Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wednesday: The Game

Pat Ford: "I called Pat Ford!" (P-G, Rich Lord)

Our Urban Redevelopment Authority executive director -slash- Parking Authority chairman -slash- Housing Authority chairman Patrick Ford (D-Reagan) flagrantly attempted to violate the City Code by unilaterally approving a Jumbotron-like advertising structure for Downtown.

Because of its size and cost, the sign would normally need zoning board and planning commission approval, but it is proceeding with neither. Pat Ford, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said yesterday that he backed an administrator's decision to authorize the sign without any other approvals, because the deal will reduce the number of billboards in the Strip District, Downtown and Lawrenceville.

He said city code "is silent" on deals that can reduce "nonconformities" like old billboards that don't meet new standards.

"My interpretation is, where the code is silent, I'm going to try to improve the greater good of the area," he said.

You see what he did here. He invented a hypothetical exception to the law -- noted that the Code does not mention anything about such an exception -- and took that as proof the exception may exist if the Mayor wants it to exist.


Even State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Castro) was quick to opine this dog won't hunt.

Parking authority Executive Director David Onorato said his agency will pay nothing for the sign, will charge Lamar rent, "and it enhances my building big-time."

How nice for the Parking authority.

How nice also for Lamar Advertising. They'll pay some rent. They'd better -- they stand to make a killing on ad sales. And the prestige! Right up there with UPMC.

Not so nice for conservationists, or naturalists, or people with plain good taste, it could be argued.


But wait!

"The question is not about the sign at all. Most parties, including myself, seem to think it's appropriate," said Councilman Ricky Burgess, who heads council's zoning and planning committee. "We just want to make sure we're following a transparent process." (P-G, Rich Lord)

We're only quoting him first because the P-G quoted him first. Shut up.

Council President Doug Shields said he has no problem with a sign that might create "a little bit of a Times Square-ish look" near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. But he said he does have issues with the process.

"Would I vote to change the code to allow this type of thing Downtown? Yes, I would," he said. "But that's for [council] to decide. We'll start looking into it and decide what can be done."

Very well, Council. We grant some benefit to a "Times Square-ish look" around the top of the Cultural District, the head of Grant Street, and the foot of the Strip.

We presume you will delineate for us the boundaries of this type of activity, so as to protect the whole of Downtown (which includes a major war memorial) from falling prey to conspicuous consumption and rank tackiness. To the Legislation Mobile!

Meanwhile -->

With no meaningful opposition to this electronic billboard, why did the administration seek to circumvent the City Code and its many public processes?

The Comet used to think it was because this administration is excessively "pro-business" or "pro-developer." Subvert public voice under guise of streamlining and efficiency for make benefit major corporate interests.

Funny that Pat Ford stepped in this, considering his own sensitivity on the subject.


Then it hit us. (h/t ADB)

Why must any of this -- any of it -- have to do with political ideology?

Maybe they simply feel like they owe Lamar Advertising a "solid".

(h/t Maria, who is on to something, but we feel it has at least as much to do with campaign $$$ as it does with perks and similar.)


In any event, how do we get them to cut this out?

We cannot have the whole of the 5th Floor constantly scurrying to defend itself from encroachments and counter-encroachments, especially when the law speaks clearly for itself. The City has work to do.

Yet talk about the code being "silent" -- there are no provisions to discourage this kind of behavior.

Maybe we should be able to cite individuals for Contempt of Code. Maybe if one racks up too many citations, one is prohibited from serving on any boards or commissions. Maybe Contempt of Public Processes can be a different, albeit lesser citation. You see where we're going with this.

It's about accountability. Think of it as nuisance property legislation meets No Administrator Left Behind.


  1. Good post.

    Love the party designation with descriptive pointer (Ferlo, D-Castro).

    Can I be Rauterkus, L-Boxless (as in 'Don't Put Me in a Box' (song)) -- or should it be Rauterkus, L-Paul. (as in Ron Paul).

    Do you have a whole table of political types and their descriptions?

    This would be a good post -- with a link to a wiki page at the who's who.

  2. somehow, Ferlo's criticism seems a little hollow given his position on the URA board.

  3. Similar to when he demanded an audit of the URA Streetface program after Lawrenceville "developer" Wylie Holdings got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

  4. Mark Rauterkus - L-Friedman?

    Anonymous - Yes.

    TheTruth - Did they ever perform that audit?

  5. Yes

    Lawrenceville is the big winner, having the most Streetface loans closed from January 1, 2001 through April 27, 2007. Nearly 25% of the 140 Streetface loans were approved for storefront renovations in Lawrenceville (34 loans, 24.2% of total loans).

    *Unfortunately*, The audit doesn't cover who received the majority of the grants, the # of recipients with felony fraud convictions, or if the grants went to "best friends" of influential administrators/board members

  6. 88 neighborhoods, and one of them getting a quarter of the Streetface money.

    Again, Streetface is the happy-go-smiley, here-take-some-money side of the URA. In addition, Lawrenceville also has a community development corporation that gets lots of cash from the URA to do with as they see fit.

    Good for Lawrenceville for arranging this state of affairs for itself. Bad for the rest of the city that they are so successful at it. Very bad.