Friday, August 13, 2010

Communities Wondering over Miles Investigation

When justice is constipated, fissures develop.

Community and civil rights activists sought swifter justice for Jordan Miles on Thursday, urging the arrests of three police officers accused of beating the teenager this year.

"Here we are sweating in mid-August, and we don't have it resolved," said Tim Stevens, head of the Black Political Empowerment Project, a Hill District advocacy group. "If we cannot have justice in the beating of Jordan Miles, who in this city is safe from police abuse?" (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

Must-read background to yesterday's petition delivery the Courthouse appears in this week's City Paper. That article's hook is that the three officers on leave continue to get paid, including considerable "overtime". That may seem wrong, but it should become clear that that much is inevitable -- they have yet to be charged with any wrongdoing.

Of course they've yet to be cleared of anything either, and therein lies the problem.

"It was our advice that a prudent course of action was to keep the [city's] investigation open pending the outcome of the federal investigation," says Regan. "The federal investigation may reveal new or additional evidence that would benefit our investigation." (CP, Chris Young)

What our city's solicitor means is, "Can you imagine if we find fault with these guys, and the Feds clear them? Oy! Or can you imagine if we clear them, then the Feds convict? Double oy!"

A worrisome Catch-22 that I do not envy at all. Yet maybe it should highlight the importance of the city doing its investigation of the incident well and getting it right, so that there will be no direct contradictions -- instead of the city waiting on the Feds, who may be concerned with broader or deeper aspects which would explain the time being consumed.

"I don't know what to say about this," says David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who specializes in police issues. "It's very peculiar." (ibid)

Co-sign 'peculiar'. This can't be the first time a local government has faced this quandary.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

GasBurgh: Where Best to Focus?

To my way of thinking, here is the scariest scene in the movie Gasland:

A map of the Dallas / Fort Worth / Arlington metroplex. Red dots indicate gas drilling / frac sites within that region's Bartlett Shale -- not individual natural gas wells mind you, but "pads," or sites which may contain up to ten wells.

So there's no drilling whatsoever "in" Dallas, or in Arlington, or seemingly little to none in Fort Worth. There's just a massive carbon goiter attached immediately to the north and east of these municipal boundaries. We could debate the demonstrable or assumable hazards of drilling whatever these might be -- to water supplies, to the air, to the landscape, to humans -- but it seems we can infer that the cities will be impacted almost the same as if the wells were in the cities proper. Water and air are like that.

Now, here is the scariest thing I've read recently in a newspaper:

Cranberry supervisors Thursday night postponed their upcoming vote on a Marcellus Shale gas drilling ordinance to allow more time for input from the public.

The ordinance will allow drilling in commercial or industrial zones in the township but not others. Most of the areas are located around Route 19 and not residential areas.

But some people who attended the meeting said the ordinance should include more rural areas of Cranberry to allow landowners the opportunity to profit from drilling. (P-G, Lindsay Carroll)

Ooh, boy!

There has been some excitement over new proposed drilling regulations in the City of Pittsburgh and whether these are "the right ones" or "good enough" -- as well there ought to be. Yet in a sense, in isolation, that hardly really matters.

It doesn't sound as though Allegheny County will be inclined to be nearly as restrictive as Pittsburgh on even its best day. And we can be certain that the Commonwealth, despite the noblest intentions of Sen. Jim Ferlo -- which actually possesses legitimate straightforward legal authority to regulate drilling, unlike local governments -- will be even less inclined to act protectively, seeing as how it is populated with honest-to-goodness, sometimes reflexively pro-business, environmentally skeptic Republicans, frequently comprising a majority. And the nation as a whole, despite the noblest intentions of Sen. Bob Casey, seems out-to-lunch on this one.

So here we are. We are the City, we only have any real influence right here, but it doesn't matter because we cannot -- either legally or practically -- effectively regulate.



Unless Pittsburgh somehow gets it together to demonstrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that certain fracking practices are detrimental to the public's health and welfare -- in which case we should be able to legislatively disallow those exact uses. Not to disallow "drilling" mind you, only the certain uses of X's, Y's and Z's on our turf.

If we can accomplish that successfully -- and it might take some time -- word should spread fast. Fast enough not only to inspire other local governments, but also to make statewide or national actions more likely, and garner a significant amount of the kind of attention we love.

That's the kind of thing Pittsburgh might actually be good at. We are a nexus not only of land use attorneys, but don't forget also of universities, of science and research, of nimble communicators and civic activism. To an extent we're an outpost of global civilization in this Marcellus Shale area, the "Paris of Appalachia" as some might put it.

We can't do the deed alone, but we might if we harness the efforts of absolutely everybody in the country who is also working on aspects of this, arranging these efforts in concert -- including folks presently studying the aftereffects of gas drilling on communities surrounding the very first shale fracking sites out west.

We are known to talk at random intervals about "reaching out" and "starting movements" and "leading" and "cooperation", but the fact is that's really difficult, and time- and resource-consuming; far easier to talk about than do. But theoretically, it's possible.

We're already getting started.

Alright. We're getting way ahead of ourselves. First we start looking at the kinds of things claimed in Gasland and what the natural gas industry and others say in response, and how that all comports with our common sense. I'm sure a lot of you have been thinking, "This is crap, there is no problem here, let me make money off my own land and create energy and jobs."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Notes on Pensions / Parking Arrangement

Sale of parking could aid other projects (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Yes, the "$300 million" we've all been mentioning is only a practicable bare minimum. We all hope to, and expect to, earn more for the lease. From the article, it sounds as though most would prefer to plow any overage also into pensions.

Mayor releases revised parking lease proposal (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Congratulations, community! Now there probably won't be any overage to speak of.

Last but not least:

Article here: Bloomberg, Darrell Preston. It looks like Chicago's private parking operator is projected (somehow or another) to collect $11.6 billion in revenues over the 75 years of its lease, or an average $154 million per year -- with which it must also run that operation. Looks like Chicago's operator paid $1.15 billion for the concession on day one, or the equal of 7.5 years worth of projected revenue, that is 10% of the lease.

Here is the full context of the term "dubious" in the article:

The deal was “dubious” for Chicago, its Office of the Inspector General said last year, because the city’s chief financial officer, who negotiated the agreement, failed to calculate how much the system would be worth over 75 years. The present value of the contract was $2.13 billion, more than the $1.15 billion the city received, it said. (ibid)

So that city office claims the lease ought to have been worth about 18% of lease revenues up-front over its lifetime, instead of just 10%.

ASIDE: Chicago has an Office of the Inspector General?!? Sounds like some kind of Controller on Crack, or an Auditor Plus Attorney General. Do you suppose it's a full-time, serious operation?

Chicago just does things differently. It elects its City Clerk -- sound like fun?