Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday: The Dissonance Continues

Solicitor George Specter said he had not seen that code provision invoked in his 21 years with the city, and people could balk if asked to testify under oath, potentially leading to contempt proceedings. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Why balk?


"Political pettiness has been surrounded around me since the day I got here," she added. Who's behind it? "If any of us don't believe that Sala ain't still behind the scenes ... You've always got him, behind the back, trying to maneuver, whatever." (Early Returns)

Bloggers can be so ungenerous.


During a meeting last week with state legislators, bar owners and restaurateurs, Mr. Onorato said he would consider legalizing poker machines and other gambling devices in Allegheny County bars and taverns to create tax revenue that would allow the county to eliminate drink tax. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

Tavern owners are our hero.


"How can we compete?" said Westman, who will serve his last day as director on Wednesday. "We can't fill positions and if somebody does come to work for us, they may be at the bottom of their class and have some problems getting a job elsewhere." (Trib, Allison M. Heinrichs)

We could start taxing property based on current assessments.


Board member Sherry Hazuda questioned whether it would make more sense to keep Schenley open while fixing it as opposed to shutting it down. (Trib, Bill Zlatos)

Way to move the chains, Sherry Freaking Hazuda! That May '07 primary is looking better and better every day.


COMET CORRESPONDENCE: You know the Comet agrees with you, Ruth Ann, it's just that we are so much more concerned about the skullduggery occurring slightly to the south and east. Run those colors up your mizzen-mast, and there's a whole fawning blog post with an Ella Fitzgerald video in it for you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Liveblogging the Wednesday at City Council

As we entered at 10:00 AM, Tonya Payne was addressing a room full of 3rd graders from Allegheny Traditional Academy about what's involved in working in city government. Jim Motznik popped in to ham it up for the kids as well.

10:42 Okay here comes the billboard investigation. Kraus motions to approve. Didn't catch who seconded.

10:45 - Peduto: "We are in violation of five different parts of the city code." The importance of swearing in those who will speak before council. "Those three inches are what separate us from Soviet-era Russia."

10:48 - Peduto: "We can't close our eyes tight enough to make this go away." We must protect the home rule charter. This is problematic of a much larger problem. (Pat Ford's deputy is sitting in the back of the room.)

10:51 - Shields: "It is about recognizing the standing of the representatives of the City of Pittsburgh to carry out the law." He clearly sees this as the latest step of a continuum. Shields and Peduto did not like hearing about this first in the P-G.

10:53 - "I think we have come to a point where the administration must recognize the authority of Council." He wants the administration to "rescind what they have done." Seems to think an investigation is "serious and weighty"; would like to offer the admin. a way to get this right.

10:55 - Shields: "We have larger issues" ie why has the ED of the URA taken on such powers, including City Planning? What is the thinking of the administration about a merger? "If Mr. Ford is going to be defacto planning director, we might as well let the mayor of Wilkinsburg be our planning director."

10:57 - Dowd: "I think this is incredibly weighty piece of legislation." It's also important to view this in terms of development, which Council agreed to look at. "I think that before we escalate..." Not investigation, but conversation. Concerned about deep structural questions.

11:00 - Harris: Would prefer to call for an agenda review and a public hearing.

11:00 - Kraus: "It's very clear this sign was denied [in 2004], and it's very clear there were strong reaons." Process set aside. Also goes after the 3 inches of rules comment. "Concerns me greatly. That is the law. That is the code, and it is a standard of conduct that we've all agreed to hold ourselves by." Doesn't know who is running City Planning.

11:04 - Kraus: "The conversation today is more about what is the process of the investigation, rather than whether there is an investigation." (Confuses us.)

11:05 - Motznik: Doesn't approve of the bill as is written. In favor of a post-agenda. "I don't personally believe you just jump in to Council conducting an investigation. I think there has to be a process to get to an investigation, and this is part of that process." Not sure Council is set up to conduct an investigation. We referred the Carlisle thing to the district attorney, who is trained and staffed.

11:09 - Motznik: "I'm not going to support an investigation that's not going to be full, and thorough." Reiterates that he's concerned about process issues.

11:10 - Deasy: "Are there problems with what happened? It looks that way, BUT..." would prefer a post-agenda and a public hearing. "Possibly the 3rd step is an investigation." Again, says Council shouldn't do it.

11:11 - Burgess: "First I'd like to thank Councilman Peduto for his leadership on this matter."

