Friday, April 11, 2008

Framework Allegedly Reached for a "Tentative Agreement" in Pittsburgh's Hill District [UPDATED]

Representatives of the Hill District, the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the Penguins have found consensus around "the framework for a tentative agreement" on guaranteed benefits to the neighborhood in conjunction with a new arena, city Chief of Staff Yarone Zober said today. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Not Carl Redwood. Not Tonya Payne. Not Luke Ravenstahl. Not Dan Onorato. Yarone Zober.

"People are very optimistic," Mr. Zober said.

More details in tomorrow's Post-Gazette.

UPDATE: More details...

"This is a historic event, actually," said Carl Redwood Jr., chairman of the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement Association. (P-G, Majors and Lord)

All right! Now we're getting somewhere.

But Mr. Redwood cautioned, "We don't have an agreement yet. We'll be working out a number of other items, and we look to the very near future to bring a tentative agreement back to the residents."

Would you say that you're about 95% of the way there? :-)

You go get 'em, Carl.

Yarone Zober, the mayor's chief of staff, characterized the keys to yesterday's announcement as a corporate-backed Hill development push and the creation of a job and social services center near the Hill House.

This does not impress, in itself.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, county Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Penguins officials have begun approaching corporate leaders about their participation in a Neighborhood Partnership Program that would provide state tax credits to companies in return for development aid to the Hill.

This is conceivably interesting, depending upon how the development dollars are to be controlled.

If it is to be controlled responsibly and representationally, with a minimum of political influence, the Comet will do everything within its capacity to assist the city and the county in appeals to the region.

Negotiations between the parties at the Downtown headquarters of the Sports & Exhibition Authority that ended around 5:30 p.m. nailed down the key planks of the agreement, which now goes back to the One Hill Community Benefits Coalition for approval and likely modifications.

Like we said, you go get 'em, Carl. You go get 'em, Bomani. You go get 'em, everybody in that room. Don't forget to secure some impact on the master plan!

And let us not forget that the Hill Faith and Justice Alliance (the other of the "two groups") is to be given an opportunity to sign-off on any agreement as well.

"This will be a win-win for the Hill District and the Penguins," said former NAACP President Tim Stevens, who described the difficult negotiations as "a birthing process for economic freedom for the Hill."

We are heartily encouraged by this statement from Mr. Stevens. It is duly noted that we are still the labor process, but we are encouraged.

Mr. Redwood decried recent development in the city that has been blind to the communities affected.

"The way development has been done has not been done in the interest of the community and the public," he said, citing examples such as a new electronic billboard sign being built Downtown.

"We really need to change that in every neighborhood, not just in the Hill. [We can't have] corporations get favors and subsidies from the government without giving back to the community."


The progress in talks was enough to stop a planned protest march by an estimated 75 Hill District residents and labor activists from Freedom Corner to the Mellon Arena, site of an NHL playoff game between the Penguins and Ottawa Senators. (Trib, Carl Prine)

Glad to be able to avoid this for now. Let's go Pens.

BestFriendsgate: Further Developments

First, thank you to all tipsters who have been writing to the Comet about City and URA dirt. People seem to be in the mood to unload.

We may not have the capacity to investigate many of these matters, but when something piques our interest we will definitely pass it along to those who do. To wit:

An anonymous tipster (let's call him/her "Deep South") reports that in the Fall of 2006, the URA Mainstreets coordinator approached the South Side Local Development Company (SSLDC) about acquiring street "kiosks" from Lamar Advertising.

The URA provided the funding for SSLDC to "buy" them, but Lamar retained ownership of the kiosks. No bids, no RFP's, no compelling reason to accept them, but since they were free for SSLDC (and at the expense of taxpayers) they accepted them anyway.

Although the theory was to provide street maps and other city and neighborhood information, in reality the kiosks were utilized mostly for advertising.

Who was the URA Mainstreets coordinator in Fall of '06 again?


Speaking of advertising and the URA:

"Personally I'm sick and tired of all the gratuitous advertising everywhere in our face. So, obviously, if I were on that board I would be anathema to this action," [Sen. Jim Ferlo] said. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Well isn't that convenient.


Do you think more people should know about what's going down here in Pittsburgh?

A colleague posted this morning's excellent Post-Gazette story to The more people who visit the site and "digg" the article, the higher it will climb on's rankings, and the more people will be exposed to it worldwide.

If Lamar wants to play hardball, 300,000 can play at that game.


