Monday, December 31, 2007

Feedback: Carl Redwood of One Hill

Carl Redwood Jr. serves as Chair of the One Hill CBA Coalition.

He posted a comment to our recent Hill District / Penguins arena post, which he also e-mailed to us. We republish it here without comment for the time being.

The Ministers "Group" is 9 ministers. They don't represent the Hill District community. They don't even represent the members of their church on this issue. They don't want community input or direction.

The "ministers" are a thinly veiled cover for the Hill CDC Board.

The Hill CDC is a small board of individuals. Some of these individuals are among the 9 ministers. They don't represent the Hill District community. They don't want community input or direction.

The One Hill Coalition represents the Hill District Community precisely because of the process of how One Hill was developed. More than 100 organizations from the Hill are members of One Hill. One Hill has held weekly public meetings since April 2007. The negotiating points of One Hill were developed and selected by the community over many meetings from April to August 2007.

The individuals on the CDC Board and any ministers have a right to their opinions. However they were not chosen through any process to represent the Hill District. They do not speak for the Hill District Community.

The Comet asked this of Redwood as a follow-up:

"I've gotta ask ... the Mayor stated clearly that he opposes any funding going to Hill District organizations or initiatives. He may have been addressing Milliones and the Hill CDC, but his statement seemed very broad and very clear. How would you / One Hill respond to that?"

His response:

The Mayor's stated position "No funds controlled by the Hill community" is not acceptable to One Hill. One of our Blueprint points is precisely to create such a fund.

The Mayor has problems with funds to support the Hill District but he has no problem with giving the Penguins control of all revenue from the surface parking lots (which are owned by the Sports and Exhibition Authority = public ownership)

There are 2400 parking spaces. On weekdays, people pay a minimum of $6.00 to park and go to work downtown. That's $6 per car * 2400 spaces = $14400 per day * 300 days = $4320000. In addition to weekday parking, people pay a minimum of $14 to park while attending events. That's $14 per car * 2400 spaces = $33600 * 50 minimum events =$1680000.

The total revenue from parking that is being given to the Penguins is a minimum of $6 million each year. There is a parking tax (<50%)>, which leaves the Penguins with a minimum of $3 million in revenue from their private control of Hill District public owned parking lots.

Mayor Ravenstahl and County Executive Onorato have set up the Penguins in the Hill District Surface Parking lot business. Low overhead. Great revenue. No community benefit.

There you have it.

We hope the two groups can still strike some kind of meaningful accord. For all their differences, they seem to have plenty in common -- and more than enough at stake.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lemmy Bodznik for President?

Councilman-Elect Patrick Dowd has been taking heat for alleged fence-sitting in regards to the council presidency -- a race essentially between Doug Shields and Jim Motznik.

To calm things down and put things in perspective, Dowd wrote a letter intended for wide distribution. Ergo, it wound up on the Burgh Report almost immediately.

Money excerpt:

I have told Councilman Motznik what I have told every other member of council. First, we need to rise about the politics of personality and focus on an agenda that will help grow this city and improve the quality of life for those who live here. Second, I will cast my vote for council president based on the publicly articulated agenda that a candidate advocates.

Sounds logical -- except candidates for council president typically do not campaign in the public, let alone go around expounding a personal legislative agenda.

Not to worry -- history provides ample indications, which are probably more predictive of future behavior anyhow.


The Post-Gazette eschewed Len Bodack, Dowd's foe during the primary election, due to his lack of fortitude concerning financial recovery:

The Lawrenceville incumbent, 50, voted in March 2006 -- incredibly and unsuccessfully -- to end the state's oversight of city finances under Act 47. He was a member of council's "gang of five" who, in November 2004, rejected the stiff but necessary budget cuts to pull Pittsburgh from the brink of bankruptcy. He knuckled under to pressure from city employee unions in June 2004 and voted with three council members against the city's fiscal recovery plan.

Check the links. On each occasion, Councilman Motznik took the same ill-advised positions as Councilman Bodack. On each occasion, the reverse was true of Councilman Shields.

The same P-G editorial praised Pat Dowd as "concerned about the city's solvency", "a different story", and "a break with the past."

"I don't see City Council making tough decisions," [Dowd] told the editorial board. "We had to pare down school operations to get savings, but I don't see city government doing that. All the contracts and all the operations should go on the table."

History would suggest that a vote for Motznik would be a vote against paring much of anything down. A vote for Shields, by contrast, would fit in neatly with Dowd's stated intentions -- at least when it comes to financial discipline.


Maybe the budget is not your cup of tea, much less the Post-Gazette edit board. There are other issues, and other constituencies.

Planned Parenthood of Western PA
endorsed Patrick Dowd ... and Doug Shields.

Conversely, LifePAC of Southwestern PA endorsed Len Bodack ... and Jim Motznik.

The Gertrude Stein Political Club and the Steel City Stonewall Democrats both endorsed Patrick Dowd ... and Doug Shields.

Meanwhile, both have refused to support Len Bodack ... and Jim Motznik.

By now, we should all be noticing a pattern about which leaders are representing the future, and which are still mired in the past.


BOTTOM LINE: It comes as no surprise that Patrick Dowd intends to focus on process, policy and agenda, rather than personality or perks. We expect nothing less of the other eight Council members, incidentally.

That is why the Comet is unworried about the outcome of this vote. Given that everybody's record stands right out in the sunlight, we can only see a continued Doug Shields presidency emerging, marked by pragmatism and compromise.

We suspect if Dr. Dowd has been acting a little coy and MacBethish, it must simply be a matter of decorum -- and of allowing for a robust public conversation.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Behind the Pop City: Week One

We noticed an article about Bakery Square by Jennifer Baron at the inscrutable Pop City Media. It features the TIFF awarded to the office complex, and mentions the exclusion of the hotel.

