Monthly Archives: December 2007

Friday: Elevensies

What can we say? Matt H sets the bar in terms of Kennywood commentary.

I am willing to give them a try. Maybe nothing will change. Maybe no one will even notice that it changed owners. Maybe the park will be better? Did anyone ever think of that? There is always room for improvement everywhere, even Kennywood Park.

That’s just the obvious stuff. Then there’s this:

If the owners of Kennywood Park were so family orientated and community friendly then why is there talk they they owe the borough of West Mifflin about a million dollars in back taxes? Will the borough put a lien on the property? Will the borough be able to face a legal battle with a giant corporation that has endless resources?

We now share these concerns. At least some public schools, out in that direction, could really use the tax money generated by all that activity.

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You might be a financially distressed city if … truckloads of illegal aliens blow past you on their way to Buffalo.

For this and nine other gems like it, hie thee over to Char at the Pgh Pist-Gazette.

You might be a financially distressed city if … you build a new Fort Pitt before the mortgage is paid off on the old one.

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The Burgh Diaspora really ought to have been added to the Comet Blogroll some time ago.

Go learn about what Winchester Thurston School is doing with the Confucius Institute, and what they’ll both be allowing you to do for free.

Friday’s Healthy Breakfast

The Comet is vehemently opposed to Councilman Peduto’s new legislation. (Trib, Team Effort)

His proposed Office of Ethics and Accountability should be given a $20,000 line-item in next year’s budget, not a mere $10,000.

( h/t Burgh Report. Its link to the Trib article was at first misdirected, unless it was very dark humor.)

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P-G pugilist Mark Belko reports on the new Downtown YMCA. Therein:

With UPMC, which will start moving in this spring, nearly 10,000 people will work in the U.S. Steel Tower alone.

Really? It is upon us? This is great. Win-win-win-win-win.

This was one great advantage of the big move Downtown: ten thousand little ambassadors in the pulse of the region’s political beating heart.

We don’t know the rent situation atop the Steel Tower, but whatever it is, it’s hard to believe we needed to “throw in” a giant sign to lure these particular tenants. Either somebody negotiated poorly, or somebody didn’t care to negotiate.

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P-G columnist Samantha Bennett is onto something. There is a pattern emerging, with these Most Delectable Cities lists.

This week, the city was named by Frommer’s — the folks whose guide you may have used as a pillow in European train stations — as one of its Top Destinations for 2008. Actually, Western Pennsylvania made the list twice, both as Pittsburgh and as a part of the American Whiskey Trail, which includes Woodville Plantation in Collier, the West Overton Museum in Scottdale and the Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park.

Pittsburgh is scoring high on a lot of charts, and the actual plaudits are getting deeper and deeper. We are going to re-think and re-frame our snortishly dismissive attitude towards this whole subspecies of boosterism, and give something else a try.

Pittsburgh. The world’s most highly regarded city.

Squishimondocentenial, anyone?

UPDATE: Ooh, snap, she actually talks…

Fiddling with the Blogroll

MacYapper provides aid and comfort to Cyril Wecht, and also attributes the outbreak of Spanish Kennywood panic to Pittsburghers’ loathsome fear of change.

Pgh Lesbian Correspondents gives McIntire the award for Best Dressed, even though the social worker in her is APPALLED!

Cognitive Dissonance pleads no contest to laziness, and also finds everything about the timing of the Pittsburgh Promise interesting.

Agent Ska packs it up.

The Other Other is teaming up with the Other Other Other Other.

Pennyslvanians are tops in the pork department. Early Returns didn’t quite say it like that, but we just did.

The City Planning Meeting: Let’s Go Pens!

Hill District residents and community leaders cited surface parking concerns, traffic flow, and actual historic tragedy in justifying demands for a signed community benefits agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins, regarding construction of the new arena.

Commission Chair Wrenna Watson clarified that no action would be taken during the meeting. Later on in January, the Commission will meet on whether or not to approve the new Master Development Plan relating to the Golden Triangle District.

The 40-50 residents bearing “One Hill” stickers, to a man, demanded that vote be delayed until a C.B.A. is in place. Several echoed the sentiments of George Moses of the Hill District Consensus Group, one of two individuals officially representing the One Hill C.B.A. Coalition.