11:12 - Burgess: "It seems to almost any objective person that the process behind how this sign was approved is broken." "I believe Council has authority and is a co-equal part of government." His interests are the institution and its rights, and will never concede responsibility and authority.

11:13 - Burgess: Agrees with both Motznik and Kraus. We need to exhaust the other options; post-agenda and council is in order. Disagrees with Motznik that Council does not "have the authority or the wherewithal to conduct a professional investigation of matters that rise to that level."

11:15 - Payne: "Councilman Motznik is right." Argues, what if we investigated Councilwoman Carlisle, then she could have lobbied her colleagues to affect that investigation? "We may be getting too far out there. We may need to reign this first."

11:17 - Payne: Council investigations would become to political. It's incumbent on us to do the right process ourselves. Spoke out against URA - Planning merger during election. "Everybody was abuzz" about it last year. "I hope this kills that idea." Wants to hold post-agenda and hear from people in our districts.

11:20 - Payne: "I respect the work that you do Mr. Peduto, and staying on top of the issues." But you don't want to "jump into a political battle..." You don't want to start getting political with your colleagues.

11:21 - Peduto: Doesn't want to use position as a bully pulpit; wants to be stopped if he starts doing it. It's not about Luke Ravenstahl, it's not about yada yada.

11:23 - Peduto: We are not a weak council government. We are actually a strong council government. We just don't use it. (News!) Tells a story about a hockey fight. Council is the hockey player that won.

11:25 - Peduto: It wasn't just me who put this together. "It was city employees that called me. It was PAST city employees that called me." Ties it in to the importance of council members.

11:26 - Peduto: Will hold bill. Will ask for post-agenda on Wednesday of next week. Warns that a 27-day clock is ticking. "I still don't think we have to go this route if the administration withdraws its permit." Warns if we keep going down this road, we will inevitably lose a lawsuit and lose money; still thinks an investigation is the best way to go.

11:28 - Dowd: Would like formally amend the motion to hold to make two specific request. Wants the post-agenda to be held through Planning Zoning & Land Use (Burgess), also wants discussion not narrowly tailored to the sign issue, but to broader URA / Planning issues.

11:29 - Deasy: Wants it televised.

11:30 - Pat Ford enters and sits next to Solicitor Specter in front of room.

11:32 - Specter steps up to podium as Peduto is talking. Peduto finishes his sentence, then clarifies that persons and officials are only able to approach the table when they are invited, and if they need legal advice they will ask for it. Specter returns to his seat.

11:33 - Kraus: First says he's proud to sit on a council that can have such civil convestaions. Then compliments Payne in particular on her "common sense." Then clarifies that this is never about politics, and City Council is not a "comfort zone" and should not become one - we need to deal with issues.

11:35 - Kraus: Supports holding bill until post-agenda, but reiterates his urging of the adminstration.

11:37 - Harris: Agrees with Kraus on process, with Payne on URA / Planning distinction. Wants to know what is going on. Will vote to hold.

11:39 - Shields: Points out this is a civil matter, not criminal. Likens it to firehouse closings under Maslof, and Ferlo taking it to court of common pleas. Administration had to go back and change what it did. Administration must withdraw, or do the same thing. Civil, civil, civil investigation.

11:41 - Shields: "Biggest fear is that people will have to be put under oath. And I think that scares the HECK out of some people in this building." Again, this is a civil matter, and there will be civil remedies to anything uncovered. Carlisle investigation was criminal, so there's a distinction.

11:45 - Peduto: Okay, so a hold on the investigation and a post-agenda next week? Ayes all around. 9-0.

UPDATE: There is now a discussion proceeding regarding a ten-year old Disparity Study, and the lack of follow-through on any initiatives like a "Sheltered Market" system when it comes to minority contracting.

After grilling the administration's Mr. Petite of the Equal Opportunity Review commission as to why no new studies have been published for so long, and why so few of their recommendations from ten years ago have been implemented, Councilman Burgess recommended holding new legislation until we have an updated Disparity Study; otherwise we could get sued and possibly be working with bad data.

Councilwoman Payne wants to act on the legislation, because we've done nothing for too long. It's getting pretty heated, but since we're not that familiar with the issue we'll cease liveblogging for now and catch up later.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The "Steelers Fever Forums" Phenomenon

There is another blog out there.

