Friday, December 28, 2007

Behind the Pop City: Week One

We noticed an article about Bakery Square by Jennifer Baron at the inscrutable Pop City Media. It features the TIFF awarded to the office complex, and mentions the exclusion of the hotel.

Yet nowhere does it mention the implications, or the controversy... ?


Elsewhere in this issue, there is a link to a full-blown Post-Gazette article about Pop City itself by Maria Sciullo.

"Our whole staff is passionate about Pittsburgh," she said. "We want people to read this and say 'How can you NOT want to live in Pittsburgh?'"

Okay, so you're a booster. Nothing wrong with that.

Pop City has a staff of about two dozen writers -- mostly stringers -- who provide six or eight stories of about 250 words, plus one or two 1,000-word feature stories, a week. The shorter items fall into categories such as "Pittsburgh Innovates" and "Development News."

Twenty-four writers -- and we must say, the website is gorgeous in terms of photography and layout. Sumptuous, even.

How can they afford to churn out such quality? Nowhere does the P-G mention how they manage to stay afloat!

Apparently, Pop City makes money by selling a little advertising.

A cursory glance at the homepage informs us that Pop City is sponsored by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Imagine Pittsburgh 250 (all functions of the City of Pittsburgh), as well as the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development.

As for nonpublic interests, Pop City is also sponsored by Dollar Bank and National City Bank, some attorneys, some architects, and that other awesome civic amenity, FlexCar.

Think the URA has any money left over to fund the Comet?


Just because Pop City Media is the propaganda arm of the Forwardmoving-Imperial Complex, does that make it totally useless?

Check out this cover-length article by Chip Walker on mass transit:

The question is: how do we get great? For starters don’t stand pat. This seems to be our current strategy. When announcements were made about the new light rail spur being built under the Allegheny to the North Shore, the Port Authority also announced that they had no additional plans to build anything else, anywhere. There was hardly been a peep about public transit in the mayoral race, and despite plan, after plan for the past 30 years, we’ve made only incremental improvements.

Wait ... we're not great? The Chunnel isn't great in its own right? Our political leaders should be doing, in some sense, something different?

Later, in a section headlined "Low-Hanging Fruit":

Must every transit initiative become a mission to Mars? What if we kept projects as simple as possible; and modular so that later they can easily be connected, like Legos. Tap some of the state’s $400 million to jump-start efforts that utilize current (read low-cost) rail right-of-ways to create a transit line between Pittsburgh, Oakmont and Greensburg. A project like that would accelerate the resurrection of riverside communities from the Strip to North Versailles as well as buttress neighborhoods around the new $600 million Children’s Hospital.

Yes. Yes! Why not?

How many years have we been visiting Boston and Montreal, in awe of their public transportation like stupid hayseeds? Why can't we put one foot in front of the other and begin moving in the direction -- forward, even -- of actually providing the bare-bones basics of world-class service?

Why can't we start impressing people?


For all its quirks, Pop City can be illuminating. Check out this other Jennifer Baron piece on Federal North redevelopment.

A review committee selected three finalists from proposals submitted in response to the URA’s RFP. As one of three finalists, developer James Welker is proposing to create 18 apartments in the Bradberry Building, which is located at 1112 Reddour St. Also a finalist is a proposal by Jim Aiello, who hopes to develop a mixed-use property on Federal St. that will feature first-floor retail space and up to 18 second-floor residential units. “Those two proposals were deemed ready to go.

Three finalists out of how many applicants? What went into the "deeming" process? If we were so inclined, might we have popped in to the deliberations to offer comment, or just to nose around?

What an odd way to pursue development. In olden times, we would have just held an auction. Now we have this body that's sort of public -- but sort of insulated from the public -- that is deeming not only what gets to go where, but whether or not the public is going to be made to pay for it.

Since we should all learn more about this stuff, we are happy to add Pop City to the blogroll.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Most Fantabulous Difference of Opinion Ever

In this corner we have Patrick Dowd, who on KDKA Radio told Fred Honsberger that the Promise is so ground breaking, so game changing, so paradigm shifting and earth shaking, that now is the time for all Pittsburghers to set aside concerns about public process, about long-term risks, and about unintended consequences -- and focus only on the immense growth sure to come about as a result of it.

