Saturday, January 18, 2014

Burgess, Ferlo Opt Not to Respect


And then reared this:

It is protocol, Peduto said, for board members to resign out of respect to a new mayoral administration. But at least two — a city councilman and a state senator who serve on two of the most powerful Authorities in Pittsburgh — have said they're not stepping down. (Trib, Melissa Daniels)

Alack, it would take a miracle to reduce gross friction.

MORE / THE SKINNY:  P-G in 2009

Friday, January 17, 2014

Land Stories: A Simple Offering

Warner Bros.

Many major political stories come down to questions of zoning and land use.

Here are five examples. Perhaps there are themes.

1. In regards to the chemical spill near Charleston, WV, some observations:

Errors were not exotic:

The failure of Freedom Industries, the plant's owner, to make a functioning retaining wall a priority; the containment tank's proximity to the river; and the lack of inspection of the site since 1991 means that hundreds of thousands of people will only get angrier as their hassles continue. (P-G, Tony Norman)

Regulatory authority was "obscure":

Yet the article there does not even mention the one public agency that does have cognizance under the circumstances. We had an interesting little discussion of this here several years ago... but why so little mention these days of the Ohio River Valley Water and Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO)? (by Null Space)

And the environment was suited to "ultra-capitalism":

This is SOP in West Virginia, a state that is defined by two mostly-opposing forces: wealth extraction and intense rural poverty. I have a great liking for the actual people of West Virginia, and a great mistrust of anyone there with capital, because they are obviously from out-of-state. Money doesn't come to West Virginia without a good value proposition. (Duquesne Whistle)

In serendipitous enough fashion, County Controller Chelsa Wagner is one who shares verbiage about "responsible regulation and smart growth."

That should set the stage.

2. The City Land Bank looks to sail through Council, eventually:

The legislation is a work in progress because Ms. Gross wants to get community input on many of the program's details…. Pittsburgh's land bank could take many forms. It could be a subsidiary of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, or it could be its own authority. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

The reasons these land banks are granted special powers is that, in accordance with state law, they are public entities whose structure is determined and appointed by elected officials, with all the attendant clear lines of accountability. The Pittsburgh Land Bank is bound among other  things to be a citywide speculator, developer and force in our neighborhoods, so you can be sure its composition will be a bone of political contention for years to come. The greater the grand consensus confidence in its framework, the more it will be able to tackle.

3. The fate of the historic Produce Terminal continues to sit oddly:

On Wednesday, Councilwoman Deb Gross, whose district includes the terminal, urged her colleagues to vote for the designation, saying the structure "really makes the Strip District the Strip District." But Councilman Corey O'Connor said he saw no need for the designation since the URA, now under Mr. Peduto's control, could reapply for historic status if there's a need for it. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Of course the URA put an "option agreement" into effect with Buncher Co. to sell the building. And even before that deal progresses, our understanding is that the URA may not act or speak in such a way as to sour the potential deal.

The preliminary vote on the designation went 3-4-2, with Councilwoman Darlene Harris abstaining to see what comes out of further negotiations, and Councilman Dan Gilman abstaining to research a spot of law:

  • How hard it is really for a Historic Building owner to get a Certificate of Appropriateness so as to break out wrecking balls and dynamite, when City officials believe there are impassable hurdles to needed economic development?
  • Is it true that if Council declines historic designation in this instance, it cannot be sought on the building for another five years?

These are excellent things to be looking at. Without a full consideration of them, Council had little choice but to pontificate over whether community-driven Historic Building applications are really very good at all. The historic value proposition gets swept off the table by the fundamentalist property rights argument, even though the interplay among rights appears baked into the code already in terms of Appropriateness applications and appeals in case of an bad result.

4. Pittsburgh gets to keep Yarone Zober for kicking around, and right Downtown to boot!

“During the last eight years, I’ve been impressed with Yarone’s intelligence, creativity and passion, and have watched him use each to benefit Pittsburgh. His work has helped this city to grow, creating jobs and rebuild neighborhoods. He knows how to make things happen, and we’re excited to have him join our team.” (PBT, Tim Schooley)

"Things." No objection. The continued dialectic playing out between the public and private sectors Downtown will be appropriate and constructive. Real news is that this ought to provide Ravenstahl's former staff with a shot of morale. Not sure if Mr. Rudolph of McKnight Realty Partners is still on or is going to remain on the URA board (UPDATE: His term has expired, but he seems intent to serve until formally removed or reappointed) but having an insider like Zober aboard should help them stay connected.

5. Speaking of favorites, we are getting something called the "Southern Beltway":

"When opened to traffic, the Route 22 to I-79 project will create economic opportunities in Findlay, Robinson, Mount Pleasant, Cecil and North and South Fayette townships," turnpike commission chairman William K. Lieberman said. (P-G, John Schmitz)

Early Returns
Lieberman is a local figure that has long resided at the intersection of business and politics, now chair of a PA Turnpike Commission which still weathers scandal. He abstained from voting this contract at a telephone board meeting due to a conflict involving a client. Not sure what accounts for the month delay between board action and announcement.

