Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Scope of the Problem

Before we continue with Char's comment, here is a key portion of our last post:

Barden was never going to get those development rights. The government infrastructure didn't feel like sharing.

The government infrastructure was content to see a dramatically smaller investment in community development, so long as it did not have to mess around with competing private interests. Remember that.

Now read Char's plea that all the Penguins hard-won capital ought to go directly back into the government infrastructure and nowhere else, where it will be taken care of by elected officials, political appointees, and bureaucrats.

Infinonymous, I was and am 1000% against each of the unnecessary, unconscionable, ridiculous, silly public subsidies you enumerate. They disgust me. We need to put an end to this stupidity, not expand it further. Remember, though … the stadiums, etc got subsidies to build their structures. Once built, the taxpayer in theory saw some sort of return on its “investment” in the form of additional wage/sales/other taxes generated from operations. The Hill, on the other hand, is asking the taxpayer to not only build the damn grocery store but to also “guarantee” its operations! (Yes, money from the Pens is taxpayer money because that’s where the Pens got it in the first place) Which means the taxpayer will be footing the bill for an operating loss due to theft, robbery and god-knows-what for god-knows how long instead of using that money to remedy the problem which creates the operating loss in the first place!

Is this simply crazy or what?

Actually, this is quite the norm for how poorly government runs things when it tries to stick its nose into a private-sector enterprise. We’ve seen dismal failure after dismal failure as the city plays at being real estate developers. Will they do better if they “diversify” by getting into the grocery and pizza delivery businesses?

The whole notion is just crazy.

Private-sector enterprise? Government runs things poorly? What?

The Ravenstahl administration is embarking upon a development process so anti-free-market, so government-controlled, so overtly political -- it is practically Stalinist.

The SEA thinks to itself,

Okay, the very best of this land, the part right up next to Downtown, we will give entirely to the URA to disperse as it sees fit. No sense in giving any to this gentleman who our Governor prevailed upon to invest $350 million in the community. Better that government corner the land market across the wedge.

Then the URA turns around and says,

We're not going to let anybody from the neighborhood use a bit of this public land at a cut rate or at all. Yes it is "yours" and it is in your neighborhood more than anyone else's, and you seem pretty enthused by some ideas. But we have big plans for this money -- um, land.

What's more, we will only use these public URA funds on this choice land we just snatched -- not an inch further, and not a cent towards any corporation or individual in the Hill District, who again have these ignorant ideas about what might help their neighborhood or grow into a success in its own right.

Call us old-fashioned. People are often good investments.

If you own the storefront, you are more likely to keep the sidewalk swept. If your uncle owns the factory, you are less likely to work drunk, and less likely to allow anybody else to work drunk.

If your friend owns a restaurant, you'll go to it -- and you'll probably like it more than P.F. Chang's.

If your friends and family have some meaningful say on urban redevelopment, you are more likely to take pride in that development as your own, as part of your real neighborhood.

This is why we've been harping on a neighborhood stimulus package. It strikes us as a very capitalistic approach. Less government, less bureaucrats making decisions. Easier to conduct. Talk about streamlining -- what could be more efficient than two private interests, the Penguins and a Hill resident, opening up shop together?


Why are they allergic to this? What's the motive?

Where do you think development funds go once it gets funneled into the government infrastructure?

Well, the URA board votes to make cash payments to whomever it sees fit, for whatever services it requires. In an perfect world, that would always redound to the benefit of the people.

In a perfect world, Smokey Robinson would be in the Hill District right now, auditioning young musicians and drinking scotch at the bar.


Back to this planet. Why would anyone seek to be on the URA board?

Hey, who wants money? Line up old friends, it is time for your money! You can have money! You take some, bro-mine! You -- no way, I don't like you. You ... I like you, but your project competes with his, and I want to clear the field for him. You -- well, take a little and suck up to me and we'll see how it goes.

Political power. Not just the dollars and cents, but the power to get things done around you.

We're not just talking about developers, contractors and vendors -- but also fellow politicians, rivals you need to keep content, old loyal friends. How do you think you build a political base?

This is why the URA board needed all the best land. Apparently, they had a lot of work to do on that score.


Don't believe me? Let's look at conflicts of interest, for a moment.

URA chairman Yarone Zober is the mayor's chief of staff -- but of course spending the public's money for political gain by the administration, at the expense of the taxpayers, would be unconscionable.

Let's look at Councilwoman Payne -- URA board member. She represents the Hill District. Is she representing the Hill District? Her statements on this issue have been unintelligible for almost a year. Needless to say, she has not been calling press conferences and doing talk radio.

Most officeholders like to give money to their own district at least -- but Payne thinks she needs to stay on the Mayor's good side, and on that board -- where she can distribute URA funding to allies she believes to be more powerful than her own constituents.


Then there's Jim Ferlo -- state senator, URA board member, and godfather if you will of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

They [One Hill] do not have the support of state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, whose district includes the Hill. He is a board member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which is a likely candidate to provide any funding.

"I do not support a development fund where a pot of money is handed over to some nebulous group," Ferlo said.
(Trib, Jeremy Boren)

We grant the phrase "pot of money" was once uttered by a One Hill official. So if he must throw this jab, fine, but to go ahead and pair it with "nebulous"?

Who are we speaking to? Are we playing word-games with him now, too?

Jim Ferlo knows perfectly well what Hill residents are asking for. They are asking for funds to be overseen by a substantial public / private board, on which several of them will sit, for expenditures related to neighborhood economic stimuli -- and they want it as taxpayers who deserve a say in a massive new development on their doorstep, and as taxpayers that are tired letting politicians getting all the say so, but do not have much clout or sympathy in the present government infrastructure.

So it's time to go outside the box. For this one issue.

Some portion of those funds will surely finance private businesses in neighborhoods, which Ferlo has demonstrated is a perfectly worthy investment in theory.

Cutting out more government would have certain advantages. Does the government infrastructure sound like it would be efficient, so far? Is the government infrastructure aware of all the local opportunities?

The problem is, the Hill wants money taken from the "URA's" pot of money -- as though there is such a thing.

One might say, "The URA ain't so bad. There are success stories!" There are, but this government-centered mega-project will not be one of them. The infrastructure is dangerously close to being in over its head.

One might say, "Yeah, but I'm worth it! Look at the fights I'm waging in office!" There are projects on which that could be true. Politicians are expected to project power. Politicians are supposed to trade favors, sometimes in order to be productive.

This is not one of those occasions. What is bigger than this?

We can find somebody else who hates Act 55.


This is Pittsburgh's Hill District. This is a new Civic Arena. This can go well, or poorly.

There is zero trust in the neighborhood for government infrastructure, and with the history who can blame them. Residents have seen it in action, and they live whole lives in its shadow.

There is no place else to send these people they have not already been sent.

They want a cut of money -- money held in trust for them, many times over, formally and informally -- and they want to use that cut to improve their neighborhood -- really, to join Pittsburgh. Listen to their ideas, find some that you like, and vote for about $9 million worth. Tell the Penguins they can have a stake in things. Tell them they'll be happier this way.

The Pittsburgh Peaceful Protests have a nice ring to it.


Jim Ferlo has been arrested himself in protest, many times. His career as a politician has been marked by great courage, and by hits and misses.

Ferlo should not miss on the Hill District. He should not miss on Pittsburgh's most historic crisis in its most historic year. Hang all the externalities, there is too much at stake in this one situation.

If Ferlo misses this -- if he does not at least lurch in the direction of valor -- then he has missed his life as a public servant.

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