Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy 2013, Pittsburgh!

Looks like I'm going to have to get this blog back into quasi-respectable condition. Tomorrow, of course.  For the life of me I can't figure out why Biden and McConnell don't just dedicate money from the parking tax. It's not even like they have to impress anybody, they just have to keep Joe King happy.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Yuletide: A Circle of Friends

One thing we can say with confidence: if Pittsburgh has a shot at surmounting its challenges, it will be thanks to junior staff like Private Pansy, Clover the Clever and Smart Cookie.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Buncher Co. Gets Strip District Zoning it Wanted

The Vantage Point: Dr. W.J. McKibbon

Who could possibly have doubted it?

Councilman Patrick Dowd has raised numerous concerns about the project, including the possibility of gated streets in a residential part of the development and what he described as an inadequate buffer between proposed buildings and the riverfront.

He has also raised concerns about Buncher's proposed purchase of the historic produce terminal, now owned by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. Buncher wants to demolish one-third of the building to extend 17th Street to the river, and Mr. Dowd said Monday that the developer would use at least part of the building as a "crappy strip mall." (P-G, Joe Smydo)

In response:

"He seems to be angry about a great many things recently. He usually gets that way around election time," said Yarone Zober, the mayor's chief of staff. (Smydo, Something completely different)

This was a tough one for this blog. On one hand, the opportunity for good things to develop on those parcels was always clear and tempting. And there was an extent to which we really wanted to demonstrate that we here are more than reactionary nay-sayers.

On the other hand, as time and the public discussion wore on, that very potential started to work against the urge to move quickly. It became less about breathing fiscal life into some barren asphalt, or cramming residents into a shopping district, than it was about pivoting Downtown and setting the tone for a whole riverfront expansion of it.

The revelation about private drives did not help matters. The extent to which surface parking will be tolerated came as a surprise. Assumptions were made as to the degree to which river life and riverside recreation would ultimately be accommodated. And former Mayor Murphy's recollections about warring with the Rooneys on the North Shore yet later being thanked by them was illuminating.

Why was a majority of City Council so intent to press forward?

"I guess I just don't have as many issues with the development as you do," replied Councilman Corey O'Connor to Dowd's presentation of proposed amendments. One of the few who spoke directly to them. Because that's how these things typically work -- listen politely to all the facts and arguments provided, remain silent in response and vote the other way anyway.

I'm not quite sure how it's possible, to have no issues with the development. There was a lot to improve, and one would think, a lot of leverage to do it with.

That was the alarming part of this process.

"It's their land! We can't tell them what to do on their land!"

Well, to an extent we absolutely can. That's what zoning is. It is really, honestly nothing else but that. Every time we hand over a ton of land or development rights to a sports team or another developer -- we can't tell them what to do on it, but we should be able to tell them categorically what not to do. The extent to which the "We have no choice!" argument was cavalierly put forward was a little disconcerting.

There is no turning back, once zoning is done. If they are permitted to do something at the outset, they can do it for all time, period.

Council President Darlene Harris mentioned to the Comet how this is all going to return to discussion of the Produce Terminal. The Produce Terminal. But if the mayor's Historic Review Commission recommends demolition of it on Buncher's terms, it would take six votes on Council to gainsay that. I'm not liking those odds.

Harris also insisted that development will begin with only the northeastern-most parcel and continue east, up the river. That nothing is going to be built on the majority of the land we have been looking at for at least several years. That interpretation has been disputed.

The question remains, why negotiate so little and move so quickly? It's uncomfortable to contemplate, but was the argument that Mayor Ravenstahl couldn't get something done for the business community that terrifying, that they pulled out all the stops? Raised all the sails? Made all the deals? Frankly, given the rhetorical bombs being dropped on Buncher's vision and the lack of any vocal defense of it, I didn't see a way the thing could pass after a certain point. I underestimated them.

Dowd's many rejected amendments still exist, somewhere. On canary, or perhaps goldenrod paper. Mayor Peduto said he didn't see in them anything that came out of the "Dowd playbook" (not sure if that was an insult or a compliment) but from the Allegheny Riverfront vision and others, and supported them all. Councilor Kraus said he was deeply impressed with Dowd's work and his exhaustive knowledge of the issue. Councilor Rudiak was plainly flabbergasted that something so wonderful appeared on the Council's table.

But no more votes. Not piecemeal, not for any single one of the scores of them. Nada.

The whole affair places Dowd at an interesting political crossroads, incidentally. He has gone quite far criticizing Mayor Ravenstahl for this, not to mention for the pensions strategy implementation and on character issues, or at least leadership issues. And suddenly Council members O'Connor or possibly Harris have supplanted him as the new swing votes.

It seems Councilor Dowd can either "reset" his political posture over the new year's break, seeking to recapture the middle and all that comes with it. Or he can press forward as part of a faction whose members' style and whose strategic capacity are not everything he desires -- but where his own politics seem most naturally to belong. Stand where stands and let the chips fall around him.


I guess he's going with Option B.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bill Peduto campaign themes & vision: Courage, Efficiency, Collaboration and Clean Up

Brooklyn Bridge Park

* - UPDATED below with VIDEO from Announcement

To me, those four seem to be major themes on Councilman Bill Peduto's own new mayoral campaign website.

