Saturday, January 19, 2008

Interview: Patrick Ford (Part 2)

As we alluded in our introductory Part One, URA director Pat Ford is a man of lists.

When asked to describe his policies for economic development, he spoke of conceptual devices, based upon years of research, that are of his own invention.

Together with an array of awards from the Association of Consulting Engineers, the American Planning Association and others, it is fair to say Pat Ford is something akin to a guru.

SNAP, for example, stands for Sector Neighborhood Asset Profile, and is used to get a "snapshot" of each neighborhood utilizing census data, Community Information Systems, Geographic Information Systems, and a variety of city departments and agencies.

The Neighborhood Vitality Index, meanwhile, uses socioeconomic and administrative data to categorize neighborhoods as stable, transitioning, or challenged. It incorporates the same sources of data as SNAPshots, and also takes into account eleven indicators, based on discussions among "experts" who took into account certain benchmarks in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and miscellaneous others.


It was late September, and we tried to steer the discussion towards the Hill District. Ford deferred on that topic, saying he was then neck-deep in casino business on the North Side, although he may have some staff working on it. The Hill would come next.

Still we asked, regarding the Vitality Index, whether it would not be appropriate to mark the Hill District in the "challenged" column, and be done with it.

Or whether we can utilize the input that has been provided by a procession of organized Hill District groups, and plug those into the formulas.

We did not ask whether it would not be even better to map out lots on a sensible land grid, and let the free market determine the nature of development.

URA Director Ford answered our objections by insisting that the community must be very engaged with process, indeed that the Hill community "has been very engaged with the mayor, with the county executive. There has been such an incredible amount of effort to be inclusive in this process."

Nonetheless, there was work yet to be done.

The Comet does not recall whether the following comprises a SNAPshot or a Neighborhood Vitality Index, but this was the road to excellence in the Hill as of Sept. 25, 2007.

1. Define the boundaries of the Hill
2. Need to have a strong vision or mission
3. Who are the key players and partners? Who can we bring in?
4. Who's the organizational sponsor?
5. Clear understanding of:
5A. Assets

5B. Liabilities

5C. Opportunities

5D. Threats

6. Identify activities, set priorities
7. Work to plan a road map
8. Identify funding sources

We asked how long such a process might take; Ford replied that it could be anywhere from 6 to 18 months, or even more depending.

We did not inquire about the cost of such an endeavor, in either dollars or man-hours. We did not ask whether this sounds a lot like a centrally planned economy.

When asked again whether the community does not already have a handle on all of this, Ford said of course it does -- but "the most important thing I think is leadership. What has been lacking is leadership and sponsorship."


We asked at this point what Ford thought of Community Benefits Agreements generally. Ford answered slowly -- clearly he was skeptical. "I have seen mixed results with Community Benefits Agreements."

"Unless it evolves from a broad-based community planning process," he went on to explain, "chances are it's going to fail."

"How can you improve if you don't know what needs to be improved?"

At this, we were a little incredulous -- these residents live there, they have a pretty good understanding of their own needs, more than a few of them have some sophistication, and many of those have been trying at every step to make their preferences known for half a year and more.

We did not mention that the process was already moving forward, perhaps leaving them behind.

Yes, yes, we were assured, "The community always knows what it wants, always."

Then after a beat. "But who is the community?"


We had another piece of business with Pat Ford that day -- we did not take kindly to the Planning Commission's decision to approve UPMC signage atop the U.S. Steel Tower, a reversal of a previous decision it had just made.

Nor did we take kindly to Ford's central role in making that reversal happen. It was he, during his stint as director of economic and community development, who had warned the Planning Commission that the City would be on "shaky legal ground" if they rejected the UPMC signs.

So we were going to rumble.

"Oh, you think just because the Mayor went golfing with UPMC..." he started in, mocking.

No no no, we assured him, appreciatively. Though we did mention something about his personally not being attorney, and his newly created directorship not being affiliated with the law department.

"I can assure you, I ran it by the Solicitors Office and had it all checked out." To Pat Ford's way of thinking (and with the alleged assent of the City Solicitor), there was nothing in the code that forbade the signs on the tower.

"I was furious! They followed the letter of the law." The way Ford explained it, he was standing up for UPMC in just the same way one would stand up for a neighbor who wanted to put up a fence or widen a driveway. "Their retort was, 'It's just too big!'."

