Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thursday: Going Through the Proper Process

In its new application, Lamar argues that the original permit was valid. But it also asks the zoning board to set aside rules that bar new advertising signs Downtown, restrict signs anywhere to 750 square feet, and cap their height at 45 feet above ground. The proposed sign would be 53 feet above the street. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The trip to the ZBA alone would not seem to satisfy the requirement that electronic message signs be subject to Conditional Use approval -- nor the one about amended Project Development Plans having to be resubmitted to the Planning Commission for approval.

Nor does it address the fact that our Zoning Administrator approved the original permit, signed it and notarized it herself, in a final delicious act of paranoid insularity.

Councilman Patrick Dowd said that in his view, Lamar is "actually going through the proper process."

Unless he defines "proper process" as simply walking into a government building and asking some public officials somewhere for guidance, then we disagree. The onus, it would appear, will be on Wrena Watson at the ZBA to disabuse Lamar of their misconceptions about the law.


Arthur Outen, who served as Schenley’s first African-American principal 38 years ago, went Lafean one better. He said not only is there no asbestos problem—there’s no asbestos.

“They removed at least 89 percent of the asbestos over the course of two summers in 1970 and 1971,” he said. “I don’t know if they got it all because they told me and my office staff to stay out of the way. I was also at McNaugher when they took the asbestos out of that school about 10 years later, so I’ll be telling that to city council.” (Courier, Christian Morrow)

It is prohibitively difficult to "go Lafean one better" on whatever it is he says. If this little nugget of information happens to pan out, the conversation switches abruptly from Save Schenley to Save Roosevelt.

Ms. Colaizzi said a referendum could be placed on the ballot to ask voters whether the Pittsburgh Public Schools should borrow nearly $80 million to renovate a building that's historic and beloved, but plagued by asbestos and other maintenance problems. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Except for the facts that those numbers are heavily in dispute, and that everybody is seeking other methods of raising cash rather than borrowing it, this is a wonderful idea.

Ms. Colaizzi also lashed out at council, which has no legal authority over school affairs, for "putting their nose where it doesn't belong."

The only person who rightly has business with Schenley High School is Franco Colaizzi, without whom the School District would not have a single available tutor -- let alone an abundance of duly accredited, professional tutors who need the experience, need the money, and are not required to be in a classroom across town with the rest of their non-School Board parent-having classmates.


Girl Talk, the Pittsburgh laptop artist who rocks parties all over the world, released his new album today on his label's web site, (P-G, Team Effort)

This will be big news for some people.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday: If I Only Had Some Shame

Councilman Bruce Kraus, who, along with council President Doug Shields, wrote the legislation, said the measure aims "to show that Pittsburgh is in fact a very progressive and forward-thinking city" and position it to "attract good-quality employers, and good-quality employees." (P-G, Team Effort)

Kraus was on KDKA this morning. Marty Griffin played his show's version of city council's theme song, If I Only Had a Brain, as an introduction.

Marty was upset that council is concerning itself with a "gay registry" when there are serious problems in our city like failing schools, guns on the streets, and council members that do not get along with the mayor. He also thought it was a dumb idea to ask gay people to register as gay, and to ask them to hand over personal information to the city like utility bills in the process.

Kraus dealt with all that as best anybody can.


Councilwoman Tonya Payne said Schenley's closing would be "flat-out wrong" but didn't know what council could do, except pass a nonbinding resolution urging the school board to study the Schenley matter further.

"There are a lot of stupid decisions made, I think," Ms. Payne said of government. "Usually, they hurt adults. But these are kids." (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Tonya! Darling! Always a pleasure reading your name in the paper. Agree or disagree, know we're always getting the Straight Talk Express.


"Obviously, it continues our agenda to advance green investment in Pittsburgh, and we felt it was really important to demonstrate that the city government is serious about being green," Mr. Ravenstahl said. A staff member and a trust fund dedicated to the concept should help link efforts going on in various departments, and bring about business buy-in and foundation funding, he said. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Wow. Parlay this together with the Department of Public Works' Green Team and the auto pool formerly known as Flexcar, and it's like, Holy Progressive-Looking Mayor, Batman!

The 2-year-old task force, which the mayor co-chaired with Councilman William Peduto and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, is expected to make its recommendations to council next week.