Bill Peduto was the first elected official to call on the city to seek Act 47 status and was criticized for his stance at the time. Bill understood that the only way to balance the budget was a complete restructuring of city government. In 2003 Bill proposed a series of cost-saving measures to the city budget aimed at restructuring how the city spends money — although these measures were rejected by other city leaders at that time, these amendments eventually became part of the City’s Act 47 Recovery Plan. (Issues)

That includes courage and efficiency right there. It's a strong argument for leadership chops, if you happen to be enthused about a city on an upswing.

Bill Peduto has also been directly involved in over $2 billion in transformative redevelopment of the city’s East End. Through his 16 years of work representing and working in Council District #8, Bill Peduto has had more experience in transforming Pittsburgh’s economy into a Med/Ed New Economy than any other politician. (About)

This could be trickier. Get ready to see Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's forces raise concerns about gentrification. No, I'm not kidding. Don't click away.... expect the Ravenstahl team to find exceptions in and reservations about how Peduto applied a "growth" philosophy, maybe through strong surrogates and a fair number receptive to that argument in the community. If there's one thing that's always more controversial than development, it's redevelopment.

There is even more material in the "Blog" section: the post on the parking lease is particularly strong. It alleges a $2 billion projected leak in the lease deal bucket that frankly is news to me.

Okay, enough. Own words. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Announcement video:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ravenstahl Themes and Vision: Growth, Etc.

Andreas Munzer via rbbgear

Available freely as updates on the City of Pittsburgh mayor's office news page:

[W]e must view these accolades as a challenge to keep improving.  Through partnerships that nurture innovation and job growth, and balanced budgets that hold the line on taxes and invest in programs to keep our neighborhoods safe and clean, together we will make sure that Pittsburgh stays on top. (Luke Ravenstahl)

There follow several recent examples and stories.

Growth, and the minding of the environment for it, continually emerges as a key theme.

Community is alluded to obliquely under responsibilities to provide for safety and cleanliness. Civic process, justice, data-based decision making and efficiency as well as key known hurdles did not make it into this one edition of the news.

Read it if you're just getting started, and want to learn about the Ravenstahl administration in its own words.

Budget '13: Serene and Satisfied

KushinagarOnline: A heritage of India

It's almost too exquisitely quiet.

With little discussion, Pittsburgh City Council today gave preliminary approval to the city's 2013 operating and capital budgets. (P-G, Joe Smydo; see also Trib, Bob Bauder)


So parking, pensions, development and vision aside, we of the many tribes are all agreed: this is a good game plan for running the City for the next year. Good!

We should thank Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, his Finance Department, the Harris Council and the ICA in that order if we seek to be perfectly appropriate. Yes? And the Controller. And labor leaders. Even the pension fund managers this year, who reportedly achieved about 12% returns!

And the Framers, and Providence.

The degree of unity is heartwarming. Onward into Fiscal Year 2013, Pittsburgh! Woo! Bugger your budget holes!

AND STAY TUNED:  For more on that riverfront situation.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Political Notes 12/10

TV Tropes

One mayoral contestant from each land mass might not be such a pointless endeavor for challengers, suggests Joseph Sabino Mistick at the Trib.

That idea presupposes there are a large number of people in the south who would be excited to vote for Controller Michael Lamb, but absent that possibility will go ahead and vote for incumbent Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Hmmm. Possibly. Just another reason that if we don't start seeing rich and publicly available polling data appearing by the early part of next year, I'm going to start vandalizing property.

He also writes:

Expect incumbent Ravenstahl to take credit for every good thing that has happened here since he became mayor. Couple this with blaming all the bad things on someone else and he has a pretty standard campaign strategy. (Trib, Joe Mistick)

But we are reminded today in an article lightly recapping Pennsyvlania Society festivities that this formulation leaves out the more-personally negative complement of any good strategy.

"Bill and I have been opponents now for six or seven years," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "Since the day I walked into office he was running against me." (P-G, Olson & Langley)

Expect a fair bit of this: "Peduto is a bitter and jealous man." Again it's been suggested that three challengers might make it harder for an incumbent to effectively go negative, but I don't know. We have noticed zero PA Society recaps mentioning Lamb, nor in order to draw a contrast did Lamb appear conspicuously in the community over the weekend. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Brian O'Neill at the P-G finds the mayor "never gotten over [the lease] defeat" and more importantly, "chronically unable to get five votes for anything".

It occurs to me. The only present Council member who was around back when Ravenstahl ascended is Bill Peduto. All the other names and faces have changed over the six years. Yet at each epoch in the archaeological record the Council has remained only halfway stocked with halfway, uncertain, situational Ravenstahl allies.

This mayor has made a lot of hay vilifying City Council. But at this late date, isn't this more or less the Ravenstahl Council? Love them or hate them, isn't this about the best Captain Ravenstahl has been able to manage?

Friday, December 7, 2012

FAILURE AFTER FAILURE: From the Parking Lease to Riverfront Redevelopment, Mayor Ravenstahl disappoints

Futil1ty; Knowyourmeme

Part One in an occasional series.

Corrected and Updated.

The administration of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl exhibits a lot of great qualities: a good nose for commercial growth opportunities, a baseline respect for data and research, a nice wide daring streak, a creative bent and a burning desire to transform the city for the better. And it doesn't hurt that the man at the helm is very well-spoken and sharp.

