Monday, January 14, 2008

Planning Commission Surprises No One

For now, it suffices to say that the Planning Commission was once again hoodwinked by a completely vague, unspecific, probably misleading legal non-opinion -- or else they used said non-opinion as an excuse to let the Mayor's will be done.

This time the advice was issued by our actual City Solicitor (who was prevailed upon to sit through whole ghastly meeting clearly just so he could respond to that "spontaneous" question from a commissioner), although the Commission easily could have voted according to their own reasonable interpretations of their charge, allowing the applicants to challenge that interpretation in court if necessary.

Instead, when a Commissioner asked [CORRECTED] whether it would be legal to delay approval of the Master Plan for the sake of completing the ongoing negotiations concerning benefits to the community, they were told twice very deliberately that "the issue of a CBA is not before you," which was not a yes or a no, and was clearly begging the question of whether or not they could legally take that responsibility upon themselves.

UPDATE: It is important to note that nobody was asking for a rejection of the Penguins master plan. That was underscored several times. The public was pleading for a two to four week delay, to allow the thrilling progress made through negotiations with the city and county to continue.

The master plan passed 5-3. Two of the no-votes announced themselves only well after passage was assured.

Commission member and Walnut capitalist Todd Reidbord took off somewhere just before public comments began. He returned to his seat at the table just after the public was finished. We thought that was particularly special.

There may be a few other ways to skin this cat, but it would seem the Hill lost a certain amount of leverage. We'll see what happens to negotiations after today.


  1. Commission member and Walnut capitalist Todd Reidbord took off somewhere just before public comments began. He returned to his seat at the table just after the public was finished. We thought that was particularly special.

    He must have been closing a deal, or doing something really important.

  2. Actually, Reidbord stayed and listened to the first batch of six or so comments. Then followed a long procedural discussion about whether or not there would be another batch of thirty or so new commenters.

    Reidbord got up for precisely that amount of time, reentering when it was all over and Sidney KaiKai was ready to go. Maybe it was a protest.

  3. Bram,

    Do you happen to have bootleg footage of the KDKA TV spot in which you were speaking yesterday?

  4. Found it online. Maybe someone should capture it.

    Click on the "Master Plan Approved for New Hill District Arena" video which is currently the third one down on the left.

  5. David Highfield, you snake! It's actually here:
    "Maybe the procedure should change."

  6. A "Hill District Resident" at heart.

    Well Done Bram.

  7. I think I put it up on the Pittsburgh United Press page too! Forever immortalized. I'm glad they allowed "extra" public comment, but this means that unfortunately their attempt to quell the public's voice was not mentioned in the press.

    Their insistence that only people who had "signed the list" to speak last time was fallacious. There was no list to speak last time and as things broke up one of the commission even commented, "Oh, I guess we should have gotten a list of everyone waiting in line." The list they were using was the sign in sheet, which was full before the room was even half full and no new sheet was ever produced. There were people standing in line at the last meeting whose names were not on the so called list, AND the list did include a reporter (for rust belt radio) who signed in but not to speak, and the woman who signed in between me and another person--yet neither me nor the person after her were on the list to speak either.

    I understand their desperation to shorten a 7 hour meeting, but it was too bad they tried to do it in such a manner.

  8. If you ask me, putting up a front not to allow any new speakers was a stunt. That way, when the people were FINALLY allowed to speak (after half an hour or more of arguing about it), they felt like they actually won something that day, like they changed something.

    Scheduling so much business before the Arena issue was pretty low, too. The meeting didn't start until 4:40. Do you think they were trying to drain the numbers / energy out of the room?

    Also -- doesn't the interminable Sidney Kaikai routine usually come beforehand, not afterwords?

    Also also -- hello planning commission members who voted "with the community" -- you didn't have ANY follow-up questions for our City Solicitor??? You didn't say a WORD to move the discussion in the direction you voted for ... meekly, silently, after the die was cast?

    I can appreciate the symbolic vote, or the protest vote, but I expect better performance next time during the hearing if you're really "with the community."

  9. Oh by the way. Did I mention the microphones around the Planning Commission's table were not working that day.

    People were passing around a cordless instead.

    During the discussion of whether or not to hear the extra 30 or so comments, the cordless mic was abruptly turned off, and the board fell into a heated whisper discussion. Still not sure whether or not that's kosher.

  10. And can anyone confirm that news of the happy 1:30 press conference was embargoed until 2:00 -- and that this is highly unorthodox?

  11. Who were the two No votes who announced themselves "well after passage was assured"? I wondered about that - I know the three Nos were Watson, Ernsberger and Garfinkel.

  12. I believe it was Watson and Ernsberger. I hope I am getting this right.

    Ernsberger changed her yes vote to a no vote suddenly, emotionally, without explanation.

    Watson held off on voting at all until she counted the others, and then she declared that yes, in that case, she will cast her vote with the community, and banged the gavel.

    I don't know Garfinkel's story.

  13. Alright. KDKA's Kevin Miller has an interview up with Commission Chair Wrenna Watson. It is deeply weird.

    I'll just mention that she says it would have been illegal for the Planning Commission to delay the approval. She mentioned the necessity of adherence to the code.

    Tim Stevens of B-PEP pointed out to Solicitor Specter a section of this code ... I believe he said "part two" ... but of course he did not have the conch.

    Does anyone know this code, and what section such as that may have been relevant?

  14. Is this the same Todd E. Reidbord of Walnut Capital that got the huge million dollars of TIF money for the Bakery Square project that is in Larimer, (advertised as East Liberty)using that community’s certificate of blight to obtain the money and then committed a mere $15,000.00 to spruce up Larimer Avenue and millions to re-do the Penn Circle? How could he vote against benefits for one distressed community and then ask/take from another distressed community – double standards here.

    Also who is in control of the public millions that Walnut Capital got for the Above Ground (2nd story) hotel that is going to floating in air because it doesn’t qualify for TIFs if the hotel is attached to the ground project?

    This isn’t a sign of disrespect, it’s a sign of ignorance.

  15. GOOD POINT, anonymous.

    People. Start looking at this as what can happen to Pittsburghers.

    What happens to one Pittsburgh neighborhood can happen to any. Larimer is getting toyed around with right now. How long until Greenfield? Troy Hill? Carrick? Stanton Hieghts? Eliot?

  16. Good job on the mic BRAM.