“This must be seen as the gateway to the Hill District; not enhancing Downtown.” He also insisted that that the new construction “must correct the injustices of the past.”

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Don Carter, President of Urban Design Associates, represented for the Penguins as a consultant and kicked things off.

Carter spoke of previous organized solicitation of community input; he said between 500 and 600 individuals took part. As a preface, he also asserted that “Many of the things” the commission would hear today “are outside your regulatory purview.”

He then took a laser pointer and gave an exhaustive presentation of the interior and exterior of the new facility. His presentation identified local access and egress concerns, as well as assurances that changes in traffic impacts are certain to be minimal.

Any pretensions of a “multi-purpose arena” evaporated quickly; the ice and other features were emblazoned with the official Penguins logo.

Due to the topography, the proposed arena will feature entrances on three different levels. The Penguins offices will have “glass onto Fifth Avenue,” and efforts have been made to visually blend the new edifice with nearby Epiphany Church in a pleasing manner. A whole series of amenities and diverse food and beverage concessions were explored.

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During the lengthy public commentary that followed, several community members noted darkly that all external pleasantries of the proposed facility are turned toward Fifth Avenue and Downtown.

Evan Frasier, CEO of the Hill House CDC, claimed that “there’s no beauty facing the Hill District”.

Carl Redwood, Chair of the One Hill Coalition, underlined Frazier’s point in commenting that there were no drawings of the view from the Hill District. “Only walls and fences.”

Comments from the many speakers ranged widely, but all insisted that the Planning Commission delay their approval until a C.B.A. is in place. No division in the ranks was even noticeable — until one speaker called upon the media specifically to report that “the community is not divided.”

Even to a skeptical and learned ear, the dim outlines of some factions within the coalition were only somewhat on display. Mostly this was apparent in whether or not a speaker would gently urge the commission to “delay the vote”, or whether he or she would boldly demand that no C.B.A. means “No deal.”

The most evident example of this, on the one side, was Carmen Pace — representing officially on behalf of City Councilwoman Tonya Payne. She said that Payne “has always been supportive of the One Hill Coalition’s initiative.”

Chairwoman Watson asked if that meant she was “in favor of” or “opposed to” the passage of the proposed master plan. A loud murmur arose from the ranks, “opposed!”, but Ms. Pace would not go that far.

An uncharitable account would say she hemmed and hawed — a more generous account would say she struggled to outline an approach that is more cooperative rather than confrontational.

On the other extreme, Dr. Kimberly Ellis, AKA Dr. Goddess, called the Pens’ planning efforts “poor, callous, and indiscriminate.”

“It turns the Hill District into their parking lot,” she asserted, among other things. As Ellis continued commenting ever louder and with increasing rapidity, she greatly overextended her alloted time. Disregarding the beeper, she eventually became the only speaker with the dubious honor of being gavelled-down by Chairwoman Watson.

The Reverend Grayson, waiting in line to speak after her, gently rapped her on the back with his spectacles out of disapproval — even as Ellis was backing away reluctantly from the lectern, still finishing her thoughts. Upon finally assuming the mic, Grayson began with, “I’m not going to whoop.”

Although he took a different approach, the Reverend Grayson delivered the lines of the day. He called upon the Penguins not only to offer a “tithe” to the community out of the public subsidy allocated for the development — but furthermore, “Tithe would be 10 percent. Now how about the offering?”

As he continued, growing louder and ministerially more dramatic in his own right, the Rev. caught himself short with a chuckle. “I said I wasn’t going to whoop.” He quickly wrapped things up.

Bomani Howze, son of Sala Udin and Vice-Chair of the One Hill CBA Coalition, spoke at length concerning the present and proposed street grid. He held up small maps with red and green symbolism to indicate blocked thoroughfares related to the land currently occupied by the Mellon Arena and its surface lots.

The Comet simply cannot resist reporting that Howze speaks with a timbre and cadence strikingly similar to that of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Whether or not this came about by happenstance, or by conscious design, is anybody’s guess. Next time he should bring bigger posters, though, and his own laser pointer.

