Friday, January 4, 2008

Officials Make Amusing Offer to City Neighborhood

Luke Ravenstahl, Dan Onorato and the Pittsburgh Penguins handed down development terms to city residents, in regards to the new hockey arena in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

The Comet has obtained a copy of the seven-point proposal, which we will review now.


1. A Hill District master plan will be undertaken which will essentially be a planning, basic conditions report providing recommendations regarding...

The consultant team for the master planning process will be selected pursuant to a request for proposals.

Hill District community input will be solicited regarding...

A master plan is no blessing, if the community has no role in its development.

We already know the Mayor's opinion as to whether anyone from the neighborhood itself is equipped to handle city planning.

You would think providing some very modest funding to help get a community-originated master plan off the ground would be a good thing. However, they (Ravenstahl, Onorato, the Penguins) already have a fair idea what the master plan should look like -- and don't need the competition.

Pledging to "solicit" community input says nothing at all.

2. In order to identify gaps or deficiencies in or to identify ways to better provide for human services, recreational opportunities, employment and training services and other support services, an assessment will be made...

First, neighborhood residents already have a good grip on the gaps and deficiencies. They have been working hard to bring them to your attention for about a year.

Second, identifying ways to provide better services is not the same as providing those urgently needed services, so pledging to make an "assessment" after months and years says nothing at all.

3. The City and the County will set up and staff with a trained person, a Resource Center in a central, easily accessible and visible location in the Hill District...

Employers for the arena project will be encouraged to fill all new jobs by first considering for employment, and interviewing, candidates referred by CareerLink...

First, the City County Building is easily accessible to the Hill District and has many trained and helpful persons. Hill District residents already know how to live.

Second, the issue is not that residents don't know how to access available resources, it is that there are too few resources being made available to them through that portion of the taxpayer handout to the Penguins clearly designated for Community Development.

Third, to "encourage" employers to look at CareerLink to fill jobs says nothing at all.

4. The City, the County and the Penguins are in support of the establishment of a viable grocery store in the Hill District and will use good faith efforts to cause that to occur.

First, what if they don't want Ron Burkle's Grocery Palace for Downtown? What if all they've been clamoring for is a reasonably priced Kuhn's?

Second, "in support of" and "good faith efforts" says nothing at all.

5. The City and the County and the Penguins are in support of the new YMCA facility being planned by YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh ... and will support obtaining the state funding needed for its development.

First, what if the community would like something a little different than the YMCA? What if they want to consider other models?

Second, why go for state funding? Once again, millions of dollars of public funds and of Don Barden funds were earmarked specifically to go towards community development. Why must it all remain stuffed in Ron Burkle's pockets?

Third, pinning all of the responsibility on Harrisburg to ride to the rescue once again means this term says nothing at all.

6. The SEA and the Penguins will meet with the community quarterly to update and discuss the project including ...

What will these lectures accomplish? Must we explain exactly why this item says nothing at all?

7. When making appointments, the City and the County will consult a data base developed by the community of Hill District residents interested in serving on boards and commissions...

Now this is interesting -- possibly, the most crucial point in the whole proposal.

What Luke Ravenstahl and Dan Onorato are saying is, "WE R UP IN UR ORGZ, BUYING OFF UR LEADERZ!!"

Point seven is supposed to tempt certain prominent figures within One Hill and the minister's group to sign on, entranced by the possibility of getting into the game on Grant Street.

Of course, these folks already have the ability and the right to get involved in government; many of them do. We guess this offer is geared towards the same residents who need a one-man resource center.


In conclusion, and in the opinion of the Comet, the terms sheet issued by Ravenstahl, Onorato and the Penguins says nothing at all.

It bears no similarity to an authentic Community Benefits Agreement -- which would be developed at least as much by the community as by the developer -- and would also be a binding legal contract, without all this verbiage of intentions to support efforts.

It certainly has nothing to do with what any of the neighborhood residents have been talking about.

Pittsburgh's Hill District wants a piece of the pie that is going around. They want some control over their own destiny. They want an opportunity to partner with developers and local governments -- they want the same opportunities given to many other neighborhoods.

You don't always get a second bite at the apple.

C-P to Blogosphere: Look at Me!!

