Friday, January 12, 2007

"Major, Multiple Deficiencies"

"If a developer is not submitting the proper reports to the state it's alarming," Mr. Davis said. "When the state says you're deficient, you're not holding up your end of the bargain, and that's not a good business decision."

This Mr. Davis is a Wal-Mart spokesperson. He spoke with Don Hopey of the P-G regarding state D.E.P. threats of "follow-up actions" against ASC Development and Kilbuck Properties LP, who have failed to provide sufficient engineering data and stabilize the site near Rt. 65. The developers have yet to respond to these warnings. Sections of the property continue to move about a foot a month.

Snow won't help.

"I'm not confident they're going to be that aggressive against them, because they haven't been that aggressive with them in the past. They've allowed them to self-police until recently." says Bob Keir of Communities First!, according to the Trib's Karen Roebuck.

"I Guess I'll Have to Swim the River"

Christian Morrow of the Courier nails the heart and soul of the issue by leading his three-article coverage with this unfortunate grammatical disaster:

Though many people still believe that if the state comes to the rescue again, the Port Authority of Allegheny County will not go forward with its proposed service reductions, both County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and PAT Executive Director Steve Bland said there is no ‘crying wolf’ this time—the cuts, perhaps with minor variations, are coming anyway.

This flies in the face of long-established Comet suspicions. Recent P-G pieces by reporter David Guo and columnist Brian O'Neil on the elimination of 28X Airport Flyer service must, we thought, be read as a dead giveaway, designed to generate maximum public outrage.

Though such outlying cuts may seem a small dose of the bitter medicine needed to cure the authority’s ills, closer to the city, the suburb of Braddock is losing much more. Of the seven routes that currently serve riders in Braddock, four are to be eliminated.

Perhaps the 28X will be given back to the constituents as a show of accountability, while the mass of cuts, such as Braddock, will go forward.

“In conversations leading up to the press announcement, the legislators we talked to all said they were committed to dedicated funding—now they’re silent." This last quote from Barbara Simpson, co-chair of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network transit task force.

"Perhaps There Was Misjudgement"

Wouldn't it be nice (he's thinking) if, sometime this afternoon, before the three-day weekend, I could hold a celebratory press conference with Mario Lemieux? Franco Harris is not getting the job done.

Wouldn't it be nice (Don Barden and Ron Burkle must be thinking) if Luke finds himself desperate to hold a celebratory press conference with Mario Lemieux?

Isn't it a fact (everyone must be thinking) that preliminary injunctions against former operations directors are simply too inside-baseball for voters without the same dozen blogs in their favorites folder?

Would it seem opportunistic (Bill Peduto must be thinking) if, after letting Luke stew in these juices over the long weekend, I went and picked Tuesday to officially announce?

Isn't it a fact (the Comet is thinking) that such a notion is really, really too inside-baseball?

The P-G's Mark Belko recalls Dennis Regan saying he "had no involvement" in the transfers of police officers including Rende, despite the sworn testimony of Police Chief Dominic Costa that Regan had involved himself on three separate and escalating occasions.

Belko also has Ravenstahl saying, "There was no rule broken, no law broken. If anything, maybe bad judgment was used," perhaps opening the door just a hint of a smidgen toward the notion of settling with Cmdr. McNeilly out of court.

A further indication of the Mayor's possible Proudly-Backing-Away posture is this quote obtained from WTAE: "(Regan) worked for Mayor O'Connor, and Mayor O'Connor gave him the ability and authority to do what he felt was appropriate. Most of these actions and allegations took place under Mayor O'Connor."

Meanwhile the Trib and Jeremy Boren go for the throat with the headline, City Solicitor's Probe Blasted, focusing on the presence of City Solicitor George Specter at some of those Regan-Costa meetings.

No major news outlet seem to have posted a recent editorial on the matter.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Breaking: Trib Not So Bad

Prior to The Comet launch, I would eschew the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Less because their opinion page is more predictably conservative than that of the Post-Gazette is predictably liberal; but because those editorials and op-eds are embarrassingly nasty, brutish, and short. I also did not appreciate Dickie Mellon Cougar-Scaife's hands-in approach during Lewinski-gate.

We have since come to rely upon Trib reportage, and today is a particularly good example of their strength in science writing.

