Friday, June 1, 2007

Friday Yada

Art Rooney II criticizes the city's planning process, and says the Steelers "would rather avoid going to court to solve these issues." Which is exactly how a gentleman threatens to sue your ass. (P-G, Belko)

Nevertheless, the Trib ed board awards a laurel to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission for approving the casino master plan. In a generous mood, they also laurelize Mayor Ravenstahl for nixing the amusement tax.

Acting Controller Tony Pokora loses his lawsuit against the state oversight board, failing to increase his office's budget. Controller-Elect Michael Lamb says not only that he's fine with the lower budget, but that the lawsuit should never have been waged. (P-G, Lord)

The electioneering Redd-Up crew workers got cut a little slack on their suspensions, pending the outcome of their grievance arbitration (P-G, also Lord). Many lawyers are quoted anonymously as to how highly unusual / not at all unusual this is. Damn these anonymous lawyers; a plague on the civic discourse, they is!

The Admiral riffs extensively on this last item, including an addendum contrasting the policy applying to the DPW workers with the one applied to Police Cmdr. McNeilly.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Entrepreneur on Violence

Glen T. Meakam, venture capitalist and former Pittsburgh software entrepreneur, spoke before the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania. Kim Leonard of the Trib has the story.

"We have young folks, young kids, our kids who are really suffering for a variety of reasons including lack of economic opportunities."

"The people who have to stay because they don't have those opportunities get into a more desperate situation. That's one reason why the African American murder rate is going through the roof in Pittsburgh."

We admire how he is drawing a direct and quite short line between our crime situation and our macroeconomic situation, and highlighting its importance.

He seems to be stressing how a lack of opportunity causes neighborhood hardship. We would only suggest a more dynamic relationship; that failing neighborhoods in turn act as a weight on our economic growth (and our city treasury, and our bond rating...).

In the blurghosphere, we have many fine thinkers who turn up their noses at electoral political drama, in favor of hoity-toity economic policy. That is fine, but we do encourage them to chime in on this issue, like Mr. Meakam, and suggest some points of intervention.

The Mark DeSantis Post

The P-G's Rich Lord frames him as Marcus the Consolidator:

"When I think of consolidation, that is something that on Day One we would go after," he said yesterday. "Every function of government, every single function of government, is on the table to possibly be merged."

That contrasts Mr. DeSantis with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who has cautiously approached the folding of parts of city government into the county.

However, this puts him in striking accord with incoming controller Michael Lamb. We wonder how Mark DeSantis feels about data-driven decision making.

He said he's heartened by the Democratic primary victories of three city council challengers, and the pro-change platform of Councilman William Peduto, who abandoned a primary run against the mayor in March.

"This will cut across party lines," Mr. DeSantis said. "If you want change, profound change, that's what we're about."

Oh, it's we now, eh Kemo Sabe?

Not to be grossly outdone, the Trib's Jeremy Boren keys in on finances more broadly:

"The debt and liabilities are really off the scale," he said. "Unless it's addressed right now, directly, on a grand scale, it will overwhelm this city. It will overwhelm our ability to take care of ourselves. And to me that's a big deal."

We wonder how long it will take until DeSantis is cast as a dangerous pessimist, and an anti-Pittsburgh's-futurist.

We learn that DeSantis has a master's in business administration, another master's in technology management, and a doctorate in public policy.

He worked for George H.W. Bush and for Senator John Heinz; two more palatable Republicans you can not find.

At the present moment, the media -- from the mainstream to the backwaters and everything in between -- is largely inclined to report on what Mr. DeSantis has to say.

If Mark DeSantis and his cheerleaders ever learn to stop describing their aspirations as "at least getting Ravesntahl to debate," then little will stop him from being perceived as a serious candidate -- and those rusty Republican cash spigots might finally start turning.

All Eat n' Parks Go Smoke Free!!

The Trib's Kim Lyons has the scoop.

"We've been following the smoking ban situation in Allegheny County, and the state's efforts, and we just decided we couldn't wait any longer," said Eat'n Park spokesman Kevin O'Connell. "We want to be nothing less than the world's best family restaurant, and this is an important step in that direction."

This will surely alter the composition of Eat n' Park clientele somewhat -- we are thinking of the location on Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill, filled with rebellious teenagers and college-age night crawlers through the wee hours of the morning.

Then again -- mightn't they continue to show up, and simply wind up smoking less as a result? Mightn't just a few of those kids, who would otherwise have been exposed to the ultra-cool world of smoking over Cookie Fudge Fantasies, actually dodge the nicotine bullet altogether?

Fantastic Voyage

P-G columnist Brian O'Neill wistfully recalls an accidental car trip he took down the East Busway, some 18 years ago. A wrong turn on Baum Blvd. resulted in a miraculously swift, strikingly beautiful, utterly stress-free trip straight to the heart of downtown.

Former County Chief Jim Roddey has been enjoying personal busway privileges since he stepped out of office, but that perk was just recently stripped away. O'Neill used the occasion to beg Roddey into taking him along for one last glorious ride, for auld lang syne.

Editorial Aside: If it means that much to you, Brian -- all together now -- RIDE THE FRiKKiNG BUS!!!!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Casino Master Plan Unanimously Approved

The Planning Commission hearing we witnessed yesterday, which ended in a unanimous vote of approval, was full of spite and acrimony.

The chair of the Planning Commission itself lacerated the mayor's Gaming Task Force for not having provided a single, comprehensive report of the progress it was charged with facilitating, and for providing no representative to the hearing.

City transportation planner Sidney Kaikai fumbled through a long synopsis of sixteen traffic-related conditions the casino must meet for approval, and avowed repeatedly to much progress already made, and the nearness of agreement. However, this rosy assessment was repeatedly and emphatically contradicted by all stakeholders concerned.

