Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wednesday: Old Business


In the first part:

How much do you know about Pittsburgh city government–and how much would you like to know? The Mayor’s Civic Leadership Academy addresses numerous topics including city organization, budgeting, city planning, redevelopment, public works and Citiparks services, protection of our rivers, public safety, and more! (Peduto for Pittsburgh)

Or if you prefer:

The Civic Leadership Academy is a free course about local government created by Mayor Ravenstahl to foster more informed, effective and inspired community and civic leadership. (City of Pgh)

Be sure to check out the media gallery. The program enjoys good vibes all around. Applications for its 25 spots this fall are being accepted 'til Friday at 5:00.


I sat down with City Council District 7 nominee Deb Gross recently and took some notes. Want to read them? Here they are...

- As a girl Deb says she was "always a geek," taking all the advanced classes but lacking people skills. Then late into high school she moved from the burgh to Florida, where she found herself elected to the Homecoming Court. Now she has a PhD in Sociology.

- In the late 90's Gross was working in the field of micro-finance, attracted to the idea of identifying tangible individual or community-scale needs that can be filled. The concept was just starting to gain significant traction, spurred on by a MacArthur Genius grant.

- She returned to Pittsburgh in 1998, and met her future husband at the new year's eve party at  the Voodoo Lounge, late of the Strip District. Later she would work with the Lawrenceville Corp. and the Bloomfield / Garfield Corp. doing "mostly fundraising" and "getting projects un-stuck."

- In 2002, St. Francis Hospital closed, there was a fresh marketing study to ponder for Penn and Main, and Gross was inspired to start community organizing along with others in her "roving potluck dinner" group and the neighborhood Cookie Tour. She remembers Jay's Design and the 1662 Design Zone as being early leaders in parts of Lawrenceville's resurgence.

- In answer to a question about redevelopment plans "in the pipeline", she said "there's a lot on the table" in Bloomfield; Liberty Avenue "from end to end" is in play. Two projects fell through on Liberty and Center in the past due to "difficulty getting neighborhood consent." She says she wouldn't presume to tell the community what should go there, but in her mind it's a "known Main Streets type of area" and so would look out to encourage pedestrian-area development, rather than long delivery truck entrances or blank walls on the sidewalk.

- On the Larimer redevelopment proposal which prompted me to ask about "the development pipeline", on the Friday before it passed she said, "It's usually a good idea to come up with a local match when it's being leveraged two-to-one."

-  On public safety, she clarifies that she cannot claim any expertise, but volunteers that she would like to see more "community-oriented policing" and that "I have lived places where there is a higher level of communication back and forth." In fact, when asked about her legislative priorities she said "I don't think everything is legislative" and that constituent services are a priority. She has concerns about how some City desks respond to incoming calls. But agenda-wise she would like to see "more small business lending" and ideas to bridge the gap between the 20-somethings and old-timers in District 7's neighborhoods.

I had occasion to interview fellow candidate Tony Ceoffe Jr. on background about a month prior, and may post from recollection or new notes in the weeks ahead. These and the other candidates.


Do you remember several weeks ago, we mentioned adult entertainment establishments or "strip clubs"? That subject matter prompted several to wonder what ever happened to the adult entertainment regulatory proposal I helped Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith to develop in 2011.

As it happens, two or three other Council members expressed specific concerns, signaling they would like to offer friendly amendments to improve it. But the calendar eventually turned over to 2012, which would have required introducing a new zoning segment to the Planning Dept. Since it was zoning that was at issue in several respects, the bill was permitted to expire. The research and the draft legislation remains on a shelf; in my personal opinion and with benefit of hindsight, anyone picking it up again would benefit by paring it down some (get rid of the prohibition on full nudity, for example) and perhaps adding to it (exemptions for unionized adult entertainers).


Finally, Director of City Planning Noor Ismael took a moment at a semi-recent Council meeting - once the URA and HACP were done getting broiled by the Councilors - to inform all of the assembled and watching that the "components" of the City's first Comprehensive Plan are just about complete, and the work that remains involves tying it together. She urged all officials, agencies of government and other relevant interested parties to engage with the Dept. of City Planning ASAP to help resolve the plan. (Of course, that was several weeks ago.)


  1. Who cares about community plans? No one ever follows them.

    1. So all of the development that has happened in the City over the past decade just came out of no where?

      Broad over generalization.

    2. NO, i'm just saying no one ever follows an actually community plan. Seriously, almost never. And every time there is a rationalization for not doing so.

  2. Deb Gross will have to get working on public safety if she expects to be a candidate who I take seriously. Part of Dowd's legacy, which is otherwise generally positive, was an unwillingness to challenge the status quo when it comes to reform of the bureau. And really, this is unsurprising when one considers the razor thin margin of his first win and the number of police and firefighters that live in communities like Stanton Heights and Morningside. His intellect and willingness to ask hard questions could have been a real asset on these issues and a good counterpoint to Burgess's bombast and Kail-Smith's 'see no evil' attitude, but it was sorely lacking from the debates in council.

    As this year's news has shown, confidence in our bureau is sorely lacking and the problem will only get worse unless real measures are taken to improve things. The only voice on council so far willing to do so appears to be Burgess but many think his motives center more on self-promotion than real reform. I hope that Deb Gross will take some time to reflect on the following article and consider similar measures in the city. I also hope to see her really parse the stop and frisk data that is now available with an eye to evaluating its effectiveness and constitutionality.

    While Dowd was a good member of council there is still plenty of room for improvement especially on issues that he chose to ignore. The residents of District 7 have every right to expect even better leadership in our next representative.

  3. I think it's safe to say that there will be a sea change where public safety leadership is concerned over the next 6 months. Gross by no means the only prospective city leader who needs to gain a rapid understanding of the attending issues. We're talking about a LOT of work and a lot of change/fixing - the new administration will have its hands full with this issue.

  4. Still no solid policy platform from Deb Gross. Not impressed at all.