The Artist: Kenny Chesney
The purpose: to bring them up to speed on the cause of the massive explosion that brought down two houses on Lovitt Way, and to respond to any questions and concerns.
Michael Huss, the city’s Director of Public Safety, led the meeting. Together with chief arson investigator Michael Burns, the two described an investigation that is ongoing, though it appears that an “extraordinary” amount of natural gas poured into 845 Lovitt Way over a brief three-day interval between April 8th and 11th.
The owner of 845 Lovitt resides in a nursing home. The force of the explosion blew the roof off of 845 and onto 847; the lack of any fire or pyrotechnics was considered consistent with a natural gas explosion. A methamphetamine lab explosion, by contrast, would have burned on flame-producing ethanol. The lack of any chemical containers on the scene also argued against a meth lab.
Although previous news reports seemed to rule out a gas leak, Equitable Gas spokesman David Spigelmyer clarified that reports of gas lines being shut off and capped only applied to 847 Lovitt, and had a technical answer for the confusion about 845. The Comet did not follow along so well, but many residents who had been following the explosion closely nodded their heads sagely at the explanation.
Spigelmyer did reassure residents that Equitable Gas has been checking and will continue to check all underground gas lines and other connections in the area; he said to expect to see Equitable Gas trucks in the neighborhood as a matter of routine.
The cause of the leak is still unknown, although Huss suggested for now that theft of copper and other piping as a working hypothesis. “I’m not saying any of you!” he quickly assured the room, “but there are a lot of vacant homes in the area, and you see a lot of that.”
Councilwoman Darlene Harris took the floor simply to offer her assistance to anybody adversely affected by the explosion. “Sometimes, it’s very hard when you lose a lot.”
She said there could be some assistance available from the Spring Garden Neighborhood Council and others, and remained long after the meeting handing out cards and talking to residents.
When the floor was opened for questions, one woman raised her hand and asked, “What about the homeless?”
Jean McCoy has been living in one of the surrounding homes that was badly damaged in the explosion, which will need to be torn down. She was out working when the explosion occurred. City officials were familiar with her dilemma and were extremely solicitous, yet seemed a bit uncertain how to proceed long-term.
Michael Huss said that they would be working with the Housing authority in order to find her a place to live as soon as possible, but admitted to “gaps” in service presently between Housing and those being provided by the Red Cross. Huss called on a representative from Red Cross in the back of the room, who described services available through shelters and other initiatives.
“We’re going to take care of Jean,” Huss pledged.
Daniel Cipriani, chief of Building Inspections, and the head of Demolitions took the floor to answer some specific questions about what to do if you have an insurance claim, who to call about debris on your property, and what to do if you fear a particular home is unstable. It is unlikely, they said, that the City of Pittsburgh would be liable for anyone’s insurance deductible, but the city would do its best to clean up the area and make it safe.
After some more questions, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was introduced. He said of the recovery efforts he had witnessed, “I was proud to be a member of city government.”
Ravenstahl would not take one ounce of credit for any of the work carried out by public safety personnel, nor by any others. He credited Director Huss, police investigators, public works, and many others for a rapid and professional response.
“Our work is not done and we realize that. We’re just extremely fortunate that no one was injured.”
Operations director Arthur Victor was also on hand, and his message was simple. “If you don’t take anything else away from this meeting, remember to call 3-1-1 with any questions.”
Fire chief Darryl Jones would only add his own appreciation for “fine job of the arson squad”, before he intoned gravely, “We’re gonna make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
A final comment from a resident thanked all those assembled for a job well done, and the City of Pittsburgh earned a modest but heartfelt round of applause.
Public Works director Guy Costa was also on hand, making certain all bloggers residing near the blast zone had comfortable seating at the very front of the room.
The Spring Garden-East Deutschtown Community Council has enlisted the Northside Leadership Conference to administer a relief fund set up for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed in a natural gas explosion on Lovitt Way last week.
Donations may be made to the East Deutschtown Explosion Relief Fund in care of the Northside Leadership Conference, 4 Allegheny Center, Suite 601, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, e-mail Kelly MacKay at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 412-330-2559. (Tribune-Review)
UPDATE: WTAE lays a lot of this out for us, with some very interesting new details involving would-be subpoenas. Also KDKA, who has a Lamar exec saying “the rules changed in the middle”.
Councilman Kraus held a press conference at 2:30 today to “assure the public that proper legal process will not be overlooked for Lamar Advertising.”
In the statement, he says he speaks on behalf of Council members Peduto, Shields, and Burgess.
So that’s four.
Today it appears the rule of law is prevailing. We are pleased that Lamar and the administration have acknowledged that the process was ignored, and is now taking steps toward compliance.