Not so much a blog, but a bulletin board with a discussion thread entitled "New Arena Discussion."

It started up on March 5, 2007; several weeks before Rendell, Onorato and Ravenstahl inked their deal with the Penguins.

From Page 1 out of 51 and counting:

I truly do not understand why this cannot be ironed out. The politicians need to quit talking out of their behinds and get something done.

Fat Eddie is a moron. I wouldn't even trade Haley Barbour for him.


Back to the Pens: Clearly Ed Rendell cares nothing for the west half of the state, and the local politicans around here need to figure out how to get this arena deal done without much held or leadership from him---because if they don't, they will lose their jobs.

Yep. And in 2010, we can make up for an idiotic mistake. I'll be part of that group of voters that send the idiotic Democrat(Rendell) out of office.

Sounds like these guys really, really wanted the state, county and city to give the Penguins everything they want. Ah, sports fans.

Dan Onorato is rumored to be interested in running for Governor when Tubby Tuba's term is up and Ravenstahl is now in a heated mayoral race with Peduto - this will not bode well for their future in PA politics, as there are Pens fans across the state. I just fired off an email to our Lt. Governor, Catherine Baker Knoll, whom I worked for over 11 years.

A more in-depth story on the arena negotiations from today's PG, which sheds more light on the situation. A "table-pounding" outburst from Fat Eddie? Confrontational negotiations from public officials? More evidence that the state and Rendell don't care about Pittsburgh or the Penguins.

This is going to get interesting.


It continued like this through the roller coaster public and private negotiations. One might learn a lot about the Pens deal from this thread, but we'll pick it up when the deal is struck on page 13:

Bob Pompeani just reported on KDKA TV News that a deal has been reached between state and local officials and the Penguins! WOOOOOO HOOOOOO!!!!

I never lost the faith that a deal would get done. I didn't believe for one minute that Mario wanted to take the Pens away from us - he played hardball and more power to him!

A New Arena benefits Pittsburgh greatly. Everybody wins. Except for Kansas City...Lol.
-New Shiny Arena for concerts
-Penguins are saved
-Those crappy houses in uptown will likely be torn down.
-Opens the way for businesses and new housing projects to open along side our New Arena (I hope). Just like Heinz and PNC revived the North Side.
-Luke and Dan save their jobs
-Rendell becomes less of a Philly fathead
-NHL keeps a team in a great hockey market with a rabid fanbase who care deeply about their team.
-The ownership makes a killing. Just watch them rake in the profits.

Thanks for the breakdown. That's actually quite accurate, except for their definition of "everybody."

Luke just won the election for mayor. They might as well not even hold the election because it would be a hige waste of taxpayer money.

That is very clever and ironic.


Okay, so hockey is saved in Pittsburgh! All's well that ends well! Good day to be a sports fan! Thing is, they keep following the intricacies of development -- for months upon months.

For example, in response to some criticism that slots money was being used to fund the new arena in addition to property tax relief:

Oh for God's sake, quit whining people! We're still more than likely going to get property tax relief from the money we get from the slots parlor here. Do they actually think every single dime the city, county and state makes is going toward the arena? What about all of the money that the new arena itself is going to bring in? Dunderheads!

Well, it is entirely debatable whether or not sports teams and stadiums generate net revenue for a municipality. But um, the Penguins are staying! Why is this getting to them?


This is a key section. The following excerpt was reproduced in this Steelers Fever Forums thread from a Post-Gazette article about Onorato meeting with the community:

Neighborhood leaders complained late last year that the Penguins and Isle of Capri Inc., the team's partner in a failed attempt to win a slots casino license to fund a new arena, didn't involve them in possible development plans.

The thread responds to this news bite:

I shall take the Fifth here. That is all.

Ditto. You know where I stand on this issue.

Good luck Dan. God knows you must keep silent when it comes to this topic. We all know what your pegged as if you speak your mind/opinion when it comes to this situation.......

Yeah - like not building anything in that area worth a hill of beans because it will be defaced and destroyed by some of the same residents (and/or their offspring) who are doing all of the BAM-BAM'ing. I say - Mr. Onorato - put up that wall!

MR. ONORATO. PUT UP THAT WALL! Priceless. Now from Page 22:

The new arena is going to bring some growing pains. I see. Pain is the price of progress. But it'll be worth it.

Possibly, I think I said something about this a few posts back, but I guess we'll wait and see. Either way I almost threw a party when I heard about the contracts, lol.