UPDATE: Speaking of hardball...

Four members of Pittsburgh City Council are attempting to move an increasingly bitter court case involving a controversial Downtown billboard to the federal courts. (P-G, Rich Lord)

So now the litigators have become the litigatees.

Another filing, by Lamar, appears to withdraw any claims of federal constitutional violations by council members against the billboard firm, while reserving the right to pursue them in state court.

Aw! We wanted to hear how that case went!

The case stems from Lamar's contention that five city council members may have met in violation of open meetings laws, used their influence to file their zoning appeal after the usual 3 p.m. zoning administration desk closing time and otherwise engaged in a "plot" to nix Lamar's permit to place a billboard on the front of the Grant Street Transportion Center.

Sources close to the Gang of 5 indicate that they are always extremely mindful never to all meet in the same room, seeing as that would shatter the space/time continuum. We think that sounds kind of sad. They can never all get together to barbecue or anything.

Friday: "I - That's a Good Question."

KDKA's Andy Sheehan is a tall and imposing figure, with sharp facial features that scream "justice!"

We would never want to be cornered by Andy Sheehan and made to answer questions.

The look on Our Mayor's face at 2:26 when he realizes that a TV reporter (of all creatures) is onto the "pattern of special favors" is priceless. (KDKA)


Under Mr. Ford's direction, the URA was supposed to become a one-stop shop aimed at expediting the approval process for developers and others hoping to do business in Pittsburgh. But Mr. Ford's way of cutting corners has cut the public out of the process. (P-G, Edit Board)

There it is in a nutshell. At the same time, we must be mindful that Ford was only doing exactly what Ravenstahl and the URA expected of him. We really hope that comes into focus.


Mr. Ravenstahl then told the Bureau of Building Inspection to order Lamar to stop work. If the firm does not comply, it could face fines of as much as $1,000 a day, and the city could seek an injunction ordering a halt. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The Comet wagers that the billboard will be "completed", in some half-finished sense, by early this afternoon.


Recently -- and we understand it was just a coincidence -- Lamar Advertising was granted a no-bid lease for a 1,200-square-foot electronic billboard on the front of the Grant Street Transportation Center, soon to be the fanciest Greyhound bus station in America. (P-G, Tony Norman)

T-Noble might also have noted the many code requirements from which Lamar was ludicrously exempted -- but he obviously had a lot of very important data to fit into this piece, so we'll let him slide.

"So no one told you life was gonna be this way
You're supposed to have it made when you run the URA
Now your wife's outta work and you're on shaky ground

And all because for your home theater you accepted surround sound..."
(Trib, Eric Heyl)

Now that's columnizing!


"At a time when we should be engaged in doing all we can to strengthen the family, we are facing cultural forces that want to so water down the definition of marriage that it could apply to any human relationship, or to no relationship at all," Bishop Zubik told members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

"Sexual attraction" and "love" are common threads among these newfangled, sub-par human relationships.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

BestFriendsgate: Notes and Quotes

Lamar Advertising: Digging in, or else digging themselves into a deeper hole. (P-G, Rich Lord)

If the council members want it to stop, "they're going to have to go to the Court of Common Pleas and they're going to have to post bond," countered Jonathan Kamin, a lawyer for Lamar.

"Stop making us obey the law, or we'll make you poor."


The Comet gets much love from the MacYapper.

I would quibble with one thing Bram told Bob [Mayo]. Bram said it's not "our job" to judge the gift taking unethical bureaucrats. If people sitting around in their underwear typing a lot can't judge humanity then who can?

John is correct of course. When the story was just breaking, all we could think of was, "Appear credible, appear impartial, don't 'distort' anything!" Perhaps the memory of a previous major blog-broken story was looming large in our minds. At any rate, we got our judgmental side out of our system on Kevin Miller today.

Kevin Miller today, as captured by Mark Rauterkus. (Note: it's pronounced "Rich Bomb", no biggee)

At least one female blogger is wondering what's up with Sirk getting canned and Ford getting a paid vacation. (PWBS)

Ford vs. Meacham: Clash of the No-Goodnicks? We also have heard some evidence of a feud like this at the Housing authority. (Hoagie 1, Hoagie 2)

Infinonymous is blogging:

It now appears that George Specter did not become a thoroughgoing dunce upon the junior varsity's taking the field to replace Bob O'Connor's administration. Instead, my diagnosis has become a severe case of dopey client disease. Specter apparently advised against the serial extracurricular accommodations of Lamar's commercial interests, but that advice was ignored. A dopey client puts a lawyer in a damning position, often warping the lawyer's conduct. Specter couldn't reveal that his clients knew damned well that they were acting inappropriately (because he had so advised them, in writing); he also could not endorse their frangible positions or wrongful conduct.

