Saturday, January 12, 2008

Never Jump at the First Offer

Good news!

This willingness to provide seed money for Hill District neighborhood initiatives could be just the right mechanism. This was indeed a substantively productive meeting, as various press accounts report.

Negotiations will continue through the weekend at least. Everyone seemed optimistic and in good spirits.

Mayor Ravenstahl said,

There's a lot commitments that are there on the table through the CBA (community benefit agreement), and we need to take a step back and put our personalities aside for a minute and take a look at what the potential of that community is. (Bob Mayo, WTAE)

The Hill had a good day.


There is this new book out that says first impressions, or snap judgements, can be very important.

First of all, $2 million seems a little shabby. We are not talking in relation to the $10 million proposal that the ministers plunked on the table many months ago. We are talking in relation to the total expendable, non-arena related development capital the Penguins control.

What would a pie chart look like? The Penguins should be desiring to diversify their portfolio. What if the investments of the government infrastructure do not perform well?

The Hill should be giving government a run for its money, in a sporting sense of course.

The Comet is extremely optimistic about many of these ideas and development initiatives that are out there. It is time to stop talking about the politics of who wins and who loses, and time to get behind the idea of seed money as ... well, as seeds. Seeds we are planting.

All we are saying is ... $2 million? Those better be some magic beans. Besides which, who is actually getting the beans?


Which brings us to the issue of what we know about the grocery store. Correct to start with the grocery store, by the way. Why not?

The most significant progress was the city and Penguins commitment to provide $2 million toward attracting a grocery store for the Hill District, which does not have one.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority will pay $1 million and the Pens will match it, said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

"There was significant progress made on a lot of issues," said Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.
(Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Who would own this grocery store? Does it even fall into the column of seed money, or is this a different (and welcome) initiative?

Every last investment certainly does not need to be owned or co-owned by a Hill District resident -- but remember that part of this project is giving neighborhood residents a degree of control along with a degree of oversight, and where appropriate, a degree of ownership.

We should not install Ron Burkle as czar of every development project -- it would be a terrible burden for him, and counterproductive.

Still, Mr. Burkle is good at the grocery store game. We are fortunate that significant progress was made on a variety of issues. We are probably getting worked up over nothing.


No decision has been made at this point on whether Mr. Ravenstahl will seek to postpone Monday's Planning Commission vote on an arena master plan. A decision on what to do about that will be made based on whatever progress is made this weekend. (P-G, Mark Belko)

It seems like we have some real momentum going. Now that all of the parties are finally at the bargaining table, the ice is cracking and things are starting to get done.

It would be a shame to short-circuit this process because of an arbitrary deadline. Besides which, neither the community nor the Planning Commission would have any clear idea just what business they are considering.

The Comet's position on master plan approval stands: No CBA, No Deal.

The arrangement to finance this arena development took months upon nervous months. If it takes a few extra workdays to hammer out the deal to allocate those resources, so be it.

At the same time, we need to have consideration for our developers, the Penguins, and their operations calendar. Put it on the the Planning Commission's schedule once again in two weeks or so, and continue negotiating.


The Comet relates to the feeling that it would be nice if this problem were over already -- if we had some form of signed legal document we could frame, and we could hang a Mission Accomplished banner over it and be done with it.

We should not allow that sentiment to work against us. The government infrastructure will eat that for breakfast. The government infrastructure expects the Hill to jump at the first offer.

Take heart. Two weeks. The wind is finally at our backs.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Let's not forget where this began...

Once again, a great big hat tip to documentary filmmaker Chris Ivey.

Letter to the Penguins

To Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle, Ray Shero and the entire Pittsburgh Penguins organization,

We hope 2008 is finding you well. Before we go any further, congratulations on the winning streak!

Neighbors in your community, self-organized into the One Hill CBA coalition and into other bodies, have come together to ask of you that you share some investment resources throughout the greater Hill District, on targeted initiatives.