"I believe UPMC and everybody else deserves their day in court," Ford maintained.

"But they didn't get it!" we howled.

The law forbids signs above a certain size, and beyond certain parameters -- but in our view, and in the initial ruling of the Planning Commission, it did not prevent them from disallowing any sign according to the specifics of the request.

That is why we installed human beings to play this role, we thought.

It allows for situational factors, some of them starkly obvious: the building in question is by far the tallest most dominating of the skyline, it already bears both titular and material connections to another revered industry, and so many darned Pittsburghers just don't want the thing inflicted upon them.

Sure, the Planning Commission might have gone forward with rejecting the sign, Ford allowed. Then UPMC might have went to court to appeal that ruling.

"That would have cost the city money," he said, and immediately we knew where this was going. "Why would we do that to the taxpayer?"

The legal question we were discussing regarding Downtown signage -- whether the Planning Commission must allow all development outside the penumbra of the code, or whether the code empowers the Commission to make informed judgements on behalf of city residents within specific exclusions -- was exactly mirrored in the more recent Planning Commission hearing about the Hill District arena.
The Comet will later describe Ford's role during this arena hearing, in his capacity as URA director and as representative of the mayor.

The Battle of Thamor

Is there any doubt that Battlecat is the heart and soul of the whole He-Man and the Masters of the Universe space opera?

We have some friends who might be of some help.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Paul McKrell Returns to Run for State Rep

Paul McKrell, pictured here with Hillary Clinton before she found her voice in New Hampshire, has returned to Pittsburgh to run for Lisa Bennington's seat in Harrisburg.

The question is, did he find his voice? There is an interesting backstory or two to this campaign.

McKrell had been executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Young Democrats (PAYD), beloved by most, despised a few. When he decided late last year to begin contemplating a run for Lisa Bennington's seat, he was muscled out of PAYD -- for having committed the cardinal sin of running against (or thinking about running against) an incumbent Democrat.

We don't know how the head of PAYD can get muscled out of his position, but we assume it works something like how Ken Wolfe was muscled out of the Young Democrats of Allegheny County (YDAC) for having reported improper electioneering among city workers.

McKrell was content to continue his plans for the seat anyway, until former city councilman Len Bodack got in the race. Apparently there were no party strictures against his challenging the incumbent. Bodack in fact offered McKrell a very pretty penny to join the Bodack campaign (and to drop his own bid).

McKrell turned the offer down, but despairing of his chances of beating a well-financed former councilman and an incumbent officeholder, and perhaps feeling a bit ill-used by the local political apparatus, he went off to political purgatory in Iowa.

Fast forward a little over a month. Bennington surprises everyone by dropping out, McKrell's friends rally to his side, and he returns to Pittsburgh triumphantly to compete for the nomination.

McKrell is an interesting political commodity. An ACDC committeeman, he supported Bill Peduto in the primary (he worked for him in 05) and he never downplayed that support.

However, in the general election he supported the nominee enthusiastically like any good party operative, and by Election Day was considered useful and loyal enough to cruise around with Ravenstahl and Zober, getting into all sorts of trouble.

When asked what his priorities would be in Harrisburg, Paul went right for perks, bonuses, and kickbacks -- cleaning up the system. When pressed for policy, his wonkish side seemed to gravitate towards health care and education.

One challenge as a candidate will be the degree to which McKrell looks and sounds exactly like a politician. This problem will not be fixed -- yet might still be overcome.

We remember McKrell waiting outside the special public hearing of the School Board on Schenley. The hearing was just getting started, the anti-Schenley consultants were starting to offer testimony, yet the extra rooms were conveniently not yet open. Most of the crowd was gathered around the front door, blocked by officers. No one was rioting, but everyone was jockeying for position; people were upset to be missing out.

That's when Paul McKrell, clad in his suit and his hair and looking every bit the important official, started yelling, "This is a public meeting, let us in!" Then ten seconds later, "This is a PUBLIC meeting, LET US IN!" This for about five minutes. Eventually we were let in.

Admirably, Paul maintained his control the whole time, despite the force from behind.

The Comet certainly can not yet endorse Paul McKrell for District 21. However, we absolutely endorse the idea of Paul McKrell in Harrisburg.

Friday: Good Times

The Busman is cracking us up.