We'll deal with you two later. (P-G, Hart & Bucco)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Don't Fear the Young Ones

(It is hard to look at this week's City Paper without thinking of this oldie but goodie.)

The Trib's David Brown had a nice little article over the weekend about the new wave of young Republicans doing battle in the region.

County Democratic Chairman James Burn said he doesn't feel threatened by the GOP push. Among Allegheny County's registered voters, Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1.

"It's going to be difficult to generate excitement with young voters when there's nothing on the Republican side to get excited about," Burn said. "We haven't even had to cast out a net. For the last 10 months, young voters have been jumping in the boat."

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Too bad, because we need a healthy Republican party to absorb all the conservatives; otherwise we don't know who and what we're voting for, and we get stuck with personality politics. Unfortunately, today's Republican has become less conservative and more anti-rights and anti-global fellowship, so hopefully this new crop can get things back to sustainable.

[Elizabeth Yorio] sums up the GOP's appeal to young voters this way: "Less government and keeping hands out of the taxpayers' pockets.

"Limited government really resonates with young Republicans," she said.

Whatever you say. If we liberals didn't get this lecture every once in a while, we'd probably socialize footrubs or something.

Meanwhile, the Comet got to chatting with Elizabeth Emery Rincon, newly the state director of the League of Young Voters, and asked her what's news.

"Rauwr", she replied.


"Roo Roo!"

"I don't understand what you're saying."


Oh! Rural! That makes a lot of sense. Obama is monopolizing all the arable land in the city and even in the suburbs for the moment, but when it comes to Pennyslvania's heartland, there may yet be virgin doors awaiting their first knocking.

Not quite as easy as canvassing Highland Park again, and maybe not as gratifying as revolutionizing city politics directly. Yet if things like transit funding and public school funding rely on the state ... shoot, even our city politicos pass the buck off to Harrisburg with regularity. It would be nice to have somebody chasing down those issues over there.

$36.8 Million

That would be the amount necessary to adequately and safely repair Schenley High School, according to speakers at a news conference yesterday evening. The figure was alluded to by B-PEP chairman Tim Stevens, made explicit by researcher Kathy Fine, and supported by civil engineer Nick Lardis, all of the Save Schenley movement.

In addition, the cost of preparing other buildings to accommodate Schenley students came under intense scrutiny. The $11 million originally quoted to repair Reizenstein, for example, was "wildly underestimated" by the School District administration, say activists, raising the usual questions about the rest of the District's preliminary numbers.

The notion of a full-blown asbestos crisis was flatly rejected by activists. Airborne asbestos particle levels, which are measured every two weeks, have on every occasion measured lower than the legal limits to be adhered to even after asbestos remediation procedures; moreover, damage to plaster is not so widespread as reported, being limited to a few areas that were rapidly "patched" at some point years ago.

The group demanded that 1) the School Board vote no on permanently closing Schenley High School, that 2) the School District move to immediately create and present a workable, cohesive, comprehensive plan for high school reform, and that 3) a committee comprised of both citizens and School Board members be convened for the purposes of exploring all possible methods and revenue streams for preserving Schenley -- including the possibility of a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.

That last "offhand" notion seemed to take on a bit more gravitas when Vivian Loftness of CMU's School of Architecture stepped forward to make her own presentation, centering around the superior long-term cost efficiency of investing in the Schenley building, as opposed to lesser buildings or new construction.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Preamble to the H.R.C.

In order to achieve increased independence for city government, and more power over local matters, the people of Pittsburgh adopt this home rule charter as an instrument of progress and hope.

It has been created in a long labor, open to all citizens and participated in by many.

The purpose of this charter is a responsible city. A responsible city is one which seeks to ensure that all of its citizens' needs are met, whether from public or private, city, county, state or national sources.

A responsible city is one which expects aggressive action from its officials toward the achievement of dignified housing, useful employment, pure air and water, efficient transportation excellent education, health, safety, recreation and culture, and the other conditions conducive to human growth.

It is one which provides equal protection of the law for all citizens, with no one denied the enjoyment of civil, economic or political rights, or discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, color, creed, national origin, age, handicap or sex.

It is one where all citizens have reasonable access to records and officials and where police power is under civil direction at all times.