The clock approached 5:00 just before the first non-African American commenter was given a chance to speak. Although he plead for a slight extension, to offer some comments from “a different perspective,” Commission Chair Watson urged him (and the remaining dozen or so speakers) to return for an extension of the comment period at January’s meeting.

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After adjournment, we spoke briefly with Don Carter of Urban Design Associates. We asked him to clarify whether or not this discussion of a C.B.A. fell under what he alluded was outside the Planning Commission’s purview.

“Yes it is,” he said, also contending it was also outside the purview of “any other body.”

Carter indicated that such any such contract would be a matter strictly between the Hill community, and the Penguins organization.

Congratulations, PittGirl!

Winner of the City Paper 2007 Readers’ Poll for Best Pittsburgh Blog.

In other news, Luke Ravenstahl won for Best Pittsburgh Politician, and Bill Peduto won for Best Pittsburgh Political Activist. Go figure.

A Taste of the Future

Luke is described as having “hit for the cycle” last week, which we remember from history class as having something to do with baseball. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Michael Lamb is quoted twice offering his assessments, for no overwhelmingly important reason.

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Not everybody is stoked about the new Federal Street library. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

“What’s the biggest thing we have going for us?” Mr. Tessitor asked, answering, “History.” He said he believes an old library, refurbished to be cost-efficient, could be a bigger lure to development up the Federal corridor than a new one built in an area of “underachieving real estate.”

We hear you — but with the mayor’s Slugging Percentage being where it is right now, with the help of that new lumber called “A New Way Of Thinking” or “A Different Thought Process” or whatever, we’re going to choose our battles pretty carefully.

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Speaking of, we asked a certain Joanne Ridge for a copy of her comments at the recent School Board hearing, because her’s was our favorite.

The bottom line: money. Two years ago plans to disband Schenley were put on hold–to figure how to combat the many objections to closing it. The slogan may be “better education” but the motivation is financial gain. Both Schenley and Frick in the heart of Oakland, surrounded by the University of Pittsburgh, ever growing, ever reaching, and running out of real estate to do so. And, someone badly wants Schenley to close. So, we are being set up.

The full text should be available here (FIXED: Sorry, our first Google Document). It does get a little purple at times — and remember that’s us telling you — yet as spoken word it was quite powerful.

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P-G columnist Brian O’Neill is all-in on the Promise.

Nor can anyone ask UPMC to do more to help the city where 11,000 of its employees live. The Oakland giant not only gave this program a jump-start, but a full tank of gas and the first year of payments.

He is not only underestimating the Comet’s own stubborn intransigence, but overestimating the PR value of donating fifteen percent (15%) of one (1) year’s “excess margin” spread over a period of ten (10) years.

The move has thus far generated zero letters-to-the-editor favorable to UPMC, but one unfavorable letter in the P-G, another in the Trib, and a very uneven Trib editorial. The P-G Ed Board has yet to chime in.

O’Neill also overlooks Highmark and the other Mega-Nonprofits that would be compelled to chip-in by a common-sense amendment to State Act 55, which would impact not only college-bound students, but public safety departments, sewer authorities, and good old-fashioned K-12 schools.

Special to Senator Ferlo: are we still tilting at that windmill? What’s the latest?

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“Anything that is sold at a bar, with the exception of six-packs (of beer) … that’s a poured drink,” Weinstein said. (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Are we in for a renaissance of those buckets full of pony bottles and ice?

Forecast for 2008

Mr. Romoff, Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Ravenstahl all took pains to say big ideas, calculated risk and optimism are keys to progress, with Mr. Romoff lamenting Pittsburghers‘ tendency to hold on to the past while “kicking and screaming.”

“It is about time we all embraced the future,” Mr. Romoff said. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

How easy it is to mock people for resisting change when you define the options for them.

On an unrelated note, Tonya Payne is now the odds-on favorite to assume the role of City Council President. It would not be inaccurate to describe her as a strong ally of the mayor, nor would it be inappropriate to examine her history with the Penguins as a window into her governing style.

It is about time we all embraced the future.

