Friday, November 1, 2013

City Council District 7: What District 7 residents should really be focused on...


Guest post by Shawn Carter


If you are a resident of Council District 7, the picture above represents the single largest issue that will have the single largest impact upon the future of where you call home.

It isn't about Luke Ravenstahl, he didn't seek re-election.  Or Jack Wagner, because he isn't on the ballot, either.  And for the time being, Bill Peduto, but we'll get back to him later in the story, because he earned the right to play an outsized role in this.

The only two names that matter, for the next 5 days, are Deborah Gross and Tony Ceoffe.

The picture you see above is an artist's rendition of what Central Lawrenceville could conceivably look like, in the future, according to the Allegheny Riverfront Vision Plan ("ARV").  Or, as Larryville natives call it, "the 9th Ward."

The ARV will change the Strip District and Lawrenceville, forever.  The conversion of former industrial buildings into residential uses (Cork Factory and the Brake House Lofts) and a tremendous amount of new construction and renovation in Lower and Central Lawrenceville have ignited the real-estate market and turned Lawrenceville into the "it" neighborhood.  Lawrenceville will no longer be a working-class neighborhood.  It just won't.  Developers are building $350,000 houses dahn on Hatfield Street, and they're ALL pre-sold.  Row houses that were worth $40,000 just 10 years ago are now going for $160,000.

Many new faces have made their way to calling Lawrenceville their home.  And Bloomfield.  And Polish Hill.  And the Strip District.

The working-class families who stayed in this neighborhood as it struggled to fight off crime and abandonment will sooner or later be displaced by better-educated, higher-earning younger homeowners.  Normally when we hear about gentrification and displacement we think of the Hill District and East Liberty.  The residents who will face displacement, however, don't look like the residents of the Hill.

This isn't a cultural conflict.  The older residents in Polish Hill, Lawrenceville and Bloomfield enjoy watching these younger folks bring such vitality and stability to the neighborhoods they call home.  Their only fear is being pushed out of the neighborhood.

ISSUE ONE: GENTRIFICATION

Widespread renovations of deteriorating houses and the construction of hundreds of new ones did far more than stabilize the housing market in these neighborhoods.  It sent it on an upward trajectory that has no end in sight.  Thousands of residents saw their assessments skyrocket, doubling or tripling their property tax bills because of their neighborhoods' renaissance.  And many of them are low- and moderate-income homeowners, working-class folks, many of whom are now struggling to pay their property taxes.  This includes senior citizens who saw the tax relief fought for by Patrick Dowd, wiped out in one fell swoop by court-ordered reassessment.

The only candidate to address this issue has been Tony Ceoffe.

Quoting this blog's author:

"Tony Ceoffe noted that affordable housing dovetails nicely with his recent work as a specialist at the Housing Authority, witnessing first-hand the effects on seniors of gentrification including transition to high-rises due to long waiting periods. else the care with which we must use Section 8 allocations, rather than doing it just to make the numbers work like at Doughboy Square, and the tragedy of pushing anybody out of their neighborhoods."


ISSUE TWO: "BOTTOM-UP" COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT

Lawrenceville is still a dense mix of residential, retail, commercial and industrial uses, and it doesn't come without its' share of problems.  Rt. 28 reconstruction, 43rd St. Concrete, School Bus depots and an oil refinery create no shortage of heavy truck traffic up and down Butler Street.

Many years ago, Councilman Jim Ferlo, determined to help his constituents in Lawrenceville fight the neighborhood's downward spiral, started a small but scrappy community organization.

Through the sheer determination and hard work of its members and volunteers, Lawrenceville United has been at the forefront of rebuilding the neighborhood and making it safer.

To quote this blog's author again:

"Yes, it's true. Ceoffe more often emphasizes the roles that community groups can play as partners, next points of contact, go-betweens with government..."

They believe in bottom-up development and again, Tony Ceoffe has demonstrated an indefatigable dedication to his neighbors.  So whether you live in Highland Park or the Strip or anywhere in between, I feel confident in saying you can trust Tony to work tirelessly to serve every resident in every neighborhood.

COUNTERPOINT:

I would be remiss if I ignored Deb's background in community development, the arts, and many other things as well.

To be fair, I met Deb almost 9 years ago when I was a staffer on Bill Peduto's first campaign for Mayor.  Before Matt Merriman-Preston, Bill Peduto had Deb Gross.  Many of us who are still in this profession learned about the need to manage data and integrate it from Deb Gross.  I have always had tremendous respect for her talents.  She didn't know this, but simply watching her manage Peduto's data in 2005 did more to advance my career than anyone knows, including her.