Yet nowhere does it mention the implications, or the controversy... ?


Elsewhere in this issue, there is a link to a full-blown Post-Gazette article about Pop City itself by Maria Sciullo.

"Our whole staff is passionate about Pittsburgh," she said. "We want people to read this and say 'How can you NOT want to live in Pittsburgh?'"

Okay, so you're a booster. Nothing wrong with that.

Pop City has a staff of about two dozen writers -- mostly stringers -- who provide six or eight stories of about 250 words, plus one or two 1,000-word feature stories, a week. The shorter items fall into categories such as "Pittsburgh Innovates" and "Development News."

Twenty-four writers -- and we must say, the website is gorgeous in terms of photography and layout. Sumptuous, even.

How can they afford to churn out such quality? Nowhere does the P-G mention how they manage to stay afloat!

Apparently, Pop City makes money by selling a little advertising.

A cursory glance at the homepage informs us that Pop City is sponsored by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Imagine Pittsburgh 250 (all functions of the City of Pittsburgh), as well as the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development.

As for nonpublic interests, Pop City is also sponsored by Dollar Bank and National City Bank, some attorneys, some architects, and that other awesome civic amenity, FlexCar.

Think the URA has any money left over to fund the Comet?


Just because Pop City Media is the propaganda arm of the Forwardmoving-Imperial Complex, does that make it totally useless?

Check out this cover-length article by Chip Walker on mass transit:

The question is: how do we get great? For starters don’t stand pat. This seems to be our current strategy. When announcements were made about the new light rail spur being built under the Allegheny to the North Shore, the Port Authority also announced that they had no additional plans to build anything else, anywhere. There was hardly been a peep about public transit in the mayoral race, and despite plan, after plan for the past 30 years, we’ve made only incremental improvements.

Wait ... we're not great? The Chunnel isn't great in its own right? Our political leaders should be doing, in some sense, something different?

Later, in a section headlined "Low-Hanging Fruit":

Must every transit initiative become a mission to Mars? What if we kept projects as simple as possible; and modular so that later they can easily be connected, like Legos. Tap some of the state’s $400 million to jump-start efforts that utilize current (read low-cost) rail right-of-ways to create a transit line between Pittsburgh, Oakmont and Greensburg. A project like that would accelerate the resurrection of riverside communities from the Strip to North Versailles as well as buttress neighborhoods around the new $600 million Children’s Hospital.

Yes. Yes! Why not?

How many years have we been visiting Boston and Montreal, in awe of their public transportation like stupid hayseeds? Why can't we put one foot in front of the other and begin moving in the direction -- forward, even -- of actually providing the bare-bones basics of world-class service?

Why can't we start impressing people?


For all its quirks, Pop City can be illuminating. Check out this other Jennifer Baron piece on Federal North redevelopment.

A review committee selected three finalists from proposals submitted in response to the URA’s RFP. As one of three finalists, developer James Welker is proposing to create 18 apartments in the Bradberry Building, which is located at 1112 Reddour St. Also a finalist is a proposal by Jim Aiello, who hopes to develop a mixed-use property on Federal St. that will feature first-floor retail space and up to 18 second-floor residential units. “Those two proposals were deemed ready to go.

Three finalists out of how many applicants? What went into the "deeming" process? If we were so inclined, might we have popped in to the deliberations to offer comment, or just to nose around?

What an odd way to pursue development. In olden times, we would have just held an auction. Now we have this body that's sort of public -- but sort of insulated from the public -- that is deeming not only what gets to go where, but whether or not the public is going to be made to pay for it.

Since we should all learn more about this stuff, we are happy to add Pop City to the blogroll.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Most Fantabulous Difference of Opinion Ever

In this corner we have Patrick Dowd, who on KDKA Radio told Fred Honsberger that the Promise is so ground breaking, so game changing, so paradigm shifting and earth shaking, that now is the time for all Pittsburghers to set aside concerns about public process, about long-term risks, and about unintended consequences -- and focus only on the immense growth sure to come about as a result of it.

And in this corner we have Char, who in not one post but two posts highlights the many differences between the Pittsburgh Promise and the oft-cited Kalamazoo Promise, including: who actually qualifies for scholarship aid, what the requirements are, where they may live, whether Pittsburgh's additional layers of complexity and uncertainty will be discouraging to parents contemplating a move to the city, and whether or not the tax environments of the two regions are even comparable.

Both think that sending some Pittsburgh children to college is better than sending none. Both are grateful to UPMC for providing the inspiration and the foundation.

One is so unreservedly enthusiastic, he's not pausing to really hear questions. The other is so cynical, she's throwing more and more tiny darts into the Promise on a daily basis.

Only in America! Only in the Burghosphere! Let's see the Kalamazphere compete with this!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday: A Bunch of Stuff that Happened

In a news article whose top four paragraphs feature some variation on "Mr. Roosevelt says that..." (P-G, Joe Smydo), the hard news must wait until graph five:

The school board Wednesday adopted a 2008 general fund budget of $526.6 million. The budget holds the line on taxes, and Mr. Roosevelt noted 2008 spending is $2.4 million less than this year and $7 million less than 2006.

Externalities to this budget are described only as pending upon labor negotiations. Nowhere do popular efforts to retain the city's most successful public school get touched upon.

The budget, which spends scores of millions launching, expanding, or maintaining other initiatives, not to mention the hiring of consultants in anticipation of many moves, will be used as yet another bludgeon against the Save Schenley constituency.

