This time the application was pulled at around 10:30 AM Tuesday, the very day of its scheduled 2:00 PM hearing -- so North Side United members and other conscientious community objectors actually assembled at 200 Ross St., paying for parking, perhaps calling off of work, for nothing.
In response to general grumbling that this is probably being done intentionally in order to wear down opposition and dampen public interest, even a camera operator from the MSM declared, "They do this all the time! For everything like this!"
However, forty or so North Side United members had something else on their agenda -- a quick march around the corner to the City County Building so as to attempt "to demand that [the Mayor] intervene and make Continental come to the bargaining table."
Thanks to Comet ShakyVision, you can now experience the drama of the protest action in five acts:
1) Press Conference at 200 Ross St.
2) March Gets Started
3) Crossing the Rubicon from Bureaucrats to Electeds
4) As much waiting around as YouTube allows in one clip
5) A Final Thought
Mayor Ravenstahl was in meetings for the 20 - 30 minute duration and not available. Michael Glass of N.U. attempted to get an appointment on his schedule for some point in the next two weeks but was apparently unsuccessful.
Mr. Glass told the Comet that he has in fact spoken with the Mayor on two occasions in the past -- long enough to learn, in his words, that the Mayor firmly opposes pursuing any community benefits agreements in any neighborhoods, or in conjunction with any developments, at any time in the future, period.
Asked if the Mayor provided any sort of rationale for that position at the time, Glass said His Honor did not. Asked if the subject of the much-celebrated Hill District CBA arose as a counterexample, Glass quoted Ravenstahl as saying that the Hill situation was treated specially because of "a different set of circumstances" -- those being, said the Mayor according to Glass, "the history of how that land was taken from them."
Glass then asserted, "But the same thing was true on the North Side", which is an interesting proposition.
I asked mayoral spokesperson Joanna Doven about this alleged position of the Mayor on CBAs in general. After clarifying that she can't speak to a conversation at which she was not present, she said that although "the Mayor is open to discussions" with community groups, she knows he is "not in favor of resources" going to neighborhood groups as part of any deal.
In other news, it looks as though Walnut Capital, with the City's active assistance, is about to recieve $4 million from the State of Pennsylvania for a privately owned parking lot adjacent to its Bakery Square development.
The grant, already green-lighted by the state and by the URA, originally cleared its hurdle at City Council with a preliminary 3-1 vote with an unusual 5 abstentions -- then got "recommitted" at Final Action back to committee -- then re-won its preliminary approval by an 8-1 margin, apparently after additional urging by at least State Sen. Jim Ferlo. The politics of how this all came to pass look to be dense and multi-layered, interpersonal to an extent, and in some senses irrelevant to my own concerns.
I guess I just do not understand how such large pools of economic development cash can be so willingly deployed to large, well-financed corporate organizations for projects that are already well underway, whereas much more modest resources are explicitly forbidden from going to home-grown neighborhood organizations on many occasions. Even in the Hill District, wherein special circumstances made a formal commitment for community benefits necessary, the Hill had to scrape its few hundreds of thousands together through the generosity of BONY-Mellon together with tax credits.
Yes, projects like Bakery Square create jobs and are likely to increase the tax base. Yet wouldn't refocusing our scarce development resources instead on many more small-scale, ground-up projects accomplish that very same goal? Perhaps the jobs would even be better (these large developments excel at creating minimum wage opportunities) and would more importantly be even more empowering to Pittsburgh residents.
Walnut Capital already qualified for public Tax Increment Financing for its Bakery Square project without even the usual strings attached in regards to labor agreements. It is a fact that Walnut Capital is the City of Pittsburgh's number one campaign contributor, and that one of its two owners, Todd Reidbord, sets development policy as a senior member of the City Planning Commission.
Talk about a special set of circumstances - to me that seems like a few too many overlapping layers of involvement all at once. Campaign donations are what they are, but if it were up to me, Mr. Reidbord could get his enormous government grants whilst ordinary Pittsburghers cry out for basic assistance, OR he could remain on the Planning Commission as a policymaker -- but not do all three things at once.
As Peter Griffin might say, that's just morbidly obese.