Allison M. Heinrichs points up the potential for conflict between golden eagles and wind-turbines -- did you know that "Pennsylvania leads the eastern U.S. in wind energy production, with more than 153 megawatts of wind power generated annually -- enough to power almost 100,000 homes -- and has several more wind farms planned"?

Also, Luis Fabregas showcases that "University of Pittsburgh researchers are fairly confident they have generated embryonic stem cells from cloned monkeys." Although the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, the prospect of a breakthrough would be a coup for the region.

"An Archeological Treasure is Giving Way to Corndog Stands"

Proving again that historical preservation is an issue that can unite liberals and conservatives, KDKA's Fred Honsberger recently interviewed John Quigley of the PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources LINK, and Michael Nixon and Richard Lang with the Fort Pitt Preservation Society LINK.

When confronted by a "shocked" Hons Man on the propriety of "converting a historical park to carnival use," Quigley reflexively and repeatedly cited local community input over forty public meetings, "at least one of which" dealt with historical issues. Nixon and Lang later disputed those points, saying the meetings were "by invitation only." Besides which, no one in their "wildest nightmares" thought Point State Park renovations overseen by state conservation watchdogs would entail such liberal use of bulldozers.

It was remarkable to hear Fred so hung up on the cutting of trees. I'd like to note that there's a fair chance that George Washington might have been tied to one of those trees, when he was captured by the French.

A Chilling Effect

This isn't over. A federal judge ordered a preliminary injunction, reinstating Catherine McNeilly to police commander, as she has reasonable likelyhood of success in her suit. A full trial is set to take place in which the Mayor will be asked to give sworn testimony.

"It was a decision that was made by the chief, and I supported that decision" said Ravenstahl, passing the buck maybe a hair.

A spokesman at his office stressed this is only the beginning. With an election looming, we wonder what Ravenstahl has to lose by graciously burying the hatchet, especially as McNeilly will resume her commandership without the confidence of city hall.

P-G coverage with Paula Reed Ward: LINK // Trib coverage with Jason Cato: LINK

"The public interest is always served by disclosure of wrongdoing and undue and/or inappropriate influence by public officials in police department matters," Judge Ambrose said. "The chilling effect of discipline and demotion to a police officer who makes a good faith report of what she believes in good faith to be wrongdoing and inappropriate influence in government never serves the public interest."

The Comet wishes it had the audio of McNeilly's ACLU attorney hailing the decision as victory for truth, justice, and apple pie -- and a clear signal to government workers across the U.S.A. that you will be protected if your conscience tells you to speak out.

Judge Ambrose insists this is not about corruption at the police department, but wrongdoing (is that much like evildoing?) at City Hall. Ravenstahl flatly denies both.

Addendum: Am I the only one mentally confusing the names "Ravenstahl" and "Roethlisberger"? Does that carry significance?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's Quiet Out There

UPDATE 4:40 PM: McNeilly granted preliminary injunction preventing her demotion, reports WDUQ's Mark Nootbaar. Judge says evidence shows wrongdoing from Mayor's office, reports P-G's Paula Reed Ward. Comet Newsdesk full of bunk.

We're expecting a ruling in the Catherine McNeilly whistle-blower lawsuit within the hour.

Everyone (who hasn't hitched their wagon very directly to Ravenstahl's star) wants McNeilly to win her case, and be reinstated as Commander.

From the vantage of the Comet Newsdesk and (newly frigid) Luxury Balcony, Mr. Dennis Regan, however unsavory, never did anything illegal, so I'm not sure on what McNeilly could be said to have blown a whistle.

From that same vantage, Catherine McNeilly, although quite savory, did indeed do something illegal.

So it's hard to see how anyone could expect her to win. We wonder who's writing a copy of the "we're disappointed but moving forward" speech that's never going to get read.

Service Cuts or Project Cuts?

"It's a huge response, and that's no surprise, given what we've proposed to do," PAT spokesman Bob Grove said. "We're encouraging public feedback and want as many people as possible to comment." (Joe Grata, P-G)

But shaking down the state for more support is still the furthest thing from our minds.

Well, go get 'em. Pre-register to speak at a public hearing by calling 412-566-5437, or submit written testimony hyah.