Mayor Luke's greatest difficulties have lain in execution.

Take the current talk of the town, the Allegheny Riverfront: long in the making along the north bank of the Strip District and Lawrenceville:

Mr. Murphy, who made re-imagining the riverfronts a priority as mayor from 1994 to 2006, made a rare return to city hall to speak to city council on legislation that would create a special zoning district for Buncher's 55-acre mixed-use Riverfront Landing. Councilman Patrick Dowd circulated 15 proposed amendments, and council postponed a vote for one week. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Dowd's amendments to the proposed zoning legislation would give several principles and features in the Allegheny Riverfront Vision Plan ( a 20-year conceptual reorientation) the force of zoning law, among other things. He and Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents the area now, say they hope the amendments will pass final legislation will pass so the proposal will not be "deemed denied" at the end of the calendar year.

That's a lot of work for three weeks, while the budget is being completed. And that's if the Buncher Co. declines to openly revolt against radically changing their development vision, multiplying the setbacks and givebacks and other costs and delays.

There are several ways Mayor Ravenstahl might have avoided this. Any one of which might have sufficed:

1. Been far more realistic with Buncher since 2006 (or at least 2009!) that whatever develops in the westernmost Strip ("Riverfront Landing") will have to be of far greater public utility and interest

2. Negotiated a more transparent and conservative program for tax-increment financing of the entire project

3. Done a better job organizing, communicating and deal making with Strip District stakeholders
4. Comported himself with City Council in such a way that he could have achieved one or two more votes on the nine-member body through charm, deal making or prior political conquest

Pgh. Biz Times: Joe Wojcik
Instead, the ineffectual execution has resulted in necessary growth of Pittsburgh's central business district stalling out. The drinking well itself has been permitted to go all murky and strange. CORRECTION: The special zoning district is in fact moving forward with de minimis alterations, although the tax increment financing for the project is still up in the air. The lack of meaningful concessions demanded of the developer come as a disappointment to many.

For another key example in a similar vein, flash a take backwards to Mayor Ravenstahl's parking lease proposal for pensions solvency and security:
Architectural Drafting Servicff
City Council last week defeated his plan to lease parking garages and meters for a pension bailout in a 7-1 vote (with one abstention). Mr. Ravenstahl has called for a pension summit Monday while bashing council's parking-for-pensions alternative and offering to compromise on his proposal to lease the parking assets for 50 years.

As if overwhelming defeat of the parking proposal weren't enough, council members also accused the mayor of bad policy-making and a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. (P-G, Smydo & Lord)

The City might have successfully brought in $400 million+ of investment for the pension fund and for capital needs without raising taxes and without cutting core services if the administration had only done any one or more of the following...

1. Written a more realistic, flexible and demanding RFP and gone on to negotiate a more assertive deal with winning bidder LAZ/JPMorgan right off the bat

2. Proposed committing more of the revenue to pensions and less to capital budget caprice

3. More aggressively and persuasively sold it to the people of Pittsburgh, instead of ceding the battleground to its opponents throughout the summer and early fall of 2010

4. More attentively nurtured his own reputation for ethics, such that stakeholders might have trusted him to negotiate a complex, high-value deal with the private sector

5. Comported himself with City Council in such a way that he could have achieved one or two more votes on the nine-member body through charm, deal making or prior political conquest

So what we were left with come the end of that full, unnecessary year of bitter stalemate and stonewalling was a short-term, small-bore solution, including a budget hole that actually remains curious.


Time and again, the best laid plans and protestations of the Ravenstahl administration for how to move the city forward get rebuffed in acrimony, incredulity and failure. That's no way to move a city forward so it can continue generating dividends for the next generation.

In future blog posts we will examine how this pattern of political failure repeats itself in ways sometimes as crucial and as potentially transformational as a long-term infrastructure lease and Strip District redevelopment.

UPMC's Tax Exemptions on the Watch List: This is what a Grand Coaltion looks like.

Marvel Database

New from Scaife's Scythe:

On the “Watch List”:

• UPMC. The tax-exempt status of the health care giant is under increasing scrutiny. Its untaxed holdings have become quite vast. Compensation for more than a score of executives is quite high. Its charitable care, while numerically high, is a small fraction of its income pie. Expect the matter to end up in some court somewhere sooner rather than later. (Tribune-Review, Edit Team)

The right-leaning editorialists didn't deign to mention the contemporaneous labor organizing drive (and why would they?). This feels like an endorsement for consistency under whatever regime of government redistribution reigns lawful, and a demonstration of empathy for a public which feels starved of economic justice.

Empathy, and a little qualitative empirical support.

MEANWHILE: Rich Fitzgerald pounces (Trib, Bobby Kerlik). The P-G offers several Collected Works worth of background.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pensions & Parking Linkage slipping, slipping...

The Australian;

Everybody loves parking fo' free! Several like the idea of the City staying in the black.

... [N]oting the need to generate additional revenue, council President Darlene Harris said she wants to return nighttime enforcement to the seven neighborhoods. At a budget hearing last week, Mrs. Harris told David Onorato, the authority's executive director, to prepare for the additional hours.

However, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilman Bill Peduto, neither of whom attended the hearing, later said they would prefer to keep the citywide enforcement cutoff at 6 p.m. (P-G, Joe Smydo; h/t Chris Potter)

Bill Peduto's June 2011 open letter (all things being equal) provides a fairly good historical review for beginners of how pension funding and parking rates came to be linked. There is a lot of disagreement over the precise method, but there was general agreement between those two individuals and much of Pittsburgh at that time that the public parking system needs to increase revenues for the sake of crushing pension obligations.

So now are we to understand we're out of the woods?

Or do we have other, more grand solutions to the pensions crisis in mind -- ones which will not include significantly increased parking revenue as a serious component? Pittsburgh awaits.

A word care of the liberal and excellent Keystone Politics:

TRON: Disney Movies Guide
BONUS CONTENT:  By popular demand, here is some good news care of Luke and Co.:

Mr. Ravenstahl, Google, the University of Pittsburgh and other partners today will announce plans for the "Steel City Codefest," a competition to develop the coolest, most-useful apps for city residents, businesses and visitors...

The competition is an outgrowth of PowerUp Pittsburgh, his initiative to grow the city's tech economy. (P-G, Joe Smydo, II)

The fact that Google's offices lie in Bakery Square in Larimer underscores this event's status for many as a Ravenstahl coup. For the record Peduto has also for some time cast himself as a hero of Bakery Square, though not of every decision made along the way.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Must-Reads: Pittsburgh Back from Great Recession; Pwned by Steelers Incorporated

A serendipitous time for two absolute must-read newspaper articles. Educate yourselves:

Firstly, the Pittsburgh metropolitan region has been discovered by a reputable research institution to be one of just three U.S. metro regions to have recovered from the international recession. Welcome, heartening news. Let's hope some of that aggregate superiority trickles all the way down and around.

Many U.S. metro regions have not yet reached the milestone of recovery, especially in light of the global trend -- a national concern.

A sobering prospect since even mighty Pittsburgh's status as leader is in "structural" financial peril...

"Pittsburgh has turned the corner and is the national example of how to grow jobs and innovate. ... But there is still much more work to be done to ensure that Pittsburgh grows even more jobs and remains America's 'most livable' city for years to come," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said in a statement. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

"More work to be done" includes the urban core accounting for pensions and health benefits, as well as infrastructure and equipment needs. Growth would have to be exponential in the absence of new revenue.

There is also an astute short treatise from Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and special emphasis chosen by Mayor Rogero of Knoxville, TN. All contextual gemstones.


steelersfanmx @ Steelers Fever
Now that you're warmed up.. switch to Camera 2, the Tribune-Review, and have the camera pan to our fresh new historic North Shore:

The 30-year lease on the stadium, which opened in 2001 and is owned by the taxpayer-funded Sports & Exhibition Authority, called for $25 million payments every 10 years if tickets, payroll and other sales failed to increase annual tax revenue significantly from a baseline set in the late 1990s. A 1999 state law requires the Budget Office to examine team tax receipts and apply a multiplier to determine if those receipts exceed $25 million.
The review absolves the team of making a rent payment on top of the 5 percent ticket surcharge and 15 percent tax it pays to the SEA on revenue from non-sporting events at the stadium. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

This bonus subsidy, negotiated away in principle a decade ago, is an entirely new and separate issue from that of the Steelers' ongoing lawsuit to get municipal authorities to pay for most of a major expansion at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has said he supports the expansion and wants to find a way for the public to subsidize at least some of it. A spokeswoman said he was not available to discuss the tax credits. (Tribid)

Really? That seems like it would be a less popular position than a more direct, straight-line defense of taxpayers. Unless maybe it can be tied in with lower ticket prices, or ticket access hurdles.... a thought.

At any rate, this generous parlay only adds more kindling to the recent history of Steelers-City development relations which has been combustable and in steady supply.

To this latest chapter Boren introduces the concept of "outrageous multipliers" to meet the trigger for the bonus subsidy, and a timely recollection of the era of State Rep. Don Walko. Entire contents near-legendary quality. Read read read read read.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Post-Gazette Reporter Keeps Vigilant Eye on Confidence in City Leadership

Greenwich Roundup

Today's long mayoral press release to get copied and pasted unmolested by the P-G's Mark Belko deals with a concept City Hall is involved in to cajole Downtown retailers into coordinating more often.

One would think the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership should have that base extremely well-covered, and indeed they seem to, together with some new websiteless Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp. Perhaps an article on why there is now a "Pittsburgh Downtown CDC," on who comprises it, and on what the fact that some of them are on Mayor Ravenstahl's City Planning Commission may signify could conceivably be enlightening to somebody.

But a blurb about the PDP taking on a minor project, or learning about a new and connected CDC, would be no way for Mark Belko to satisfy his longstanding, semiweekly 1200-word quota for forwarding the contents of Yarone Zober's inspiration board.


A store remains Downtown, which is an exciting sign of great things.

Planning Commission just made the Cultural District more spectacular.  CORRECTION: This one's not bad, it's just a useful Commission meeting write-up. Not sure how it wound up on this list.

Pittsburgh Airport continues to excel at what it does.

LEAKED!! Two discount retailers mulling a move to Downtown due to its famous strength.

Millcraft/McKnight bid obviously best, because duh.

Another step forward.

Millcraft's deal falling through no concern at all.

What a steal the city got on that building!

ONE YEAR AGO: Downtown retailers should totally think about working together.

