Jonathan Leibovic sang his song during public comment at City Council's regular Thursday session (PHL Council/YouTube)

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Zoning overlays have a tendency to cause controversy, but have rarely been known to inspire sweet music. 

That’s what happened in Philadelphia City Council this week, as lawmakers held a hearing regarding an overlay for construction of the Cobbs Creek Golf Course.

Echoing concerns raised by Cobbs Creek and Eastwick residents, environmental organizations, and other advocates who opposed the zoning change, Jonathan Leibovic chose to break convention. 

Instead of voicing his complaints, the self-described local activist, educator, and musician crooned about corruption. 

Other speakers had already spoken about what they see as potential downsides of West Conshohocken-based Cobbs Creek Foundation’s $65 million plan to construct a 18-hole PGA-certified championship course on the city-owned land. The possibility of worsening downstream flooding in Southwest Philly neighborhoods and concerns about the continued loss of trees were mainstays of opposition to the bill.

Leibovic’s tune spoke more to how the deal — from their vantage point — came together. 

“Good afternoon. My name is Jonathan Leibovic, and, uh… yeah, absolutely, condemn the Union League, for sure,” he said, ostensibly stepping up to the mic after a resolution about a totally different issue was put forth. “This is a song that’s definitely about that bill number that you just said.”

Ukulele in tow, Leibovic launched into a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” (some know the melody better as the sample in Janet Jackson’s “Got ’til It’s Gone,” thank you Q-Tip), decrying Council’s support for the measure, which was approved after a series of amendments

The song brought laughter to an otherwise peeved room. Chuckles and eye rolls aside, Leibovic was dead serious — if not exactly on key.   

Check out the public comment-sized performance and read Leibovic’s lyrics below. 

YouTube video

They cut down our trees and they put up a golfing course
And the billionaires behind it showed no remorse
Don’t it always seem to go
That you gotta be a rich white man to get anything done in this town?
They cut down our trees and they put up a golfing course
They wanna cut corners, bypass the RCOs
But the people won’t stand for that, oh no no no no
But don’t it always seem to go
That developers get millions of dollars in tax breaks?
They cut down our trees and they put up a golfing course
Hey Curtis Jones, quit hanging with CCF
They pay a dollar in rent to the city, WTF
Yeah, don’t it always seem to go
That you’ve gotta make thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to get your zoning permits approved?
They cut down our trees and they put up a golfing course
Late last night, I heard an awful sound
And a big yellow tractor tore all our trees to the ground
And don’t it always seem to go
That backroom deals are how business is done?
They cut down our trees and they put up a golfing course
And I’m gonna keep on singing about it until my voice is hoarse
Cuz the billionaires behind it show no remorse
But the people showed up today, we came out in force
To say you gotta play fair if you want your golfing course

— Jonathan Leibovic

After Leibovic was finished, an amused Council President Darrell Clarke thanked him, and noted that the footage of the performance would be available — should the musician want it.

“Ok,” Clarke began. “Um… so… for your information, in the event you want to use it as an audition tape, Channel 64 runs this over and over, so. But thank you, thank you for your testimony, sir.”

Asha Prihar contributed reporting

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Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...