Mmmm. Frangible positions. Ghughughughu.

That Shotgun Shine (shame about it...)

"I think it deserved swift action. When I was made aware of it, needless to say, I was very concerned and not happy," Ravenstahl said. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Glad to help.

Ravenstahl said he was shocked to learn from a Tribune-Review report that press secretary Alecia Sirk and her husband, Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Pat Ford, accepted a surround-sound system, neckties, cigars and other gifts from Lamar Advertising executive Jim Vlasach.

"We plan to obviously thoroughly investigate this issue," Ravenstahl said.

Investigation? As in, "What did you know, and when did you know it?" Best that be made an external investigation.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl gave Mr. Ford a role of unprecedented scope, serving as executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, housing authority board chairman, Pittsburgh Parking Authority board chairman until he left that post early this year, and unofficial overseer of some planning functions. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Unofficial overseer of some planning functions has been particularly troubling to the Comet, to most of the burghosphere, and to many other Pittsburghers.

Lamar has placed Mr. Ravenstahl's face or name on free billboards lauding the Redd-Up Campaign and the region's hosting of the U.S. Open golf championship. In addition, attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents Lamar in the just-filed lawsuit against five City Council members, gave Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign an in-kind donation in February 2007 worth $2,755, and characterized in campaign finance filings as "event catering."

This is not about a sound system and cigars. This is about an administration that conspires with businesses to weaken and ignore inconvenient regulations, while punishing any and all public servants who dare cry foul. Don't miss the forest for the trees.


The Comet once published a post calling attention to Patrick Ford's swift rise through the ranks of the Ravenstahl administration. We wrote:

Considering our Mayor's very short tenure, the rapid ascension of Pat Ford should offer an excellent window into both Ravenstahl's policy preferences and personal administrative style. We also think it merits exploration of what the Ford Doctrine is all about.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Ford after our policy differences were already on the table, thanks to his impact on a City Planning hearing regarding UPMC signage on the U.S. Steel Tower.

Part I of our interview covered biographical details. Part II dealt with Ford's approach to city planning and development.

Our editorial objections to Ford's overbearing, anti-democratic role in Ravenstahl's government only deepened upon witnessing it in action at another contentious City Planning hearing -- this one regarding the new Hill District arena.

By the time the Lamar electronic billboard fiasco came around, we felt we already knew what to expect.
The Tribune-Review might easily have framed its story as "The Tribune-Review has learned..." instead of acknowledging from the get-go Ford and Sirk's motivation for reaching out to the newspaper:

Ford approached the Tribune-Review with the information. He said he was worried that local bloggers who discovered an entry on Sirk's old blog about the surround-sound system would distort the facts and use the information in an attempt to discredit him.

More importantly, no story break would have been possible without a tip and a suggestion from our esteemed and anonymous colleague, the Burgher, who went on to cover the fallout with well-deserved joyfulness.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What Can We Say?

Wednesday: Other News

When we entered council chambers today, members were discussing the results of Mayor Ravenstahl's compliance with council's wish that the Mayor limit the number of take-home cars for employees to 29.

The room was full of police and public safety officials who had received the executive order to surrender the vehicles.

Various members of council expressed their displeasure that the move to limit take-home vehicle was being executed outside of their intent -- that is, it was being inflicted upon public safety officials, including command staff, who were to be protected.

"Has this been politicized to such a point that some are willing to jeopardize public safety?" asked Bruce Kraus. He recommends again voting to override the veto on the original legislation, to send it back with guidelines for vehicle eligibility.

"We made this more complex than we needed to," countered Tonya Payne. "If there are abusers, we can deal with that."

"This can be resolved and this has to be resolved," said Bill Peduto, summing up. "We can't play a game with public safety."

Council also gave unanimous preliminary approval to amended legislation by Patrick Dowd to alter the way the city's pensions board gets appointed, requiring seats appointed by the Controller and by City Council.

"This is an all hands on deck situation," said Dowd, speaking of the need to hold all public officials accountable to address the city's pension woes.

After the session, Council President Doug Shields remarked to the Comet. "We're getting T-shirts made up. Free the Lamar Five. You can blog that if you want."


