Saturday, July 25, 2009

Youth Peace Rally Pittsburgh 2009

A crowd gathered in Market Square on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon for the MGR Youth Peace Rally (remember?). What you see above is one of the many musical, poetic and oratorical performances spread out over a program that lasted well over three hours.

Young people clad in red t-shirts, purple t-shirts, yellow t-shirts -- whole discrete lineups of a dozen or more children from different sections of town -- were ushered on stage, through green rooms, and back out into the audience like clockwork. Some adults too.

If anyone can provide the names of these particular artists, by all means please do! More video of this event will be appearing randomly on YouTube.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Yarone Zober on Development and CBA's

Lots to discuss, will have to wait but feel free to start without me. Might need to plug in some speakers and crank it in the meanwhile.

"We're Here to Ask the Mayor to Change His Development Policies" ***** (5 Updates)

I couldn't help but notice that six religious leaders getting arrested for civil disobedience didn't merit the slightest whisper of news coverage in today's America, at least not on days when quarterbacks are responding to sexual assault allegations.

So how about 150?

About 150 people chanted, sang and yelled beginning about 8:30 a.m. in the fifth-floor lobby of the City-County Building, Downtown.

"We're here to ask the mayor to change his development policies," said Sam Williamson, a representative of the Service Employees International Union. "The purpose of development is to help people, not corporations." (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

Are "development policies" an issue that the local media is adequately equipped or inclined to explore? I know where my money will be.

"There was a lot of screaming and yelling today..."

*-UPDATE: My bad, the Trib alone did run something:

"I have no idea what they want with the exception of a color piece of paper they gave us months ago asking us to insulate the windows in their homes," Kass said. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Kass used the very same line at a fateful Stadium Authority meeting almost a year ago. If part of the problem is that he "has no idea what they want", he could always meet with them, which is something he has religiously refused to do for well over a year.

Of course, I have some sympathy for the man. It's not a corporate chair's job to lead negotiations, maintain civil harmony and ensure that development improves city neighborhoods. That is a mayor's job. Not the state legislature's job, but a mayor's job.

**-UPDATE: F. Dok Harris issues a statement supporting the protest and asserting that in his mayoral administration "it will be a priority to guarantee good jobs in all publicly-funded developments" (LINK)

***-UPDATE: Mayo tweets, read from bottom to top:

I'm guessing we'll get a comment today at about 4:45. (**WRONG: We got lengthy comments at about 2:20) Am hoping somebody photographed the chained-in mayor's office. (**YES: Several.)

****-UPDATE: In the Mayor's absence, mayoral chief of staff and URA chairman Yarone Zober answered media querries in response to these developments in the Mayor's Conference Room. Video is up here.

Also, while this was occurring, over a hundred protesters packed the fifth floor at 2:00 PM for Round 2 of Demanding to See The Mayor. Reportedly at some point Council President Doug Shields swung open the doors to City Council chambers with the announcement, "Your government is ready to listen." Thereafter began an impromptu unofficial hearing participated in by Shields, Bruce Kraus, Darlene Harris, and Bill Peduto chief of staff Daniel Gillman, in addition to representatives of the coalition.

COVERAGE: WPXI, WTAE, KDKA, Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review, City Paper web-only, 2PJ's

*****-UPDATE: Okay-quality VIDEO of the councillor's Wildcat Hearing is up here. You've got to admit, Gillman kind of stole the show with his brief remarks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

CONFIRMED: Protests Result in More Arrests

Six, to be exact, from the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN):

One member of PIIN spoke towards the end of the North Side Bus Tour, briefly describing their "Holy Ground" anti-violence campaign. I thought it was an extremely loosely affiliated organization -- turns out not so much anymore.

Tonight's heavily promoted Take Back the North Shore event will probably be interesting.

Pat Ford's Group: "We're Closer Than You Think" [VIDEO]

The Pittsburgh Business Times is co-hosting "3-2-1 Corridors of Opportunity" seminars for professionals and business representatives in the tri-state area, touting the advantages of a regional approach to economic development which emphasizes identification with Pittsburgh, PA.

It is encouraging to see our more distant neighbors turning towards us for economic strength, though the campaign seems mostly to be about wooing the attentions of our own cherished Western Pennsylvania developers outside what we think of as the region.