Remember, the vote to retire Schenley and determine the rest of what "moving forward" means is in February -- along with public comment on the matter, which is theoretically important.*

"We've already decided how to spend this money," some will cry. "To reopen the budget at this point would be so ... so gauche!"

Be aware.


We get another outline of the Act 47 and ICA oversight boards, this time through the prism of the $4.5 million they are costing. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Our water and sewers are in not-so-great shape, and will cost a smenth more than $4.5 million to fix. (Trib, Mike Cronin)

Pittsburgh's major parks are in such good hands, the Parks Conservancy is throwing themselves a national conference, what with all the 250 hubbub. (Trib, Mike Wereschagin)

It's tough to find a way to keep even our most historic buildings up and historic. Try 1792. (Trib, Craig Smith)


Speaking of historic structures -- consider, once again, Sophie Masloff. (Trib, David M. Brown):

"Mayor Lawrence was a dear friend," she says. "I had a profound admiration for him."

But William McNair, the first person elected mayor by the Democratic organization Lawrence headed, gave the party a rough start when he took office in 1934.

"I came to know him, and he was nutty as a fruitcake," Masloff says of McNair. "He didn't last very long."

Not to mention:

"She came from an era in which great politicians engendered unfailing personal loyalty," said attorney Joseph Sabino Mistick, who served as Masloff's chief of staff. "There are those of us who served Sophie while she was mayor who stand ready to serve her to this day. In our mind, she is still the mayor and still deserving of our time and attention and loyalty."

* -- Remember that last School Board hearing, where there were over 100 comments regarding Schenley? Was there even one parent there to say, "Keep my babies safe from the poison"? We keep hearing about these highly alarmed parents, but never from them. Concerned parents all seem concerned with keeping Schenley operating for their children. Guess they aren't that important.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Notes for the Goyim

A little data, before we head off to an Asian food restaurant ...

We really like this time of year when Hannukah menorahs, or Hannukiahs, start sprouting up everywhere around the city.

We especially like when they are lit, one by one, for the eight days of Hannukah ... plus the one of course for good measure. Very niice.

We're not so wild about all nine candles remaining lit afterwords, every night through New Years.

There were these people, see, they were called the Maccabees.

They and their whole religion were holed up in this temple, and they were like, under siege.

As we understand it, even under those conditions, it would have been wretched poor form to run out of oil. They needed oil to light the sacred candles. Also possibly, to cook, and to see. Maybe to heat up and dump on the heads of Greeks.

Yet lo and behold, the small backup reserve stash of sacred oil lasted for eight whole days, and eight whole nights. Which was exactly the time needed to save Judaism from utter destruction. (You know, again. We're like the Jean Claude Van Damme of civilizations.)

In other words, Pittsburgh, to keep those electric miracle-candles aglow any longer than the proper eight days, is not only a waste of energy but borderline sacrilege.

Just an FYI.


More good things:

It's nice to have dreidels scattered about everywhere! You know, those little tops.

Fun for children to play with -- and for adults, several decent drinking games.

Giant pictures of dreidels on the walls are sort of unnecessary. That goes for most of the blue and white trimmings as well. Still, if it makes you feel any better, then go right ahead.

Do you know what would be awesome? Do you have an office building?

Place a small Hannukah menorah, or Hannukiah, in every office window.

Of course, then you would have to keep track of all nine candles over all eight nights, getting it right on each occasion. That would be a chore, unless you do some fancy programming...

Honestly, don't worry too much about us. You're doing fine. Just turn on and off lights as needed.


A final note. L'Chaiim.

Pronounced: Le - (phlegm)Ay - Eem.

It means, "To life!" Like, a toast.

A happy toast, but a very solemn toast. One person says it, and then the whole group rumbles it in chorus.

That, as they say, pretty much says it all.

Not surprisingly, after a good L'Chaiim, there are generally a few beats of silence. Cracking wise immediately after a L'Chaiim, for example, would be dreadful poor form.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, Pittsburgh!

In March of this year, Wired Magazine ran a cover-story by Clive Thompson, entitled The See-Through CEO.

"Get Naked and ... Rule the World" proclaimed signs held by the cover model, actress Jenna Fischer.

Most newsstand shoppers overlooked the rest of the teaser:

Smart companies are sharing secrets with rivals, blogging about products in their pipeline, even admitting to their failures. The name of this new game is RADICAL TRANSPARENCY, and it's sweeping boardrooms across the nation. Even those Office drones at Dunder Mifflin get it. So strip down and learn how to have it all by bearing it all.

[UPDATE: We found this sentence from Thompson's piece to be a gross overstatement:

Power comes not from your Rolodex but from how many bloggers link to you - and everyone trembles before search engine rankings.

We call the article to your attention more to recommend the practice of radical transparency in general, less to puff up the power of blogs. At any rate...]

This wondrous little article is a present from all of us at the Comet, to all of you. Use it in good health, and may the Lord bless you and keep you this holiday season.

Easier than handing out Starbucks cards!

Trust-Building with UPMC

What up, UPMC. Merry Xmas and happy holidays.

Your General Counsel, the ill-used Robert Cindrich, volunteered at a recent meeting of our City Council that you had amassed so-and-so amount of money in "profits".

Cindrich made special note of his own preference for the term "profits" over "excess margin," which he suggested was getting a bit silly already.

That was decent, UPMC.

Council will be holding a public hearing on the subject of making moot your potential future tax obligations, in recognition of payments you are and will have been making in lieu of taxes.

On the one hand, you are indeed making "gifts" and "donations" to the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund and to the Pittsburgh Promise. One might be able to say already, with technical accuracy, that as a tax-exempt institution, these gifts are quite literally payments you are making in lieu of taxes.