Yesterday evening, city officials met with Act 47 state oversight officials to discuss the state of the city's finances and the possibility of emerging from Act 47 status.

Luke Ravenstahl testified that when he took over as mayor, city finances were at an all time low. Thanks to the cooperation and assistance of city workers and city officials, we have engineered a financial turnaround that is truly amazing.

However, Ravenstahl said he was not there to either support or oppose the idea of bringing an end to state oversight. His voice rising in volume, he accused the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of mischaracterizing his position yesterday morning, anticipating that he would oppose continued oversight.

"This must not be about grandstanding," Ravenstahl went on to warn his colleagues. "This is about you guys [the oversight board] telling us what to do."

Finance director Scott Kunka went on to paint a portrait of the "enormous financial strides" undertaken by the Ravenstahl administration.

"On the expenditures side, the Mayor has done our part." Although things start to look worse in outlying years, Kunka stressed that the picture gets a lot brighter in 2017, when debt service will be dramatically reduced.

Mr. Kunka was asked by the board whether his figures included debt of City authorities and OPEB responsibilities, he replied no it did not but it is being worked on.

Doug Shields took a strong stand that the city has in fact met the criteria to leave Act 47.

"This is what the law instructs us to do. This is what hte law calls for in its standard for review."

Shields described the deficit anticipated for 2011 as "not only Pittsburgh's problem, it is endemic" across the state and the region of the country. As such it falls to the state to provide solutions -- not the Act 47 coordinators, but the Governor and the State Legislature.

Compelling higher contributions from major non-profits was one remedy he argued for.

Bill Peduto took the opposite tack. "We knew this was going to happen. This is a part we've discussed."

"The intent wasn't just to get by for a few years. It was to create a sustainable budget."

Although Shields had specifically insisted in his testimony that "This council knows what it takes to continue a sustainable plan," Peduto went on to argue for continued and expanded state oversight, calling for "a five year plan that looks from a statewide level."

Controller Michael Lamb split the difference between the two. He argued that the City of Pittsburgh should leave "financially distressed" status as soon as possible, but that such an exit is not feasible at this time.

He cited three failures of the old plan: that the state legislature "gutted" the Act 47 coordinator's recommended tax package, that county government froze property tax assessments, and that non-profit organizations have not stepped up as much as they could.

Lamb called on Governor Rendell specifically to pressure non-profits like Highmark to provide additional savings for municipal and other government employees.

Mr. Lamb acknowledged that Mr. Kunka and himself sit on a task force looking at statewide solutions, "but when I say that our work in in an embryonic stage I think I am upwardly exaggerating our progress."

He also encouraged the formation of a "solid plan" to deal with unresolved issues related to pension, debt, worker's comp and healthcare.

Linkages Surface Between Lamar, Administration

A top executive at Lamar Advertising, which has filed a lawsuit against five members of city council over an appeal to a controversial ruling by the city Zoning Administrator, has a personal history with Ravenstahl development czar Patrick Ford that may raise questions about possible conflicts of interest in the Mayor's office.

Mayoral press secretary Alecia Sirk, who is married to Ford, confirmed to the Comet that Jim Vlasach of Lamar Advertising is the "JV" she had occasionally written about on her blog, Love of Chair, a tongue-in-cheek diary of Ford's personal and professional exploits.

Here is one excerpt:

Our Hero and his best buddy got together to share a stogie during the holiday break.

they have such a blast together, it's fun to even watch.
and the best part was that I got a christmas gift! jv brought me surround sound for my DVD player! it is like knock you over one of the best things evah.

The entry was written on Dec. 30, 2006, when Ford held the newly created position of Director of Community and Economic Development under Mayor Ravenstahl.

Prior to that, Ford was Mayor O'Connor's Director of City Planning, and for a time served as Zoning Administrator under Mayor Tom Murphy.

Precedents established under previous Zoning Administrators, outside of codified city zoning regulations, played a significant role in the approval of Lamar's application by current Zoning Administrator Susan Tymoczo, according to statements by Tymoczo and Ford to city council.

When asked whether such a gift, from the owner of the region's largest outdoor advertising company, to a public servant overseeing planning and zoning functions, ought to be considered inappropriate, Sirk replied, "No I don't. Of course, I'm not an expert."

The Comet failed to reach out to Pat Ford himself for a comment before the Tribune-Review broke the story early this morning.

