Friday, December 7, 2012

FAILURE AFTER FAILURE: From the Parking Lease to Riverfront Redevelopment, Mayor Ravenstahl disappoints

Futil1ty; Knowyourmeme

Part One in an occasional series.

Corrected and Updated.

The administration of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl exhibits a lot of great qualities: a good nose for commercial growth opportunities, a baseline respect for data and research, a nice wide daring streak, a creative bent and a burning desire to transform the city for the better. And it doesn't hurt that the man at the helm is very well-spoken and sharp.

Mayor Luke's greatest difficulties have lain in execution.

Take the current talk of the town, the Allegheny Riverfront: long in the making along the north bank of the Strip District and Lawrenceville:

Mr. Murphy, who made re-imagining the riverfronts a priority as mayor from 1994 to 2006, made a rare return to city hall to speak to city council on legislation that would create a special zoning district for Buncher's 55-acre mixed-use Riverfront Landing. Councilman Patrick Dowd circulated 15 proposed amendments, and council postponed a vote for one week. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Dowd's amendments to the proposed zoning legislation would give several principles and features in the Allegheny Riverfront Vision Plan ( a 20-year conceptual reorientation) the force of zoning law, among other things. He and Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents the area now, say they hope the amendments will pass final legislation will pass so the proposal will not be "deemed denied" at the end of the calendar year.

That's a lot of work for three weeks, while the budget is being completed. And that's if the Buncher Co. declines to openly revolt against radically changing their development vision, multiplying the setbacks and givebacks and other costs and delays.

There are several ways Mayor Ravenstahl might have avoided this. Any one of which might have sufficed:

1. Been far more realistic with Buncher since 2006 (or at least 2009!) that whatever develops in the westernmost Strip ("Riverfront Landing") will have to be of far greater public utility and interest

2. Negotiated a more transparent and conservative program for tax-increment financing of the entire project

3. Done a better job organizing, communicating and deal making with Strip District stakeholders
4. Comported himself with City Council in such a way that he could have achieved one or two more votes on the nine-member body through charm, deal making or prior political conquest

Pgh. Biz Times: Joe Wojcik
Instead, the ineffectual execution has resulted in necessary growth of Pittsburgh's central business district stalling out. The drinking well itself has been permitted to go all murky and strange. CORRECTION: The special zoning district is in fact moving forward with de minimis alterations, although the tax increment financing for the project is still up in the air. The lack of meaningful concessions demanded of the developer come as a disappointment to many.

For another key example in a similar vein, flash a take backwards to Mayor Ravenstahl's parking lease proposal for pensions solvency and security:
Architectural Drafting Servicff
City Council last week defeated his plan to lease parking garages and meters for a pension bailout in a 7-1 vote (with one abstention). Mr. Ravenstahl has called for a pension summit Monday while bashing council's parking-for-pensions alternative and offering to compromise on his proposal to lease the parking assets for 50 years.

As if overwhelming defeat of the parking proposal weren't enough, council members also accused the mayor of bad policy-making and a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. (P-G, Smydo & Lord)

The City might have successfully brought in $400 million+ of investment for the pension fund and for capital needs without raising taxes and without cutting core services if the administration had only done any one or more of the following...

1. Written a more realistic, flexible and demanding RFP and gone on to negotiate a more assertive deal with winning bidder LAZ/JPMorgan right off the bat

2. Proposed committing more of the revenue to pensions and less to capital budget caprice

3. More aggressively and persuasively sold it to the people of Pittsburgh, instead of ceding the battleground to its opponents throughout the summer and early fall of 2010

4. More attentively nurtured his own reputation for ethics, such that stakeholders might have trusted him to negotiate a complex, high-value deal with the private sector

5. Comported himself with City Council in such a way that he could have achieved one or two more votes on the nine-member body through charm, deal making or prior political conquest

So what we were left with come the end of that full, unnecessary year of bitter stalemate and stonewalling was a short-term, small-bore solution, including a budget hole that actually remains curious.


Time and again, the best laid plans and protestations of the Ravenstahl administration for how to move the city forward get rebuffed in acrimony, incredulity and failure. That's no way to move a city forward so it can continue generating dividends for the next generation.

In future blog posts we will examine how this pattern of political failure repeats itself in ways sometimes as crucial and as potentially transformational as a long-term infrastructure lease and Strip District redevelopment.

UPMC's Tax Exemptions on the Watch List: This is what a Grand Coaltion looks like.

Marvel Database

New from Scaife's Scythe:

On the “Watch List”:

• UPMC. The tax-exempt status of the health care giant is under increasing scrutiny. Its untaxed holdings have become quite vast. Compensation for more than a score of executives is quite high. Its charitable care, while numerically high, is a small fraction of its income pie. Expect the matter to end up in some court somewhere sooner rather than later. (Tribune-Review, Edit Team)

The right-leaning editorialists didn't deign to mention the contemporaneous labor organizing drive (and why would they?). This feels like an endorsement for consistency under whatever regime of government redistribution reigns lawful, and a demonstration of empathy for a public which feels starved of economic justice.

Empathy, and a little qualitative empirical support.

MEANWHILE: Rich Fitzgerald pounces (Trib, Bobby Kerlik). The P-G offers several Collected Works worth of background.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pensions & Parking Linkage slipping, slipping...

The Australian;

Everybody loves parking fo' free! Several like the idea of the City staying in the black.

... [N]oting the need to generate additional revenue, council President Darlene Harris said she wants to return nighttime enforcement to the seven neighborhoods. At a budget hearing last week, Mrs. Harris told David Onorato, the authority's executive director, to prepare for the additional hours.

However, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilman Bill Peduto, neither of whom attended the hearing, later said they would prefer to keep the citywide enforcement cutoff at 6 p.m. (P-G, Joe Smydo; h/t Chris Potter)

Bill Peduto's June 2011 open letter (all things being equal) provides a fairly good historical review for beginners of how pension funding and parking rates came to be linked. There is a lot of disagreement over the precise method, but there was general agreement between those two individuals and much of Pittsburgh at that time that the public parking system needs to increase revenues for the sake of crushing pension obligations.

So now are we to understand we're out of the woods?

Or do we have other, more grand solutions to the pensions crisis in mind -- ones which will not include significantly increased parking revenue as a serious component? Pittsburgh awaits.

A word care of the liberal and excellent Keystone Politics:

TRON: Disney Movies Guide
BONUS CONTENT:  By popular demand, here is some good news care of Luke and Co.:

Mr. Ravenstahl, Google, the University of Pittsburgh and other partners today will announce plans for the "Steel City Codefest," a competition to develop the coolest, most-useful apps for city residents, businesses and visitors...

The competition is an outgrowth of PowerUp Pittsburgh, his initiative to grow the city's tech economy. (P-G, Joe Smydo, II)

The fact that Google's offices lie in Bakery Square in Larimer underscores this event's status for many as a Ravenstahl coup. For the record Peduto has also for some time cast himself as a hero of Bakery Square, though not of every decision made along the way.