Blight designations for urban redevelopment are completely noncontroversial.

Why collect parking meter revenue? Bizarre idea!

Sports bar, lofts, chic lounge perfect for Hill District.

$1 million from sale of three buildings can in fact be spent.

One time -- one time --  I was highly impressed with a Belko article on Pens' majority owner Ron Burkle. So we know he can write and do research.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

City Council Redistricting Incites Outrage

The new map for the coming decade starting this spring (UPDATRECTION: pending preliminary and final votes) is now viewable HERE. Help me to figure out what changes it signifies. The consensus emerging is that council members Bruce Kraus and Natalia Rudiak got ganked.

The process of City Council redrawing its own boundaries to reflect population shifts had been going peaceably since June, and even that appeared handled. What issues remained near the end appeared intractable and apolitical, and being managed with a (perhaps uncharacteristic) professional unity.

Apparently that did not take. I've heard rumors so far that Bruce Kraus may have lost key supporters, that Theresa Smith was rescued from skulduggery perpetrated by an (suddenly) allegedly biased reapportionment commission, that Natalia Rudiak may have unexpected surprises and that the new candidates in District 8 may have to re-check their addresses.

A salient point is made by Rudiak. It would have been more ideal to be able to study the map one is required to vote on, even if those who drew the map are pretty sure you're going to vote no because that's kind of the point. And although the process clearly states Council members have the ultimate say, one wonders why the proposed changes couldn't be held for a week's worth of engagement with those stakeholders who are being herded around like cattle. UPDATERECTION: Though it appears, with final action still to come, that opportunity still exists.

We'll have to revisit as details emerge, but the tenor of this reminds me of the time Council in 2009 narrowly voted skip public interviews for a raft of board and commission appointments.

*-UPDATE: More reax:
So how did it get five votes? Is Council that aggressively anti-troublemaker once again, or were there simply "things" and "stuff" on the table, budgetary perhaps?

The Reapportionment Committee's final recommendation to the Council is here, for comparison purposes. More information on the process and the Committee's final report is available here.

MORE: WESA, Noah Brode

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Peduto, Lamb each to run against Establishment

Burton Morris
Those who do not learn from history lead really successful, happy lives.

Or something like that. Right?

Next year’s race for mayor of Pittsburgh started sizzling in recent days as Councilman Bill Peduto blanketed voters with campaign mailings, Controller Michael Lamb announced his candidacy and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl secured support from two major labor unions.

Peduto said he mailed 25,000 fliers to registered Democrats in the city, plus email, Twitter and Facebook postings that reached another 25,000 people, all of which sought monetary and volunteer support for his campaign.

Lamb, in response, said on Monday he will run in the May primary, a move analysts said might split the anti-incumbent vote.

“It will weaken Peduto’s chances and strengthen Ravenstahl’s,” said Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics. (Trib, Bob Bauder)


Are people really expected to give money to projects like this?

"The town has yet to oust a mayor at the ballot box in its entire electoral history... The incumbent has loads of money, power of course, enthusiastic support from certain unions and the business community... Downtown is growing, employment is high... And there's another white male challenger just over the river carrying the exact same political reform banner that I am, only marching in the opposite direction. But why don't you write me a big fat check anyway! It will be fun: opening a campaign office, hiring bright young people and cocky attorneys, playing with databases and maps. It will be like fantasy camp!"

Seriously, the fact that these gentlemen aren't working this out -- scratch that, the fact that others in the community aren't forcing these gentlemen work it out --makes me think maybe Pittsburgh doesn't merit some kind of highbrow political renaissance. The old ways are the right ways. Are you a party power broker? Have yourself a job. Are you voting against my favorite projects? Shame about those streets. Is your community desperately starved for resources? Step one is let's be friends.

Movie Fanatic
We all saw Lincoln. It might have been nice to have a debate whether there's anything wrong with politics as it's always been, or whether it's appropriate to start thinking of such things in tandem with telegraphs and horse-drawn carriages. In fact, it would have been just as nice to debate whether those perpetrating at "reform" are really any different, or simply desire the same plush, old-school power to use for themselves.

But with three? I barely had any faith in the media -- in you people -- to cover an election decently with two. With three, by the time you remind readers (sorry -- lol -- watchers) of everyone's name and home neighborhood and describe the ambiance "bickering and squabbling," there won't be any column-inches left to nurture a narrative assuming you notice one.


For what it's worth, however...

It being the end of November, I'm still not seeing how Michael Lamb's candidacy adds up. Bill Peduto has a team and infrastructure well-seasoned and assembled that has scored clear electoral victories at the State Rep and City Council levels against establishment forces. He now adds to that apparently the support of the County Executive. He has a recognizable brand, he has engendered loyalty in constituencies by having taken and maintained tough positions on-air and at the Council table as a necessity. And I'm highly suspicious he starts out with more money in the bank already and more people working the assembly line. I just don't see how Lamb is supposed to counter that by being a slightly more moderate figure, more things to more people possibly, a straight-shooter, practical, quick with a joke and to light up your smoke, politically cagey but institutionally aloof. He came in third in 2005 and didn't get a lot of electoral exercise winning reelection as Controller unopposed in 2011.

