives from 15 area municipalities (7/30/04) that work together on problems and projects from a broader perspective (8/03/04).

In regards to development and environmental issues more generally Santarsiero said in his opening statements as board chairman that one of his priorities was low impact development. The board created a committee to study the issue, including looking at ordinances developed in Maryland along the Chesapeake Bay (08/05/06), and passed an ordinance based on their findings. It calls for cluster housing, water permeable pavement where feasible, and decreasing the amount of hard surface required in new developments by, among other things, decreasing the width of streets (12/25/06). A number of other areas are watching to see how these new guidelines work in practice.

The relative merits of Megan’s Law and other forms of tracking child sex offenders can and are debated in courts and less formal community gatherings. They certainly come up often at PTA meetings. In May, 2005, Hamilton Township, New Jersey became the first area in New Jersey or Pennsylvania to regulate where registered sex offenders can live, within so many feet of schools, etc. (5/18/05). Lower Makefield proposed a similar ordinance in July of 2005, which later passed (7/24/05). Since then a number of municipalities or townships in southeastern Pennsylvania have passed such regulations.

Being the first area to do something means greater scrutiny from neighbors who are waiting to see what happens. There will always be Monday morning quarterbacking and critiquing of details and invariably some tweaking will need to be done somewhere. But if someone doesn’t step up to do something first it never gets done at all. There is a boldness and a willingness to risk making some errors required for any new venture. None of the sources checked for this biographical sketch indicated that Santarsiero suggested trying things without doing careful research and consulting with those more experienced in the matters at hand. Note also that he was able to work with the Republicans on the board; they were not always in complete harmony but all concerned put aside political differences, at least on some issues, for the good of the township.

The issues that townships face, sewer systems, development issues, flooding, and so on are the ones that, on a larger scale, counties face. While it may seem an uphill battle for Democrats to win a majority on the county commissioner board, Santarsiero has faced uphill battles before. He was the first Democrat to be elected to the Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors in 18 years and only the second in the history of the township.


English, Chris, “Board OKs low-impact development rules,” Intelligencer 12/15/06

English, Chris, “Candidates disagree over RAM’s importance at polls,” Bucks County Courier Times 11/06/03

English, Chris, “Democrat nets upset,” Bucks County Courier Times 11/05/03

English, Chris, “Lower Makefield,” Bucks County Courier Times 08/05/06

English, Chris, “Municipal leaders discuss expanding I-95 project,” Intelligencer 7/30/04

English, Chris, “Putting more limits on sex offenders,” Bucks County Courier Times 7/24/05

English, Chris, “Supervisors oppose shipment of VX,” Bucks County Courier Times 06/07/05

Fitzpatrick, Kara, “Engineers give supervisors flooding alternatives,” Bucks County Courier Times 9/07/06)

Moran, Robert, “Anti-sex offender zones passed,” Philadelphia Inquirer 5/18/2005

Pappas, Leslie, “Pennsylvania towns seek ways to cope regionally,” Philadelphia Inquirer 8/03/04

Warner [sic], Jeff, “Lower Makefield joins campaign for clean energy,” Yardley News 9/28/06

Werner, Jeff, “Sewer reconstruction project could get underway this summer,” Yardley News 6/01/06

Werner, Jeff, “Work underway to create master plan for Patterson Farm,” Yardley News 01/19/07

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