Wednesday: A RED LETTER DAY

COUNTY COUNCIL PASSES DRINK AND CAR RENTAL TAXES

Tom Baron, owner and chief executive of Big Burrito Group, which owns Mad Mex and other restaurants in Pittsburgh, said the tax will eat into the livelihood of many waiters and bartenders.

“Listen to your constituents,” he said, calling the tax a quick fix to the county’s long-term fiscal woes. “This is a poison Band-Aid on a bleeding artery.” (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

I disagree: “funding transit” is a rhetorical device selected solely to institute a regressive tax with progressive justification. (Burgh Report, The Burgher; with C-P, Chris Young)

Thoughts: Dan Onorato must demonstrate a palpable improvement in the region’s mass transit relatively quickly, or he will have earned far more local enmity during his tenure than affection.

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CITY COUNCIL PASSES POLICE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ORDINANCE

The legislation bars the hiring of police candidates with histories of violence and the promotion of those subject to active domestic abuse criminal cases or protection-from-abuse orders, known as PFAs. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Marsha Hinton, chairwoman of the Citizens Police Review Board, said the ordinance has room for improvement. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Thoughts: We’re sorry, but there will eventually be more acts to this drama. The tension will be over whether to pursue reforms deeper into the police department, or broader across other areas of government.

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CITY COUNCIL INITIATES STATE REEVALUATION OF ACT 47

This is a critical vote, not just a symbolic one, because it triggers one method of an end to state oversight. Although it may sound pleasant and a move in the right direction, be careful what you wish for. Instead of asking the state to end Act 47, we should be asking them to help us fix our structural problems and wait until these conditions have been met. (Reform Pgh Now, Bill Peduto, the lone no vote on Council)

“It’s worth having … the state determine whether or not we are still an Act 47 city. If we are, OK, but what do we need to get out?” Ravenstahl said. He declined to take a position on whether the city deserves to emerge from state oversight.

“The secretary will respond in writing in the near future,” said Kevin Ortiz, a DCED spokesman. “The plan is to hold public hearings in which the secretary will personally preside and solicit and obtain testimony on where things stand.” (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Thoughts: These public hearings will be interesting, at any rate.

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UPMC MAKES PITTSBURGH PROMISE NOT A JOKE

Each 2008 graduate with a grade-point average of 2.0 or better will be eligible for up to $20,000 in college aid over four years. Because Mr. Roosevelt wants the program to drive schools and students to higher performance, he supports tougher requirements and higher levels of aid for following classes. [snip]

[/snip] UPMC’s commitment is a political boon for Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Roosevelt, coming as the latter faces criticism for his proposal to close the popular Pittsburgh Schenley High School in Oakland in a bid to remake district high schools. Repeatedly yesterday, Mr. Roosevelt called big changes in thinking a prerequisite for overhauling the troubled school district.

The announcement also comes as UPMC, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and other nonprofit organizations are under fire for accumulating large fund balances without paying what critics consider adequate taxes to the city, Allegheny County and the school district. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Thoughts: Absolutely. This provides Mayor Ravenstahl, Superintendent Roosevelt and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center all with massive degrees of political momentum for pursuing their respective agendas. Keep a low profile and stock up on provisions.

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Bakery Square TIFs Scrutinized

We are catching up on back issues of The Parkway Left (F-Dzerzh can make the Admiral look like Cecily von Ziegesar).

The blog author criticizes the URA for its handling of the Bakery Square development.

The URA wants the TIF to apply to everything but the hotel, on the ostensible grounds that the hotel would not be located at ground level but suspended in the air. The real reason they want to exclude the hotel from the TIF is to avoid having to enforce a city ordinance which would prohibit the hotel owners from intimidating workers who want to form a union.

F-Dzerzh then makes what would ordinarily seem like a sensible move, going after the arch-conservative Allegheny Institute.

The Scaife factotums’ years-long attempts to position themselves as critics of TIF projects and friends of the little guy are undermined by Montarti, who says that the labor peace ordinance is itself on some shaky legal ground, because We’re singling out one industry here.… The city is basically saying to a developer that they have to accept a union and accept binding arbitration, which [usually] only applies to police and firefighters.”