CONCLUSION(S)

1.  Tony will never shy away from rolling up his sleeves and doing the hard, unsexy, un-fun, unsung work, simply because that is who he is.

2.  The worries about Tony clashing with Bill Peduto are understandable but unlikely.  No neighborhood can reliably be well-served by the City when its member of Council is at war with the Mayor of the City.  Tony has too many friends and relatives, people he cares deeply for to allow his communities to suffer because of such foolishness.

3.  In large numbers, District 7 residents voted for Bill Peduto.  He will be the Mayor.  And, unless I missed my guess, he will make the entire City his focus.  The voters elected him to reform our government, modernize it and bring it fully into the 21st Century.

4.  The residents of District 7, for the reasons I stated above, need Tony Ceoffe in that seat, right now.

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The views of guest blogger Shawn Carter do not necessarily reflect those of the Pittsburgh Comet's editor and lead author. In fact they tend otherwise. Consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.

22 comments:

  1. I'm glad you posted this Shawn in that it was frustrating to me also to get the candidates to talk about the Buncher plans. But then I realized, with Buncher's own requested Special Zoning District already passed (over the objections of Dowd and Peduto) there really isn't a lot politicians can do to shape the project anymore. The remaining tools available to them are indirect and clumsy: hoping that supporting historic designation for the Produce Terminal can still do something, or hoping Buncher might still prefer a TIF or some kind of support. Some of what is going to happen will allegedly be determined by "negotiation," but that makes it really hard to draw lines in the sand now (even if Council members still had a stick to draw with.)

    Your political debating points here have a lot to do with a little rhetoric. Ceoffe should be applauded for uttering the word "gentrification" during a political campaign, but he didn't exactly recommend a strategy for dealing with it in regards to the gentrification monster around the corner. Indeed Shawn you seem pretty fatalistic that a ton of expensive gentrification pressures are coming to D7 regardless, which is probably correct.

    Similarly (and by the way, when I see myself quoted, I always keep my fingers crossed it will be in complete sentences) emphasizing the word "community" does not equal a strategy for harnessing the power of that community to affect or ameliorate the harms of a development. I'm not giving Gross high marks on these either, but it seems like you've made mountains out of molehills.

    Then in a backhanded compliment you gave us the impression that Gross is really more of a political person than anything else, and repeated that Tony will "roll up his sleeves" because gosh darn it that's the kind of guy he is. Very well.

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  2. There was nothing backhanded about the compliment. It was heartfelt. Watching her is how I learned much of what makes me as effective as I have become.

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  3. I can't really tell if you are saying one candidate is for the Alleghey Green Boulevard and the other isn't, you kinda make a jump in logic implying so (whether intended or not), but this is what both candidates said in regards to the question:

    "Do you support the Allegheny River Green Boulevard? Briefly explain why or why not and what a councilperson’s role is in the project."

    Ceoffe: "The Allegheny River Green Boulevard plan will be an asset to the city and in particular to District 7 as it creates access to our riverfronts, connectivity between the neighborhoods, a safe travel option for residents and the opportunity for responsible development for the riverfront communities like Lawrenceville and The Strip District. As a resident, I have been a vocal supporter of this plan and look forward to fostering a strong relationship between our residents, developers, the URA and BikePgh to ensure that we maximize the potential this project has to offer. Increased bike and pedestrian traffic also provides the opportunity for economic growth for small business owners. As a community leader, I will fully support responsible initiatives that provide safety, access to our riverfront and greater economic opportunities for e stakeholders in our communities."

    Gross: "Yes, I support the Allegheny River Green Boulevard because I believe the project is a step toward institutionalizing green projects in the City. As a Councilperson, I believe it will be my responsibility to ensure that the project has an open dialogue with City residents as the project evolves and develops."

    Source: BikePGH Candidate Questionnaire: http://bikepgh.org/2013/10/28/candidates-on-the-nov-5-ballot-and-what-they-think-of-biking-and-walking/

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    1. Erok,

      The Allegheny Green Boulevard is but a component of the ARV,

      The ARV is a comprehensive land-use and economic development plan that will redraw these neighborhoods as we know them.

      Suffice it to say the two get interchanged, but not by me. I speak of the Plan in its' entirety, because I have a sense of the scope of the change.