Contracts? What contracts? Why party?

Speaking of new arenas... How about them devils with the new newark arena. what a magnificent architecural structure. I hope the pens get the same designer.

Later on (page 30), in reaction to a P-G article about the Pens and ICON Venue Group and HOK Sport:

Sounds like a pretty reputtable group to do the construction.

Does it now.


You see where this is going. The same people who were demanding public money and public land from the state, county and city at the top of the thread -- "whatever it takes" to keep the Penguins in town (and line their own pockets) -- are now demanding that the neighborhood have zero influence over the shape of this development in their midst.

I just simply laugh and shake my head at them. It's not like I will be giving anybody in that area my business when I go up there for games. My buddies and I will continue to drive down there, watch the game and leave the area for a bite to eat directly after the game.

You put yourself in this situation you *******s. NOT THE PENGUINS! You could have joined us in supporting IOC during our first pitch for an arena, but no, you had to go whine your asses off to the Gaming Control Board leaving ALL OF US who are Penguins fans pissed off.

The hill residents that don't work or go to school need to GET A CLUE. Those of us who go to work to make a living or those of us like me who go to school to help build for our futures so we can make a living would like to have something that we can look forward to after our day at work and school are over.

As I'm sure you understand, Eric- these people don't know how to get anything other than by forceful means (and playing the race card, of course).

They um ... they just want their city to restore their street grid, and would also like some development assistance from through URA to seize on this opportunity just like any other Pittsburgh neighborhood.


Speaking of money, when these guys' free money from the state looked like it could get held up for a moment in state budget negotiations, everybody got distracted and flew into a panic (Page 35).

I swear to God, they had all better get their f'ing asses in gear and get this bill passed ASAf'nP, so that the arena can be built. It's already been delayed due to several project impact studies and the design process - there cannot be any more lengthy delays because of government dick-waving. The money's there - GIVE IT UP, HARRISBURG!

Grrrr! Project impact studies! Design process! Sounds like a good time to call Pat Ford!


Voted "negotiators": "No, we want the money!!!!"
Ministers: "No, we want to pocket the money. It's for Jeeeeeeeeesus!!!!"
Voted "negotiators": No, we want to be the ones to shake them down and pocket the money!!!"
This is too funny. They can't even agree on who decides to shake the city down. Priceless.


I can't wait for when we move into the new arena and I have to wait 25 minutes in line to get a beer and a dog because we don't have the most capable people doing the job, but the one's who were simply given the job. I don't spend the money on season tickets in section B to miss half a period of hockey during each home game.


Yeah right! The majority of the people there are not paying the taxes they should be paying to begin with and the majority of the same people complaining are already getting their tax dollars worth of money from the goverment. It comes from my paycheck and is delivered once a month to their front door. Once again, all it boils down to in my book is "Bitch, bitch, bitch, give me, give me, give me, we are owed, we are owed, we are owed.". Nothing but a cheap shake down for handouts.


Screw them. They want the City and the Pens to pay for their revitalization so they can graffiti it all up and destroy it in a year or two? How about getting a J-O-B and spending some of your "hard earned cash" revitalizing your own damned neighborhood instead of spending it on Wild Irish Rose and crack?


And the first homicide of 2008 goes to...............
The lovely part of Pittsburgh known as the Hill District!!!


We posted a link to this Steelers Fever Forum thread in the comments section of this Comet post on January 10, 2008.

The thread went dead for four days. It took them an additional two days to start posting scintillating commentary again.

They probably want a grocery store/market just so their wonderful residents can shoplift the hell out of it. Or maybe they're just lazy to travel to other parts of the town to shop.

And so it goes...

Doesn't the city realize that by giving in to their "demands", a precedent is now being set for residents in other areas of the city to make demands because of the One Hill coalition getting their hineys kissed? If the Pens raise ticket prices again next season, I'll be the first in line B & M'ing. I'll be damned if one damned dime of my money is going to go to those bloodsuckers.

Now we know how the Penguins are being kept on the reservation.


That one is scary because it might be true.

Finally, just a few days ago (Page 51):

The Penguins should ask the One Hill Coalition to go inside the building and pull it down by hand. Kill two birds with one stone for the city, the Penguins and the people who actually work for what they get in life.

Well aren't you nice 83?

Hey, they said they wanted jobs with no questions asked!!!

Well Said.