And in this corner we have Char, who in not one post but two posts highlights the many differences between the Pittsburgh Promise and the oft-cited Kalamazoo Promise, including: who actually qualifies for scholarship aid, what the requirements are, where they may live, whether Pittsburgh's additional layers of complexity and uncertainty will be discouraging to parents contemplating a move to the city, and whether or not the tax environments of the two regions are even comparable.

Both think that sending some Pittsburgh children to college is better than sending none. Both are grateful to UPMC for providing the inspiration and the foundation.

One is so unreservedly enthusiastic, he's not pausing to really hear questions. The other is so cynical, she's throwing more and more tiny darts into the Promise on a daily basis.

Only in America! Only in the Burghosphere! Let's see the Kalamazphere compete with this!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday: A Bunch of Stuff that Happened

In a news article whose top four paragraphs feature some variation on "Mr. Roosevelt says that..." (P-G, Joe Smydo), the hard news must wait until graph five:

The school board Wednesday adopted a 2008 general fund budget of $526.6 million. The budget holds the line on taxes, and Mr. Roosevelt noted 2008 spending is $2.4 million less than this year and $7 million less than 2006.

Externalities to this budget are described only as pending upon labor negotiations. Nowhere do popular efforts to retain the city's most successful public school get touched upon.

The budget, which spends scores of millions launching, expanding, or maintaining other initiatives, not to mention the hiring of consultants in anticipation of many moves, will be used as yet another bludgeon against the Save Schenley constituency.

Remember, the vote to retire Schenley and determine the rest of what "moving forward" means is in February -- along with public comment on the matter, which is theoretically important.*

"We've already decided how to spend this money," some will cry. "To reopen the budget at this point would be so ... so gauche!"

Be aware.


We get another outline of the Act 47 and ICA oversight boards, this time through the prism of the $4.5 million they are costing. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Our water and sewers are in not-so-great shape, and will cost a smenth more than $4.5 million to fix. (Trib, Mike Cronin)

Pittsburgh's major parks are in such good hands, the Parks Conservancy is throwing themselves a national conference, what with all the 250 hubbub. (Trib, Mike Wereschagin)

It's tough to find a way to keep even our most historic buildings up and historic. Try 1792. (Trib, Craig Smith)


Speaking of historic structures -- consider, once again, Sophie Masloff. (Trib, David M. Brown):

"Mayor Lawrence was a dear friend," she says. "I had a profound admiration for him."

But William McNair, the first person elected mayor by the Democratic organization Lawrence headed, gave the party a rough start when he took office in 1934.

"I came to know him, and he was nutty as a fruitcake," Masloff says of McNair. "He didn't last very long."

Not to mention:

"She came from an era in which great politicians engendered unfailing personal loyalty," said attorney Joseph Sabino Mistick, who served as Masloff's chief of staff. "There are those of us who served Sophie while she was mayor who stand ready to serve her to this day. In our mind, she is still the mayor and still deserving of our time and attention and loyalty."

* -- Remember that last School Board hearing, where there were over 100 comments regarding Schenley? Was there even one parent there to say, "Keep my babies safe from the poison"? We keep hearing about these highly alarmed parents, but never from them. Concerned parents all seem concerned with keeping Schenley operating for their children. Guess they aren't that important.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Notes for the Goyim

A little data, before we head off to an Asian food restaurant ...

We really like this time of year when Hannukah menorahs, or Hannukiahs, start sprouting up everywhere around the city.

We especially like when they are lit, one by one, for the eight days of Hannukah ... plus the one of course for good measure. Very niice.

We're not so wild about all nine candles remaining lit afterwords, every night through New Years.

There were these people, see, they were called the Maccabees.

They and their whole religion were holed up in this temple, and they were like, under siege.

As we understand it, even under those conditions, it would have been wretched poor form to run out of oil. They needed oil to light the sacred candles. Also possibly, to cook, and to see. Maybe to heat up and dump on the heads of Greeks.

Yet lo and behold, the small backup reserve stash of sacred oil lasted for eight whole days, and eight whole nights. Which was exactly the time needed to save Judaism from utter destruction. (You know, again. We're like the Jean Claude Van Damme of civilizations.)

In other words, Pittsburgh, to keep those electric miracle-candles aglow any longer than the proper eight days, is not only a waste of energy but borderline sacrilege.