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  4. It is difficult in politics to support one candidate without making it seem like you hate their opponent. However, voting is a decision that shouldn't be fueled by emotion or used to "vote against" someone. The rhetoric of politics lends itself to it, though. It is difficult to say, "my candidate is better suited for this job" without implying "the opponent is a drooling fool who would ruin everything."
    I agree with Shawn here and see the argument of Tony's proven record of Bottom up development and working to keep a balance of economic classes in our neighborhoods. Deb uses language like "reaching down into the community..." and it comes off as elitist, and gets spun as such. I have been "invited" to Deb Gross events and Tony Ceoffe events. To get into one of Deb's events (it was in the Strip District BTW) I could go as a "Guest" for $100 a person, or I could be a "Friend" for $1000. Ceoffe invited me to an event, didn't ask me for a dime, but had a 'suggested donation' of $25 at a table his brother Justin was running.
    It's a lot of little things that make up my impressions of her. Still, I've yet to meet someone who has worked with Deb and not spoken incredibly highly of her; people I trust. She did a lot in the Cultural District, but the Cultural District is the touristy area around our convention Center and Downtown Hotels...it's supposed to be full of high priced apartments and fancy bars, but not a neighborhood like Lawrenceville.

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    1. "proven record of Bottom up development and working to keep a balance of economic classes in our neighborhoods"

      I too don't want to be drawn into engaging in gratuitous sniping. Really I don't, it doesn't reflect well on the conversation or anyone in it. But I do feel like a lot of broad assertions are being made and people deserve to be more precisely informed.

      Which developments exactly? Working to keep a balance by doing what? Can somebody just point to a Thing in the neighborhood and say, "That is something he helped make happen. It was going to be like this, but then he did these activities, and now it's producing this." And I don't mean a flower patch or a weedy lot, the catchphrase of this post has been "bottom up development."

      On another subject, it occurs to me I'd love to learn Lawrenceville United's or any other neighborhood group's public stance during last year's whole, "Let's actually address the Buncher development with permanent votes and whatnot" episode.

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    2. Ah rhetoric. It's such a juicy nut. Look, I get your frustration; it's one of the reasons I tend to stick to comment sections these days rather than writing my own targets...I mean articles...being an political opinion blogger comes with all kinds of hair-losing stress I really don't need...it's so often not even worth it. That being said, If you are looking for what I mean by 'proof of what Tony's done', I would argue that it is a lot of those little things, the kind of things you dismiss as 'a flower patch or a weedy lot'. They add up and change a place like you wouldn't believe. I've seen it happen several times, both good and bad.
      I don't think anyone here is claiming Ceoffe is Hammurabi Returned or anything, just a slightly better fit for District 7 City Council. Brevity often incurs hyperbole. When I am out there volunteering in my neighborhood, I see him--Tony shows up and does a lot of work; that means a great deal to some people. I know Deb Gross is hard working and passionate as well, but I've weighed these issues, and what they have both worked on, and I've made up my mind, as we are all free to do.
      As for specifics about, 'he did this and this happened'...I'm 40 years old, and I remember very clearly as a younger, wilder adult, Lower Lawrenceville was not a safe place. I see these folks at Espresso a Mano, on their $3000 laptops and expensive clothes, or the bigwigs in suits that cost more than my house, pulling up in BMWs and Jaguars, at Piccolo Forno, and I know that none of these people would even slow down around here 15-20 years ago. I'm from here, I remember. This place has grown from something bad to something developing, and I believe it is little things like litter and gardens and block watches that make that difference. Far more than Art All Night or Doo Dah Days does, although admittedly, both are totally awesome.
      We have Culture and Art in a neighborhood because it is safe place to do things like that, and because the neighborhood has "a table" to come together and solve problems. Tony is that kind of leader around here, with Tree Pittsburgh Events, with LU cleanups, with his help with Upper Lawrenceville's Organic garden or the new business that are opening around 50th st. No, I don't think he did those things by himself, but I've watched him lead, and I do I think he's ready for the Big leagues.
      If Deb wins, God bless her and congratulations to her from the bottom of my heart...I'm sure she'll be a great Civil Servant. But you'll have to forgive me if, four days from the election, I feel inclined to ramp up the juice about, 'the most qualified and dedicated Future City Council Member, in all of Human History and beyond--Tony Ceoffe...'