In a two-way race conducted in a test tube? Shucks, Lamb might be the better political animal for taking down Ravenstahl -- more gravitas, less threatening to some, less ornamented with Burton Morris shtick. But in the real world, with the pieces already on the table and moving? Bill Peduto is the challenger. He is the challenge, itself -- the way into the citadel is an outsider's gambit, there's no reason to believe the conventional gatekeepers can be persuaded to mutiny. I let myself wonder aloud the other day whether Ravenstahl forces were hoping Lamb would enter the race. All I can say is, if Michael has received any big checks he's not quite sure where they came from and why, he may want to do some research.

Or not. Whatever. I could be wrong. The next couple months could prove exciting and productive. Because as they say: the definition of cleverness is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving marks Season for Gratitude, New Budget Talks, Turning of the Calendar

I don't even want to describe to you the web surfing excursion which brought me to this old article, but I was thinking...

Mr. Huss said that the Zone 3 station was built without backup power due to budgetary constraints, and there were no plans to fit city facilities with generators. "We simply can't afford to outfit all of our stations with emergency power," he said (P-G, Rich Lord)

Hey! A new year, a new budget. How about we try to get emergency power going at all our major public safety facilities? The weather out there isn't getting any less terrific!

This year the Comet offers thanks to all the people who play a role laboring at, training and managing, or thinking about keeping us safe from all sorts of crazy things. I can't... I can't even. We'll get back to the blogging and prodding in short order.

Monday, November 19, 2012

SEA insists Steelers overreaching

Gene J. Puskar, AP

Great news, everyone!

SEA attorney Walter DeForest told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James that the proposed expansion does not meet the definition of a capital improvement under the Steelers' stadium lease. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Sounds like the Steelers really, really should have called Jonathan Dwyer's number more regularly last night. Or at least thought more about subbing in Charlie Batch after a certain motley point.

To comply with the definition, the capital improvement must be in place in at least half of all NFL stadiums where at least 25 percent of the cost is funded by federal, state, or local government. (ibid)

The Steelers had a share of adversity to overcome in that game, but they hung with Baltimore all the same. The bottom line is that better decision making could have resulted in one or two of those pivotal plays capable of turning a "nip-and-tuck" contest against a divisional rival, and Pittsburgh is about to lead a movement to stem the rate of public spending and better safeguard public resources in development connected with major league sports franchises.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Week End Digest: Leon Ford, Public Schools, the County Budget, Water and Parking

ActiveRain, Hathaway

We don't know what happened during this recent police vehicle stop in Highland Park. Sure, we can imagine a lot of different scenarios -- which is what happens when you don't personally know squat. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

But the police department is not letting Leon Ford's parents visit him in the hospital after having been shot in the chest -- a wide-open invitation to public outrage. What is the criminal justice concern there, exactly?

There might be a legitimate case in the aggregate. But as I wind up saying to Customer Service on most occasions, "Can you put me in touch with somebody empowered to make an exception to your policy?"


Meanwhile, School District Superintendent Linda Lane is putting a brave face on an institution that seems chronically broke, has not for a long time been high-achieving, and now seems to have suffered some discouraging performance setbacks just as things were supposed to be improving.

While there are a host of challenges over which the District has only meager levels of control (including its own past mistakes and other sub-optimal practices which are apparently human nature), an undercurrent among many seems to be: "Well, what else can we do to give these kids some kind of an edge?" And that gets to the bitterly controversial idea of using what measurement data is at our disposal to attempt to manage our crucial teaching force more optimally and intentionally. Such a move would not provide an ironclad guarantee for a panacea -- but it's trying something that has a clear and scientific rationale, that is within our control, and that instinctively most parents desire.

The Pittsburgh Promise might really become the huge game-changer it was hyped to be, but if and only if our District inspired confidence. Right now it does not, and has not, and we're a long way from it. The reasons for that are structural and systemic (including the politics of attaining proper funding). Let's introduce something structural of our own, something that's good news, something for which we and only we are responsible.

County Councilman Bill Robinson is suggesting that Rich Fitzgerald's proposed 2013 county budget be increased by somewhere in the singular tenths of a percent. In return we would keep the Controller's office staffed up (removing any unfortunate appearance of surreptitious accountability dodging and political sabotage) restore funding for our community colleges, and give a raise to an exemplary public safety official who seems to be making far less than his official responsibilities warrant. Sounds like a good, and responsibly modest deal. (P-G, Len Barcousky; Trib, Bobby Kerlik)

SurvivalwithBushcraf (language)
Veolia Water seems to be pursuing more ways to make our Water Authority more fair and efficient. (P-G, Joe Smydo) Meanwhile, the PWSA board has agreed to "performance indicators" by which we will evaluate Veolia Water itself (DowdNet, pdf). At a cursory glance, though it looks like Veolia will be very busy, it does not appear that helping to rewrite an infrastructure plan and to green-it-up is part of the contract. Maybe we can schnor it in there? Why not, we're buddies now. Let's schnor!

Finally, over at the Parking Authority, while it sounds like increasing revenue with new meters is moving along adroitly, Councilwoman Rudiak resigned from the board. In her resignation letter to the Mayor she cited that her term having expired a year and a half ago, "it's time to move on." (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012



That was the theme of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's otherwise unremarkable 2013 budget address.