We do not know the details of their needs, desires and priorities -- but we are writing to tell you that the principle of partnering with these neighborhood groups is sound, and that finding ways to invest in many of their ideas can only work to the benefit of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We are also writing to stress that given the history of large-scale development in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and given the community's experiences depending upon the government infrastructure to follow through on promises, it is critical in this instance that any pledges of support be backed up with signatures on paper.

Governmental officials of the city and county are likely to oppose the idea, on the principle that all of your cash ought to be funneled directly into the government infrastructure, where it will be invested wisely. We know they will also cast aspersions on the motives these Hill District groups, and play up minor divisions between them.

First we ask that you judge One Hill and others on the basis of what they bring to you, not on what we are told through the media and through government officials.

Second, we ask that you judge the government infrastructure on the basis of their own history in the Hill District and their more recent track record in the region.

We are confident you will make the right decision.


Imagine, for a moment, a Hill District with an encouraging, small-scale development boomlet going on, extending from the Penguins arena to the east, and embedded within the neighborhoods.

Imagine providing a bedrock for city residents that may have grown up mistrustful of you, but are now pursuing lifelong dreams because of you -- dreams like grocery stores and active community centers, humble dreams of the sort people desperate to improve their community dream.

We see the Mario Lemieux this and the Sydney Crosby that scattered throughout the neighborhood. We see a meaningful African-American fan base developing that will dynamically increase merchandising and will be a vanguard movement in the National Hockey League.

We see an opportunity -- after ongoing rounds of investment deliberations, after many successes and some failures -- we see the Penguins elevated to the most rarified strata of historic Pittsburgh entrepreneurism, which includes not just the Rooneys, but the Mellons and the Schenleys and many others as well. We have a rich history.

Again, we are sure you'll make a wise decision.

If you are impressed and intrigued by what your One Hill neighbors bring to the table, please consider delaying action at the Planning Commission for another week or two, in order to iron out details and get something in writing.

The history of this situation, of Hill District residents receiving assurances from their government, requires in this case some form of binding CBA between themselves and the Penguins. It is critical that their agreements be treated with dignity this time.


Bram Reichbaum
The Pittsburgh Comet

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.

How We Got Here to Begin With

In the beginning, there was Isle of Capri.

Isle of Capri was one of three candidates for the Pittsburgh slots license -- and the only one offering the Penguins and the City a $290 million arena, at their own expense.

The Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force endorsed the Isle of Capri proposal, due in large part to the degree of "community giveback" in the form of that arena.

Isle of Capri even wound up sweetening the deal: not only would it invest $290 in the new arena, but it promised a $350 million redevelopment of the Lower Hill and a $1 million-a-year reinvestment fund targeting the Hill and Uptown.

This really whipped up Pittsburgh into a fever of optimism about the arena, and about the casino -- look at all that economic development! In the Lower Hill! We like that!

Isle of Capri's claim to being the most advantageous candidate was strengthened. The plight of Pittsburgh's Hill District was made a political football from the very beginning.


Gov. Rendell must not have appreciated the idea of politicizing the retention of a sports team in order to influence the decision of the Gaming Control Board. Or he wanted Harrahs in Station Square to win. That's why he came up with Plan B.

Plan B was pretty simple -- the state would pony up the $290 million for the arena, and the winning casino operator -- whomever that would turn out to be -- must pony up the $350 million to get involved in Hill District redevelopment.

Since those were the figures Isle of Capri was offering, those were the figures the new applicants instantly "owed" to the community. Remember this. We wouldn't want to shortchange the community!

Harrahs jumped on the offer immediately -- anything to remain competitive. Interestingly, Don Barden was at first noncommittal, and only slowly came around to the idea.

Of course, if anyone questioned the $290 million of taxpayer monies going into this sports arena, by now it was standard to talk about the $350 million investment in the Hill.

Still a political football.


Lo and behold, due both to Hill District opposition to a neighborhood casino and to overwhelming traffic concerns, PITG Gaming and Don Barden won the license.

Who knew what Isle of Capri's $350 million worth of development would have looked like -- we have our suspicions -- but at any rate, what's past is prologue.

This is when things get exciting.