A warm friendship

The sound system was a Christmas present, according to Sirk. Vlasach bonded with Ford and Sirk during the period the couple lived in Florida, after Ford had departed the Murphy administration in 2004.

"First, you have to understand," Sirk explained. "Jim is like, the funniest man. He is..." She was at a loss for words.

Ford and Sirk made frequent visits back to Pittsburgh in order to check up on family in West Virginia. It was during these trips that friendships developed that have familiar overtones in city politics today.

"Patrick and Luke. Patrick and Jim [Vlasach]. Patrick and Jim Motznik," Sirk said.

During council's discussion about the questionable sign permit, Councilman Motznik took personal credit for having recruited planning maven Ford back from the south.

Here is the most salacious-sounding tidbit from Sirk's Love of Chair, dated June 13, 2006, when Ford was O'Connor's director of City Planning:

Our Hero and his Partner in Crime, jv, spent a wee bit of Tuesday afternoon playing hooky.

as i understand it, they disappeared from their offices around 3:30 pm and headed over to bloom's cigars on the southside, where they bought a beer from a nearby bar and lounged in chairs outside the cigar shop (smoking and drinking and looking at girls, no doubt) until dinner.

Sirk describes the time in Ford's life when he became acquainted with Vlasach as a period of personal growth.

"He was such a different person before that. He was buttoned-down. He had that hair."

Sirk describes a more conservative, less sociable Pat Ford back then, before he found this new circle of Pittsburgh friends -- some of whom he works with in government today, and others with whom he occasionally must deal as petitioners to that government.

After the couple returned to Pittsburgh, and as Ford rose through the mayor's administration, the closer aspects of that personal relationship started to fade away according to Sirk. She stressed that Ford is very mindful of issues regarding propriety in accepting gifts, and other perceived conflicts of interest.

Although she was straightforward and nonplussed concerning the inquiries about Vlasach, Sirk was sensitive about her purple prose getting held up once again for public ridicule.

Even so, she was appreciative that someone preserved a copy her electronic journal, which she neglected to do when she took down the blog after ascending to press secretary.

"These were memories I thought I'd lost."

Further complicating matters, Lamar Advertising was a major contributor to Mayor Ravenstahl's election campaign. It also donated the use of many of its billboards to the City of Pittsburgh, several of which bore Ravenstahl's name and smiling photo in the heat of an election cycle.

The Burgher contributed to this article.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blogs a Poppin'

The MacYahYah prosecutes the prosecutor. The Comet is tempted to agree, but when you get down to it she was just following orders. More kindling for the impeachment fires.

Remember Blog for Equality day? That was awesome. Speak for Equality day is happening this Thursday. Be. Aware.

Bill Peduto insists we are in the eye of the hurricane. Be. Aware.

414 Grant Street has been alive lately. This post leads us in the most constructive direction we've seen yet on consolidation.

P-G Early Returns tries so very hard. It is focused like a microscope with laser beams attached to it on the day-to-day stuff. All of it. It is a Herculean undertaking, but one comes away wondering just which part was important.

Maria and we had a wonderful conversation on 2PJs on the topic of media sexism.

We agree with everything here from Teacher Wordsmith Madman. Elsewhere he is up to his old tricks -- bogus reductivism and scornful dismissal. In this case he is attempting to get ahead of the New Youth meme by infantalizing the entire contribution of Boomer idealism to American thought.

Sometimes, we think Mike Madison talks about high-end pastries too often. But since he has an equity streak a mile wide, let him eat cake!

Everybody's favorite guy has some advice, and a medium willing to inflict it upon us.

One thing that it needs to become is more open minded and tolerant. It needs to be more diverse and inclusive. I don't think it's a question of making jazzier restaurants or hipper bike trails. I think it's a question of being more open-minded.

Wow. Jazzier restaurants -slash- hipper bike trails get knocked? He is correct in his analysis, and being cavalierly nonpartisan about it!

Another thing the region suffers from is really poor leadership. It still reflects that top-down, vertical, 1950's organization mentality so you get these conflicts between old-style democratic political machine and business-led organizations.

D-FLA's been out of town for a while. He's at least halfway on the right track, maybe.

Tuesday: Clobberin' Time

Is anybody thinking about running against Dan Deasy for state rep?

[Take-home car legislation] passed 5-3, with Councilman Dan Deasy abstaining. He's not likely to vote to override the veto. "I think the goal of the legislation is to reduce the take-home vehicles, and I think the mayor accomplished that," he said. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Excellent that he is interested in accomplishing the mission, and fine that he trusts the Mayor.