Early Returns is cracking us up.

Mike Madison said it best.

The P-G's Tony Norman outdid himself. Print and frame.

The URA Times-Herald reports on the story since the Planning Commission meeting. It seems fair and accurate, if sanitized. It includes this:

The group met again on Jan. 14. “The Penguins have not been at the last couple of negotiations. We haven’t received confirmation that they’ll be joining us at the table. The Mayor and Chief Executive are facilitating their involvement,” adds Frazier, who says that CBA negotiations will resume this week. In response to Monday’s vote, Frazier says, “We don’t control what happens there. Whatever happens, we will stay focused. We’ve allowed enough time for the follow-up that is necessary.”

KDKA anchor Patrice King Brown reported that Ravenstahl and Onorato will not return to negotiations personally until a deal is reached -- although that may have been anchor / teleprompter error.

If true, that would be discouraging, what with all the executive skills going to waste, and the importance of getting a win for the Penguins, a win for the Hill District and a win for the city.

The Trib's Prine & Boren blow up One Hill negotiations, with emphasis on living wage as a sticking point. UPDATE: Don't forget them ministers.

That's it for this morning. Go read yourselves some Tony Norman.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Artist: Natasha Bedingfield

The song: Unwritten. The video: mylaellison

Interview: Patrick Ford (Part 1)

We met Pat Ford on September 25, 2007, just after he was named executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

It was only in February he was named Director of Economic and Community Development, whereas in the previous year he had become Director of City Planning.

Ford was just moving into his new office, which was piled high with boxes: 12th floor, 200 Ross Street, corner office, looking out over Station Square and the confluence. Top of the world.

"This way you can slide right down the fire pole and into planning and zoning hearings, right?" we joked.

"No, I have people for that now," Ford laughingly assured us.

As it happens, Ford did attend the City Planning hearing on January 14 personally, as the representative of the Mayor.

He went to college to study architecture. He developed an interest in policy and urban planning, which he pursued in grad school. When he mentioned that he attended undergrad on a football scholarship, we had to ask -- is that part of the bond between himself and Mayor Ravenstahl?

"Oh absolutely," he agreed. "We're both athletes. He's a football player, I'm a football player. Football teams are 24 alpha-dogs -- how do they get along?"

Ford went on to describe working with the Mayor as a pretty rip-roaring, intense experience -- but a productive one, provided you know your role and can keep up with the fireworks.

"If you get in a room full of alpha-dogs, I know he's the boss," he said.

We asked Ford if there was anything he'd like us to know about the Mayor that does not get reported in the press.

"He's very direct," he started. "He knows how to take charge ... he does take charge. He can assimilate information really quickly, and make a decision."

"You don't get that in someone who's been in politics for 20 to 40 years," he added.


Pat Ford is a man of lists (more on this later), and after 12 years working in private sector consulting, never really putting down roots, he and his wife actually started assembling lists (utilizing their own data and metrics) of cool places to live.

Naturally, Pittsburgh surfaced near the top.

In 2001, Ford sought a job in Pittsburgh city government, and was hired under Mayor Tom Murphy as a zoning administrator.

"There were the coolest people, the nicest people ... but I was just administering. I didn't really have a say in policy, visioning, master planning." We asked if he was frustrated by the lack of input he was allowed in the Murphy administration, and he just sort of shrugged.

Although he and his wife came to love Pittsburgh -- "neighborhoods just have a pulse here" -- they wound up moving to Pompano Beach after a little while, trying again to find a match.

Fast forward a few years, and this time Pittsburgh sought out Pat Ford -- or rather, newly elected Mayor Bob O'Connor tracked him down, remembering something special he saw in the brash young administrator with the architecture and planning background, and prevailed upon him to return to Pittsburgh.

Before long, he was bonding not only with the new Mayor but with young Councilman Ravenstahl. The rest, as they say, is history.


"Everybody thinks I'm this development czar, development at all costs!" Pat Ford says, pumping his fist mockingly in the air.

"Do you know that guy?" Ford asked, mentioning a tweedy, bespectacled young man who had just popped in and out of the room to ask a question. "That's Rob Stephany, my Deputy Executive Director. He's the guy in East Liberty that came up with the whole East End."

"Where are our next two or three East Liberties? Where are our next two or three East Liberty Development Corporations? That guy is a champion of the community!"

