Friday, September 5, 2008

North Shore Land Deal Looking Worse

They also are expected to claim that the authority violated the state open meetings law by failing to give proper public notice of the meeting at which the vote was taken. The board approved the sales in 3-1 vote. (P-G, Mark Belko)

This is not so ticky-tack.

Following Mayor Ravenstahl's dismissal of council member Bill Peduto from that board and a restorative four-month hiatus between board meetings, the Stadium Authority announced this most recent meeting regarding the Continental Real Estate Cos. land deal and other accumulated business with no more than 48 hours notice.

While running the session, board chair Debbie Lestitian claimed that she had not received her own briefing packet until that very afternoon. Lestitian was the lone no vote on the deal with Continental.

SOME BACKGROUND: Burgh Report, Char; Trib, Jeremy Boren; Trib, Jeremy Boren; P-G, Mark Belko; P-G, Diana Nelson Jones; City Watcher 1, 2, 3

From Char:

But just in the space of one very complicated land deal, Lil Lukie will have gifted the Steelers millions, spit once again in the faces of North Side citizens, cut his political nemesis Bill Peduto off at the knees, amassed tons of backroom political capital, and handed the taxpayer a multi-million dollar bill to boot! Not bad for a day’s work, huh?

This is How it Boils Down

Claire Meehan, a resident of The Pennsylvanian across the street from the center, presented a petition opposing the billboard, signed by 80 tenants.

"We just feel it's a landmark building and this is the antithesis of what landmark restoration is all about," she said. "I think it ruins the integrity of that area."

Another Pennsylvanian tenant, Don Carter, president of Urban Design Associates, said he helped plan the junction of Grant Street and Liberty Avenue.

"I pass the partially constructed billboard at least twice a day, and I wince each time," he said. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Everything else is political and legal jujitsu -- some of which will gain in importance once Lamar threatens to sue the City of Pittsburgh.


One of the lawsuits is expected to be an appeal of the stadium authority board's approval of the sales. In a release announcing its plans, Pittsburgh United said the board had failed in its "fiduciary obligations to the public in the transfer of land."

The second lawsuit is expected to involve a claim that the board failed to act in accordance with state open record laws. Ms. England said she did not have any other details yesterday.(P-G, Mark Belko)

Hey, as long as you're going to court...

There is also the matter that city residents having been inadequately represented on that Stadium Authority board, pursuant to the city charter. One member of Pittsburgh city council must sit on each of these authority boards. That is one vital check and balance in this admittedly Strong-Mayor form of government.

Mayor Ravenstahl is feuding with several council members -- hence, a lot of municipal Authorities are lacking in essential oversight and popular representation. If Northside United were to add that suit to its docket, it would be doing us all a favor.


"Once we adopted the base year and realized school districts and municipalities were pursuing recent sales to increase taxes, we filed appeals on behalf of homeowners to keep the base year assessed value where it should be," said county spokesman Kevin Evanto. "What the school districts and municipalities that were appealing were attempting to do were back-door tax increases." (Trib, Andrew Conte)

Whatever, dude. It doesn't sound like a transparent process.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Liveblogging Night 4 of the RNC

Did anyone else catch Cindy McCain's Palpatine moment?

"The Republicans are about la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la, and keeping government in control and out of the way."

Service and community, community and service. When we feel like helping out, we do and that is awesome. Patrician, patrician, patrician. And by the way, screw you Bill Clinton for Rwanda.

Tom Ridge was dispatched to appeal to the intellectuals.

Every song the Republicans use in their videos sounds like Dallas.

John McCain is best described as a MAMMA'S BOY??

Oh, good. We have not yet heard this story during this convention.

He does look joyful and optimistic there. McCain's mom is a crackerjack.

He did do good work with reaching out to Vietnam and healing the rifts. Can't deny that.

The change must be safety, prosperity, optimism, and peace. The change will come from strength. (That's as close to a platform as we're gonna get.)

Fred Thompson again??? Is he the official voice of the GOP now?

When you're in a box, that's when you put your country first. What? But man, it was John McCain's introduction and he is walking up on that stage, and man he must be just a little bit proud of himself.

McCain Votes Against Vets banner got unfurled. Wow.

"I'm grateful to our President of the United States for leading us in these dark days." Well said.

No, I really do love this wife. Honest. She's a keeper.

Roberta McCain is going to draw more women voters proportionally than Sarah Palin. Sorry.

Obama has McCain's "respect and admiration". Also says being American is more important than any other "association". (Translation: I have shady people in my past too. Let's truce.)

WHOA, we thought they were booing "tough times." They were booing another protester. This is a HUGE MOMENT for McCain.

"My dear friends! Please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static!" Brilliant.

Again there must have been some protestors, and once again they were shouted down with chants of "USA! USA!", diverting from McCain's lines. This is epic.