A completely separate Grata/P-G offering points up the problems of backing out of the Wabash Tunnel or the North Shore Connector in order to save money and maintain the status quo. We would still owe the federal government for money already spent, or for depreciation. We'd still owe the contractors for planning and design.

Onorato frequently cites the federal money we "receive" for these projects as a strong reason to carry them forward. The Comet wonders, in the absense of local demand for these improvements, how Pittsburgh came to be blessed with such largese. Did it begin as those notorious "earmarks"? Did our congressional pugilists Arlen Specter, Rick Santorum, or Melissa Joan Hart wrest these on our behalf? Was it the contractors themselves that got the ball rolling?

Save the Penguins

"Our point has been all along that the Penguins ought to have some equity in this project, too," Barden said. "We think we're contributing more than our fair share."

With this quote in Mark Belko's P-G update, negotiations have officially spilled out into the public. There is no ellaboration of what a "fair share" might be for a casino entrepreneur who holds no interest in any NHL franchise, and whose own business karma is entwined with that of a totally separate struggling neighborhood that has not been the cause celebre of media concern.

Peduto discussed his Plan C on KDKA with Larry Reichart, and in bolstering the case for his own importance, reminded us of his dealmaking role in Heinz Field and PNC Park. The Comet wonders if this line on Peduto's bio won't be read as a net negative, and also wonders whether the composition of the Hill District (circa 2007) and the North Shore (circa 2000) invite similar strategies.

Finally, buried within Conte & Rossi's Trib piece on Who Really Runs the Pens, there is news that "Internet media blog has written about Burkle more than 50 times since March." We'll save you some time: he has been accused of "modelizing" with Gisele Bundchen and others, of spying on his ex-wife, of attempting to purchase media outlets, and of harboring Bill Clinton.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Opening Swipe

"This is the perfect opportunity for Barden, the Penguins, the city, the county and the state to partner together," Peduto said. "It's a great way to keep the team in Pittsburgh, redevelop the Hill, get Barden more involved in the community, and lessen the impact on taxpayers."

"I'm saying scrap Plan B and create Plan C."

Quote courtesy of Mark Belko of the P-G, who thereby gets to ring the bell in the upcoming mayoral race, or at least gets to strut around the ring in a bikini, bearing a "Round 1" sign.

It is unclear whether Peduto's Plan C is different enough from Plan B to merit a new initial. And it is unclear how Ravenstonorato will react to this, as they are in the midst of high-stakes negotiations.

On Market Square

A recent Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership pedestrian traffic study quantifies the ugly perceptions of Market Square. When surveyers asked 202 people for their first thought upon hearing "Market Square," the No. 1 response was "homeless people" and "riffraff."
Other top answers: Dirty, drugs and "it's bad."

When I read that list of complaints, as reported by the Trib's Rochelle Hentges, my internal translation is "poor people, black people, and poor black people." The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, no longer content to deploy Safety Ambassadors for discouraging charity and hassling the homeless, is now hoping to renovate the untouchables clear from its business districts.

"We saw a lot of things that surprised us," said Strategic Metrics Group President Matt Brady. The researchers were harassed and threatened by some of the people loitering in the square, where obvious drug use was going on, Brady said.

I would like to have witnessed the demeanor of these clipboard-toting anthropologists toward the "riffraff" whose diaspora they were plotting. But I'm more concerned with the idea of "loitering" in a public square.

The P.D.P.'s "Vision and Action Plan" calls for many renovations and improvements to the square. I want to stress that many of its suggestions sound pretty neat. I'm not a naysayer and I always prefer some public concern to none at all.

But the document is loaded with pictures of how Market Square is "supposed" to look after the improvements. We find lots of people lounging about on benches and chairs, soaking in the sun, enjoying a chat. There is very little to indicate why they are not "riffraff" and why they're not "loitering." Unless you count the fact that every face in the document -- and there crowds in some -- is white. Well, on closer inspection, there appears to be one Asian young lady, but it's hard to tell.

Two points for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Number one, after the improvements you hope to achieve, what happens if the poor black riffraff simply return, hogging the life-size chess set and scaring the money away? If your problem is with poverty, I'd like to hear your ideas on ameliorating poverty, not on shooing it out from your storefront.