This is one of the few attempts to actually get some accountability for city-led giveaways to developers, so that the little guy will at least get something — but no, Scaife’s hatred of the labor movement trumps everything, his critiques of unaccountable TIF decisions go out the window, and his concern is above all else for the hotel owners’ profits, even if couched in a weaselly legal argument.

We sense something. A presence we have not felt since…

More on Schenley by way of the MacYaYa

John McIntire — who is introduced consistently by Michael Bartley and Chris Moore as “a political blogger” (ONE OF US!! ONE OF US!!) — wrote words in response to our picking through his Schenley comments.

After plugging his stand-up “comedy”, his appearances on OffQ*, and his wonderful City Paper column, the MacYapper writes:

Meantime, you can catch the Pittsburgh Comet at the Shadow Lounge getting soused in the corner and muttering “I’m the Pittsburgh Comet, goddamnit! Doesn’t anyone care?”

Yes! You also should remember us clearly from one of your gigs at Club Cafe. I was the one laughing.

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The cutting-edge, fearless, devil-may-care blogger (who doesn’t have a blogroll and doesn’t even accept moderated comments) writes:

We have too many buildings and too few kids. Some buildings are easier to save than others because they’re not riddled with asbestos. Yes, if it costs $64 mil to get rid of asbestos, I’d call that an asbestos-laden rat trap. What the hell else would you call it?

Roosevelt has professional consultants with good reps. coming up with these figures.
The opposition has sentimentality and no credible evidence to shoot down the credibility of what the district is saying.

Hopefully John has since read the Smydo article of today, and will continue to read them. His preconceived notions about the credibility of $64 million may be no worse than our own, but at least some people are doing homework instead of putting blind faith in the administration.

If a teacher is a great teacher, can’t he be a great teacher in another building? If a student is a great student, can’t they learn in another building? Are you telling me that without a certain specific population of kids who pass each other in the same hallways in the same building, the teachers can’t teach and the kids can’t learn?

It may be time to retire the “it’s just a building” argument. Check out this attempted Letter to the Editor by Larry John Meyers on the Save Schenley website. Note the remarks of David Lewis.

We don’t know how John feels about fruity-go-pansy notions of the power of architecture, but many others are believers. Pittsburghers in particular may feel the impact of civic design in their marrow.

It’s almost as though our civic forefathers were from some advanced civilization — and since we no longer retain the knowledge of our ancestors, we tear apart their achievements and call it “progress.”

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The man the Spartan kids are calling John Make-Yinz-Tired continues, on the subject of our “research” on 6-12 education:

My goodness me, how can I possibly maintain my position in the face of such superior logic? Comet axed his friends and they said it was “retarded?” Case closed! And people call me juvenile.

Okay fine. The Comet has its reservations about both 6-12 and the proliferation of themed schools, but it’s honestly not our issue. We were just frustrated that these (fairly prevalent) concerns were not getting a decent hearing in the public square (they’re still not). So we unloaded.

We certainly see how the intelligent application of some 6-12 schools and some theme schools might be a great thing for improving outcomes district-wide. Superintendent Roosevelt & Co. may well have taken all our reservations into careful account already.

There is just no call to sell Schenley High School dahna river for the sake of this Great Leap Forward.

Our fundamental position has not changed, and we refer you to it. Schenley High School is worth saving even at significant cost.

Except, Comet boy, it’s broke. $64 million dollars to fix it means it’s broke! Why can’t the same exceptional Schenley staff be exceptional in another building? No one can seem to answer that question.

Ahem. You mean, aside from the fact its community will split up into three or four directions? Then your mistake is that schools don’t go “broke”. School districts go broke. School districts decide where to spend money. The School District has been snubbing Schenley for decades, and gee we wonder why???

You know, there is even federal law that requires public schools at-risk for asbestos to have been thoroughly checking facilities and updating remediation plans every two years, but we can’t mention that because “OH NOES! MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION!”

Rock on, MacComet People.

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McIntire has actually been gaining strength each week in his appearances on WQED’s OffQ discussion panel; his performance last week was near-perfect. Not only is he keeping Heidelbaugh in check, but Ricky Williams preferring to run on grass? ROTFL! We wouldn’t want to pay him a sincere compliment, though, so hopefully the old coot misplaced his reading glasses again.