Right into introducing Sarah Palin, and the crowd goes deafening.

McCain threatens "Washington" with the Palinator, is the idea. It's mavericky.

I. Work. For. You.

Fill your groceries, buy your gas tank...

Okay. Seriously. Is the surge "working"? It seems we have lost nothing and gained a little, and we are now exhausted from the surge. The problems are going to hit in Jan-Feb '09 -- just as the next President takes over. Surely not a coincidence. Great last President we just had.

John McCain fights for you. You can trust him.

Some Republicans gave into corruption in Washington, and we lost their trust. We lost their trust. We're going to recover.

Note: The Republican ticket just became a creditable operation again.

And having said that, having sealed off the George Bush things, it's into Republican red meat. Activist Judges! Raising your taxes! Obama will close factories! McCain has a health care plan!(?) Obama's plan will force families out of their jobs and into gulags where there are BEUROCRATS!!!

Government assistance to unemployed workers is so 1950's. It's the only thing the GOP does not like about the 50's, apparently.

"Education is the civil rights issue of this century." So ... vouchers. We're wobbly to agnostic on this issue...

Well, this is not something a President can accomplish. But it puts Obama on the defensive about education. That's better than the usual.

Let's cut down on foreign aid: that's the deafening applause line.

Oh, wait. We forgot drilling.

McCain then named all other energy sources, and said he liked those as well and we'll look at those, but really: get the drills. Into the ground.

"I know how the world works. I know the good and evil in it."

Okay, he is really bringing it all together. There were assurances that he does not like war (knowing something about it) and he wants peace. But the question is how belligerent a peace is he going to wage, and will he be provoked on matters of honor?

You know? I'd actually be tempted to consider voting for him -- if it wasn't for his vice-presidential choice. That much conservatism and inexperience a heartbeat away is a crazy cocktail. UPDATE: If he was the mensch he's making himself out to be, he'd have given us somebody else.

Boy, it is difficult to liveblog a John McCain joint! He is such and old man and he starts telling these stories, and the stories are good and you don't want to interrupt him -- but they don't go anywhere! And now he's being tortured again, and I'm being sarcastic.


If you don't like the country, you should, among other things, get out and "defend the rights of the oppressed." But whatever you do, don't be a community organizer.

Okay, the applause during the "stand up and fight for our country" routine has to be staged. Good call, but totally staged.

And he's OUT. [Dude, is that Rush?]

Okay, so yeah, this is a race. And we all know the math if Barack loses Pennsylvania. And we all know how his last swing thru Pennsylvania went. What are we going to do about that?

UPDATE: Barracuda as campaign theme music? That just tipped the scales in Southwestern PA...


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wonk Wars: The Battle of the Port Authority

There is a disturbance in the Blurghosphere.

It's called No Commuter Left Behind, and simply by virtue of its name it's ripe for irony.

No Commuter Left Behind is brought to us by Ken Zapinski, who the blog states is senior vice president for transportation and infrastructure for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

The best pieces we have read on the ACCD have all been written by the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat (UPDATE: at least most of them).


Zapinski got the idea for blogging, apparently, through commenting on Null Space. Thus began the Wonk Wars of 2008.

"Selective" cost of living adjustment is not just unfair but about as biased as you get. What is the cost of living adjusted base fare for PAT. And by the logic at hand, PAT should be complaining about how high their cost of living adjusted cost of diesel is which is much higher than elsewhere as well. That is a silly argument of course, or at least Mr. Exxon would not pay it much heed. But these simplistic benchmarking exercise are just as confusing.


Right after it came out the state folks who released that TFRC report told me they used the COLI adjustment, if you have some other report showing highest I have not seen it. But the COLI is clear that it is for professional households making migration decisions, which just does not apply in this case.


You really don't want try and argue the $700K housing in SF argument I am pretty sure. How many transit workers in San Francisco have had to buy $700K homes and pay mortgages for amounts that high. Most of them are in the inverse situation of having homes that have appreciated much more than local households here. So that big median value is a benefit to them, a benefit that most here have not had with our low housing appreciation.

Those have all the hallmarks of a commenter getting his or her face removed.

It was around then that our friend from the ACCD "agreed to disagree" with the gentleman from Null Space, wrote and published an op-ed in the Post-Gazette (than seemed to again use selective comparisons in lieu of broad data available from the National Transit Database), and launched his own blog.

So it's sort of the Allegheny Conference blog. But it's sort of not.

Thus far, No Commuter Left Behind has been attempting to make the case for steep labor concessions in the midst of our Port Authority's latest serious strike scare -- but has yet to suggest other ways of increasing operational efficiency throughout the organization. We've been going back and forth a bit in No Child's comments.

Mr. Briem has not yet elected to pursue.

Wednesday: ZAP!