Smokey Robinson, a partner in PITG Gaming, called today's vote "one of the most gratifying things that's ever happened to me," although he didn't call it a miracle.

"First of all to be a minority. Don Barden is a wonderful man and he's black and to get a thing like that in a city like Pittsburgh is a wonderful honor."

"We plan on doing so many wonderful things for the city of Pittsburgh," Mr. Robinson said, also mentioning the plans for the Hill District.
(P-G, Mauriello & Belko)

Smokey Robinson! Wonderful man! Wonderful things! Jerome Bettis acted as the face of Don Barden's Hill District as well. It must have made for an encouraging scene.

Some were hopeful that Don Barden, who has a license to open a casino on the North Side next year, might be interested in the Grill as part of a $350 million redevelopment package for the Hill District.

But Barden spokesman Bob Oltmanns said it's much too soon to discuss specific properties there. The Grill's location is 11 blocks away from Mellon Arena and the proposed new arena.

"Our objective is that our development should reach like fingers into the rest of the Hill and spur additional development," Mr. Oltmanns said.
(P-G, Kevin Kirkland)

Okay so he's being cautious, but "reach like fingers into the rest of the Hill" and "spur additional development" sounded so well-considered, so progressive.


Then things fell apart. (Andrew Conte, Trib)

"The critical factor is who has the development rights," said Bob Oltmanns, Majestic Star's spokesman. "We're still interested in following through on our commitment to the Hill District."

Barden promised to spur a $350 million revitalization of the arena site with homes, offices and retail shops. Majestic Star believes it has first dibs on the site because it agreed to help pay for a new Uptown arena, Oltmanns said.

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.

When they negotiated terms for the arena in March, Gov. Ed
Rendell and local officials offered the Mellon Arena site to the Penguins for development. The team has 10 years to develop the land, starting with demolition of Mellon Arena for a parking lot.

Penguins officials must negotiate with Barden in "good faith" about the chance to "potentially participate in development rights." A team spokesman declined to comment.

Might be an excellent time to ask Barden about the Mayor's idea of good faith.

None of the terms require the Penguins to develop the site with Barden, said Don Kortlandt, general counsel for the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. The agency agreed last month to give the Penguins the right to develop the site's 400,000-square-foot upper parking lot.

"' Good faith' negotiation is sort of a term of art," Kortland said. "They have to give a reasonable opportunity to strike a deal with you, but they don't necessarily have to accept any deal if it's unreasonable."

Don Kortlandt is the gentleman who alerted us to the galaxy of legal risks to which the URA is vulnerable, by the way. Continuing:

Oltmanns declined to say whether Barden would follow through with money for the Hill District if he doesn't get the development rights.

Wheatley said he believes it's unlikely Barden would want to put money into the neighborhood without the chance to build on the arena site. "I think Don Barden has a true commitment, but at some point, this man has gotten the short end of the stick," Wheatley said.

"A smart businessman would say, 'I promised those things as a total part of my application when the understanding was I had the development rights, but at this point, the conversation has changed.' "

As far as we can tell, that was the last time anybody mentioned Don Barden or this $350 million going into the Lower Hill or Any Other Hill.

The SEA and thence the URA awarded the Penguins sole rights to develop the land, which in turn the Pens are handling according to City and URA strictures on doing business -- that is, with open and imperious hostility towards its neighbors.

Meanwhile, everybody set down the football and discreetly backed away. Hundreds of millions of dollars for the Hill served as nothing but a sideshow for dueling casino bids, and for politicians justifying a huge subsidy for private interests.

In the end? Nothing.

It was at that very URA meeting, on which the Hill was denied any stake in the Mellon Arena land, that it was assured it would have the chance at City Planning to talk about investments in the community.

Now that we are at City Planning, One Hill is being asked to accept vague assurances "on good faith", and to pursue things later on down the road through the appropriate government infrastructure, like possibly the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Which is the exact same thing Pittsburgh's Hill District was told fifty years ago. Talk about being given the runaround.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Turning the Corner

Our self-united chief of staff, Char, does not agree with us on the whole Hill District issue.