The City Paper endorses Mark DeSantis for Mayor. (C-P, Team Effort)

"Will Dowd get the prestigious finance-committee chair, as many think he might?" (C-P, Charlie Dietch)

Chris Potter to UPMC: We are on to you. (C-P, Chris Potter)

Kimberly Ellis has thoughts (C-P, Kimberly Ellis):

King criticized the continuing de facto economic segregation and inherent inequality, the extreme disparities in the educational system. He railed against poor housing and unemployment and underemployment. But today, there is no King to shield us from the callous attacks that insist that poor people have cultivated a "culture of poverty" and that, indeed, it is their very culture that keeps them poor.

Scholar Cornel West calls this era "the ice age" because "it is the age of indifference ... to peoples' suffering." This is how and why we hear people talking about giving poor people "handouts" while they enrich themselves on corporate welfare. And only this indifference can explain the extreme cruelty exhibited in the so-called recovery of New Orleans, and everywhere Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Bush struck the Gulf Coast.

By the way, we may have promised you something more in today's Pittsburgh Comet. We may have lied. Just familiarize yourself with the P-G article and with the Revelations post and you'll be alright.

The city/county offer was so weak, it may not really qualify as news.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Meanwhile, in Iowa...

... folks are about to decide who gets to be POTUS.
UPDATE: And apparently it's Obama / Huckabee

Paul McKrell, formerly of PAYD*, has hooked up with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

CNN was seen to report that Clinton staffers are somewhat unique in that they are being called upon to shovel driveways, provide child support, and do all sorts of odd jobs for Iowa caucus-goers.

The Comet hopes to provide some audio and video "postcards" from McKrell as the campaign progresses.

Hillary Clinton is actually our second choice, at this moment, for President of the United States.

Now for some words from our first choice, the best possible choice:

Comet readers may also wish to review Biden's remarks following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
* The Pennsylvania Association of Young Democrats. PAYD oversees the elections and some operations of the Young Democrats of Allegheny County, (YDAC), which we have covered in the past. No word on Shawn Carter's army of 20 young African-American Democrats.

Thursday: Scattershot News

County Councilman Charles McCullough (R-Upper St. Clair) wants to charge nonprofits a fee based on their property holdings to "certify" their tax-exempt status. (Trib, Team Effort)

Former city council president Eugene "Jeep" DePasquale passed away. (P-G, Jon Schmitz). For all his "colorfulness," Mayor Masloff says he was "an honest man, who had the courage of his convictions." (KDKA)

Pennsylvania may start requiring students to pass graduation exams; exam performance may tie in with eligibility for the Pittsburgh Promise. Some teachers say No Child Left Behind is already absorbing everyone's energies. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Indefatigable Mon-Fayette Expressway boosters still looking for private funding; proposed highway now being sold as a bypass for the Squirrel Hill Tunnels (Trib, Jim Ritchie).

Dan Onorato unveils incentives to encourage municipalities to merge services (P-G, Jerome L. Sherman). He cited his accomplishments, but did not touch upon Port Authority woes or the drink tax backlash (Early Returns). Jon Delano is impressed by free beer, free wine, free food and free parking; Kristine Sorensen impressed by initiatives described as "bold." (KDKA).

FYI -- the tavern owners are making Dan-O into a household name.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

An Independent Critique

The Admiral just unloaded on the Pittsburgh Promise.

The post resembles an earlier post he had written on the subject, but this one is far superior.

This new post is also much, much longer. The original post was plenty long.

The new post is about sixteen screen-lengths long, including charts and graphs. The first four screen-lengths or so are boring.

The next twelve screen-lengths are hot, as it were. The Comet is raising the News Alert Level to whichever shade is half a grade higher than what it was this afternoon.


The Pittsburgh Promise, on the other hand, has no direct effect at all on the quality of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Indeed, excellent public schools aren't even one of the goals of the Pittsburgh Promise. The Promise will, instead...


Instead of bribing people to accept something that they belive to be an inferior product, it might make more sense to do things the old-fashioned way. Why not provide an excellent product, and let the attraction occur naturally?

And also:

But it won't be the wealthy parents who move into town to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise. Those who are deeply concerned with educational quality aren't likely to be tempted to leave Mount Lebanon or Quaker Valley. The Promise will only provide money for a select group of local and state-run universities, so the parents who have their hearts set on Harvard or who are praying for Princeton won't be tempted by it.

There is a lot to ponder in the article, but it is nice finally to be moving the conversation forward.