It is one where citizens generously accept service in government, participate thoughtfully in public decisions, support public employees in the performance of lawful duties, avoid frivolous use of their rights and supply their government with sufficient resources to meet its responsibilities.

The achievement of the purpose of this home rule charter depends upon the constant interest and concern of citizens.

According to the forward, "The Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter was approved by the voters on November 5, 1974."


1. "The achievement of the purpose of this Home Rule Charter depends upon the constant interest and concern of citizens." We are fortunate that the technology is finally catching up to the need!

2. The need for achieving "dignified housing" is the first specific imperative laid out in the Charter, and it demands "aggressive" action.

3. This can fairly be classified as a liberal charter, what with all that clatter about the government being there to provide for "conditions conducive to human growth."

Monday: The Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Stadium Authority, and the School Board

She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes...

Approached at his Butler Street office Thursday, Mr. Edelstein pointed out a wall of awards, across from a walk-in closet full of keys to the scores of properties he manages. He would not answer questions for the record.

A year ago, WTAE-TV reported that Mr. Edelstein was giving the URA and the Bureau of Building Inspection sharply different estimates on the cost of his facade work. The reports generated a city controller's office audit. (P-G, Rich Lord)

So we're still waiting. It's been a little over a year.

The URA had required that Streetface grants be based on three bids from registered contractors. In recent years, it dropped that requirement for developers that use what Ms. Straussman called "their own contracting companies."

It seems like most of the dubious transactions must have taken place before Pat Ford's reign of terror at the URA, and before his wife Alecia Sirk's spokespersonly reign of terror at Streetface -- correct? -- despite the fact that Edelstein is another anointed "best friend" of Ford. (Maybe that's just how Ford describes people?)

The recent policy changes at the URA outlined in this article clearly point to an increase in the likelihood of government waste. The whining about having to pay "prevailing wages" is a whole 'nother political issue on top of that one.


We just can't get over how good this Ruth Ann Daily column is. (P-G, Ruth Ann Daily)

Honestly, we're like, numb.

While "there's a master plan showing the footprints" of all the longed-for developments, says Stadium Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo, "no schematic drawing" of what a finished North Shore might look like has been produced. Not many of us are very good at extrapolating a finished visual from a mere blueprint -- not even some pros. For instance, the artist's rendering of Continental's contested amphitheater-and-hotel proposal shows a building of uncertain height apparently situated in a meadow surrounded by old-growth trees.

Oh, you know. Shiny buildings. Benches. Children holding parents' hands, eating ice cream. At nighttime, it will glow brightly.

Seriously. Now that the land is once again ours to control, why not figure out what we most want to do with it? Even if the answer does turn out to be, "sell it to the highest bidder and let the Adam Smith's invisible hand fulfill our wildest dreams", how about we shop around for that highest -- or best -- bid?


In regards to Schenley High School, the "spend money on kids not bricks" argument just got a whole lot thinner.

Vivian Loftness is university professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where she served as head of the School of Architecture from 1994 to 2004. (P-G, Vivian Loftness)

She praises the building for natural lighting, high ceilings, good natural ventilation, thoughtful social settings -- a demonstrably positive place to learn.

This reminds us of some reform notions put forward by the first wave of Save Schenley activists -- if the District wants to improve performance, why not take advantage of free federal government programs to serve a breakfast of fresh vegetables everyday, which has shown to increase performance by so-and-so percent?

It's as though the efforts of the administrators are less about educating children, and more about marketing the District. Which is ironic, because something like Schenley can be hugely marketable.

Once asbestos is abated, the solid materials and craftsmanship in the Schenley High School building will ensure that maintenance, replacement and repair costs are lower than all newer schools with less durable construction.

"Abated" is a key word. The industry standard of asbestos encapsulation would be less costly and every bit as safe as a ponderous removal program -- that's why it's the industry standard. Take that lower figure ($40-$50 million), and try to shave some more frills off the renovations (does that still include air conditioning? Why, in my day...), and then finally look for some creative funding sources.

That way we get a lot closer to a School District we really want -- one that is financially responsible, and that also offers the best of what a first-class city ever had to offer.

Is Penguins Bannergate still leaving a bad taste in your mouth? This is an issue worthy of every Pittsburgher's consideration.