When good people like Char disagree with you, you've lost Pittsburgh.

So, we will present Char's comment to the BURGH REPORT in its entirety, in two volumes.

This first volume is unimportant. At its conclusion, we get all sappy and ludicrous on issues of race and poverty. We probably don't know what we're talking about.

We're just putting this out there in case it leads anyone anywhere.

Bram, I'm all for social resources like substance abuse programs, youth centers, YMCAs, clean safe parks and playgrounds. That is money well-spent to *help* clean the neighborhood up and build toward its future. But no amount of help will completely clean up the neighborhood until the folks who live there realize the buck stops with them. Their own kids, their neighbor's kids, the kids down the street must be ultra-protected, ultra-parented to make up for the ugly influences that bombard them every day. Influences they’ve allowed to grow and fester. THEY have to do this. They cannot rely on the day-care center, school teacher, youth counselor to make sure their kids go to school, do their homework and not roam-about/hang-out late at night with nothing to do but get into trouble. This is what THEY must do to make sure their kids are employable if the jobs they keep demanding ever do materialize.

Additionally, Hill residents must get over the "don't snitch" mentality. They've got to band together, work WITH police, to get the ugly element out of their lives, away from their children.

Okay, here is where we interrupt. Like we said, we do not have a very good answer for this material.

We hope One Hill has an answer by Monday.

All the Comet asks (here it comes) is that first we all really hone in on our empathy toward the miseries and struggles of poverty and misfortune, common miseries to which we all can relate...

... then imagine many of ourselves in an entirely different and more challenging family situation, economic situation, educational situation and who knows what else...

... and then on top of that, imagine stepping out our front doors every morning, only to see little but the same and worse miseries and struggles going on all around us -- to the north, to the south, to the east, to the west -- with too few signs of growth, and so many signs of decay.

There is no substitute for pride, hard work, self-discipline and virtue. We are just saying. Sometimes these things are necessary, but not quite sufficient. A well-crafted neighborhood stimulus package should not be off of any tables.

Where would this stimulus come from? What do any of us stand to gain from it? That brings us to the rest of your comment, Char -- the part that we're going to shred.

(Oh wait, you just commented again ... yeah, you're already getting there...)

Imagine the Possibilities...

Photo credit James Knox, Tribune-Review

Wednesday: Broadcast News

Dan Onorato spoke with Fred Honsberger on KDKA-1020 about the Hill Distruct situation.

(You can download the audio, but going to the site may be easier.)

Onorato spoke fairly well for himself, although he blatantly dodged a question about that neighborhood's singular history involving arenas and urban redevelopment.


Carl Redwood spoke with Marty Griffin, also on KDKA-1020.

Redwood spoke very well for himself.

The Comet does differ with him at the tail end, as to whether Community Benefits Agreements ought to be a citywide or regional model. We have no opinion on that.

Our only concern is a good and formal agreement here and now for Hill District residents, given the nature of the situation.


Redwood and the rest of One Hill also stated their case during bus tours of the Hill. (WTAE Ch.4: Bob Mayo)

"You know, these are opportunities that are staring right at us, right now," said Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto. "The arena provides that as the opportunity. It's important that the community has the opportunity to speak and say what it is they would like to see."

That's right. Councilman Peduto is on the bus, so to speak.

Bob Allen of KDKA-Ch.2 got some good mileage out of the info tour / press availability also.

WPXI has something online called Advance Video, which looks suspiciously like raw footage.

Ch. 11 also has a text article online about the multiparty press conference of Monday evening.

"We want to be treated fairly, to be treated justly, and it's a tremendous insult in the way by which they responded to us," said Rev. Thomas Smith.

This remains the only occasion during this entire chapter in which "the minister's group" got any media love whatsoever. And that's okay. Just remember that their party does not benefit directly from the technical expertise furnished by labor and by foundations. (Background: BURGH REPORT)

UPDATE: In today's City Paper piece by Chris Young, the Rev. Thomas Smith of Monumental Baptist Church gets top billing, after the burning document of course.


That was just the airwaves. Now check out the P-G's Mark Belko.