As Ford was defending his understanding of the importance of neighborhoods and communities, we asked him about his political background. He's a Democrat now, but back then?

"I was like, Reagan! Reagan!" he said, again with great humor. "I grew up hard-core, party line."

He describes a long, slicked-back head of hair, fashioned in the style of a corporate shark.

"That was me, and it was shallow. It was more about money and less about ideology. Plus, after a while you learn, the old trickle down effect ... wasn't working ... like I was told it would."

The turning point for Ford came not in getting a job in Pittsburgh city government, but in George Bush's election in 2004 ... and specifically the comedy of Louis Black during that period.

Ford said he just couldn't take being torn apart and told what an idiot he was, in such a bombastic, over-the-top manner. Even still, he needed one more nudge to cross party lines.

"You can thank Doug Shields for putting the voter registration form in my hand when I moved again."

We asked if he is finding his long experience as a Republican, a supply-sider, a consultant and a colleague of big developers, to be helpful in his current role with the city.

"Helpful? Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely. It helps you bring a tighter game to the table."

All photos are reproduced with expressed permission from the blog author of Love of Chair.
* - Why did we hold onto this for so long? A Post-Gazette piece on Pat Ford just barely beat us to publication. Right after that interview came Yukon-gate, Boat Dock gate, the mayoral debates ... and it was off to the races. We decided to hold this material until another good opportunity came along.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Confirmed by Councilman Peduto. Post-Gazette Early Returns now gleefully reports the news. Not sure who broke it, but no one's keeping score.

One question is whether this is good policy; we are torn. On the one hand blogs can be a waste of time, along with MySpace and Facebook.

On the flip side, some may appreciate the blogs' readiness for work-related research and analysis. Wonder what the decision-making process was.

City computer supercop Howard Stern said there was no conscious decision to block the blogs, and that the change in security settings came down, uninvited, from Websense.

Really. All of a sudden?

"They're untrusted Web sites," he told us. They can transmit viruses, he said, "and that could knock out the whole city."

My goodness. Can we get tested?

"If it's job-related, we'd be glad to open it up," Mr. Stern said. "There's no reason, otherwise, to expose my network to vulnerabilities and risks."

That's good to know. Meantime, everybody look in to Google Reader.

UPDATE: Mr. McIntire has an opus. An Opie opus.

We Don't Need to Answer Your Questions (UPDATED)

Mr. Reidbord, an appointee of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor, could not be reached for comment on his whereabouts during that part of the seven-hour meeting, which wrapped up after the arena vote shortly before 8:30 p.m. (P-G, Rich Lord)

This new version of the story now has the Mayor "shooing away" Reidbord from the basketball game, and back to the vote.

"It's my personal policy not to comment to the press," Reidbord said, refusing to say why he attended the Monday night game or precisely how long he stayed.

"I don't think it's appropriate to come to my office without an appointment," he said. Reidbord ignored phone calls from the Tribune-Review on two recent occasions. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

This account provides the original version, in which the Mayor took Reidbord's appearance at the game in stride, and simply "understood" he made it back to the vote.

UPDATE: Mayor Ravenstahl clarifies things in a press release:

I ran into Mr. Reidbord, a member of the Pittsburgh Planning Commission, by chance last night at the University of Pittsburgh. Knowing that the Planning Commission meeting was still going on, I strongly suggested that he return to hear the residents' concerns and fulfill his duties as a commissioner. When I learned that he had no immediate transportation available, I provided him with transportation, as I felt this hearing was important to the business of the City.

Sounds good.

At any rate, Reidbord is not yet interested in answering your questions. Which is fine. One way or the other, he'll be compelled to testify eventually.


Meanwhile, bloggers are offering some commentary, as they do.

Matt Hogue says:

Todd E. Reidbord should have been at the entire Planning Commission meeting yesterday. There was no excuse for him to be in attendance at the Pitt/Georgetown game at the Pete. This was a huge vote with huge implications for a lot of people and he failed to deliver. Shame on him. "I don't think it's appropriate to come to my office without an appointment," said Reidbord. I don't think it is appropriate for you to miss such an important meeting.

Mark Rauterkus says:

It is still a free country, pal. To show up to an office to ask a question and get a quote is not a crime.