And number two, if I owned a business on a certain street corner, I'd love to try to get my city to spend millions on new bells and whistles, rotate art installations, organize street performers, and generally turn my front stoop into a fairy wonderland. But a more practical idea, probably, would be to provide a better product or service, market that product or service more aggressively, and redd up my own sidewalk.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Active Network Sponsorship

The City of Pittburgh will solicit sponsorship deals with the help of a firm called The Active Network, reports the P-G's Rich Lord. This assistance will cost the city $75,000 plus 12% of the take.

"We raise revenue without raising taxes," said Don Schulte, director of The Active Network's properties division. "This isn't about signage. It's about having corporations find ways to give back to the community without being offensive."

Original Research: Don Schulte was president of the Public Enterprise Group, before that firm was purchased as a division of The Active Network. Some of their work involved selling space on "municipal furniture," which can include everything from lavatories to parking-space blocks. But the firm seems most proud of their work making Coca-Cola the "Official City Beverage" of Huntington Beach, California. All public vending machines and snack bars now sell only Coke products.

What the Comet finds most interesting is that many Huntington Beach public concerts and events now take place on something called the Coca-Cola Main Stage. It reminds us of the controversial renovations being made for the purposes of providing a larger, better stage at Point State Park. We wonder if this is why the Fort Pitt preservationist objections are being met with "BUDGET ... DEADLINES ... LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!"

Public Safety Alert!!!

Vice President Dick Cheney will be hunting this morning at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township.

"During a 2003 trip to Rolling Rock, he bagged more than 70 pheasants and mallard ducks" reports the Trib, putting him in an elite class of legendary huntsmen including Orion and Gilgamesh.

The Vice President has no public events scheduled. He will meet only with "unidentified hunting companions," meaning the Comet will buy a beer for anyone who can "out" one of these brave souls.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Casino Countdown

"Members of the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force have said they would prefer a first-rate architectural product in perhaps 16 to 18 months rather than something of inferior quality put up in 14 months."

Here we quote Dan Reynolds of the Pgh Business Times, taking the temperature of that same Task Force which well neigh endorsed PITG's North Shore project in the months prior to its victory, drawing the ire of their underwriters at the Heinz Foundation. Reynolds' article describes a mad dash to get those pesky permits out of the way, and get those slots cranking as fast as possible.

Transit Cuts

"I have no problem with what they are doing," said Sewickley's John Strahsmeier, who doesn't ride Port Authority buses. "But why are they putting that hole under the river that will serve nobody in any manner?"

Quote courtesy of the Trib's Jim Ritchie, in a decent wrap-up of What It's All Likely to Mean. Although such incredulous voters will mean little to Onorato, as we recently noted, the sentiment may affect others: see state senator Jane Orie's reintroduction of her bill to cap funding for the North Shore Connector Project in anticipation of cost overruns (KDKA).

We now place the controversial subway extension, in some murky, deeply hypothetical way, back on the table.

Meanwhile, a P-G editorial calls the gutting of PAT transit "as necessary as it is disturbing," a position with which the Comet is not in accord, at least until someone makes a similar case against garbage collection, fire protection, or the Pennsylvania National Guard as not-sufficiently-profitable enterprises.

County Executive Race

There is none. Lucky stiff.

"And remember," Mr. (Jim) Roddey added, "when you're running for office, there are two constituencies -- voters, and, of course they're important, but there's also the business community, the people who write the big checks, and downsizing Port Authority would probably win with those folks nine to one."

This money quote care of the P-G's James O'Toole, suggesting that with Dan-O's sights set on Harrisburg in 2010, the whole Port Authority bru-ha-ha can really only help him, since its not like unions have anywhere else to go.

The McNeilly Case

"Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who maintained Thursday that her punishment was justified, appears to be oblivious to the injustice done and the bad precedent set." So concludeth a brief P-G editorial aside, putting one of America's great newspapers in rough accord with the Comet. The case was therein framed as an illuminating window into the practices of Dennis Regan, of whom whistle-blower McNeilly (NOT pictured) saved us a lot of grief. But the low prominence and lukewarm rebuke of Ravenstahl reflects our agreement that until further notice, this was a "scandalette" at best.