As several at the event put it, "We're closer than you think". Watch this short video:

MORE: WDT, Paul Giannamore 1, Paul Giannamore 2

RELATED: WDT, Warren Scott ("pending a review by" whom?)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Amphitheater: It's A Go

The PromoWest Entertainment Complex AKA North Shore "Uglitheater" won unanimous approval from the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission yesterday evening as the 15th and final item on the Commission's agenda at its last meeting prior to August recess.

Six conditions were placed by the Commission on the approval:

1) A plan for a "multi-use plaza" that is "substantially consistent" with what is already included in the North Shore Master Plan for the site must be submitted by the developer within 3 years. Failure to do so will cause their Certificate of Occupancy to expire -- although at one time, failure to develop the land within 5 years would have caused the contract for the land sale and development rights to expire, yet this did not happen.

2) All comments by the city's Traffic Engineer and its Transportation Planner as reflected in a traffic study must be incorporated to the satisfaction of those officials.

3) Another traffic plan must be submitted by the developers to reflect the eventuality that ticketed musical events conflict with major sporting events. Notice should be given to the Office of Special Events two weeks in advance of such a thing occurring.

4) Operators of the facility "shall include a clause in all contracts with performers" that sound levels should not not exceed what is in city ordinances, and outdoor musical events shall not last past 11:00 PM. Efforts to come to an agreement on how sound will be monitored shall continue with The Community.

5) Procedures for cooperative and good-faith litter removal and clean-up efforts will continue to be discussed with The Community.

6) Construction drawings must be reviewed and approved by the city's Zoning Administrator prior to the issuance of a building permit -- which "gets to possible changes in the design and the materials that have been talked about".

No further details were provided on Condition 6, though environmental standards including LEED certification were significantly discussed at hearing phases of the process. Design issues were not as heavily discussed in public meetings, but have been mentioned critically on this blog and elsewhere. An artist's rendering of the amphitheater depicted a large, flat and artistically unremarkable square building with several bay windows facing the river -- drawn from the perspective of one corner, so as to provide the illusion of dramatic depth.

Zoning Administrator Susan Tymozcko, who apparently will get to decide on all these changes to the building, became a noteworthy figure in 2008 as the administrator who approved a massive digital advertising billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center as a "minor alteration".

Mark Fatla, head of the North Side Leadership Conference (NSLC), was present at the meeting to represent for The Community, with particular regard to noise and cleanup issues. He told The Comet that the Planning Commission had contacted him about a month ago to inform him it was "not comfortable moving forward with the developers" unless the NSLC engaged with them on certain issues and provided feedback.

Two years ago there was significant friction between the NSLC and Northside United around the issue of a community benefits settlement that was reached between then-casino owner Don Barden and the NSLC which did not address NU's persuasion of civic concerns. That conflict has been dormant for a long time, if not fully expired.

Fatla repeatedly underlined that the NSLC is not "in favor of" or "opposed to" the development; he told the Comet that an NSLC member organization representing the neighborhood Allegheny West was at one time opposed to the amphitheater. He clarified to the Commission that "we're not here to negotiate" but later in the same sentence that "we're just trying to bring the two sides closer together."

Fatla spoke at length about noise issues -- he was particularly concerned how and where sound levels will be monitored, noting that sound changes after it leaves its origin and travels up toward residents, and will change further as North Shore development progresses. The developers did not seem yet to have agreed to place sound monitoring systems up towards the residential community. Fatla also mentioned that city penalties for violating noise ordinances stand at $300, which is not a significant deterrent compared with other cities.

The developers did agree to arrange three "loud concerts" towards the beginning of facility operation to run field tests with The Community on sound issues.

Litter issues were discussed, but it seemed like vanishingly little progress was made. Fatla concluded to the Commission that "he hopes we have discharged our responsibilities to you adequately" and would be happy to continue discussing matters with the developer if requested.

Kirk Burkley, a new member of the Commission whose appointment became somewhat controversial due to a lack of public interviews and a seeming lack of experience in planning and zoning issues, was extremely active not only during consideration of the amphitheater but during prior business. He was relatively speaking the most vocal and involved Planning Commission member I have ever seen. He seemed particularly confounded by the often vague phrasing of the various approval conditions detailed by Zoning Administrator Tymozcko, and by what were supposed to be the penalties or enforcement mechanisms if they went unsatisfied. He mainly advocated for stricter language in these requirements.