However, this issue of has a degree of nuance.

They're unofficial take-home cars, or take-almost-home cars, not included on the lists of vehicles City Council and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl have wrestled over for weeks. Their existence may complicate a move toward firm rules on the use of city cars, an issue that is the subject of a veto override vote set for today's council meeting.

That is just one legitimate reason for Council to institute some indelible thresholds for this costly civic asset.

Although Mr. Deasy has confidence in the current mayor, Pittsburgh will one day have a different one, and still others. Our next mayors may not be so mindful of the city's financial situation, and may even view the capacity to dole out expensive automobile privileges as a way to reward supporters and enforce political obedience. That is why we need to establish citywide, personality-neutral standards.

Will Dan Deasy be the kind of state rep that is okay sitting on mountains of government perks and privileges? Or will he be a credible, no-nonsense watchdog over taxpayer resources, who can actually take a stand against a bloated Harrisburg?

Or is he only cut out to be someone else's yes-man?


"If we just had a pension problem, we could solve it," said Mr. Lamb. "If we just had a debt problem, we could solve it. If we just had an infrastructure problem, we could solve it. But we have all of those." (P-G, Rich Lord)

Our Controller is leaning toward sticking with Act 47.

"You could legitimately make a ruling that we're out of Act 47," said council President Doug Shields.

Doug Shields is just looking forward to the big show.

"I absolutely believe they should lift it," said Dan O'Hara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. Depressed pay and benefits are turning the city's Police Bureau into "a farm team for other departments."

Public sector unions never warmed to Act 47.

If the city is to stay under oversight, debt and pensions should be the focus, Mr. Ravenstahl said.

"That's a role Act 47 should play, and to this point they've been silent on that," he said, calling a lack of attention to debt and pension "the biggest missing piece" of the coordinators' work.

Our Mayor could be right about that.

"It's inevitable that we're going to need some sort of revenue stream adjustment," said Mr. Ravenstahl. "I would argue that we've done what's been asked of us."

Can we just figure out what tax needs to be raised, and raise it? Will anyone be brave enough to howl for a commuter tax?


Councilman Jim Motznik said fundraising doesn't stop him from listening to constituents.

"The amount of time I spend with my people and residents who aren't in my district ... doesn't depend on whether they gave me money," he said. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Well, Jim Motznik is a special breed.

Finding the five votes on the nine-member City Council could be difficult.

Peduto doesn't have the votes yet, said Council President Doug Shields.

"As the old saying goes, 'When you've got the votes, vote; when you don't, talk.' Right now, we're talking."


Monday, April 7, 2008


North Side Percolation

A North Side group is abandoning plans to start a community land trust aimed at helping to keep homes affordable and maintain diversity in the neighborhood.

A recent community survey conducted by the Central North Side Neighborhood Council found that safety issues such as drugs, guns, traffic and a lack of street lighting were the top concerns, followed by worries over vacant buildings and lots and litter. (Trib, Tony LaRussa)

The Central North Side Neighborhood Council is one of sixteen neighborhood organizations represented under the umbrella of the NSLC.

The neighborhood group announced in January that it was exploring the formation of a trust to allow it to buy blighted properties and create affordable housing by rehabilitating and selling each building while retaining ownership of the land.

More real estate speculation and trickle-down community benefits.

"We know that we want a safe, quality community that is family-friendly," Barber said. "But before we move forward with a new program, we need to talk to residents to see what they want for their community."

So there is a before we move forward!

Barber said his group will focus on a "community visioning process" in which a series of public meetings will be conducted during the next year. They will gather input and develop a strategy for implementation of the goals that are identified.

"At the end of this process, we may find that a land trust, along with other measures, is worth considering," Barber said.

This has little if nothing to do with the following.


Councilman William Peduto reports that three representatives from the North Side Leadership Conference met with two representatives of Northside United earlier today.

The Stadium Authority of the City of Pittsburgh has more leeway than it did under Mayor Murphy to have an impact on planning between and around the two stadiums, and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Councilman Peduto invited the two groups to write their own ideas and shape a common vision. Councilwomen Tonya Payne and Darlene Harris were also at the table.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, in a flurry of moves, dismissed Peduto's term on the Stadium authority later on in the afternoon. Councilman Bruce Kraus was named in his place.