However, under the legislation we are considering, UPMC would have its gifts, its alms, its largess counted in lieu of the very taxes for which it may become liable under changes in law. Hence, the relationship has been defined between the current regime of gift-giving and the prospect of taxation -- it is one of mutual exclusivity.

The Comet only asks that, much like the sensible decision you made to begin speaking of "profits," you allow everybody to use the words "payments in lieu of taxes" where obviously appropriate.

Some within your legal department may scream bloody murder -- but do ask them to take a deep breath, and find out if it really weakens your position. We doubt it. UPMC has never been obligated under any circumstances to make payments in lieu of taxes -- volunteering to do so is evidence enough of its generosity.

Meanwhile, your public relations department should thank you.

Best of all, the term "payment-in-lieu-of-taxes" will bring the added benefit of everybody knowing what the hell they are talking about. We can all process legislation more readily if we can speak freely, unhindered by layers of obfuscation and unwarranted suspicion.

Tell you what, UPMC. You start letting us talk about payments in lieu of taxes -- and we'll let you call your "tax credits" just about anything you might deem fit.

Do we have an accord?


The Pittsburgh Comet

PS. -- Recently, on a different occasion in those Council Chambers, there was talk of certain "investments" being made "in South Africa." We remain wholly ignorant of the details, but boy did it arouse our curiosity!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hill CBA: Alliances, Minions, and Imps

We have a correction and an explanation to make regarding our latest post on the Hill District.

The major constituent elements of the Hill District coalition are the One Hill CBA Coalition, the Hill District Ministers, and the Hill CDC.

There are many other organizations, and the relations amongst them are confusing. But those three units are the important independent units.

Both Marimba Milliones of the Hill CDC and Dr. Kimberly Ellis AKA Dr. Goddess of the Minister's group contacted the Comet to assure us that they are very closely allied with one another.

It would have been more correct to highlight just two constituent elements of the Hill District coalition: the One Hill CBA Coalition, which includes the Tonya Payne apparatus and Pittsburgh United, and the Hill District Ministers, which includes the Hill CDC and Raise Your Hand No Games.

This would explain why Mayor Ravenstahl said (wishfully), "I don't even know if the two groups are going to agree."

We suspect that One Hill is closer to accepting the terms of the CBA proposal as put forth by the Penguins and Ravenstahl than are the Ministers. See below.

Some organizations and individuals are actually a part of both groups. Both factions claim to be larger, and more representative of the Hill. We know that some in the Ministers' group have had their voting privileges formally revoked by One Hill, for having "negotiated" on the outside.

We would be happy to receive a briefing.


Another example of an individual is Dr. Kimberly Ellis, AKA Dr. Goddess, AKA The Ministers' Imp.

Where on earth did we get that?

On Dec. 12, 2007, at exactly 1:10 PM, Dr. Ellis wrote an exhaustively long e-mail to the Hill District CBA distribution list. The subject was, Get Rid of Divisive Elements, so Ujima Can Continue. Ujima is defined as "collective work and responsibility."

Another good title would have been, The Case Against Tonya Payne as an Elected Official.

It starts off slowly, but grows into the Declaration of Independence -- only much more dramatic and specific. Here are some selections:

[EXCISED 12/23 -- Not blog-worthy]


In case those of you who attend One Hill meetings haven't noticed, every time there is any talk of confronting the Pens as developers or the Mayor about the CBA, Tonya and her people fight against it.

She offers many specific, dated incidents as evidence. Contact her at to request your own copy and make your own inquiries.

I have not trusted Tonya Payne because she almost sold the Hill District 'down the river' with her Isle of Capri / Pittsburgh First shenanigans during the slots license application process. BUT, I was willing to give her a chance---and I did---and she knows this. After she stabbed us and our entire community in the back (again!), she lost any amount of faith or trust I had to give to her.

And in conclusion:

If there is still anyone left in One Hill, Pittsburgh United and/or throughout the community who wants to continue to allow her and her minions to do the Pens' dirty work by continuing to try to foment division between those of us who have always stood with you and them, then be my guest---but we aren't going anywhere.

The epic e-mail generated its share of angry responses, including this from somebody who shall remain nameless:

I would rather be Councilwoman Tonya Payne's minion, than the ministers' Imp.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Friday Negativity

Mr. Ravenstahl in his speech pledged to "leave it all on the field. You will get all I have to give. I will listen to, and genuinely care for, the people of Pittsburgh. I will be accessible, thoughtful and open-minded. I will not be the mayor, I will be your mayor." (P-G, Rich Lord)

Then he had better attend every neighborhood meeting, show respect to everybody who attends, and be open-minded toward their initiatives -- even though they come from outside the government infrastructure.

His administration had better be prepared to work with City Council, during meetings of Council, instead of hiding from the meetings and sniping through the media.

We'll start with that.


If the state someday were to allow the city to tax nonprofits on all of their real estate, should UPMC's contributions be eligible for some sort of credit? Yes, but the legal details must be worked out and the credit should be only for the tax years in which the contribution is paid. In other words, if UPMC's real estate is taxed under the law beginning in, say, 2010, then only the Pittsburgh Promise dollars it donates that year should be eligible for credit -- and so on in successive years. (P-G, Edit Board)

Absolutely. Otherwise, it's all a device to make sure we avoid necessary efforts to amend State Act 55. We don't need to be held hostage by a full $100 million in old tax credits, thank you.

It would be easy to argue that a nonprofit with a $618 million surplus in its last fiscal year, rising health care charges and growing dominance of the region's hospital market could easily afford to do both. But since UPMC's contribution to the Promise -- $10 million next year and up to $90 million through a 10-year challenge grant -- will exceed the $8.3 million it could be forced to pay, conceivably, in yearly taxes on its $773 million in real estate, the institution should be applauded, not scorned.