Despite the pressure, Mr. Ravenstahl doesn't anticipate major changes to the proposed agreement, even as he said he recognized that the Hill District groups "have some concerns."

"I don't anticipate any significant movement from the seven points. ... I don't anticipate adding additional points," he said.

Fine, have it your way.


Oh, right. (P-G, Edit Board)

People don't take kindly to having something rammed down their throats.

Nice to have a clear topic sentence.

Community benefits agreements are supposed to be legally binding contracts signed by developers and community coalitions that stipulate "benefits" to the neighborhood as a result of a new development. All of the key elements were missing from the plan delivered last week: Nothing was signed, binding or detailed, and there was no "agreement."

Even if it's the government infrastructure that's going to provide these benefits at some point, the very least we can do is put it in writing.

Negotiating a community benefits agreement never was going to be an easy task, and the process was made more difficult early on when some Hill District representatives -- albeit not the One Hill group -- demanded $10 million in development funds to be controlled by residents. City and county officials oppose such a development fund, a position we share.

Come on, don't go soft on us now.

Development funds can certainly be allocated to a board of trustees composed of city, county, and community representatives, comprising a sort of local development clearinghouse corporation.

Hill District residents simply do not have the friends necessary throughout the government infrastructure to secure any tolerable outcomes, unless we get innovative.
The Tribune Review seems to be somehow at war with itself at present.

Sing it Loud, Sing it Proud

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hill District Makes Counter-Offer

Post-Gazette reporter Wade Malcolm gets it right. (P-G, Wade Malcolm)

Lifelong Hill District resident Brenda Tate held up a copy of a proposed community benefits agreement for the new Penguins arena and asked: "Anybody got a match?"

That was the spark that brought to a close a lengthy ensemble production -- a 25-30 minute press conference featuring a cast of eight or nine neighborhood leaders from a broad array of factions. They were all saying basically the same thing.

Among other complaints, leaders of the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement Coalition said their chief concern is that the proposed agreement is not binding and offers only "vague promises and general concepts."


The group has asked for creation of a development fund that would be administered by directors selected by the city, county and community. The proposed agreement does not address that demand.

That's the central sticking point. There was also much talk about the Blueprint for a Livable Hill, and about priorities that have repeatedly been put forward since the days of the Hill District Gaming Task Force.

One Hill leaders also are miffed that the proposed agreement was distributed through the news media and was not the result of a bargaining session with them.

Nobody liked that.

"This isn't a community benefits agreement," said One Hill Chairman Carl Redwood. "This is a Penguins benefit agreement."

He used that line twice.

One Hill leaders have suggested that development money could come from the millions the Penguins stand to make from parking revenues. The group believes the neighborhood surrounding the new arena should benefit from public subsidies the project has received, something that didn't happen when Mellon Arena was built in the 1960s.

Never a bad idea to learn from history.


Tribune-Review droideka Jeremy Boren treats us to a more forward-looking perspective. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Coalition members are pushing to establish a community benefits agreement before the city Planning Commission approves a master plan for the arena, which is set to open for the 2010-11 season. The commission is scheduled to vote Jan. 14.

That's a Monday. Mark your calendar.

"Without a community benefits agreement, we will do everything in our power to stop construction of the arena," Redwood said.

There was talk of sleeping bags.

Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Patrick Ford said he and Ravenstahl are recommending that the Planning Commission approve the arena plan regardless of the Hill District group's protests.

Big surprise there.

Ravenstahl's press secretary, Alecia Sirk, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority has invested $240 million to develop about 1,900 housing units in the Hill District since 1990. Much of the development was done with input from neighborhood groups.

This deserves to be explored a little. It's always good to really thoroughly review the history of a given situation.

Managing the 2008 Blogroll

We are going to handle some issues by making the top shelf even more exclusive.

Bob Mayo AKA the Busman is moving on down. We hope he picks up on the idea of a City open records law. Oh look at that, he's rocking our world again.

Did everybody catch Mike Madison's victory lap, as it were, on the Cupcake Class?