The problem is that the developers morph into politicians as politicians encroach the tasks associated with that of developers. I'd like to get it straight. I'd love for developers to develop and stay the heck out of the way of matters of governance. And, I'd love for those in government to not play the role of 'developer.'

The last line of the article asks: "The public's voice should be heard every step of the way," he said. "Who do the commission members serve, the public or special interests?"

The commission members serve the needs of the special interests. Well, some of them do. Some may not.

Give this guy the boot!


Since he's in the news, we'll give you our quick rundown on Todd Reidbord's performance at the Planning Commission.

When matters of procedure or process arose among the public speakers, Reidbord would sometimes launch into what we call his "Todd Reidbord routine", waving his hands in front of him and cutting off the speaker with, "We can't ... there's really no back and forth."

On one occasion he delivered a more lengthy lecture defending the honor and authority of Board Chair Watson, insisting the room must silence itself and stop asking questions of her. This despite the fact that Watson on numerous occasions has demonstrated she is capable of making extremely clear when it is time to shut up, and she was not yet there.

As previously reported, Reidbord got up to leave the hearing shortly after the second batch of city residents were given the go-ahead to speak. The representative of the Mayor took that opportunity to confer with Reidbord in the antechamber, as may have occurred on one or two other occasions throughout the hearing.

After all the testimony, including that of Sidney Kaikai, the Chair opened the floor to the Commission for discussion. Reidbord instantly motioned to approve the Master Plan, and was seconded. The Chair did insist, however, that the commission give itself the opportunity to deliberate.

When Watson ultimately called for a voice vote, Reidbord voted aye, counted the votes, and immediately left the room once again -- without waiting around to witness any of the changing votes, the Chair's late vote, or the adjournment of the hearing.

The Four Keys to Victory

1. The legal route. This is no big secret.

All you need to do is establish some property rights, or some rights to due process, and demonstrate how those rights have been violated. If the government makes the wrong series of mistakes, you might not only save your own neighborhood -- but may incidentally set the whole Urban Redevelopment Authority on fire.

2. The Pens flip.

The Penguins should want nothing more than partially subsidized, small-and-medium lot mixed commercial and residential development in tree-lined boulevards, right up against the arena, woven into the Hill itself and providing a two-way gateway to Downtown, with dining, shopping, services and public art. People should be working on master plans of types such as these and more, pro-bono, in the event that the Penguins ever break the administration's spells of control.

3. One Hill negotiations succeed, the B4LH is largely fulfilled, and the Hill District ministers generally approve.

A valid plan, which cannot itself be relied upon. It is unclear what happens if One Hill is unsuccessful. In one scenario, they head back to the drawing board and perhaps caucus with the ministers. In another scenario, an unpopular and ineffective CBA is signed and in some sense ratified. Carl Redwood then gets a cushy job in city government, Evan Frazier runs for City Council against Tonya Payne, and the house of Milliones is chased deeper into the hills.

4. Council liberates the Hill District, declares Utopia. The rest takes care of itself.

Now for some positivity and optimism, head on over to Revelations.


The Comet must also note that Mark Brentley, School Board District 8, came out to that Planning Commission hearing and spoke thunderously on behalf of his constituents. We can only assume he would be happy to talk to you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We Missed Our Chance

This from a week-old mayoral press release:

(PITTSBURGH) January 8, 2008 – If residents want to talk to Mayor Ravenstahl about their neighborhood vision, or hear a full update on city issues, they have one more chance to do so.

Mayor Ravenstahl will lead the last of his 10 Neighborhood Forums at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, Jan. 9, at St. Mark’s Church in the City’s Brookline neighborhood.

We'd been warned. Now here comes the empire.

“We are America’s most livable City; there is a reason for that,” Mayor Ravenstahl said. “We should talk to one another about our concerns and seek ways to address them together, but we should also talk about why we choose to call Pittsburgh home. Our crime rate is at a 40-year historic low, our finances are stabilizing, our City is headed in the right direction.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

“The Mayor gave a full report to the residents of the Upper East End on issues of financial stability, city management, public safety, economic development, neighborhood revitalization and the city's ‘green’ agenda, and it was time well spent,” said Aggie Brose of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation.”

What kind of nebulous group of people is that?!?

“Encouraging residents to really think about what they want in their community is key to making positive change,” Aggie Brose added.

