Thursday, December 6, 2007

Forecast for 2008

Mr. Romoff, Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Ravenstahl all took pains to say big ideas, calculated risk and optimism are keys to progress, with Mr. Romoff lamenting Pittsburghers' tendency to hold on to the past while "kicking and screaming."

"It is about time we all embraced the future," Mr. Romoff said. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

How easy it is to mock people for resisting change when you define the options for them.

On an unrelated note, Tonya Payne is now the odds-on favorite to assume the role of City Council President. It would not be inaccurate to describe her as a strong ally of the mayor, nor would it be inappropriate to examine her history with the Penguins as a window into her governing style.

It is about time we all embraced the future.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007



Tom Baron, owner and chief executive of Big Burrito Group, which owns Mad Mex and other restaurants in Pittsburgh, said the tax will eat into the livelihood of many waiters and bartenders.

"Listen to your constituents," he said, calling the tax a quick fix to the county's long-term fiscal woes. "This is a poison Band-Aid on a bleeding artery." (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

I disagree: "funding transit" is a rhetorical device selected solely to institute a regressive tax with progressive justification. (Burgh Report, The Burgher; with C-P, Chris Young)

Thoughts: Dan Onorato must demonstrate a palpable improvement in the region's mass transit relatively quickly, or he will have earned far more local enmity during his tenure than affection.



The legislation bars the hiring of police candidates with histories of violence and the promotion of those subject to active domestic abuse criminal cases or protection-from-abuse orders, known as PFAs. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Marsha Hinton, chairwoman of the Citizens Police Review Board, said the ordinance has room for improvement. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Thoughts: We're sorry, but there will eventually be more acts to this drama. The tension will be over whether to pursue reforms deeper into the police department, or broader across other areas of government.



This is a critical vote, not just a symbolic one, because it triggers one method of an end to state oversight. Although it may sound pleasant and a move in the right direction, be careful what you wish for. Instead of asking the state to end Act 47, we should be asking them to help us fix our structural problems and wait until these conditions have been met. (Reform Pgh Now, Bill Peduto, the lone no vote on Council)

"It's worth having ... the state determine whether or not we are still an Act 47 city. If we are, OK, but what do we need to get out?" Ravenstahl said. He declined to take a position on whether the city deserves to emerge from state oversight.

"The secretary will respond in writing in the near future," said Kevin Ortiz, a DCED spokesman. "The plan is to hold public hearings in which the secretary will personally preside and solicit and obtain testimony on where things stand." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Thoughts: These public hearings will be interesting, at any rate.



Each 2008 graduate with a grade-point average of 2.0 or better will be eligible for up to $20,000 in college aid over four years. Because Mr. Roosevelt wants the program to drive schools and students to higher performance, he supports tougher requirements and higher levels of aid for following classes. [snip]

[/snip] UPMC's commitment is a political boon for Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Roosevelt, coming as the latter faces criticism for his proposal to close the popular Pittsburgh Schenley High School in Oakland in a bid to remake district high schools. Repeatedly yesterday, Mr. Roosevelt called big changes in thinking a prerequisite for overhauling the troubled school district.

The announcement also comes as UPMC, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and other nonprofit organizations are under fire for accumulating large fund balances without paying what critics consider adequate taxes to the city, Allegheny County and the school district. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Thoughts: Absolutely. This provides Mayor Ravenstahl, Superintendent Roosevelt and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center all with massive degrees of political momentum for pursuing their respective agendas. Keep a low profile and stock up on provisions.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bakery Square TIFs Scrutinized

We are catching up on back issues of The Parkway Left (F-Dzerzh can make the Admiral look like Cecily von Ziegesar).

The blog author criticizes the URA for its handling of the Bakery Square development.

The URA wants the TIF to apply to everything but the hotel, on the ostensible grounds that the hotel would not be located at ground level but suspended in the air. The real reason they want to exclude the hotel from the TIF is to avoid having to enforce a city ordinance which would prohibit the hotel owners from intimidating workers who want to form a union.