Why thank you. I'm just bowing to the 'demands' of those who are owed so much in life from me, my friends and my family. Afterall, it is our fault the Hill is in the condition it is in today. Who do you think supplies the crack up there? Yep, your looking at him yo. I think it's only fair that I give back in a positive manner, like basically giving them my check book.

Your money? Your friends and family? Your checkbook?

This is where we have a misunderstanding. It is our money and land. That is why we have boards, commissions, authorities and a City Council that is in control of the decision making.

Our money and land. OURS. To invest however we choose.

If any executive of government led you to believe you are entitled to unfettered access to this whole pot of cash -- if they led you to believe we require your services around the new arena in any way you want, geared only to maximize the size of your contracts -- you have been grievously misinformed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Design, City Streets and Shared Prosperity

Footage shot by
Chris Ivey on December 11, 2007 (THE BIG GAMBLE: Relevant Reference Part 1), at the first session of the City Planning commission hearing on the Penguins arena master plan. The hearing was continued on January 14, whereupon the master plan was approved.

0:05 - Rev. Foster, executive director, Central Outreach research and referral center
2:07 - Bomani Howze, vice-chair, One Hill CBA coalition
3:58 - Howze starts speaking about traffic design.
5:17 - Glen Grayson, pastor, Wesley Center AME Zion Church


Here is a portion of what Howze had to say regarding traffic design:

... There should be some type of consideration of how the street grids, and the mistake that was made 50 years ago, could be made right today. Right now, the street grids are blocked off from Crawford. There's an opportunity here to connect Wylie, Webster, and Bedford avenues in a better way, that allows the Hill District to have some shared prosperity.

The Comet was in attendance at the commission hearing on that day.

We cannot recall blogging even obliquely about any "street grid" in the Hill District until well into 2008, so it is entirely possible we picked this up from him.

Monday: Four Quick Items

Michael Lamb tells us things are moving along smartly in the Controller's Office, though there remains much to do. He says he has discovered some "exciting opportunities" in the area of collecting delinquent city taxes. (Go).

Carl Redwood informs us that yes, Councilwoman Payne is being supportive of One Hill. However, when asked about the community meetings she holds to inform her constituents and solicit input regarding arena development, Redwood said, "Oh, I think there's only been maybe one of those over the past six months." (Juxtapose)

Has Jeff Koch finally gotten himself DDT'd? Are we about to send him to the Isle of Dennis Regan? (Listen)

MODEST COMET PROPOSAL: Just send it (P-G, Joe Smydo) here! (CP, Chris Young)

Rich Lord: "I Called Pat Ford!"

Last week an intensifying struggle over how development is done in Pittsburgh went to the courts.

Next week, it may go to City Council. (P-G, Rich Lord)


The battlegrounds are a mammoth casino garage, a glass-clad arena and a glowing billboard -- examples of progress to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford, and of broken process to a growing chorus in the design community.

Welcome to the End of Act II.

The Comet's only major quarrel with this article is its reliance on "design" as the central thread. "Design" is an imperfect construct for the situation. This is really a matter of control -- over land, resources and processes.

We only worry that "design" will give some Pittsburghers the cooties.

"We've got attorneys driving the vision of the city of Pittsburgh, and we've got to take it back," [Ford] said Friday.

If we had attorneys coming at us from all sides like a troop of angry gorillas, we also would be making the Bush 2000 argument about taking the issue away from lawyers! What's next, unelected activist judges in black robes?

Those attorneys represent city residents. The administration should have been playing by the rules.

"We should be focused on leadership, collaboration and process. We should not rely on 3 inches of rules to tell us how to be vibrant."

You think there are too many rules? Tell us which ones to omit. We'll vote on it. We will also decide what qualifies as VIBRANT.

The development process is likely to change even more. The URA, which now reaches into the planning process more than ever, is considering "significant organizational changes proposed by Pat Ford to further his vision," according to an e-mail by its Deputy Director to Councilman Patrick Dowd, who wrote probing the authority's budget status.

Oh, it is that you have a plan! The Pittsburgh Patriot Act! The mayor must be empowered to act swiftly and decisively as Developer in Chief!

"People are just using the judicial process to question the outcome that they do not like," Mr. Ford said. "We happen to like it."

We think people are using the judicial process to ensure they are accorded equal protection under the law.

To court, then. Several times. This won't hurt a bit.

You realize this is our city, right?