"Having neither question on the ballot is fine, too," Onorato said. "I thought it was interesting both questions were thrown off for the same reason. The power rests with the legislative body to set policy." (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Agreed, and we can all thank the framers for doing that for tax policy.

Now can we please roll back the Council's troubling assertion that it can place any old binding ordinance on the ballot all by itself? That is a power reserved expressly and exclusively to the people. Fair is fair.

"That's [FACT's] prerogative," he said. "I felt their question was illegal from the beginning. I will not let Kevin Joyce or anyone else use the courts to raise property taxes. I think a few people out there would like nothing better than to see me raise property taxes."

Maybe we can make up the difference by cutting our expenditures. We know you cut three hundred jobs or thereabouts. Fantastic. Let's move on to the next thing.

Let's rebuild a major department, or agency, or authority (or two or three). Leaner and meaner. From the ground up. No sense waiting for the city-county marriage to happen.

In the meanwhile, let's give the overage from the drink tax to the Port Authority.


-Here's our first question. How much money does the RAD board get to dole out exactly? (P-G, Mark Belko)

-This story went through some changes. (P-G, Sadie Gurman) If somebody has a link to the mid-day updates of yesterday, fire them over.

-Taser absue? "Let's start a conversation." Encroachments upon the First Amendment? This means war. (P-G, Edit Board)

-By the way, some of us? Not so much fans of the police getting to shock us with electric stun guns. (KDKA, Marty Griffin)

Not if shocking leads to random crazy hospitalizations and worse.

The protesters are calling for an immediate ban on Taser use, and for prosecutions of (presumably) certain police officers. That seems a little ambitious.

The Comet would settle for an immediate, meaningful, temporary curtailment of Taser use, while we scrutinize this policing tool more carefully than we all have up until now. We also call for any officers who are accused of taser abuse to go through no more than the standard police department disciplinary channels, during which some of us will follow along.

We're still working on what "meaningful temporary curtailment" means.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sarah Palin is the new Teddy Roosevelt. Sorry.

Tuesday: Mimosas!

In the four years since Somali Bantu refugees started resettling in Pittsburgh after fleeing civil war and ethnic persecution in their homeland, they've faced segregation in the public schools, discrimination by local residents and major cultural adjustments. (P-G, Alexa Chu)

This is the kind of article some other journalists in Pittsburgh must wish they were writing right now.

Other Somalian youth also are embracing American culture. "In Africa, I really liked music, but I couldn't work in a studio, said Mohammed Mberwa, 10. "Now, a man in Lawrenceville offered to let me rap in his studio. I go with two of my friends and rap in my native language and in English."

See, it's not all bad news -- someone in Lawrenceville is hitting the jackpot!


We sympathize with the police in most of these situations. We really do. (P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

Yet we are afraid Mr. Walczak might be correct regarding the law, and even regarding some of the principles involved.

City attorney Michael Kennedy said he could not comment on the Hackbart case because it is pending litigation. He also could not explain the discrepancy between the police saying there were no other instances, and the 188 citations produced by the courts.

Phone calls to the police training academy and Sgt. Elledge's zone commander, Kathy Degler, were not returned.



"Joe Biden helps anybody," said Bill George, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. "I think he understands the problems working families struggle with." (Trib, Wereschagin & Ritchie)

Barack Obama might have dominated and overshadowed almost any running mate; a charisma gap could have been nothing but a drag. For all Joe's foibles, this just does not seem to be a problem.

"My husband is in a union, and we wanted to see Joe Biden," said Elaine Washburn of Dormont, who watched the parade along Boulevard of the Allies with her daughter Linda, 7. "I was going to vote for Biden until he dropped out."

Biden credited labor groups with some of his political success. He has spent 35 years in the Senate.

"Like everybody else, I came to march with my friends in labor. They are the guys, like they say, that brought me to the dance," Biden said.

It could have been just the genius, gutsy decision in this election that we'll remember this time next year. (Time, Newton-Small)


But as his staff worked on things like finishing the forms needed for a delayed disruptive property crackdown... (P-G, Rich Lord)

Right. Wot's all that, then?

Development is up, with the dollar value of building permits during the first half of this year higher than that for any of the last three entire years.

To keep that going, the city has to keep paring down the bureaucratic process, said Rich Stanizzo, business manager of the Pittsburgh Building and Construction Trades Council.

"We still see the same [delays] we saw a couple of years ago, despite the fact that it's getting better," Mr. Stanizzo said.

Streamlining the bureaucracy was Mr. Ford's mission.

Rich Stanizzo? No Motznik this time around?