F-Dzerzh then makes what would ordinarily seem like a sensible move, going after the arch-conservative Allegheny Institute.

The Scaife factotums' years-long attempts to position themselves as critics of TIF projects and friends of the little guy are undermined by Montarti, who says that the labor peace ordinance is itself on "some shaky legal ground," because "We're singling out one industry here.... The city is basically saying to a developer that they have to accept a union and accept binding arbitration, which [usually] only applies to police and firefighters."

This is one of the few attempts to actually get some accountability for city-led giveaways to developers, so that the little guy will at least get something -- but no, Scaife's hatred of the labor movement trumps everything, his critiques of unaccountable TIF decisions go out the window, and his concern is above all else for the hotel owners' profits, even if couched in a weaselly legal argument.

We sense something. A presence we have not felt since...

Monday, December 3, 2007

More on Schenley by way of the MacYaYa

John McIntire -- who is introduced consistently by Michael Bartley and Chris Moore as "a political blogger" (ONE OF US!! ONE OF US!!) -- wrote words in response to our picking through his Schenley comments.

After plugging his stand-up "comedy", his appearances on OffQ*, and his wonderful City Paper column, the MacYapper writes:

Meantime, you can catch the Pittsburgh Comet at the Shadow Lounge getting soused in the corner and muttering "I'm the Pittsburgh Comet, goddamnit! Doesn't anyone care?"

Yes! You also should remember us clearly from one of your gigs at Club Cafe. I was the one laughing.


The cutting-edge, fearless, devil-may-care blogger (who doesn't have a blogroll and doesn't even accept moderated comments) writes:

We have too many buildings and too few kids. Some buildings are easier to save than others because they're not riddled with asbestos. Yes, if it costs $64 mil to get rid of asbestos, I'd call that an asbestos-laden rat trap. What the hell else would you call it?

Roosevelt has professional consultants with good reps. coming up with these figures.
The opposition has sentimentality and no credible evidence to shoot down the credibility of what the district is saying.

Hopefully John has since read the Smydo article of today, and will continue to read them. His preconceived notions about the credibility of $64 million may be no worse than our own, but at least some people are doing homework instead of putting blind faith in the administration.

If a teacher is a great teacher, can't he be a great teacher in another building? If a student is a great student, can't they learn in another building? Are you telling me that without a certain specific population of kids who pass each other in the same hallways in the same building, the teachers can't teach and the kids can't learn?

It may be time to retire the "it's just a building" argument. Check out this attempted Letter to the Editor by Larry John Meyers on the Save Schenley website. Note the remarks of David Lewis.

We don't know how John feels about fruity-go-pansy notions of the power of architecture, but many others are believers. Pittsburghers in particular may feel the impact of civic design in their marrow.

It's almost as though our civic forefathers were from some advanced civilization -- and since we no longer retain the knowledge of our ancestors, we tear apart their achievements and call it "progress."


The man the Spartan kids are calling John Make-Yinz-Tired continues, on the subject of our "research" on 6-12 education:

My goodness me, how can I possibly maintain my position in the face of such superior logic? Comet axed his friends and they said it was "retarded?" Case closed! And people call me juvenile.

Okay fine. The Comet has its reservations about both 6-12 and the proliferation of themed schools, but it's honestly not our issue. We were just frustrated that these (fairly prevalent) concerns were not getting a decent hearing in the public square (they're still not). So we unloaded.

We certainly see how the intelligent application of some 6-12 schools and some theme schools might be a great thing for improving outcomes district-wide. Superintendent Roosevelt & Co. may well have taken all our reservations into careful account already.

There is just no call to sell Schenley High School dahna river for the sake of this Great Leap Forward.

Our fundamental position has not changed, and we refer you to it. Schenley High School is worth saving even at significant cost.

Except, Comet boy, it's broke. $64 million dollars to fix it means it's broke! Why can't the same exceptional Schenley staff be exceptional in another building? No one can seem to answer that question.