Actually, we have no problem at all with Aggie Brose. Wonderful person. The city should be empowering more people like her.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Planning Commission Surprises No One

For now, it suffices to say that the Planning Commission was once again hoodwinked by a completely vague, unspecific, probably misleading legal non-opinion -- or else they used said non-opinion as an excuse to let the Mayor's will be done.

This time the advice was issued by our actual City Solicitor (who was prevailed upon to sit through whole ghastly meeting clearly just so he could respond to that "spontaneous" question from a commissioner), although the Commission easily could have voted according to their own reasonable interpretations of their charge, allowing the applicants to challenge that interpretation in court if necessary.

Instead, when a Commissioner asked [CORRECTED] whether it would be legal to delay approval of the Master Plan for the sake of completing the ongoing negotiations concerning benefits to the community, they were told twice very deliberately that "the issue of a CBA is not before you," which was not a yes or a no, and was clearly begging the question of whether or not they could legally take that responsibility upon themselves.

UPDATE: It is important to note that nobody was asking for a rejection of the Penguins master plan. That was underscored several times. The public was pleading for a two to four week delay, to allow the thrilling progress made through negotiations with the city and county to continue.

The master plan passed 5-3. Two of the no-votes announced themselves only well after passage was assured.

Commission member and Walnut capitalist Todd Reidbord took off somewhere just before public comments began. He returned to his seat at the table just after the public was finished. We thought that was particularly special.

There may be a few other ways to skin this cat, but it would seem the Hill lost a certain amount of leverage. We'll see what happens to negotiations after today.

Three Bits of News

Other business at the Planning Commission is moving slower than a 17 year-old sheepdog with glaucoma, but we can highlight three bits of news we've learned from One Hill.

1) Everything in the Blueprint for a Livable Hill (B4LH) is on the table, likewise nothing from the B4LH is off the table. You may want to consult your pocket copy of the B4LH to figure out why this is news.

2) Further negotiations with the city and county "are being scheduled through the rest of the week."

3) When asked whether or not "No CBA, No Deal" is still the operative One Hill position on passage of the master plan at City Planning -- there is no longer a definitive answer to that question.

Good faith negotiations and a spirit of optimism are important in these kinds of situations. To some people. Not for the Comet. We cannot help but be skeptical that negotiations will continue, or will continue to be fruitful, when and if the master plan wins approval.

Negotiations Involve City, County & One Hill

Pittsburgh Penguins, Minister's Group Not Directly Involved

Planning Commission Not Accepting New Speakers at Today's Hearing

We just attended a press conference that featured Mayor Ravenstahl, Councilwoman Payne, One Hill chair Carl Redwood and One Hill lead negotiator Evan Frazier.

The mayor began by reiterating the significant progress that is being made, and said that he looks forward to a deal that will benefit "the Hill District entirely," he said, spreading his arms wide.

He also said that he "wants to make sure that the mistakes of years ago are not repeated this time."

That having been said, however, the planning commission hearing will go on as planned.

Councilwoman Tonya Payne took the mic next, thanking everyone involved during the long negotiations -- adding SEA director Mary Conturo to the list. She emphasized that One Hill's goal was always the same as elected officials, and it's all achievable. Again, she said they were very close.

Evan Frazier and Carl Redwood of One Hill reiterated that they don't yet have a CBA agreement, but they are working very hard. Redwood said they are happy that progress is being made, but they are not happy to not yet have an agreement.

When asked specifically whether allowing the Planning Commission vote to go forward today would cost Hill District groups their bargaining leverage, One Hill said today's vote is a separate issue. They avoided taking a position on whether or not they were in favor of Master Plan approval today.

Ravenstahl was then asked whether either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the "minister's group" of Hill District residents have been party to the negotiations that took place late into last evening and this morning. The mayor took a loooong pause.

He said that the Penguins were not direct participants, and said that as far as the residents are concerned, they are working with "a group that was chosen through a process," gesturing behind him to the One Hill officials wearing white caps.

The mayor added that "It's about the Blue Print, it's about the Hill District."

The Blue Print for a Livable Hill is the One Hill coalition's official bargaining platform, approved by the general membership and voted upon through a painstaking community process et cetera.

We have no information on whether or not "joint sign-off" between the two interrelated Hill District camps is still a requirement of a Community Benefits Agreement, as apparently previously agreed upon.