After a motion to approve was made and seconded, Commission chair Wrenna Watson asked, "Where is Northside United today, anyway?" making two fists and waving her arms so as to suggest, "Go go go, rascally rabble rousers!" The Comet spoke with NU representatives prior to yesterdays meeting, and was informed that with other activities consuming members' time this week and with little remaining confidence that the Commission intends to incorporate its input, it decided to take a pass.

Burkley offered a view in response to the Chair's allusion to NU. "They had a state representative support what they're asking for", referencing Chelsa Wagner. "If they want it legislated into rules that there needs to be discussions when there are state monies granted ... that's a legislative fix ... it's not for the developer, it's not for this body."

Chairwoman Watson offered in response a couple times, "Right", and called for a vote.

*- Fatla image borrowed from Young Preservationists Association.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NRA Lawuit Thrown Out! Exciting! *

Holy gracious news!

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging Pittsburgh's ordinance that requires gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to the police. (P-G, Ed Blazina)


Once Pittsburgh begins enforcing the law, someone who is charged with violating it could challenge the legality of the law. (ibid)

And that person would almost certainly win, which is why Pittsburgh is never going to enforce this law -- until we get a mayor who is such a huge gun control activist that he or she is willing to set what could be a million dollars on fire, just to cause a stink that nobody but other gun control activists will care about. I hate this issue. Everybody is right in some aspects, everybody is wrong in others, and all the while nothing is going to happen.

*-CORRECTION/UPDATE: Mayor Ravenstahl says he's going to talk to Chief Harper about enforcing the law.

One thing is for certain though. We should definitely hold another mayoral election in which every other question and comment is about gun control as broadly as possible.

"Why Don't We Call It Pittsboorrla?"

I just looked through the Northside Chronicle deeply for the first time. Pretty dense and juicy for a neighborhood paper.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris suggests that you watch the above video (though hyperlinks embedded in newsprint don't work so well), praises East Allegheny resident and Doug Shields chief of staff Selena Schmidt for launching a "two-bag dogwalk" litter pickup campaign, and urges Northsiders to apply to the Stimulus Oversight Committee to satisfy her nomination to that panel. That last part wasn't in the paper but I'm writing it here.

State Rep. Don Walko is pleased that Gov. Rendell signed into law four health-care measures which he supported.

State Rep. Chelsa Wagner "strongly commends" Northside United for its efforts and urges residents to "lend their support". Speaking of which, the North Shore Uglitheater is once again theoretically on the agenda at the Planning Commission today, maybe we'll get lucky.

*-UPDATE: I mean, um ... *-ANOTHER THING:

The MGR Youth Peace Rally is TODAY in Market Square! The Pre-Rally starts at 12:30 (learn to scratch! make screen-printed tees!) and the Rally itself starts at 1:30. Hear youth from all over Pittsburgh speak out through poetry, songs, speech, dance, and more about Silencing the Violence in our communities. City council members Bill Peduto and Patrick Dowd will also be speaking, as will community activists Paradise Gray, Jasiri X, and others. It's free and all are welcome!

No-where can I find what M-G-R stands for.

Monday, July 20, 2009

City's Green Stimulus Endeavor On Track *

Lindsay Baxter works in one of the coolest, sunniest and most comfortable portions of the City-County Building -- sixth floor, south side. She says that's not the result of her effort as the city's Sustainability Coordinator -- just luck.

The Mayor's 311 center will soon be moving in down the hall, possibly to take advantage of the proximity to Public Works. It'll come in somewhat handy for Baxter as well, since she says she receives a fair number of 311 references from residents inquiring how best to shrink their utility bills, and whether and how to put solar panels on their homes.

Apparently, some people really live like this. Where one might Google, others just call 311 for random things.


My questions for the city's Sustainability Coordinator had more to do with the quest for federal stimulus dollars to green-up the City-County Building. She said that the formal plan for using a $3.4 million Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) was submitted to the federal Department of Energy toward the end of June -- a week before the deadline of June 25. Then the feds pushed the deadline back another month and a half.

The next steps the City could take on its own were to complete the RFP for an energy audit on the building. A week ago that was "pretty much done". Finally, the Budget Office would have to prepare an account to receive the stimulus funds.

Since last week those steps have been competed. All we're waiting on is President Obama, and the RFP can be zoom out. Baxter expects a couple month turnaround on receiving and selecting an audit proposal, and then another 1-3 months to perform it.