At most, UPMC's contribution, coming as it does with a new lexicon of tortured English, an array of last-minute hitches, and a pathetic degree of institutional neediness, should be accepted -- neither applauded nor scorned. We taxpayers should then applaud ourselves for taking a small hit now, and insuring the scholarship well into the future.

If you want to be treated like a benefactor, start acting like a benefactor. If you want to be treated like an unscrupulous business colleague, keep up the good work.


What's all the ruckus over closing Schenley High School? The place is filled with asbestos and the school district doesn't have a dime, let alone $65 million, to fix up this nostalgia palace. Only in Pittsburgh would parents rally for the right to poison their kids, and impoverish the rest of the school system. (P-G, Tony Norman)

What, are you asking for it? Fine -- only give us a breather, will you? Maybe put us on a deadline? That way, we're bound to come up with something.

A Very Special Day for Pittsburgh

For one thing, Luke Ravenstahl is to be inaugurated as Mayor, having won election to the citywide office in his own right for the first time.

It won't feature a lot of pomp, circumstance, or bold, new visions, he said. In part because it's not being held in the City-County Building, there won't be any tours of the Mayor's Office, as there were when the late Mayor Bob O'Connor was inaugurated in January 2006. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Pirates broadcaster Lanny Frattare will serve as master of ceremonies. The Rev. Terrence O'Connor, son of the late mayor, will conduct the benediction. Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato will speak.

Is that customary?

Pittsburgh's youngest mayor will be inaugurated as the city is poised to begin a yearlong celebration of its 250th anniversary and as Ravenstahl must show voters he won't repeat missteps that have plagued him and hurt his support on City Council, said council members and political experts. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Ravenstahl's time in office also has been marked by staff shakeups.

The most recent was June 14, when he asked 11 city and authority directors to resign and reapply for their jobs. One director left; two others were fired.

The move hurt morale among city employees, but the city is running more efficiently now and morale has improved, said Arthur O. Victor Jr., Ravenstahl's director of operations since September.

Victor said Pittsburgh must become a more competitive employer. He intends to analyze the salaries and duties of all city employees in hopes of attracting more talent.

"In 2008, a lot of what we want to do is about increasing efficiencies," Victor said.

Is that right. We were wondering what that guy did.


Also today, the Pittsburgh Comet turns one year old.

Do us just this one honor, wherever you may find yourselves this evening -- raise a glass of scotch or whatever you prefer with your compatriots, and offer a short toast to the coming tyranny of the bloggers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Three Items of Some Interest

Petty theft and corruption is justified, on the basis of thrift and desperate circumstances. When you listen to him it becomes obvious ... the humanity, the nobility, the harmlessness. We do hope he never stole from the collection plate, but the question is: with a vast and static working-class elderly population, does Pittsburgh practice relaxed ethics as a cultural heritage? (Null Space)

PittGirl writes an article on UPMC, and gets five comments. PittGirl writes an article on race, and gets fifty-one comments. This should tell us some things. 1) Race is more easily understood than UPMC 2) Race is more important than UPMC 3) Tying your subject matter into the Steelers is very good for engaging Pittsburghers. (That was Mike's brilliance.)

So the Pittsburgh Organizing Group is organizing a protest of the Ravenstahl Inauguration. It will begin Thursday at 4:30 at 235 Atwood Street, and it will march to Carnegie Music Hall. They plan to attend the ceremony at 5:30.

We're sick of back room deals, political machines, racist development projects, and corporate interests.

The coalition they are seeking probably will not coalesce by Thursday afternoon, but what a concept! If you see them, you should cheer them on. If they do anything illegal, alert the proper authorities.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Promise

1. When was the tax credit condition of UPMC's gift to the scholarship struck, and why does the Mayor think it's a good idea?

2. Why was it not mentioned on Dec 5th, when the gift was announced?

3. Why are we rushing this through Council at the end of the year, and on 24 hours notice?

4. Why is nobody from the administration present to answer any of these questions?

These are the questions Doug Shields kept asking, and they are good ones.

In the event that State Act 55 is ever amended, UPMC may be made to pay property taxes like any other profitable corporation.

The Pittsburgh Promise is presently UPMC's way of supporting the commonweal, despite the fact that it does not pay taxes. If it does somehow wind up paying taxes in the future, UPMC would suddenly be on the hook for both payments.

However, UPMC has been doggedly insistent that the Promise is no "payment in lieu of taxes." This is a gift out borne from their own generosity -- generosity for which they would like to be credited -- generosity compelled by a desire not to become taxpayers.

Obviously, this is all about providing UPMC political cover for when it decides to revoke the "gift" upon any amendment to Act 55. It would need no excuse, but is interested in using one anyway.

Ravenstahl would also like political cover for when we find ourselves with an ambitious new government commitment, yet with no especially generous corporate sponsors to rely upon.


This line of rationalization did not sit well with Darlene Harris.

She objected plainly and softly, "When I give to charity, I give from my heart."

Harris kept saying she doesn't understand how UPMC says it is protecting itself from "paying twice." UPMC is free to make a donation to charity, but taxes owed to a city are different entirely.

Shields underscored the distinction as well. "The Pittsburgh Promise is like the Salvation Army. It's like a soup kitchen, it's like Toys for Tots."

By this point, Bill Peduto had gotten up and was pacing around the back of the room. He was clearly too disgusted already with the UPMC rep for playing word games and responding churlishly, and he was probably content to keep this from turning into another Peduto vs. Ravenstahl thing.

Tonya Payne, speaking boldly in the voice of somebody saying something bold, said there were many questions that still needed answers -- so she moved to table the issue for one week.

