Who is this prodigy and what did he do with Our Mayor?
Mr. Ravenstahl said his planning team has learned from the mistakes Chicago officials made in leasing their parking meters. One criticism was a lack of scrutiny by city legislators.
"Here in Pittsburgh, they have 2 1/2 months," he said of city council members. (P-G, Joe Smydo)
That's two and a half hardcore months now after almost two years of extremely public and straightforward conceptual debate. (For our conceptual take see here and here.)
By now I'm sure you've all read -- really read -- the critical three-part Chicago Reader series on the Daley administration's parking lease deal (1, 2, 3) which has served as the oft-circulated attack piece on the proposal by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Its own complaints over what went down in Chicago are as follows:
- HASTE: The authors were outraged that the process was rammed through too quickly and with too little information made available.
- SECRECY: The authors were outraged that certain financial consultants were chosen without even the pantomime of a public process.
- STICKER SHOCK: Citizens were outraged and unprepared for rates to increase as they did.
- CLUMSY: Citizens were outraged that the City and the vendors botched the initial roll-out by trying to move too quickly with parking meter transition.
Thanks in part to Chicago, this Pittsburgh deal is being publicized and scrutinized to death, the Mayor has given Council a 2 1/2 month window with a fleshed-out draft agreement, and Council gave itself $250,000 in the form of its very own financial consultant.
That should really take care of "HASTE" -- and at least the "SHOCK" part of "STICKER SHOCK".
What about secrecy and game playing? Check this out from Part 3 from the Mayor's skeptics' own hit piece. After relating an umpteenth story of Mayor Daley imperiously brushing off concerns about transparency in hiring consultant contractors:
But other cities have found other ways to do business.
For instance, in January Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that he wanted to explore leasing his city's public parking garages and meters in return for cash he could pour into the city's pension fund. A few weeks later the authority that oversees Pittsburgh's parking system invited firms to submit proposals for an analysis of the idea. It received nine responses and determined four were qualified. Next a committee made up of city officials, an authority attorney, an authority board member, and a union representative interviewed the firms before recommending a winner at a public meeting of the authority's board. Board members then approved up to $100,000 for the study.
The winner was Scott Balice Strategies, a woman-owned financial advisory firm based in Chicago. (Chicago Reader, Joravsky & Dumke)
Woman-owned. Ha! How can you beat that?
Balice Strategies went on to advise the Ravenstahl administration through its undertaking of a similar public process (very un-Chicago) which selected investment bank Morgan Stanley to further advise and construct the concessionaire's agreement and to put it on the market. So especially considering City Council's new additional study, this really has been a heck of a lot more transparent and by-the-book.
It bears mentioning that this Chicago Reader piece seems to be the most critical piece on the web about the Chicago lease deal. Although some critics remain, other people are now going around with their heads held high and lauding what happened in Chicago as a model, given it had some unfortunate problems.
One part had to do with faulty equipment, ascribed to a too-speedy and aggressive roll out of new parking meters. Let's not do that.
The other part was pricing:
Even without this information, the city council voted 40-5 to approve the deal, and within weeks Chicago Parking Meters as much as quadrupled hourly rates at meters all over town, igniting outrage among motorists. (Joravsky & Dumke Part II)
Ah! Outrage! We don't want quadrupling!
Some neighborhood parking meter rates will quadruple next month. Neighborhood spots that used to cost a quarter an hour will cost $1 an hour---and jump to $2 an hour in 2013. (Chicago Tribune, Mihalopoulos and Dardick)
Wait a minute. Parking meter rates quadrupled to a dollar an hour? It used to cost a quarter in Chicago to park at a meter for an hour? Those citizens were clearly spoiled. It seems reasonable that they should have experienced a sizable increase.
The cost of an hour's metered parking Downtown would increase from $2 to $2.50 next year and go up another 50 cents annually in each of the following four years. (Post-Gazette, Joe Smydo)
So in 2015, an hour of parking Downtown on the street will cost you $4.50. A shade more than a doubling.
Are we spoiled also? It bears reminding ourselves at this point that we are an old city with a lot of aging infrastructure, increasing responsibilities and many more obligations. If market forces can be part of the solution, why not take these into account? Is it that necessary, or that effective, to specially value casual business traffic Downtown in this way? Lots of people already are Downtown for their office jobs (all day lot / garage parkers) and there is an especially alluring Cultural District and other amenities (evening lot / garage parkers).
And what about Pittsburgh's garages?
The deal also would bring rates at parking authority garages in line with rates charged at privately owned facilities, Mr. Ravenstahl said.
Rates at some authority-owned garages would go up $1 to $2.25 per day next year. Right now, rates at the authority's Downtown garages are $9.75 to $13.75 per day. (P-G, Joe Smydo)
I've been to other cities. That statement alone is not a scientific survey, though we will be provided with those -- but I'm telling you, our garage parking is on the cheap side. It costs a lot to lug your car around, especially where there is great congestion. Fact of life.
By all accounts Chicago has calmed down, and as a city is doing pretty well for itself. But given the above, what does that leave from the outrages that consumed Chicago for a time, and that we are being instructed to fear here?
What are our alternatives?
There is a proposal to Borrow All the Money Now, only to pay it back with interest later, and to raise parking rates to pay for it to the extent that we can anyway -- all the while maintaining local politics' inefficient present political control over a non-core accessory function.
There is a Nonsense proposal about giving our garages and parking meters directly to our pensioners, somehow, and hoping that's a good idea.
There is allegedly a Double-Super-Secret Mystery proposal being circulated among some crafty officials, which now is starting to seem like the one relying on conspiracy, timing and manipulation -- assuming it exists and is not a personal-positioning ruse.
Then there is the real idea that after all this time -- virtually at the denouement of Pittsburgh's experiment in Act 47 Financially Distressed status -- we will tell our fiscal watchdogs and the state Legislature (which actually acted to change their Municipal Pension laws on our behalf) to go sit and spin, dare them to seize control over our pension fund, and more than likely wind up in court and lose.
All of this has got me to thinking. It would be a tragically Pittsburghese, fishbowl-politics move, if we crucified a perfectly satisfactory and even surreptitiously beneficial solution, one which would get us through our pensions crisis until our debt service payment levels drop off dramatically in 2017 and until we can begin renegotiating the underlying employment anachronisms -- an uncommonly innovative and absolutely progressive initiative -- just because some of us can't seem to tolerate the person enunciating it.