Saturday, August 9, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thursday: The Politics Down Here

Businesses might need to prepare for a possible strike or service cutbacks before mid-September, when Port Authority and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 must accept or reject a fact-finder's findings about ongoing contract talks. (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Yikes. Not good. Every once in a while, a back-burner issue sneaks into the foreground and scalds you.

Soo... if the Port Authority does not append some disclaimer to their posts on that site explaining to the reader that it represent management's viewpoint only, I may need to start up an independent "Fact of the Day" web site to respond to their postings. Just in case someone thinks I am not serious, I think I have enough fodder... (Nullspace)

Gooooood, good. I can feel the anger flowing through you. Now, call the County Executive out by name, and your journey to the Dark Side will be complete.


Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Wednesday he wants proof that the state Ethics Commission has exonerated Pittsburgh's suspended Urban Redevelopment Authority chief. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

This KDKA report from Andy Sheehan (who apparently did break the news on Tuesday) makes pretty clear that Team Ford arrived at its conclusions regarding exoneration via sheer deduction.

Commission Executive Director John Contino could wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting in September to officially close Ford's case and notify the URA, Fisher said.

"I think for whatever political reasons this guy wants to let Pat dangle in the wind until September," Fisher said. "There's no reason for us to wait for this foregone technical conclusion."

Fisher called Contino a "lazy bureaucrat who doesn't want to resolve this matter expeditiously."

We did not seriously just read that, did we? What's he going to do if this does get more serious? Moon the grand jury?

Mr. Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher, said he received a fax Tuesday from the ethics commission saying it had "not acted with regard to my client." He then issued a statement to reporters yesterday saying Mr. Ford had been exonerated, the window for investigating him had terminated "and no further investigation of this matter will follow." He also called for the URA to reinstate him.

Mr. Fisher did not share the commission's letter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

Summarily, we don't know much more than we did last week.


For the first time in Pittsburgh's almost 30-year cable TV history, the stage is being set to give city customers a choice between providers. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)



Arlington, for instance, one of the newly created Accelerated Learning Academies with a 58 percent African-American population, for instance showed a 135.5 percent improvement in third grade reading proficiency over last year.

Similarly, over a three-year period, 11th grade Westinghouse High School students, 98.5 percent Black, improved 135.3 percent in reading proficiency and an astounding 223.9 percent in math -- all the while reducing the number of student scores below basic in both categories by 48.5 percent and 29.6 percent, respectively. (Courier, Christian Morrow)

Alright. If these numbers turn out to be legitimate, meaningful and not misleadingly cherry-picked, we'll ... we'll do something nice for Mark Roosevelt. Or we'll do something mean to ourselves, whichever he'd prefer.

Right now, we're not entirely sure what a 223.9% improvement in math means. (Yes, yes. Irony.) Does that mean over three times the proportion of students at those schools and in those grades are scoring proficiently in math? Or that the math scores, as measured on a conventional scale of one to 100, are over three times as high? You know what they say about statistics.

The complete data is due to be released to the public soon / now.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Selected Fallout

Mayor Ravenstahl, on WTAE:

If there was no wrongdoing found from the Ethics Commission, then obviously we'll take that into consideration and -- and move forward. But until I see what this is, you know, I don't want to make any statements toward what might happen.

What can we say? When push comes to shove, and when the subject is potential wrongdoing elsewhere in city government, Mayor Ravenstahl acts like a serious mayor. Nothing remotely to argue with here.

Now, Pat Ford's attorney on the Busman's Holiday:

We don't know what's happened in the four months that he's been gone, but I think that development in the city has been halted in a large way. And so, I'm sure that Pat's first order of business will be to get the wheels of development moving again.

For better or for worse, it seems like development has been roaring along at its usual pace.

The Stadium Authority just approved Continental's development deal, the Penguins arena is being built with some form of Hill CBA and a master plan in the offing, Downtown continues to surprise, Bakery Square has fallen off the troubleshooting radar, and we are about to boldly embark into the wide world of TRIDs. Somehow, we've managed.

The casino continues to be a stubborn issue ... but then Mr. Ford was of uncharacteristically little help there.

Wednesday: Dog Days

Wheatley Flips on North Shore Deal
Wheatley acknowledged that the Stadium Authority likely would get more money for Lot 6 on the open market, but he called the low price a "tradeoff" that ensures a high-quality entertainment development could be built quickly on what is a surface parking lot. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

The Steelers intend to build a 2,600 seat outdoor entertainment pavilion on the land. This is unlikely to affect the importance of the amphitheater Don Barden's casino group has promised to build on his end of the promenade.

Malta Temple Will Remain The Way It Is
The decision will protect the stately brick building on West North Avenue from demolition, but it also could prompt legal action from the Salvation Army, which has owned the former social club since the 1970s. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

§ 1101.03 (a) (1) a 7. Nomination of a religious structure shall only be made by the owner(s) of record of the religious structure.
§ 1101.02 DEFINITIONS. (h) RELIGIOUS STRUCTURE. Any or all of the following: church, cathedral, mosque, temple, rectory, convent, or similar structure used as place of religious worship.