By this point, two or three versions of a petition calling for a Public Hearing were circulating around the room. Shields said that out of courtesy to those citizens being made to scurry for signatures at 24 hours notice, Council itself should just order a public hearing. They did so unanimously.


Ravenstahl chief of staff Yarone Zober was on hand in council chambers immediately before the meeting.

He was just outside, answering questions of the Trib's Jeremy Boren, immediately afterword.

Besides which, the Mayor's entire office is on that floor of that building.

We are left to assume that nobody was available to answer to Council, because the administration preferred not to answer to Council at that time and in that manner, for the purpose of strategic communications.

Discussion Question: Is this justifiable?

Present Council Displays Moxie

Unless council and the school district approve the tax exemption, UPMC's deal to support The Pittsburgh Promise is off, said UPMC spokesman Frank Raczkiewicz. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Why not just announce the full terms of the deal all at once?

[Ravenstahl press secretary] Sirk said she didn't know why UPMC's tax-credit condition wasn't disclosed when the donation was announced with much fanfare on Dec. 5.

Ah. Of course, there's also this from UPMC's Raczkiewicz:

"We are willing to donate $100 million, but we don't want to pay $100 million and also have new taxes of $100 million," Raczkiewicz said.

Still sounding reasonable, we hate to admit.

Some state lawmakers have discussed amending state Act 55, which defines what constitutes a nonprofit and governs what taxes they pay, to let cities impose payments in lieu of taxes.

See, if it helps to engineer this happy outcome -- if it dampens UPMC opposition to such an amendment, while spurring the City to pursue it with vigor -- then we're all for it.

It is "inappropriate" for Ravenstahl to introduce the legislation so close to the end of the year, [Doug Shields] said. City Council will get three new members in early January.

Agreed. Now, apropos of nothing:

In a last-minute move, council approved an amendment creating a $10,000 trust fund for the city's Ethics Hearing Board. The board can draw on the money for legal assistance and other expenses. (P-G, Team Effort)

Woohoo! Trojan horse! Trojan horse!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Mayor's Position on The Hill

The P-G and Rich Lord tell us just about everything we did not know or care to speculate upon concerning the mayor's neighborhood gathering.

The Hill District should get a grocery store, a community center and jobs as part of the new arena deal, but not a development fund to spend as residents see fit, said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl yesterday.

His comments during and after the taping of "KD/PG Sunday Edition" mirrored the position Penguins' representatives outlined Tuesday, after some 50 Hill residents and advocates packed a city planning commission hearing on the arena.

Mirrored the position. Check.

Scroll down to the bottom of this very long post for a link to the KD/PG footage.

We will now examine everything Mayor Ravenstahl says he supports in the Hill District.


One is that he supports the master plan.

Since the master plan was conceived, designed, and presented to the Planning Commission by the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, it is easy to suggest that he is not going above and beyond on this one.

Two is that he supports a Resource Center, with information about job opportunities and community resources that are available.

So there will be a place to pick up pamphlets. It would be nice if there were some computers and maybe some computer literacy classes -- but at the end of the day, this sounds like an underwhelming concept in terms of rejuvenating a whole community.

Third is the "concept" of a grocery store. What kind of a grinch do you have to be to oppose the very concept of a grocery store in a neighborhood?

Fourth is the YMCA -- presumably a different YMCA than the one planned for UPMC Tower -- and it seems to be contingent upon outside funding.

Fifth is some talk about "the block on Center Avenue" that seems contingent upon going back to Harrisburg for more cash.

In conclusion, the mayor says he opposes investment in any organizations or projects that emanate from the Hill District itself. Everything else has been or will be worked out amongst major developers.

Ravenstahl then gestures to Marimba Milliones, mentioning her by first name, and cites her as an example of someone whose initiative is unworthy of consideration for public funding related to this project.


Suddenly, Ravenstahl veers into the Pittsburgh Promise, now a mechanism to aid minority neighborhoods.

The Pittsburgh Promise was conceived of in some measure to generate political capital for both Mayor Ravenstahl and for UPMC, given some of the negative chatter that is out there about the both of them.

We all knew the Pittsburgh Promise would be used as a shield -- just not this reflexively.


We need to define some terms.

A community benefits agreement is an agreement between a developer and a community. When Milliones questions Ravenstahl on "joint sign off," we presume that a CBA does not become a CBA until agreement is reached ... hence the "A", and hence "joint" sign-off.

The "CBA" that Ravenstahl is willing to sign appears to be just what he discussed -- the Pens' version of a master plan, the resource center, the grocery store, the YMCA and/or the block on Center Avenue -- complete with all the verbiage about "concepts" and "contingent upons".

More terminology.

The Comet will hereafter define the Hill District coalition as that coalition presently taking shape among Hill District leaders -- self-appointed and otherwise (are there any other kind?).

The major constituent elements of the Hill District coalition are the One Hill CBA Coalition, the Hill District Ministers, and the Hill CDC.

There are many other organizations, and the relations amongst them are confusing. But those three units are the important independent units. There are also individuals.

One individual is Tonya Payne -- City Councilwoman, ACDC Ward Chair and URA Board Member. She vowed once at a contentious meeting of the URA in June to support only the One Hill CBA Coalition.

Another example of an individual is Dr. Kimberly Ellis, AKA Dr. Goddess, AKA The Ministers' Imp.


I do not support any funding going to any organizations in the Hill District, whether that's a CDC, whether that's a creative organization -- I don't support that. I think the government infrastructure on all those initiatives that we talked about should be the mechanism.

If the government infrastructure was all it was ever cracked up to be, we would not be having this discussion.