So far as we know, the "minister's group" is considering the attainment of a CBA and approval of the master plan at the Planning Commission to be related issues, that is, No CBA, No Deal.

We stopped into the crowded Planning Commission room. The first thing we heard was Board Chair Wrenna Watson announcing that one of the pieces of business would be a continuation of the Arena master plan consideration of a few days ago.

Since this business is a continuation, no new testimony would be accepted beyond those persons who had signed up to offer public comment several weeks ago.

That's when we headed down to Starbucks to blog. We're headed back.

UPDATE: The P-G Lord / Majors update includes a recent comment by the Rev. Smith, although it did come before today's news conference.

Rev. Thomas Smith of Monumental Baptist Church said today that the ministers will review any agreement that comes out of One Hill's process and determine whether it goes far enough to preserve community assets and redevelop structures like the New Granada Theater.

"I'm quite sure that the One Hill group is working to get the best community benefits agreement they can get," said the Rev. Smith. "We've been pretty much on the same page. We've just gone about it in different ways."

Arena Negotiations Ongoing

Last night's discussions between the Mayor, the County Exec, the Penguins and Hill groups lasted through 1:30 AM, and are being picked up again at this hour. (P-G, Dan Majors)

"Our interests are common," [Mayor Ravenstahl] said. "We want to see the best for the Hill District in the future, it's just a matter of how you get there. I think we're getting there. We have some good general agreement on some of the points, but then there are others that we still have to have further discussion on. I'd say we're 90 percent of the way there. We just need to get that other 10 percent."

He may be off on the exact percentages, but the rhetoric is encouraging.

One Hill is prepared to call on community residents to attend the 2 p.m. city planning meeting en masse, Mr. Redwood said, regardless of the outcome of today's talks that begin at 10 a.m.

"We will be there," he said.

He said he would like to see the planning committee's vote postponed two to four weeks "to give the process a chance to work." Still, he said, "we have had fruitful negotiations -- we are making progress on all the issues, although we still have a lot to do."

Remember that real negotiations -- after six months, a year of being given the runaround -- finally commenced only this last Friday. Also remember, in the One Hill way of doing business, the leadership must present a CBA proposal to the general membership for approval.


The other business on the agenda at today's Planning Commission meeting is Don Barden's Majestic Star. His actual residential neighbors are giving him high marks -- from the North Side Leadership Conference even to the rascally Northside United.

But the parking garage. It's too tall, apparently.

Remember that Mayor Ravenstahl and URA Director Pat Ford -- along with honestly half of the rest of Pittsburgh -- are prepared to fight this issue and let the approvals process grind to a halt, all because Don Barden is not sufficiently taking into account the pretty, pretty view from Mt. Washington.

However, when a huge new development is reorganizing your own neighborhood, giving away public lands with no mention of public benefit, when it's ignoring an opportunity to improve the street grid and finally weave your neighborhood back into Downtown, when it's adding hotels and surface parking and other things that do not remotely interest your community, when you have not even been taken seriously by the players at the table, let alone been represented by your own elected officials -- then it is the duty of all decent city residents to get out of the way, and quit demanding a say in the process.

Maybe One Hill should be asking for decorative screening on the Arena.

Quick Note on Schenley

Schenley High School is basically saved, right?

Everybody now realizes that asbestos remediation would really only cost around $7 or $8 million, plus certain logistics (which would be incurred either way), is that correct? We all have come to learn that despite its advanced age, the old girl still works like a Swiss watch?

We don't have to take you through the architecture and the feng-shui lecture again? We don't have to explain how the geographic and economic diversity of its student body is a big part of that formula? So it's not going to be "saved" just to become a designer school, right?

That's the plan? No particular need to hold this matter over the heads of the teachers union as a looming variable during negotiations?


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Trib and KQV Write the Book on Tomfoolery

This item appears in today's Trib Whispers column:

Hill District opponents of a proposed community benefits agreement offered by Pittsburgh Mayor
Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato were up to some tomfoolery last week.

They attempted to manipulate a KQV radio poll asking listeners whether they thought the city should delay approval of the master plan for the Penguins' new arena until consensus is reached on the community benefits agreement.

With callers rejecting the idea of delaying the master plan by a 3-1 margin around midday, an e-mail was delivered to undisclosed recipients from Carl Redwood, chair of the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement Coalition.