David Hillenbrand, president of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, said the casino development project posed an "existential" threat to the Carnegie Science Center. Other science center officials testified that PITG Gaming had not been remotely cooperative, and in fact the few new modifications over the past month will make things even worse.

Steelers representatives also testified to zero progress, and described a pattern of PITG promising cooperation, accomplishing nothing, and taking advantage of deadline pressure to get what they desire.

The Pirates also objected to approval, and disagreed with the Planning Commission's legal definition of "shall." In their view, to say roads "shall be provided for" means the plans must be concrete and the roads yet-to-be-finished; not the plans themselves yet-to-be-envisaged.

The Commission itself seemed chronically unaware of its own procedures, precedents, and especially of its powers to enforce the conditions. At one point, a science center official interrupted to tell them they absolutely did have the power of enforcement, and that they should consult their solicitor.

For its part, a PITG official seated behind us kept muttering that giving the commission powers of enforcement would be "opening Pandora's box," and that all the stakeholders could "just line up." In public comments, the PITG rep accused their neighbors as being unreasonably all-or-nothing and too quick to resort to bashing the casino's intentions, and of shutting them out of negotiations.

After the comment period, during the brief "deliberations," one commission member lamented that no one had come forward to argue on behalf of taxpayers, who must be impatient to start realizing casino revenues. He said that the commission "should not be seen to hold things up," seeming to beg the question of whether something ought to be held up for good reason.

They wasted little time getting to a vote, and although ironically it was the casino that tried to object at the last minute to a condition involving a gradation, the master plan, with the city's sixteen conditions, won unanimous approval. The Comet gauges the likelihood of legal action at the state Supreme Court as high-to-definite.

It may or may not be instructive to note what a mid-size birdie just told us: that two Democratic committee members (one a ward chair) were appointed to seats on this Planning Commission by Mayor Ravenstahl in the week just prior to committee endorsements.

Wednesday Briefing

Mark DeSantis got a whopping 910 write-in Republican votes, enabling him to face-off against Democrat Luke Ravenstahl in November. A preview of the big showdown, care of the P-G's Ann Belser:

"We need to bring back the spirit of public service and excellence to government," Mr. DeSantis said. "This is just a great wonderful city and it's not fulfilling its potential."

And this from Ravenstahl:

"I look forward to continuing to govern the city of Pittsburgh, which ultimately, in my opinion, good government translates to good politics, so that's what the focus will be."

Ravenstahl kicked off his bid for election by proposing to eliminate the 1.25% amusement tax on non-profits, reports the P-G's Tim McNulty. This will save performing arts groups $450,000 per year, much to the delight of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Or, if you prefer, it will cost the city roughly 4 (four) McNeillys annually.


The Trib has two (two?) articles by Andrew Conte about the history of illicit gambling in the city.

Did you know that the city charges a $485 annual licensing fee per video poker or slots machine utilized "for entertainment purposes only?" Perhaps not for much longer.

Simone Hickey holds licenses for five machines at her South Side gift shop. She said she doesn't pay out money to players, but worries about losing customers when the casinos open.

Without the income, she would have to work longer hours or offer more merchandise. She fears the city will outlaw the entertainment-only games.

"Why now kick us to the curb?" said Hickey, owner of Simone's in the 1400 block of East Carson Street. "(The games) are part of my income. If they do that, aren't they being hypocritical?"

Editorial Asides: No sympathy for such scofflaws? Check out the other, more historical article:

Gus Greenlee, a numbers runner in the Hill District from the 1920s to 1940s, used his proceeds to open the original Crawford Grill nightclub, form the Pittsburgh Crawfords Negro League baseball team and build a $100,000 stadium in the neighborhood.

Tell us again why the state feels it so important that only a select few get to "run numbers"?

And finally:

"Go to some of these social clubs, and who goes in there to politic, to drink beers?" McCabe said. "It's the police chief, the local politicians meeting in different social clubs where they have these slot machines going."

Why are these politicos unable to get their work done over an innocent root-beer float?

Monday, May 28, 2007

From Newark to Pittsburgh

The New York Times has a gargantuan story by Andrew Jacobs called Newark Battles Murder and its Accomplice, Silence. It describes a scene common to many American cities, very much including our own.

It covers outdated police equipment, political patronage, and lack of opportunity in poor areas. Yet what struck us most is the universality of these kind of tales:

One night, the rookies clambered over backyard fences in pursuit of a mugger, tackled and handcuffed the suspect and marched him to the crime scene, only to have the victim snatch back his wallet, refuse to press charges and saunter away without so much as a thank you.

This cannot be simply attributed to a wildly successful "stop snitching" campaign. It was the reality that caused the slogan. Mistrust of the police now comes naturally and easily.

In the few moments it took officers to scurry down the block, the killer had vanished, leaving a man slumped in the street with a bullet in his face and bystanders who treated investigators like a band of pesky door-to-door salesmen, shrugging that they had witnessed nothing.

It really, really, really is like Iraq.

Just as the article was becoming too depressing to read, the futility too overwhelming to bother with, comes this note, tossed-in as an aside after fifty paragraphs:

Most of the killings are drug-related, and while a new citywide narcotics unit is making a dent, Newark’s reputation for having the purest heroin in the region keeps the customers coming, and the South Ward’s four highways bring them straight to the Fifth.

One reason the cops operate in isolation is because everybody has something to hide, or somebody to hide. Respect for the law has suffered because the law is now consumed with hypocrisy and trivialities -- and is complicit in creating opportunities for lawbreakers.

There is a solution to urban violence. Or rather, there is a hugely necessary first part of the solution, and it is sitting right under our noses.