Read Luke's examples. He does not support funding to a CDC, or to a "creative organization." Marimba Milliones, of the Granada Theater and of the arts movement and of the Hill Community Development Corporation, is again being called out.

The One Hill CBA Coalition has Tonya Payne, and it also has Big Labor. So it has many friends.

The Hill District Ministers have each other, and their imp.

The Hill CDC is relatively isolated. While Marimba's great concern on that day was getting in on the Master Plan that will guide the whole process, she is better known for arts and culture initiatives.

Not so high a priority for some.

By singling out Milliones, suggesting she requested "cash payments", Mayor Ravenstahl seems to be villifying the whole idea of community members requesting support for their own initiatives and organizations ... even though a portion of the public subsidy et cetera was earmarked for economic and community development.

He is also stirring up trouble within the coalition.


You mean --
to do the master plan? I'm sure you could, but I don't know that you'd be -- usually they're done by engineering firms and professionals that -- sure you could submit it, I don't know that you'd be selected.

That part speaks for itself.

KD/PG Sunday Edition Part I: Reflections, Public Safety Vehicles, Casino Groundbreaking

KD/PG Sunday Edition Part II
: The Pittsburgh Promise, the Hill District and the New Arena


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Onorato's Reaction

Dan Onorato, on the front page of today's Post-Gazette, responding to a question (presumably) unrelated to the raw footage taken from the Hill.

Valerie McDonald Roberts looks on. (P-G, Pam Panchak)

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Mayor of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

(h/t Revelations)

"I do not support, for example, cash payments to any organization or individual in the Hill District. I want to be clear with that."

Presumably, Mayor Ravenstahl means to include community development corporations (CDC's) and the such, some of which have been involved in the success of projects like the Oak Hill Development complex and others.

The subject changes to the Pittsburgh Promise and education for a while around 2:30.

Marimba Milliones of the Hill CDC later asks of Mayor Ravenstahl whether he is committed to "joint sign-off".

Ravenstahl at first says, "It's not my decision to make personally."

As he expands on this, he suggests, "I don't know if both these organizations are going to agree." We believe he is referring to factions within the One Hill CBA Coalition.

As Milliones further clarifies and inquires, Ravenstahl later says "I'm there" on the issue of joint sign-off.

There was also something of a disagreement as to whether or not funding the Hill CDC towards the development of a Master Plan ought to be described as a "cash payment," either to the organization or to Ms. Milliones herself.

(again, h/t Revelations, which is "appalled" and soliciting comments. Also filmmaker Chris Ivey. LINK)
(for background on the City Planning meeting that preceded this neighborhood meeting, see the Comet at LINK.)

Friday: Elevensies

What can we say? Matt H sets the bar in terms of Kennywood commentary.

I am willing to give them a try. Maybe nothing will change. Maybe no one will even notice that it changed owners. Maybe the park will be better? Did anyone ever think of that? There is always room for improvement everywhere, even Kennywood Park.

That's just the obvious stuff. Then there's this:

If the owners of Kennywood Park were so family orientated and community friendly then why is there talk they they owe the borough of West Mifflin about a million dollars in back taxes? Will the borough put a lien on the property? Will the borough be able to face a legal battle with a giant corporation that has endless resources?

We now share these concerns. At least some public schools, out in that direction, could really use the tax money generated by all that activity.


You might be a financially distressed city if … truckloads of illegal aliens blow past you on their way to Buffalo.

For this and nine other gems like it, hie thee over to Char at the Pgh Pist-Gazette.

You might be a financially distressed city if ... you build a new Fort Pitt before the mortgage is paid off on the old one.


The Burgh Diaspora really ought to have been added to the Comet Blogroll some time ago.

Go learn about what Winchester Thurston School is doing with the Confucius Institute, and what they'll both be allowing you to do for free.

Friday's Healthy Breakfast

The Comet is vehemently opposed to Councilman Peduto's new legislation. (Trib, Team Effort)

His proposed Office of Ethics and Accountability should be given a $20,000 line-item in next year's budget, not a mere $10,000.

( h/t Burgh Report. Its link to the Trib article was at first misdirected, unless it was very dark humor.)


P-G pugilist Mark Belko reports on the new Downtown YMCA. Therein:

With UPMC, which will start moving in this spring, nearly 10,000 people will work in the U.S. Steel Tower alone.

Really? It is upon us? This is great. Win-win-win-win-win.

This was one great advantage of the big move Downtown: ten thousand little ambassadors in the pulse of the region's political beating heart.

We don't know the rent situation atop the Steel Tower, but whatever it is, it's hard to believe we needed to "throw in" a giant sign to lure these particular tenants. Either somebody negotiated poorly, or somebody didn't care to negotiate.


P-G columnist Samantha Bennett is onto something. There is a pattern emerging, with these Most Delectable Cities lists.

This week, the city was named by Frommer's -- the folks whose guide you may have used as a pillow in European train stations -- as one of its Top Destinations for 2008. Actually, Western Pennsylvania made the list twice, both as Pittsburgh and as a part of the American Whiskey Trail, which includes Woodville Plantation in Collier, the West Overton Museum in Scottdale and the Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park.

Pittsburgh is scoring high on a lot of charts, and the actual plaudits are getting deeper and deeper. We are going to re-think and re-frame our snortishly dismissive attitude towards this whole subspecies of boosterism, and give something else a try.

Pittsburgh. The world's most highly regarded city.

Squishimondocentenial, anyone?

UPDATE: Ooh, snap, she actually talks...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fiddling with the Blogroll

MacYapper provides aid and comfort to Cyril Wecht, and also attributes the outbreak of Spanish Kennywood panic to Pittsburghers' loathsome fear of change.