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    3. And one more thing; I admit that I have only known Deb Gross as a subject in articles, and as a candidate. Like I said, I've known people who have worked with her, and they love her, and support her actively. These are good, smart people that I trust, so I know Deb isn't a bad choice. In other words, I am at a disadvantage for never having seen Deb Gross in a leadership role. I mean, really, that's the Job description, right? You really get to know a person deeply when you bond together to do a task, no matter what the task. Leadership shows when it is needed, and often fades from view when the spotlight shines on them. I think Pittsburgh's District 7 is lucky to have five smart, passionate people aiming for the job of representing us. This is a great race.
      **EDIT-clarity**

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    4. And a great comment. Thanks, Darren. Helped cure a case of the politicking blues to hear such good willed campaigning.

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  5. People have got to read this latest press release from James Wudarczyk about Deb Gross. Love or hate the guy, you have to admit he sure does his homework.

    Can the City of Pittsburgh afford Deb Gross? After an extensive review of her failed projects by James Wudarczyk, he strongly believes the answer is NO!

    At the Highland Park Community Council forum on October 17, 2013, Wudarczyk revealed startling evidence about the projects that Ms. Gross considers her major accomplishments. In response to his allegations, Ms. Gross repeatedly stuttered in frustration and finger pointed at Mr. Wudarczyk while stammering that he did not understand that there had been a “hiccup” in the budget.

    In Wudarczyk’s opinion, projects that succeed in only bleeding the taxpayers of money hardly constitute resourceful leadership. Furthermore, Wudarczyk feels taxpayers money has been thrown into the Allegheny River by projects that Gross believes are misunderstood “hiccups.”

    Let’s take a look at these projects.

    First, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance is touted by the Democratic nominee and former executive director, Deb Gross, as a wonderful program and a great achievement. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) records for the ruling year of 2001 showed total revenues of $80,532, while total expenses for the same period were $119,904 (1). The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance merged with another arts group because of financial difficulties. In spite of this evidence, the former executive director never mentions that the project was a financial failure.

    Second, the Democratic nominee claims that she knows how to creatively match resources with need. Repeatedly, voters have been told by this candidate that she turned $2 million into $6 million dollars when fundraising for the Community Loan Fund of Southwestern Pennsylvania. When Mr. Wudarczyk initially heard this, he wondered if this candidate held spaghetti dinners, went door-to-door, or had donut sales. An article appearing in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, December 6, 2001, stated that this candidate was an employee at the time of this “fundraising” (2). What the candidate failed to mention was that the money was actually “raised” by the issuing of bonds that paid between 3 and 4.5% (3). It should also be noted that the Community Loan Fund also received $352,186 in direct public support and $370,900 in government grants for a total of $723,086 (4). This is not an example of creative fundraising. This is an example of borrowing money and covering operational expenses via grants from the taxpayers.

    The candidate also boasts of a public transportation initiative called the Ultraviolet Loop that ran from 2001 – 2004 (5). Missing from the boast is the fact that this project was funded by a grant. Once the grant expired, so did the program. How can one talk about sustainability if programs are run strictly on grants from the state or federal taxpayers?

    Lastly, another of her business claims were related to a company called Percolater. Ask anyone on the street if they ever heard of this company, and they will think you are talking about some kind of coffee pot.

    It is apparent here that the voters are paying for programs that they neither need nor wanted. Mr. Wudarczyk believes that it time that we stop funding these types of projects and focus on re-allocating funds to fixing our decaying infrastructure and pothole-ridden streets. Can we afford a progressive Democrat who believes borrowing money is raising funds and a $40,000 loss is a “hiccup” in the budget? Mr. Wudarczyk believes the answer is no and voters have a right to know what the IRS records have to say in regard to these matters.



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    1. Mysterious Greenfield GuyNovember 2, 2013 at 9:03 AM

      That is an awesome take down. Clearly, Ms.Gross knows how to launch programs and pay for them with grants, bonds and other funding sources. That's OK; it's the way lots of government and public amenities get done, and sometimes they lose money. To me, the bigger issue, raised in the last paragraph, is the question of whether the voters actually needed or wanted Ms. Gross' programs. Thanks Jim W. for putting a crack in the nut--biking, the arts, nightlife, tech start-ups, 20-something urban culture are all well and good, but they're not the be all and end all. When I heard Rich F. invoking biking, walking and young people in his bus-free Downtown pitch last week, it got me to thinking about how seemingly unassailable the young urban demographic has become in this town. If Rich is hiding behind it, something must be up. Now old-timer Jim W. has given me another reason to be skeptical.