Do you know how embarrassed we are at how well Pittsburgh Dish covers our own neighborhood? Good news from the North Side.

The post Matt H didn't want you to see. He took it down briefly, but then put it back up upon hearing some objections. The comments tell the story.

Our self-united chief of staff, Char.

The only blogger who actually got paid for it. (Note to P-G: IS UR MODUMS OKAY? KTHXGOOD.)

Bill Peduto is a beneficiary of our Affirmative Blogroll Action program for elected officials. If he's too busy to provide updates, perhaps he will farm the duty out to interns.

A-1 Pest Control Service gets to decide whether they'd like to appear at the top of Recommends, or towards the bottom of the Others.

A lesbian from the North Side is focused on politics. Assimilate, or perish.

The MacYapper threw together one of the very best blog posts of 2007. It was to blog posts what Sweeney Todd was to movies. Only hitch is way down towards the bottom:

Yup, juvenile and obvious though it may be, you just can't beat a good Britney's sister's boyfriend laying pipe joke.


Tuesday: News and Links

In today's media universe, the people are served by two separate but equally important groups -- the journalists who report the news, and the bloggers who process it into delightful candy squares with fruity marshmallows.

These are their stories.

[clink clink]

(Trib, Jeremy Boren)

He talked a huge game about ethics and transparency, and vowed to audit every city department every four years. Long-time spokesman Doug Anderson will be deputy city controller.

Synergy of effort with the new finance committee chair should be easy to come by.

(P-G, Rich Lord)

Ricky Burgess was the media darling, speaking largely about equity and social justice. He will chair the Planning, Zoning and Land Use committee, and will serve as President Pro-Tem.

Bruce Kraus emphasized inclusiveness, and providing opportunities to participate in government. He will chair the Public Safety committee.

Patrick Dowd is determined to end the politics of personality. He continues to take pride in all the door knocking. He was given the Parks, Recreation and Youth Policy chair, and also enough rope to hang himself.

(P-G, Joe Smydo)

Eight principals of "accelerated learning academies" qualified; only $21,216 of an available $80,000 was awarded. Cindi Muehlbauer at Pittsburgh Arlington PreK-8 received the largest sum.

Superintendent Roosevelt put the special academies in disadvantaged neighborhoods, on the theory that longer school days and school years would boost achievement.

Achievement was still unsatisfactory, but compliance with the America's Choice package of teaching strategies and curriculum supplements is supposedly cause for encouragement.

Columnist Is Ridiculously Underrated

(Trib, Eric Heyl)

Why are UPMC doctors asking patients they treat for extra money?


Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Next City Council President

"At the end of the day, the program is bigger than process."

... Mayor Ravenstahl, on the Pittsburgh Promise

"When all else fails, read the instructions. We are a nation of laws, not a nation of men."

... Councilman Shields, on the status of fourteen Acting City Directors


If you believe in vision of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and you want to work with him to achieve that vision, you should want Doug Shields to be our next City Council President.

The job is organizing the effective and timely processing of legislation. Doug Shields is the only candidate with the institutional knowledge, the experience and the temperament to do the job.

The Mayor's office has been pursuing initiatives with single-minded earnestness, eagerness and enthusiasm. Some would call that admirable. Others call it mad. We will simply call it youth.

Guide the agenda of Mayor Ravenstahl. Re-elect President Shields.


As we understand it (and only in that sense), this is how the vote count stands. It takes five votes to win the presidency. A result is expected very early in the week.

Motznik/Payne: Motznik, Payne, Deasy (3)

Shields: Shields, Peduto, Burgess, Kraus (4)

Undecided: Dowd, Harris (2)

There is always the possibility of a "compromise" candidate!

None of the three new City Councilmen are likely to emerge as candidates, because well we know why. Dan Deasy is running for office on the state level, and the coming legislative agenda is strenuous. Bill Peduto is a jive turkey.

This leaves Darlene Harris -- an idea that makes a lot of sense -- and would not be the worst of all possible worlds.


The thing is -- we're pretty sure Darlene's heart is already set on Doug Shields. If true, that would already be Ma-Jong.