Wednesday: Time to Make the Donuts

(P-G, Rich Lord)

On the to-do list: upgrading the performance of both the people and the accounting system that monitor the city's money and contracts, getting involved in school district operations and digging into stubborn costs like workers' compensation spending.

Not on the list: Running for mayor in 2009, despite speculation among political wags.

Wags, yo.

Police continue to investigate at least nine stolen city checks. The probe has been slowed by the difficulty of getting banks to turn over records. No arrest has been made.

"We're going to do everything we can to see that they're prosecuted," Mr. Lamb said of the suspect. "There's obviously an issue with controls. We want to make sure that controls are in place to ensure that doesn't happen again."

This squares up nicely. The Comet received a name some time ago in connection with the theft investigation, and a tip to call Michael Lamb's office for confirmation.

His staff replied that they had no comment, and were still waiting for all the information to come out.

Mr. Lamb wants the office to meet the requirement in the city charter that it audit every city agency, department and trust fund at least once every four years -- a mandate it hasn't met in the past. That means a potentially sensitive audit of council.

"They're a department, and I don't think they've ever been audited," he said. "It's a very small department on a budgetary basis, but they have had their issues."

Off to a bonny start.

(Trib, Justin Vellucci)

His tenure as chief executive of Allegheny County -- which starts a second four-year term today -- has encountered obstacles, from a cash-strapped Port Authority, budget deficits and property assessment headaches to a controversial drink tax, a sometimes-lackluster economy, and US Airways' gradual migration out of Pittsburgh International Airport.

The geese merit no mention in the article.

"His great success has been in creating and maintaining political control," said Robert P. Strauss, an economics and public policy professor at Carnegie Mellon University.


"Holding the line is no small thing," Mistick said.

A thrilling edition of Roddey vs. Mistick breaks out, if you pay attention. Seems Jim Roddey is linking Dan-O's failure to settle property taxes with the need to levy these new irritating taxes, but he's an evil commie mutant Republican traitor.

Onorato is expected to lay out an agenda today.


(P-G, Rich Lord)

N.W. Getz and Associates, of Charlotte, N.C., will be the city's sherpa through the high-tech world of surveillance cameras, the computer networks that guide them and the rules that prevent their abuse. By early June, the firm and the city expect to have chosen a company to build a system backbone and put in enough cameras to watch the port facilities and nearby areas.

Ports? This is a John Kerry operation?

Then comes a phased deployment that starts with port facilities and the integration of existing public and private camera systems. It then expands into neighborhood business districts and the creation of mobile surveillance systems for temporary deployment to crime hot spots, city Public Safety Director Michael Huss said yesterday.

"We know that it's not the end-all, but it's another tool our police can use to make our city safer," he said.

Fair enough.

In a later phase, the city would spread cameras over six-square-block sectors in high-crime areas, and create a movable system that could follow crime shifts from neighborhood to neighborhood, Mr. Huss said. Funding for that phase hasn't been identified.

Oy, and double oy.

"These cameras are going to be in public areas, and in public areas there's not a high expectation of privacy," he said. Avoiding misuse is "going to be something that we're always going to have to monitor."

Who's our consultant for Avoiding Misuse??

(P-G, Edit Board)

Our favorite wished-for headline: New open records law is the best in the nation

Our least: Barden decides to cut height of casino garage


Casino gambling is coming to town -- with all that debt and bankruptcy and alcoholism and divorce -- and you're worried about your pretty, pretty view from Mount Washington? What would you prefer, more surface parking?

(ILL, Pierre Pittsburgh)

If I am allowed to compare Pittsburgh to a woman, I would say it has been like finding a young woman in a corner of library of books. Though she is not of the make of a super model, I sense something special.

This is far and away the best stuff of its kind we've read this year.

(We did just come across a Trib PM dated Monday, Dec 31. We appreciated both the Cyril Wecht gag, and the need to start slow.)


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Dearly Departing

In preemptive remembrance...

To Len Bodack -- You lost by about 80 votes. You didn't want to debate Patrick Dowd. Oh ho ho -- what a mistake. Oh, that would have been priceless.

To Jeff Koch -- Once upon a time, goodness how we savaged you! Since then, you sounded the only sensible note in the whole Cat Licensing fiasco, and you played a constructive role when it came to domestic violence and police department policy.

In the end, the voters wanted change, and they got it. Both of you guys, break a leg out there.

In terms of outgoing councilpersons, the representative from District 9 already outwent. Hardly any reason to bring that up here.

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.