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  6. This November 5th the residents of City Council District 7 have a choice when deciding our next City Council Representative. Why did Pittsburgh wind up on the verge of insolvency in the first place? The answer is because we have had too many professional politicians who made too many bad decisions. Sadly, these elected officials saddled the taxpayers with paying for their mistakes. It doesn’t take any brains to spend someone else’s money, but it does take moral integrity to prudently oversee our valuable resources.

    How can we have a responsible independent-minded city councilperson when Ms. Gross has received $27,500 for her campaign from various established politicians, including Councilman Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (6). If elected, Ms. Gross would owe the election to Mr. Peduto and other prominent members of the Democratic Party. Furthermore, Ms. Gross and Mr. Peduto share office space and campaign staff. Mr. Wudarczyk conversed with some of her workers, and they contended that they were assigned to her campaign by Mr. Peduto and did not know the candidate.

    For Pittsburgh to go forward financially in the future, we must refrain from repeating past mistakes. Pittsburgh cannot afford Deb Gross.

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  7. Hold the phone. Tony isn't the ONLY candidate to address the issue of rising property taxes. Dave Powell, Libertarian, has and the LAND VALUE TAX solution he, me, and other geo-libertarians speak about often, and for years, is the best way to handle this Pittsburgh problem.

    http://triblive.com/opinion/editorials/4948280-74/council-powell-treblow#axzz2jRqf4FDL

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  8. This entire story line is so overplayed. NO ONE is being forced out. Stop repeating that lie over and over again in different neighborhoods. There is not a SINGLE person that is being forced out of their home. If they choose to leave because their property taxes increased, then they make that choice voluntarily and if their property value increased they will cash out. Something that there were unable to do until new people started coming in. And, if they want to stay they could get a reverse mortgage to pay for any tax increases. This entire story line, whether in the Hill or E. Liberty or Larryville is nothing more than a backdoor way of politicians trying to make sure that their supporters don't get outnumbered by newcomers who might vote for someone else.

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  9. Anon 12:23PM --

    Your response is EXACTLY what makes me dislike progressivism as it exists in Pittsburgh.

    In the U.S., if you own a home, it constitutes over 50% of your net worth.

    If you own a home in a low- or moderate-income family, that number increases substantially, as you likely have few other appreciable assets.

    The nation's wealthy, most of them, INHERITED that wealth, very few of them CREATED it.

    So, your suggestion that they "reverse mortgage" their homes to pay the TAXES on their properties makes me think you are a heartless snob.

    Reverse mortgage = Bank sells house to someone like you when the owner dies.

    And so what if you can cash out $120,000 in equity when you sell? Will that buy you a house in a Highland Park, Point Breeze, Regent Square, Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, a condo in the Strip or Downtown or the North Shore? Hell no.

    All your proposition accomplishes is to expose how some progressives view less-educated, less-affluent white people. Which frightens me when I begin to think of how that trickles down to minorities.

    More importantly, had it not been for these working-class folks sticking it out, Lawrenceville might look more like Beltzhoover or Allentown, or be a Section 8 haven or be "less desirable" for progressives.

    How is this progress?

    Please tell me.

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    1. That was an Anon comment, Shawn, and I see zero reason to attribute it to Progressives rather than the Ravenscrats or whatever you might call them.

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    2. Why are newcomers treated so poorly? Seems like we are punishing people who just happen to move into a new neighborhood. Why not focus on the issue, helping people who want to stay to stay, rather than discouraging people who want to move in. And if people want to stay in their homes, that does not require building new/more homes for them.

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  10. Well, the Ravenscrats (LOL, dont you need a new name for them) would never say such a thing, publicly.

    But you're right, it could just as easily been one of those right-leaning free-market types who sells houses or markets reverse mortgages for a living -- or both.

    So I will admit that I likely just overreacted there. LOL

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  11. Enjoyed your op-ed in Sunday's paper Shawn. Too bad your name wasn't on it, it would have looked good on your campaign website.

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  12. MGG --

    I wish I could take credit for it. But, I didn't actually write it.

    Most people who read my blog posts can tell the difference.

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  13. Before You VOTE-KNOW THE CANDIDATE!

    http://www.neighborsfortonyceoffe.com/urbanmediatoday/

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