No telling whether the Mayor was annoyed at Peduto about that, or about this.

State Representative Jake Wheatley also serves on the 5-member board, which is chaired by Deborah Lestitian.

Monday: Captain Obvious

But what will it take to convince city residents that folding their government into the county's is in their interests?

"By telling them that the alternative is the status quo -- things are gong to remain as they are," Mr. Ravenstahl said. (P-G, Lord and Barnes)

Look at what's written on your hand: An infinite variety of consolidation plans are possible.

In Louisville, opposition emerged including members of their city council, African-American leaders who feared a loss of minority clout, and some labor unions. "The opposition campaign was basically one of fear," said Mr. Carlton.

So we know what doesn't work all by itself.

"Why was there no consultation from us when [the report] was put together?" said Mr. Shields...

"This is exactly the kind of thinking we're faced with that will not help us develop the region," Mr. Onorato said to great applause. "We can't fall back to that old style of politics of 'I wasn't told, I wasn't consulted,' if we want to move forward." (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

It is Mr. Shields' job to represent the interests of people who by and large would not be very well represented by the folks at the Allegheny League of Municipalities. That is precisely the point.


One Hill, a community group, delayed its planned announcement on Saturday to discuss action against management of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Group officials said the announcement was put on hold so group representatives could meet with the team's managers this weekend.

One Hill had planned to announce action targeting the owners of the team, which enters playoffs this week. Community organizers abruptly canceled a news conference scheduled yesterday, saying only that they wanted to continue to talk "in good faith" with the hockey team's owners. (Trib, Team Effort)

You know, one hopes that One Hill was not strong-armed into scrapping the initiative because the Penguins hockey team is commencing its big playoff run. One hopes that One Hill is not being strung along again, in the manner of the day of that dreadful City Planning commission hearing.

Michael Jackson wrote a song: If you want to be startin' somethin', you got to be startin' somethin'.

Please do not make us root for our hockey team to be eliminated, so that One Hill can then politely emerge to campaign for common neighborhood self-determination. We are capable of rooting for a Penguins victory on the ice and a Pittsburgh victory on the ground simultaneously.


If you would like to sign the online petition directed to Penguins president David Morehouse in support of One Hill and of community benefits agreements, CLICK HERE.

If you would like to watch the post-agenda session of council on Bill Peduto's campaign finance legislation, tune in today at 1:30 PM.

If you would like to watch the hearing of the Act 47 financial recovery boards with administration officials, it will be held on Tuesday at 7 PM, at the IBEW hall near the corner of Hot Metal and Carson. Ample, free parking!

If you are interested in the results of the race for the Democratic nomination for the 21st Legislative District, you should know that Len Bodack is a member of the Islam Grotto of the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (Trib, Jeremy Boren).

We knew it had to be something.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


The following took place at an SEIU sponsored event on March 29, 2007.

Parts 2 and 3 should be available elsewhere on YouTube. This first segment itself passes through many formats and moods.

One thing that stands out is Obama's insistence then that everybody needs to be covered; that everybody needs to be in the pool. More recently, a flashpoint of contrast between the healthcare plans of Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama has been that only Sen. Clinton would mandate "truly universal" coverage. Sen. Obama would not mandate it, but would only make sure it is available to everyone (regardless of pre-existing condition), and affordable for everyone.

So there you have it. He flip-flopped.

One thing we know is that SEIU must be accepting of Obama's change in position. They went on to endorse him, and continue to do so enthusiastically.

Here is the top video on healthcare currently on Sen. Barack Obama's website, sight unseen. After that is a link to download a copy of the Obama healthcare plan. It is surprisingly readable.


One reason it is readable is because it has some fluff. Another reason is that it does not have many numbers. The Obama plan lays out principles and strategies. A lot seems to hinge on his National Health Insurance Exchange.

As the Comet understands it, the NHIE will enter into the marketplace en mass, subsidizing existing plans of all kinds so long as they meet certain thresholds and requirements. In addition, certain key policies such as prevention will be given special attention. State healthcare plans are encouraged to experiment and are welcome to partner. Meanwhile private insurers and drug companies are challenged through the power of the market.

One thing that can be said is that government bureaucrats would be doing the competing. and to an extent will be handicapped by the do-goodery. Another thing is that we don't learn in that document what "affordable" coverage means, nor what this will cost the taxpayers. So there is another issue.

It could be he is giving his legislators room to legislate. Tough to sell a plan to people who don't own it.