Just an FYI.


More good things:

It's nice to have dreidels scattered about everywhere! You know, those little tops.

Fun for children to play with -- and for adults, several decent drinking games.

Giant pictures of dreidels on the walls are sort of unnecessary. That goes for most of the blue and white trimmings as well. Still, if it makes you feel any better, then go right ahead.

Do you know what would be awesome? Do you have an office building?

Place a small Hannukah menorah, or Hannukiah, in every office window.

Of course, then you would have to keep track of all nine candles over all eight nights, getting it right on each occasion. That would be a chore, unless you do some fancy programming...

Honestly, don't worry too much about us. You're doing fine. Just turn on and off lights as needed.


A final note. L'Chaiim.

Pronounced: Le - (phlegm)Ay - Eem.

It means, "To life!" Like, a toast.

A happy toast, but a very solemn toast. One person says it, and then the whole group rumbles it in chorus.

That, as they say, pretty much says it all.

Not surprisingly, after a good L'Chaiim, there are generally a few beats of silence. Cracking wise immediately after a L'Chaiim, for example, would be dreadful poor form.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, Pittsburgh!

In March of this year, Wired Magazine ran a cover-story by Clive Thompson, entitled The See-Through CEO.

"Get Naked and ... Rule the World" proclaimed signs held by the cover model, actress Jenna Fischer.

Most newsstand shoppers overlooked the rest of the teaser:

Smart companies are sharing secrets with rivals, blogging about products in their pipeline, even admitting to their failures. The name of this new game is RADICAL TRANSPARENCY, and it's sweeping boardrooms across the nation. Even those Office drones at Dunder Mifflin get it. So strip down and learn how to have it all by bearing it all.

[UPDATE: We found this sentence from Thompson's piece to be a gross overstatement:

Power comes not from your Rolodex but from how many bloggers link to you - and everyone trembles before search engine rankings.

We call the article to your attention more to recommend the practice of radical transparency in general, less to puff up the power of blogs. At any rate...]

This wondrous little article is a present from all of us at the Comet, to all of you. Use it in good health, and may the Lord bless you and keep you this holiday season.

Easier than handing out Starbucks cards!

Trust-Building with UPMC

What up, UPMC. Merry Xmas and happy holidays.

Your General Counsel, the ill-used Robert Cindrich, volunteered at a recent meeting of our City Council that you had amassed so-and-so amount of money in "profits".

Cindrich made special note of his own preference for the term "profits" over "excess margin," which he suggested was getting a bit silly already.

That was decent, UPMC.

Council will be holding a public hearing on the subject of making moot your potential future tax obligations, in recognition of payments you are and will have been making in lieu of taxes.

On the one hand, you are indeed making "gifts" and "donations" to the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund and to the Pittsburgh Promise. One might be able to say already, with technical accuracy, that as a tax-exempt institution, these gifts are quite literally payments you are making in lieu of taxes.

However, under the legislation we are considering, UPMC would have its gifts, its alms, its largess counted in lieu of the very taxes for which it may become liable under changes in law. Hence, the relationship has been defined between the current regime of gift-giving and the prospect of taxation -- it is one of mutual exclusivity.

The Comet only asks that, much like the sensible decision you made to begin speaking of "profits," you allow everybody to use the words "payments in lieu of taxes" where obviously appropriate.

Some within your legal department may scream bloody murder -- but do ask them to take a deep breath, and find out if it really weakens your position. We doubt it. UPMC has never been obligated under any circumstances to make payments in lieu of taxes -- volunteering to do so is evidence enough of its generosity.

Meanwhile, your public relations department should thank you.

Best of all, the term "payment-in-lieu-of-taxes" will bring the added benefit of everybody knowing what the hell they are talking about. We can all process legislation more readily if we can speak freely, unhindered by layers of obfuscation and unwarranted suspicion.

Tell you what, UPMC. You start letting us talk about payments in lieu of taxes -- and we'll let you call your "tax credits" just about anything you might deem fit.

Do we have an accord?


The Pittsburgh Comet

PS. -- Recently, on a different occasion in those Council Chambers, there was talk of certain "investments" being made "in South Africa." We remain wholly ignorant of the details, but boy did it arouse our curiosity!