Of the $3.4 million, only an approximate $150,000 is expected to be spent on the audit, leaving the rest for the actual heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) retrofits recommended therein. State grants and private grants are are already being sought to make up the difference -- it's potentially a big project. Baxter conceded that the "plan" submitted to the government basically consisted of 1) perform audit and 2) do what it says, but there was a lot in there about how much could be saved, in terms of dollars and energy, on the different kinds of improvements possible on the massive dinosaur/frankenstein structure.

"We want people to know it's not just for saving energy", Baxter added of the green-up. "We want to make it a better building" for the people who work there. In response to a little grumbling that the initiative seems symbolic more than anything, Baxter pointed out that it's the city's largest building, the oldest, and the one to which citizens have the most access.

The types of improvements contemplated sounded decidedly not cutting-edge: double-pane efficient windows, light sensors, newer insulation and heating pipes, and putting the entire building on a unified heating and cooling system. There was nothing mentioned about about biomass, solar power, or switchgrass -- nothing as stimulating as what goes on at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for example.

"The idea is to nail down the basic stuff", explained Baxter. "Then we can build off that."

There are other projects afoot. The City-County Building will utilize a non-competitive block grant, so Baxter can say the City "almost definitely" has the money and so can discuss it a lot with the press. Other more competitive grants are out there and projects are being pursued, but Baxter was careful to stress that none of these are done deals.

The state has a certain number of "Penvest" grants, a state authority for drinking water and waste water available for green infrastructure projects. The City is looking into throwing a green roof atop the City-County Building as well, much Highmark announced for its skyscraper, and Dan Onorato announced recently for the County Office Building.

I was never really certain what a green roof was -- was it grass mowed flat like a golf course, or a whole exotic jungle utopia? Baxter said plants are "strategically chosen" to capture storm water -- in addition to saving energy in the building underneath, a green roof can double the lifespan of said roof. One other neat thing about doing so on the City-County Building would be the number of other buildings Downtown buildings which could overlook it and learn what the concept is all about.

The Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA) is offering funds which may be applied to a local geothermal pump. The City applied for this one in May, and is still waiting to hear back. It could cause an identified police station to save as much as 50% on energy costs.

Then there are the solar panels, to be purchased by the City and the installation of which is being sought through PA Conservation Works DOE Solar America Cities. Although photovoltaic panels, of the kind that produce raw energy and power speakers, are "exceptionally expensive", solarthermal panels of the type that are used in solar hot water heaters have a quicker payback period. There's a firehouse in line for this one. *-UPDATE: Bids being accepted.

There seem to be even more competitive projects that the City doesn't feel it can quite throw down and get people jazzed up about, but Baxter says, "I just hope people realize we're going after as much of the stimulus money as we can".

Finally, I had to ask whether or not Mayor Ravenstahl's windmills are coming along.

"Yes, definitely!" said Baxter. "We're definitely interested in urban wind."

The type of wind turbines being pursued are not the giant, three-spoke windmills that are utilized in full-blown power plants, but smaller helical turbines (pictured) of the type used for distributive energy. London is one city that is on the leading edge of the curve on these.

"I just reached out to Planning this morning, in fact", volunteered Baxter, "to ask what types of permits would be needed for something like that."

There was no question that there would be challenges -- coordinating with Duquesne Light might be even trickier than zoning and permitting -- not to mention discovering whether and where these turbines would work best. But that's why there is a feasibility study for urban wind on the Sustainability Coordinator's long-term agenda.

"I think [the Mayor's] interested in anything that's new and innovative he can try."

Kevin Acklin Calls For Investigation

Good morning, everyone!

“At a time when the city is coping with a budget crisis, and the Mayor is talking about increasing taxes, this is one more, and terribly expensive, example of how the city has been played for the benefit of the few,” Acklin said. (Full Statement)

Helps to have a relevant news hook.

Now I have to say, I've read a lot of statements on this subject matter and it's tricky businesses. This is an excellent specimen.

My first question of Mr. Acklin would be what are these other alleged examples of "how the city has been played for the benefit of a few". My first question of Mr. Ravenstahl would be, "What are you going to do to make sure we don't pay a million dollars over this".

ALMOST COMICALLY UNRELATED: U.S. attorney's critics need a history lesson (P-G, Ruth Ann Daily)