Sensible things appearing in the critically acclaimed P-G Casino Journal:

Many fair points from Mr. Oltmanns, but here's a question -- why would anyone have expected smooth sailing? Did Mr. Barden really think that the construction of a casino in an urban area -- the very first casino in Pittsburgh -- would not be met with political resistanace? With interference from community groups? Lawsuits from neighbors and business foes? Maybe it's that simple in Las Vegas, but from Buffalo to New Orleans, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, experience tell us that casinos are nearly always controversial projects, and construction timelines are often delayed by years. Mr. Barden may have been unfairly villified to some extent, but he was also uncommonly naive if he truly believed that he'd have his casino up and running by March 2008 (his original projection, just 15 months after winning the casino license)

We can appreciate that -- but one feels one ought not expect late-in-the-game demands by the city for "shared parking arrangements" and "a variety of new parking facilities". That could be interpreted as extra squeeze, and one big squeeze too many.

There is easy, there is difficult, and there is conspicuously difficult. There is also our evident civic modus operandi, and there is what happened to PITG Gaming.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day: A 20% Chance of Rain

The last few days of summer are upon us and community leaders are struggling to make the right decision between two very different grocery store proposals. Will this generation of leaders choose the proven business concept from the company with experience that is likely to serve the Hill community for many years to come?

Or, as their predecessors did with Lazarus, will they choose the expensive, unproven model from a company relying on big government subsidies with no experience in the market it is entering?

In the business world, we call this decision a "no-brainer." Political and community leaders should choose the commonsense solution over government-subsidized "glitz" and go with Save-A-Lot. (Trib, Glen Meakem)

Assuming that what Mr. Meakem writes is correct about current market trends, and that he correctly interprets and applies it -- and assuming what he suggests about as-yet unasked-for subsidies on behalf of the Kuhn's project is reliable -- this is a cogent and stirring argument.

He goes a overboard with his framing of our options -- the misadventure of the Lazarus department store is only the most stinging available example of the inept allocation of governmental redevelopment resources -- and Kuhn's grocery stores are no Taj Mahals. There's more than a little artistic license at work here, but he scores some solid debate points.

One thing Meakem does not take into account (at least arguably) is community pride, self-determination, and sweat equity -- the very things which made this Community Benefits Agreement such an arduous imperative, and a necessary vehicle for reversing an unproductive and mutual civic mistrust. Though again, he is making this appeal forthrightly to community leaders, not to elected officials.

Leaving all that aside, though, the thing that got the Comet to wondering -- not that he has any more or less right to hold an opinion than we do -- why is Glen Meakem taking such an interest?

It somehow got us thinking about Dan Onorato.


P-G, Rich Lord
P-G, Edit Board
Trib, Team Effort
P-G, Edit Board
Trib, Edit Board
Trib, Ed Feulner
P-G, Mark Belko
Economist, Lexington


Q: What officials and members of staff had you been meeting with through the day and did you meet with any private attorneys in addition to..?

A: No.

Q: Have you spoken to Mr. Ford?

A: What's that?

Q: Have you spoken to Mr. Ford?

A: No. (LINK)

Why not? He's the first person we'd want to talk to.

Repeated and repeatedly vague insinuations by the Attorney Lawrence Fisher aside, this thing has gone about as far as it is going to go in this cycle. If you're betting on it, like we said, we'd say there's maybe a 20 percent chance of rain. It's getting more than a little weird to hear Our Mayor addressing "rumors and things being said right now," and it's time for us to withdraw.

There are more conventional avenues of securing accountability in our elected officials.

Mr. Ford is hardly a scapegoat. As we said in an editorial last week, he did not belong at the helm of an important public agency. (P-G, Editorial Aside)

This is a technically true formulation, but it is only barely edifying, let alone illustrative for the populace. An important public agency is one thing -- but life in the city is teeming with agencies.

Patrick Ford (under Mayor Ravenstahl's leadership and at his behest) headed the considerable Urban Redevelopment Authority, chaired both the Housing Authority and the Parking Authority, and was the virtual if not formal head of the Department of City Planning -- to say nothing of his influence on the Bureau of Building Inspection and others.

What do these agencies have in common?

If you want to build something, demolish something, put something up, put something in, plan something, allocate something, award something, reward something -- if you want to impact the city or if you want to get something out of it -- these are authorities and departments you need to leverage.

These were the eggs Mayor Ravenstahl laid in Mr. Ford's basket.

In the wake of Ford's fiery resignation, Councilman Patrick Dowd was all, this is "a very good turn of events for the city" and an "opportunity." (LINK)

Once again, when the Comet asked Dowd pointedly what this says about Mayor Ravenstahl's judgement and what it suggests about accountability, he wrote back:

The city does need a URA board and executive director who will carry out the mayor's vision. I believe the administration must make its vision clear and make serious changes at the URA.

A board and an executive director. "Serious changes". Got it.

That's just the URA. There are a number of other boards in this government that have been in emergent need of refreshment for some time. Machine politics has got to stop somewhere.