Ahem. You mean, aside from the fact its community will split up into three or four directions? Then your mistake is that schools don't go "broke". School districts go broke. School districts decide where to spend money. The School District has been snubbing Schenley for decades, and gee we wonder why???

You know, there is even federal law that requires public schools at-risk for asbestos to have been thoroughly checking facilities and updating remediation plans every two years, but we can't mention that because "OH NOES! MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION!"

Rock on, MacComet People.

McIntire has actually been gaining strength each week in his appearances on WQED's OffQ discussion panel; his performance last week was near-perfect. Not only is he keeping Heidelbaugh in check, but Ricky Williams preferring to run on grass? ROTFL! We wouldn't want to pay him a sincere compliment, though, so hopefully the old coot misplaced his reading glasses again.

Monday: Things You Should Know By Now

Something called a Green Summit is coming to Pittsburgh in February. (P-G, Rich Lord)

In Mr. Peduto's idea of a green city, those who walked or biked to work might get incentives. People who drove hybrid cars or carpooled might get reduced rates in city garages, or preferred spaces.

Residents could garden on vacant lots, using compost made from city-collected vegetable waste. Schools would have botanical "green roofs" that reduce storm water runoff.

Recycling receptacles would dot parks and public places, and often-ignored rules requiring companies to separate out their bottles, cans and paper would be enforced.

Mr. Peduto could be settling in for a long, comfortable tenure as the Councilor Who Greened The Bejeezus Out Of Pittsburgh.


Meanwhile, Jeremy Boren and Peduto team-up to bodyslam Luke Ravenstahl on the issue of street sweeping (Trib, Jeremy Boren).

Pittsburgh has 14 street sweepers -- half of which don't work -- and nine sweeper operators to cover 16 daily routes. City law requires parking enforcement agents to shadow the street sweepers to ticket illegally parked vehicles. The Pittsburgh Parking Authority, however, only has six such agents.

Sounds about right.

Part of the problem is getting motorists to obey street signs that ban parking on one day every other week on streets throughout the city. Peduto wants to raise the fine to a slightly more attention-getting $25 or more.

He has a case in point: Peduto said he has received and paid four $15 parking tickets this year because the threat of the paltry fine didn't motivate him to move his Mini Cooper.

So close to escaping both articles without appearing ridiculous.

He also wants to computerize street sweeping decision-making, and to issue parking citations regardless of whether or not streets are actually swept.


Joe Smydo kicks off the era of investigative City Schools reporting (P-G, Joe Smydo).

Carnegie Mellon University and UPMC say they're not looking to buy the Pittsburgh Schenley High School building in Oakland, but the University of Pittsburgh won't say one way or the other.

Is that loud and clear enough for everybody?

The denials haven't reassured school supporters, who have been poring over documents to try to poke holes in renovation estimates and debunk the district's concerns about an asbestos-related health hazard.

They say asbestos, cited as the building's main problem, would account for only $8 million of the $64 million in renovations. Though the district spent $750,000 last summer to patch 10,000 areas of worn plaster, they say there's little danger of building-wide plaster failure. They said documents released by the district support renovation, not abandonment.

$8 million is certainly the lowest figure we've heard so far.


Meanwhile, Bill Zlatos issues a City Schools article on efficiency and local control (Trib, Bill Zlatos). We hereby dub it Must-Reading.

"We do have to explore whether site-based budgeting has gone too far," said city schools superintendent Mark Roosevelt. "We see some schools where some decisions are at least perplexing."

Perpexity is in the eye of the beholder, friend.

Roosevelt would not identify the schools, but he said he is concerned that the system has led to reductions in expensive vocational and technical education in favor of adding assistant principals where they may not be needed.

Well this sounds entirely reasonable. Why pour money into excess layers of administration when we could add more direct value to our students.

"Of course you want to decease that. It is the major part of the tax budget. The goal is to save money without compromising the value of education," said Theresa Colaizzi, chairwoman of the Pittsburgh school board's negotiations committee.

We are reminded of Twanda Carlisle marching into a District 9 candidate forum in April and declaring with head held high, "We need to account for every dollar spent by Council!"

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