Our hope is that today’s actions will allow for a legal and transparent process to take place, as required by the City Code.
So based on appearances, today those four characterize themselves as hopeful.
“This is a tremendous victory for process,” said city Councilman Patrick Dowd, who had filed suit as a private citizen to challenge the issuance of the permit by city administrators without the project going through hearings before planning and zoning boards. (Post-Gazette, R. Lord)
That was this morning.
In the agreement, Mr. Dowd pledged not to “protest” the sign in subsequent public hearings, but the other members have not.
A new permit application for a digital sign on the new Grant Street Transportation Center will go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the city Planning Commission, each of which would hold hearings and votes. Mr. Specter said he did not believe it would require a vote of City Council.
This still appears to run afoul of Sec. 910.01.D.2, which says that electronic sign messages in the Golden Triangle district shall be permitted as a Conditional Use. Conditional Uses must be approved by Council, after the Planning Commission makes its recommendation.
Why is this important? It is a matter of considerable speculation whether or not members of the Planning Commission will be liberated to vote their consciences on this issue.
Some city watchers are telling us that the massive scrutiny surrounding Lamar Advertising and Pat Ford will force the mayor’s administration to take a step back. Others tell us that monkeys are more likely to come flying out of George Specter’s butt.
Also, in that same P-G update:
[Ravenstahl] said he stopped by the meeting “to say hello … Pat mentioned that [billboard executives] were in town and I went over to say hello.
“They contributed [to his campaign] based on the fact, I’d imagine, that they thought I was the best candidate for the office of mayor,” he said. “I didn’t broker the deal.”
Deal? Did somebody say, ‘deal’?
At first, charter school proponents applied for a permit to open as an independent operation. Zoning Director Patrick Ford and the zoning board rejected that idea.
Then the seesaw tipped.
Charter school proponents quickly returned to the city with a request for a different permit, one that would allow them to become an addition to the neighborhood’s Hope Lutheran Church, 1840 NE 41st St. They promised to use less than half the space of the 26,000- square-foot church and limit enrollment to fewer than 300.
Ford said he had no choice but to approve the permit. “My job is to interpret the code,” he said. “If it meets those criteria, I approve it.”
That’s when Vice Mayor Susan Foster entered the fray.
“I just feel that the community should’ve been notified by this proposed charter school,” Foster said. “They should’ve done their due diligence. They should be more responsible as far as contacting the neighborhood.”
Hoping to overturn Ford’s decision, Foster has appealed the zoning director’s decision with the same zoning board that initially denied the charter school a permit.
“This school is a detriment to our community,” Martin said. “This has turned into such a fiasco it’s not even funny.”
(Florida Sun-Sentinel, Jean-Paul Renaud, email@example.com or 954-356-4556).
Nov. 22, 2005:
Such big headaches for such a little school.
Lawyers, petitions, appeals. All over the zoning director’s decision to allow Eagles’ Nest Community Charter School to open inside a Pompano Beach neighborhood.
In making his decision, Ford said church properties are allowed to have charter schools and that a school operated for at least 30 years until 2002 on the Hope Lutheran Church property. Five charter schools were able to open with the same type of permit in Broward County, said Ford, who noted that 30 percent of charter schools in Florida are annexed to churches.
Soon after his approval, the school’s name was painted on one of the church’s buildings.
“We all went, `What’s Eagles’ Nest?'” Fontana said. “None of us knew what was in there or what was going in.”
Vice Mayor Susan Foster, who represents the area, appealed Ford’s decision in September. A majority of that board, amid presentations by attorneys on both sides of the issue, agreed the zoning director was wrong.
Commissioners tonight have the final word.
“It’s rather ill-conceived,” Mayor John Rayson said of the school. “I think that’s an inappropriate venue for the charter school.”
But, he added, “I have no idea what’s going to happen.” (Florida-Sun Sentinel, JPR)
Pompano Beach city commissioners did reverse the ruling of zoning administrator Ford on that evening. The charter school had 30 days in which to appeal the decision.
Reported on Dec. 4, 2005, about an event that occurred Monday, Nov. 28. In other words, a few days later:
Suddenly, Pompano Beach has no zoning director.
Patrick Ford, who held the job since April 2004, resigned Monday without reason or notice.
“My resignation is effective immediately,” he wrote in a letter he handed to City Manager C. William Hargett Jr. “The friends and associations I’ve made during my employment for the city of Pompano Beach will truly be memorable for years to come. Thank you for the opportunity to work for you.”
A little further down:
Recently, Ford, who collected an annual salary of $76,655, was center stage in a controversial decision to allow Eagles’ Nest Community Charter School to open in the residential neighborhood of Beacon Heights.