$550 million for twelve miles of new toll roadway. Progressives must disdain the encouragement of sprawl, and the cost of all those millions not going into something like public transit. Then again, respectable self-loathing Neoliberals aren't as sure how to criticize making life more convenient, and land more valuable, out in suburbia.

If rural areas and suburbs tend to vote Republican, and major cities and towns Democrat, that probably influences long-term statewide planning, no? Why lay any foundations in a sort of place likely to breed voters politically opposed to you and yours? We honestly wonder if some legislators reject public transit projects because they might be too successful, causing too many people to move into cities and catch the gaeity.

Anyway. Land, huh? Am I right? They're not making any more of it. But that doesn't mean there aren't things we can do to improve equitability.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Area Union: City Has Cash, Let's Get


Let's go back to taking financial advice from the Firefighters.

NOTE: When Act 47 spoke in 2012 about the possibility of dissolving, it was in the context of a Mayor long opposed to oversight looking like we'd keep him "on the job" and oversight bodies exhausted being jerked around by us.

Now we have a Mayor elected on the strength of a promise to ride Act 47 all the way to sustainable recovery by welcoming collaboration. That should address the sass central to the letter.

Quick Note: Be Fixing the Society

We join writer and super-spy Dan Simpson en toto:

What is to stop us from dealing with poverty, inequality and diminishing economic mobility? The French now tax companies at an effective rate of 75 percent on the part of salaries exceeding $1.36 million, including sports stars and coaches. Do that, then put the money into education.  (P-G, Dan Simpson)

The Comet would prefer to see that windfall split between education and other market preparation and public works. Yet the voguish counterpoint instead lies somewhere between no, forget it already, and hey, look at Mt. Lebanon.

We can only address that ridiculousness if we're seen fixing our schools in various ways.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Open Burgh: Before Data, there were Impressions

What is Reality?

Pittsburgh's forthcoming Open Data policy is going to be unceasingly revolutionary, so please attend to that in all of its forthcoming kaleidoscopic glory. Execute Order 66.

Yet math and computers are hard. Can we blog for a moment about community theater?

PITTSBURGH,  PA - Beginning next week, City of Pittsburgh residents will have access to three regular meetings on Mayor William Peduto's public schedule including meetings with City Council leadership, department directors, and Act 47/ICA overseers.  (Mayor, Press Releases)

In olden times, the Mayoral branch always had an advantage over City Council. Only the latter did their bickering and dithering in public. Such process can invite scrutiny, when it counts.

Viewing Mayoral meetings with Departmental directors will be superb. One might mistakenly believe it will be easy for the administration throttle public concerns, yet over time the public will get rowdy over sore spots, the meetings will be derided if they do not tackle tough issues, and the administration will be pressured to become more responsive than otherwise.

Minutes from regular meetings between the Mayor and Council members Kraus, Rudiak and Kail-Smith will be a hoot and a half. The inclusion of our incumbent President Pro-Tempore in that circle virtually assures a thorough vetting on all issues, and reproaches if ever there are not. We can learn from these sessions.

Minutes from discussions with our Act 47 Coordinators and ICA plenipotentiaries will be nice as well. It might further inspire virtuous circles in terms of meeting objectives.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled oohing and aahing over the city's Open Data transformation. We had better refer to the legislation introduced by the Chairperson of City Council's Committee on Finance and Law today as Open Data Burgh 1.0. An heirloom piece like this is bound to merit some time in the blacksmith's furnace. We should think many will be eager to wield a hammer.

ELSEWHERE: The Fraternal Order of Police president faces impeachment rumors, according to the P-G's Liz Navratil. MORE: Businessperson who paid bribes to officials receives solid thwack on the wrist.

NOTABLE EVENT: Thursday, HackPittsburgh Rube Goldberg build challenge.

Monday, January 13, 2014

We Must Inspire the Teachers

Touchstone Pictures

That's our only shot.

We all want to give children an edge, if we can. Can we here?

"Our issue is equity. That's the only thing." (Pgh. Fed. of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Vargas, P-G, Elearnor Chute)

We cannot force the teachers union to accept this; we cannot browbeat them into it. We have none of those levers. We can only persuade them this a fundamentally good idea whose time has come, and one that they can make sure is implemented correctly.  We must focus on building trust in partnering with a District administration where at times, there is not much.

Only the union can make this happen: accountability in classrooms for student achievement, that is, over the long and the broad sweep.

RELATED: Comet, Too Long of a Post, May 2012. Poor timing then for community groups to have raised the issue, in the context of state cuts and sizable furloughs.