Pgh Lesbian Correspondents gives McIntire the award for Best Dressed, even though the social worker in her is APPALLED!

Cognitive Dissonance pleads no contest to laziness, and also finds everything about the timing of the Pittsburgh Promise interesting.

Agent Ska packs it up.

The Other Other is teaming up with the Other Other Other Other.

Pennyslvanians are tops in the pork department. Early Returns didn't quite say it like that, but we just did.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The City Planning Meeting: Let's Go Pens!

Hill District residents and community leaders cited surface parking concerns, traffic flow, and actual historic tragedy in justifying demands for a signed community benefits agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins, regarding construction of the new arena.

Commission Chair Wrenna Watson clarified that no action would be taken during the meeting. Later on in January, the Commission will meet on whether or not to approve the new Master Development Plan relating to the Golden Triangle District.

The 40-50 residents bearing "One Hill" stickers, to a man, demanded that vote be delayed until a C.B.A. is in place. Several echoed the sentiments of George Moses of the Hill District Consensus Group, one of two individuals officially representing the One Hill C.B.A. Coalition.

"This must be seen as the gateway to the Hill District; not enhancing Downtown." He also insisted that that the new construction "must correct the injustices of the past."


Don Carter, President of Urban Design Associates, represented for the Penguins as a consultant and kicked things off.

Carter spoke of previous organized solicitation of community input; he said between 500 and 600 individuals took part. As a preface, he also asserted that "Many of the things" the commission would hear today "are outside your regulatory purview."

He then took a laser pointer and gave an exhaustive presentation of the interior and exterior of the new facility. His presentation identified local access and egress concerns, as well as assurances that changes in traffic impacts are certain to be minimal.

Any pretensions of a "multi-purpose arena" evaporated quickly; the ice and other features were emblazoned with the official Penguins logo.

Due to the topography, the proposed arena will feature entrances on three different levels. The Penguins offices will have "glass onto Fifth Avenue," and efforts have been made to visually blend the new edifice with nearby Epiphany Church in a pleasing manner. A whole series of amenities and diverse food and beverage concessions were explored.


During the lengthy public commentary that followed, several community members noted darkly that all external pleasantries of the proposed facility are turned toward Fifth Avenue and Downtown.

Evan Frasier, CEO of the Hill House CDC, claimed that "there's no beauty facing the Hill District".

Carl Redwood, Chair of the One Hill Coalition, underlined Frazier's point in commenting that there were no drawings of the view from the Hill District. "Only walls and fences."

Comments from the many speakers ranged widely, but all insisted that the Planning Commission delay their approval until a C.B.A. is in place. No division in the ranks was even noticeable -- until one speaker called upon the media specifically to report that "the community is not divided."

Even to a skeptical and learned ear, the dim outlines of some factions within the coalition were only somewhat on display. Mostly this was apparent in whether or not a speaker would gently urge the commission to "delay the vote", or whether he or she would boldly demand that no C.B.A. means "No deal."

The most evident example of this, on the one side, was Carmen Pace -- representing officially on behalf of City Councilwoman Tonya Payne. She said that Payne "has always been supportive of the One Hill Coalition's initiative."

Chairwoman Watson asked if that meant she was "in favor of" or "opposed to" the passage of the proposed master plan. A loud murmur arose from the ranks, "opposed!", but Ms. Pace would not go that far.

An uncharitable account would say she hemmed and hawed -- a more generous account would say she struggled to outline an approach that is more cooperative rather than confrontational.

On the other extreme, Dr. Kimberly Ellis, AKA Dr. Goddess, called the Pens' planning efforts "poor, callous, and indiscriminate."

"It turns the Hill District into their parking lot," she asserted, among other things. As Ellis continued commenting ever louder and with increasing rapidity, she greatly overextended her alloted time. Disregarding the beeper, she eventually became the only speaker with the dubious honor of being gavelled-down by Chairwoman Watson.

The Reverend Grayson, waiting in line to speak after her, gently rapped her on the back with his spectacles out of disapproval -- even as Ellis was backing away reluctantly from the lectern, still finishing her thoughts. Upon finally assuming the mic, Grayson began with, "I'm not going to whoop."

Although he took a different approach, the Reverend Grayson delivered the lines of the day. He called upon the Penguins not only to offer a "tithe" to the community out of the public subsidy allocated for the development -- but furthermore, "Tithe would be 10 percent. Now how about the offering?"

As he continued, growing louder and ministerially more dramatic in his own right, the Rev. caught himself short with a chuckle. "I said I wasn't going to whoop." He quickly wrapped things up.

Bomani Howze, son of Sala Udin and Vice-Chair of the One Hill CBA Coalition, spoke at length concerning the present and proposed street grid. He held up small maps with red and green symbolism to indicate blocked thoroughfares related to the land currently occupied by the Mellon Arena and its surface lots.

The Comet simply cannot resist reporting that Howze speaks with a timbre and cadence strikingly similar to that of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Whether or not this came about by happenstance, or by conscious design, is anybody's guess. Next time he should bring bigger posters, though, and his own laser pointer.

The clock approached 5:00 just before the first non-African American commenter was given a chance to speak. Although he plead for a slight extension, to offer some comments from "a different perspective," Commission Chair Watson urged him (and the remaining dozen or so speakers) to return for an extension of the comment period at January's meeting.


After adjournment, we spoke briefly with Don Carter of Urban Design Associates. We asked him to clarify whether or not this discussion of a C.B.A. fell under what he alluded was outside the Planning Commission's purview.

"Yes it is," he said, also contending it was also outside the purview of "any other body."

Carter indicated that such any such contract would be a matter strictly between the Hill community, and the Penguins organization.