The e-mail implored people to "vote yes and vote often" to delay the master plan approval. The message noted that callers could vote up to eight times in the poll and conveniently provided KQV's phone number.

We pause here to point out that in this context it is negligent not to report that a city employee designed a program to bombard a KDKA Online Poll, about the mayoral race and other matters -- a tactic which was endorsed by Ravenstahl's office as all-in-good-fun.

So to fail to mobilize in one of these situations is to invite defeat. Moreover, our Whisperers do not investigate the possibility that the other side was canvassing to maximize votes as well.


Embarrassingly, the move backfired.

The final numbers: 178 in favor of postponing the master plan, compared to 552 in favor of proceeding. That's a 76 percent-to-24 percent margin -- about the same margin as when Redwood's e-mail first was sent.

That was quite a surprise. The Comet checked the KQV website at the end of the day, seeing that YES to postponing the master plan won by a margin of 52%-48%, with well over 500 votes voting to postpone.

Pittsburgh United provides us with a screen capture:

Click on it for a larger copy. The polls appear in the shaded right-hand column -- the bottom one reads "Yesterday's Poll", which means results are final. You should clearly see the blue "YES" bar (yes to postponement) defeat the orange "NO" bar (no to postponement) 52%-48%, with over 1,000 total votes.

What cheeses us off is not that KQV News and the Tribune-Review are capable of playing reindeer games. We'll try to pick up the pieces of our shattered innocence.

What gets us is that after reading this post and then especially this post, how anybody from these two organizations could still prefer that the Penguins continue to filter money through the wasteful, overly politicized local government infrastructure, instead of encouraging the Penguins make some direct investments with willing and capable neighborhood residents.

Making Conversation

Fred Honsberger of KDKA-1020 interviewed Dr. Kimberly Ellis AKA Dr. Goddess this last Friday.

No, you won't find the audio.

Chris Schultz of Green is Good reports that Dr. Ellis "kicked Fred's [redacted]" so badly that the Hons Man felt he had to hang up.

According to Schultz anyway, Honsberger was not yet prepared to hold a meaningful conversation about the subject -- whereas Dr. Ellis clearly benefited from her exchanges with Char.


Your Comet editor/author was an invited guest on the Mark Rauterkus Program. We suppose it merits your attention.

We have some egg on our faces. During the interview, we opined that our Mayor was perhaps unlikely to attend Friday's negotiation session with Hill leaders. Obviously, Mayor Ravenstahl did attend that session, and was fully engaged. The Comet regrets the false assumption.


Dr. Ellis and the pseudonymous Ed Heath from Cognitive Dissonance had an interesting exchange deep within the Comet comments.

Mr. Heath said,

So, 350 million dollars disappeared because no one wanted to let Don Barden have any part of property around the arena? The Ravenstahl administration is willing to let 350 million dollars worth of investment just evaporate? Meanwhile, Ravenstahl said, during the campaign, that he was at every community meeting, he was in continuous contact with community groups, that the community groups were happy with his level of involvement. African American neighborhoods did vote for Ravenstahl in huge numbers, though I can’t quite figure out why. Ravenstahl now talks like a man who has found a new religion – stinginess – saying that not one dime of anyone’s money will be put in the hands of private citizens. Barden gets to save 350 million dollars and the city gets to renege on any promises it made by claiming the community groups are asking for things never promised and illegitimate anyway. Impressive.

Dr. Goddess later responded,

Ed Heath: You hit the nail right on the head and I actually yelled at both Onorato and Ravenstahl at our April 2007 meeting because of how casually they treated the Barden promise / development rights issue. I told them that the city was broke and that THEY do not have $350 million to spare, so why did they think this was something to sneeze at, by robbing us of a willing investor in our neighborhood who has also demonstrated much more neighborly qualities (even with a CASINO!!!) than any of the other applicants?!! Onorato claimed his hands were tied and that's what sports teams were doing all over the country. Luke sat there silent. And then Onorato promised that something substantive could still come out of this, so they promised to allow for six months to engage in a CBA process. That was a hilarious meeting because Marimba Milliones also told them to "elevate the status of their conversation" because they all broke out in laughter when we mentioned Barden and his promise. Obviously, we didn't and do not find it funny at all.