"Today, however, we've brought the promise back to Pittsburgh," Mr. Ravenstahl said, crediting financial sacrifices that included paying down $250 million of debt. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

If you don't believe us, check out the pdf of the budget address: not only is it titled "Bringing the Promise Back to Pittsburgh," but that phrase appears in boldface on the three occasions in which it appears. It's important.

Councilman Bill Peduto, who already has formed a mayoral campaign committee, said it was inappropriate for Mr. Ravenstahl, who initially opposed the Act 47 recovery plan as a councilman 2004, to brag now about the financial improvements that oversight helped to engender. (ibid)

Sure, there's a whole lot to that. Take away the "dark days" of "despair and hopelessness" in 2003-2004 -- not to mention all the frustrations with Act 47 and the ICA since then telling us "no" and "lol" -- and we certainly wouldn't have gotten within fifty miles of where we are today, able to use a bit of borrowed money to pay for a modest capital budget.

But at the same time we suddenly have this casino, a new hockey arena, more doings between the stadiums, a more commercially viable Market Square, Fifth and Forbes starting to shuffle into place, and Bridging the Busway as apparently a thing. And everybody and their cousin has a master plan in the works. This all feels like momentum. Add to that the controversial decision to accept hosting the G20, and the brightened city skyline -- these all do something to reinforce a palpable feeling of resurgence.

So it's going to be challenging for anybody to convey, "All the good things you see and like, they have nothing to do with those guys over there." The buck stops here is a double-edged sword.

But Controller Michael Lamb, another would-be challenger to Mr. Ravenstahl, said the city still isn't putting enough money into the pension fund to boost its long-term solvency. The fund was 57 percent funded June 30.

Mr. Lamb also criticized Mr. Ravenstahl for touting six years of decreasing crime rates in his address, noting that police Chief Nathan Harper, in the bureau's annual report, said the reductions "mirror the national trend." (ibid)

As we of this salon know, the pension fund is not anywhere near 57% funded really. Heaven fore fend anybody ever learn that account's real liquid state. But more to the point, it wouldn't even have been funded halfway to that halfway point if it weren't for a shaky, last-minute model of the "Council-Controller Plan" which Ravenstahl fought for half a year, vetoed, and continued to criticize for another half a year.

But again, however we got here, we are emerging from Act 47. Counterfactuals are impossible to prove -- how much worse could things have gotten under different leadership for the past six years, making different decisions?

Good times are good times. Success is success.


Meghan McCarthy
All that burns me today as a straight-shooter is "BRINGING THE PROMISE BACK TO PITTSBURGH".

Are we trying to subconsciously link the Pittsburgh Promise -- which is not increasing enrollment, is not drawing new residents to the city, is certainly not doing any favors for academic achievement, and which is beyond question actively sucking community resources and energies away from that which might more directly benefit academic achievement -- are we on this date trying to link the Pittsburgh Promise to Pittsburgh's resurgence?

To its fiscal recovery? Its development boomlet? Its low unemployment, its famous livability? Don't be coy. Are we trying to position the Promise (along with the Mayor who seized on it like flotsam in the ocean and rode it to the shores of credibility) to take credit for what has been happening in Pittsburgh among Pittsburgh residents and Pittsburgh businesses for the last decade and more?

Well, it's genius. A familiar bouquet of genius. That's what it is.

So are the tiny grants in key neighborhoods, utterly segregated from Council.

So is the Downtown task force to keep the chamber-of-commerce busy and optimistic.

So are a hundred other things that come with epic tag lines, standard -- but they will all be repeated, frequently and loudly, like a chorus of jackhammers.

"Oh, you say I'm too laissez faire? Are you calling me a Republican!? We invented the Alternative Homecoming! Get out of here with that weak sauce!"

(By the way, a hearty kudos to the city's Youth Council for hitting that one out of the park. Huzzah! Huzzah! And way to make the Propel Pittsburgh commission look like a pile of ruin. The last time that thing was in the news was because Sonni Abatta was on it, and she's been gone for three years.)


Bottom line: they're much better at this than you. And it's getting hard to justify the proposition that they're failures at running a city. With the loud volume, the repetition and all the trump cards, it's hard to remember why we ever thought they were.

An ephemeral idea has been floating around that the golden message for an effective challenger is to portray the replacement of a political administration as the final capstone of Pittsburgh's renaissance. We've come a long way, that story goes: we've cleaned our air, we've cleaned our rivers, we've transformed our economy and transformed our river fronts. Now all that's left is to transform our dirty politics.

But that's a huge application to download, and there's only so much bandwidth.

You've heard of the concept by now, is this a "change election" or is this a "choice election". Right? Well, let me make it simple for you. If this is any kind of standard election, Ravenstahl wins.

Period. Full stop. Any kind of conventional election, Ravenstahl wins.

If however this is a heist -- if this plays out more like a big con, Oceans 35, Oceans 40 tops -- well then sure. Absolutely. Sky's the limit. But you'd better get to work.

Friday, November 9, 2012

With Federal Elections Settled, Pittsburgh Returns to Transformation Agenda

"Let's get ready to rumbllle..." The Guardian

As Our President was earning reelection with a vague national electoral mandate to invest in the middle and lower classes and to continue Obamacare...

And as most in the Congressional majority earned reelection with crystal-clear district-level mandates for austerity...

It seems as though the nation is about to suffer through its own Pittsburgh City Hall New Year's Eve Takeover Deadline!

