Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Casino Master Plan Unanimously Approved

The Planning Commission hearing we witnessed yesterday, which ended in a unanimous vote of approval, was full of spite and acrimony.

The chair of the Planning Commission itself lacerated the mayor's Gaming Task Force for not having provided a single, comprehensive report of the progress it was charged with facilitating, and for providing no representative to the hearing.

City transportation planner Sidney Kaikai fumbled through a long synopsis of sixteen traffic-related conditions the casino must meet for approval, and avowed repeatedly to much progress already made, and the nearness of agreement. However, this rosy assessment was repeatedly and emphatically contradicted by all stakeholders concerned.

David Hillenbrand, president of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, said the casino development project posed an "existential" threat to the Carnegie Science Center. Other science center officials testified that PITG Gaming had not been remotely cooperative, and in fact the few new modifications over the past month will make things even worse.

Steelers representatives also testified to zero progress, and described a pattern of PITG promising cooperation, accomplishing nothing, and taking advantage of deadline pressure to get what they desire.

The Pirates also objected to approval, and disagreed with the Planning Commission's legal definition of "shall." In their view, to say roads "shall be provided for" means the plans must be concrete and the roads yet-to-be-finished; not the plans themselves yet-to-be-envisaged.

The Commission itself seemed chronically unaware of its own procedures, precedents, and especially of its powers to enforce the conditions. At one point, a science center official interrupted to tell them they absolutely did have the power of enforcement, and that they should consult their solicitor.

For its part, a PITG official seated behind us kept muttering that giving the commission powers of enforcement would be "opening Pandora's box," and that all the stakeholders could "just line up." In public comments, the PITG rep accused their neighbors as being unreasonably all-or-nothing and too quick to resort to bashing the casino's intentions, and of shutting them out of negotiations.

After the comment period, during the brief "deliberations," one commission member lamented that no one had come forward to argue on behalf of taxpayers, who must be impatient to start realizing casino revenues. He said that the commission "should not be seen to hold things up," seeming to beg the question of whether something ought to be held up for good reason.

They wasted little time getting to a vote, and although ironically it was the casino that tried to object at the last minute to a condition involving a gradation, the master plan, with the city's sixteen conditions, won unanimous approval. The Comet gauges the likelihood of legal action at the state Supreme Court as high-to-definite.

It may or may not be instructive to note what a mid-size birdie just told us: that two Democratic committee members (one a ward chair) were appointed to seats on this Planning Commission by Mayor Ravenstahl in the week just prior to committee endorsements.


  1. Good report. And it does sound like legal action will be taken in the near future. Rooney sounded irritated last week, threatening legal action if the traffic issue wasn't resolved.

    And I would think that someone from the mayor's and county executive's gaming task force (as you report - unrepresented) would argue on behalf of the taxpayers since we would likely pay for the fixes in the future when the traffic problem becomes intolerable.

    My analysis is that it's in Ravenstahl's interest that the traffic issue is blown over in order to get the casino built and up and running. About 1.8 million of the city's budget is projected to come directly from casino revenue.

  2. I remember how when Peduto warned about the phantom casino money in the budget (don't count your chickens before they're hatched) he was poo-poo'd and castigated for being "political."

    Once again, he was right.