The building was designed as a social club, but has been used for over 30 years as a place of worship and religious service. Offhand, it doesn't look like the Salvation Army a bad case.

Refi May Or May Not Occur, Be Worthwhile
City Controller Michael Lamb said Pittsburgh waited too long to refinance its debt this year and that acting earlier in the year likely would have meant more savings thanks to lower interest rates and less of a rush to act. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Just to irritate everybody, we must juxtapose that directly with this:

If it is correct that these being the same bonds in 1998, what I saw in the Trib with some criticism that these bonds were not refunded earlier in the year may be a bit unfair in that I am not quite sure they could have been refunded earlier than they are going to be at this point. (Nullspace)

We are hearing some confirmation that these bonds are in fact the restrictive Tom Murphy internet auction bonds he discusses.

City Reveals What Steve Bland Meant By "Infill"
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is sending legislation to city council today to apply for $300,000 in-state Transit Revitalization Investment District funds, to write redevelopment plans for transit hubs in three city areas: Beechview/Mount Washington, East Liberty and Homewood/North Point Breeze. (P-G, Team Effort)

For a must-read analysis of this seemingly laconic news, even by Angry Drunk standards, see LINK, especially if you happen to live in the affected corridors.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Stadium Authority & North Shore Development: Building a Mystery

UPDATE: SA Board to meet tomorrow (Wednesday) at 5:30.

Council held a post agenda session last week to explore the controversial and possibly expired "option agreement" between Continental Real Estate and the Steelers and Pirates, regarding terms of development between the stadiums on the North Shore.

Patrick Dowd asked at the outset what it was the Council would be attempting to "accomplish" at the meeting. Tonya Payne, who had called for it, responded simply that it was in response to a direct request by her constituents.

Time and again, council members were openly and amusingly confounded by the fact that they could not discuss the meat of the issue or issues.

"We can't ask them what their solicitor said," warned several.

"Council is once again in a position where an awkwardly framed -- where the absence of an awkwardly framed question is before us," is the way Dowd chose to put it.

"We all know what we're talking about here," answered SEA director Mary Conturo obliquely, although whatever this could be remained a mystery to those in the gallery.


"The difference in price continues to be a bone of contention," Bruce Kraus offered, as informatively as anyone would dare muster on this occasion.

The $1 million price tag found in the original contract could be orders of magnitude less than that which today could be garnered on the open market. In addition, if entirely new development terms can now legitimately be sought, various accommodations for the surrounding community might also be negotiated.

On top of this, even that $1 million owed by Continental is apparently being covered by monies that the Steelers are already paying to the City as a function of a consent order issued in November 2007, to contribute toward a traffic study in regards to the new casino. It is unclear how that money can fulfill both functions.

Bill Peduto laid out what he saw as three criteria for any new development contract: fair market value for the development rights, penalties in the new contract for failure to meet deadlines, and a formal community benefits agreement for the residents.

Darlene Harris, speaking generally in favor of the right of the community to negotiate with developers, asserted that "on the North Side, we've had CBA's for the last 28 years." She pointed to one with Allegheny General Hospital as an example. This all drew skeptical grumbles from the assembled crowd, comprised largely of activists from Northside United and the wider Pittsburgh United, which is in the business of organizing for formal CBA's.

Stadium Authority chair Deborah Lestitian, a self-described "housewife" appointed to the authority by Mayor O'Connor, contended that since Continental failed to meet deadlines in the original contract for development, that contract is null and void. Only upon direct questioning did she reveal that she herself is a contracts attorney and that this comprised her professional opinion.

Conturo of the SEA said there remains some dispute as to whether the contract is still in force. Although she is also is an attorney, she declined to offer a similarly clear assessment independent, or elaborate on the foundation of any disagreements.

Peduto made an allusion to "federal investigations" swirling around the city, perhaps in an attempt to cajole a little more frankness out of the guests assembled. Dowd registered an objection to this, admonishing that one oughtn't lightly bring up "federal investigations", because it can be dangerous to go about talking of "federal investigations", and one should really be far more discreet and reserved as to when to publicly mention any sort of "federal investigations".


said that negotiations for a "settlement" with Continental are ongoing in a "good faith" effort to avoid litigation...

However, I think we have a strong legal position, and I don't think the fear of being sued should keep us from doing the right thing.

The Comet desires to see these words inscribed on a coin.

Councilman Dowd also offered a sentiment we've been longing to hear: "Somebody from this body needs to be appointed to that Authority, because right now we have no way of connecting."

The Stadium Authority has not met since mid-March, when Councilman Peduto was removed from its board. The present board seems to be deadlocked 2-2 on this issue.

Unfortunately, the Comet had to leave before Councilman Shields took his crack at questioning. If anyone has intelligence as to how that went along with the rest of the meeting, please comment.

More: Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review