Will Harry Reid schedule a Senate session for 11:00 p.m. "just in case"? Will the proceedings entail a "cooperative [-ly prompt] veto"? Will Jacob Lew run over to Our Speaker John Boehner's office in the waning days to hammer out an acceptable arrangement?

More to the issue, what will happen to Pittsburgh and its environs, continuing to weather this uncertain economy? What courses will it chart in this volatile era, swollen with the future?

1. The sewer projects alone...

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority should rewrite a $2 billion plan for keeping sewage runoff out of area waterways to include less infrastructure and more “green” solutions, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said on Friday. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

Well, that's just great. County officials have indicated that there exists the brain trust to "get this done", despite obvious concerns about logistics and cost.

“Quite frankly, we are at the 11th hour,” said Alcosan spokeswoman Nancy Barylak. “What we have is a federal court order that says we have to have this plan in by Jan. 23. If we do not meet this court order, what happens is we start to incur penalties and fines.” (Tribid)

Well now it's time to ask: how does Mayor Ravenstahl, the other public official accountable for Alcosan, approach this question of "rewriting" the plan?

The city of Pittsburgh has said it must install new and bigger sewer pipes, separate lines for sewage and stormwater and add a 6 million gallon holding tank to address stormwater problems. Good says the city’s cost will be between $100 million and $200 million.

“The city’s plans could change. We are holding meetings, at the request of the mayor, to incorporate more green technology,” he said. (Trib, Rick Willis

A "rewriting" would bring physical and significant differences from some of the currently planned projects -- and such green projects would be on a larger scale than that of "demonstration" projects. With so much institutional, global and capital firepower at its disposal, it would be interesting to learn whether Our City's Water Authority Directorship-Services Manager Veolia Water will bring to the public table any aid in assessing these frightful determinations.

2. The administration has gotten its arms around the Hill District grocery store situation before its apparent hopelessness could become a campaign issue.

"What happens to a dream deferred?" URA board chairman Yarone Zober asked. "I don't know. But I don't have to think about it. This is a dream come true." (P-G, Mark Belko)

Much seems now to be in the hands of experienced and connected local developers, now working with selected community leaders. In the Comet's opinion, it's about time. It would have been more ideal four years ago, but life is a journey.

At one point in the meeting, I said to Rep. Wheatley that I thought the governing committee of the fund should rotate members because the membership seemed to me closely affiliated with the Representative’s campaign and the Hill CDC and that this fund was quasi-public because of the nature of the Representative’s position as a political representative. (, Justin Laing)

Concerns about equity and within-reason "fair" access to community resources are important. What I'd like you Dear Reader to do is to start readinging as it publishes about "handout" stigmatization and gatekeeping and accountability and stakeholders and population loss.

If it still doesn't happen this time or it doesn't work... well, maybe it's just like Jim Ferlo and Jake Haulk have been writing. Not quite the same situational dynamics as, say, Lawrenceville. Doomed to fail.

3. Ay caramba, now is somebody getting political?

Another leader of Pittsburgh's Democratic Committee has gone on the city payroll.

Mary Angela Ogg, 62, of Carrick, who chairs the 29th Ward, began work Monday as a confidential secretary in the planning department at an annual salary of about $40,200. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Why not just admit, "Yes, she's an established neighborhood and city leader, it's not the kind of position that requires advertising, we love her, she's a great fit"? Why pretend even temporarily there was "no mayor's office involvement"?

Unless this doesn't have to do with the Mayor's reeelction. Maybe it has to do with the Councilwoman from Carrick's de-election movement.

At any rate, the list of Committee employees is an impressive exhibit.

Te Papa Atawhai - Dept. of Conservation
4. For the latest of Riverfront development, of course you'll want to check out Patrick Dowd's official website.

The Buncher Co. could be flexible on aspects of its $400 million plan to remake the Strip District, but can’t budge for river advocates who want a larger buffer along the Allegheny River, the company president said Wednesday. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

So now the river is the crucial "hang up". Not the gates, or the access, or the produce terminal, or site clearance, or the idea of a large TIFF.

I envision myself going all Marcello Mastroianni over a cup of strong coffee there someday, and I'd like to be surrounded by happy people. (P-G, Brian O'Neill)

I honestly sometimes wonder. Terribly important stuff we're debating, but it's not like we're up against the Fiscal Cliff. I still believe the best indication of whether or not this development is poised to make progress may be whether or not Michael Lamb is running for mayor.

4.5. What about those mayoral challengers?

Lamb said [at today's hearing] he supports the city’s release [from Act 47], but he warned that it must pump more money into pensions, continue paying down debt and find additional revenue sources.

“The cautionary tone you are hearing arises from the real concern people have about this administration operating without that additional layer of oversight,” Lamb said. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

That is deft and appropriate in light of the firefighters' early and enthusiastic endorsement. Yet it is not money, it's not infrastructure, it's not name and brand recognition, and it is not a sufficiently advantageous ballot.

If we learned one thing from the federal elections, it's that one should not necessarily believe all flattering information being provided to you by people who might wish to curry favor with you or be employed and enhanced by you over the course of a long and expensive campaign. Don't live in a fantasy bubble. Get the facts before suffering what could be a bridge-burning third-place failure in a costly election. 

That goes for both of y'inz.