He allowed the school to open, but the community protested and the City Commission overturned his decision. That matter is now headed to court.
We don’t know how that ever turned out for the residents and taxpayers of Pompano Beach. The Comet is done purchasing news articles from the Sun-Sentinel archives for the time being.
“It was a very interesting scenario,” Ford said. “It’s not my job to determine how the community or the City Commission might react to my decision.
“In my opinion, the City Commission in general handled this issue more gracefully than any other elected official I have ever worked with.”
City officials say Ford gave no indication he was going to resign. He packed up his City Hall office over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and walked into the city manager’s office on Monday to deliver his letter.
“I thought it would be the best for the city and for myself, in my opinion, to resign on Monday,” Ford said.
“When an individual gives two weeks’ notice, it tends to be a little awkward. I thought it would be more prudent to have someone else jump right in and take over, just to eliminate that awkwardness.” (Florida Sun-Sentinel, JPR)
Since the Comet has been covering the Zoning and City Planning angle unto death, let’s read what Matt H has to say about the Housing Authority.
What are you trying to hide Mr. Meachem? Why won’t you just open things up and be transparent? Why did you try to stonewall Ford when he wanted to look around? Was it your shady doings with the Garfield project? Was it the lobbying of board members that you wanted to keep under the rug? Why so shady Mr. Meachem? What are you hiding sir? Why won’t you open the books? If something wasn’t fishy then why would the city controller’s office and the DA’s office be interested in this? Why did Meachem start sending inquiries out about Ford’s position as Chairman after Ford began asking questions within HACP?
City Controller’s Office? What?
It’s seriously time for officials to get to the bottom of all of this. Let Zappala’s office and Michael Lamb’s office take a good look within HACP to see what is really going on. I will work my hardest to help these offices get the job done. I will talk to anyone who wants to know what is going on and I have plenty of other people who will also talk about all of the misdoings at HACP.
Michael Lamb’s office? What?
Mr. Meachem you have some explaining to do. You owe it to the taxpayers of this area, to the employees that you can’t get maintenance materials to and to the residents of HACP that you have neglected and shortchanged since you took over.
Is Matt H carrying water for Pat Ford? Unlikely, but…
ADDED NOTE: [Ford] said blogger Bram Reichbaum called Sirk and threatened to release a copy of the blog publicly if she did not tell him about the surround-sound system. (Tribune-Review, J. Boren)
The Comet characterizes this statement as wholly untrue. It is old news already, but we felt a need to make the point clearly and on-record.
There is one last common ground for these candidates: They are both uncommonly smart, thoughtful and very well-versed in the issues. They care about people and they care about the workings of government. They are prepared. (P-G, Edit Board)
On Iraq, for those inclined to remember, Sen. Clinton carries more baggage, for she voted to approve the war in the first place. For those inclined to forgive, she would seek to repair relations with allies strained by the Iraq misadventure, as Sen. Obama also would.
Yes please let’s think about that…
Nor is [Obama] any sort of elitist. As he said yesterday in effectively refuting this ridiculous charge in a meeting with Post-Gazette editors, “my life’s work has been to get everybody a fair shake.”
Sen. Obama has captured much of the nation’s imagination for a reason. He offers real change, a vision of an America that can move past not only racial tensions but also the political partisanship that has so bedeviled it.
Pennsylvania — this encrusted, change-averse commonwealth where a state liquor monopoly holds on against all reason and where municipal fiefdoms shrink from sensible consolidation — needs to take a strong look at the new face and the new hope in this race. Because political business-as-usual is more likely to bring the usual disappointment for the Democrats this fall, the Post-Gazette endorses the nomination of Barack Obama, who has brought an excitement and an electricity to American politics not seen since the days of John F. Kennedy.
“You shouldn’t count on one-time revenues to fill your budget hole every year. That’s just not good financial planning,” he said. (P-G, Mark Belko)
That’s not the kind of story Dan Onorato wants to see coming out of Pittsburgh!
Authority officials wouldn’t say how much the bid for the new Gateway Center Station shell exceeded engineering estimates, but the number is well beyond the $25 million to $30 million range discussed two months ago. (P-G, Joe Grata)
“Voters can’t just vote on a theme,” Flaherty said. “That would be nice to do. I think they want to see concrete, hard facts in terms of financially what’s going to happen as well as structurally what’s going to happen.” (Trib, F.A. Krift)
Flaherty. Flaherty! How could the Comet have been covering Pittsburgh politics for so long, yet never once mention a Flaherty? We are well past due for some Flaherty!
“This is in direct relationship to the pledges we signed in February” in which council and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl agreed to work together on a joint agenda that includes fuller pension funding, said Councilman Patrick Dowd, who wrote the legislation. (P-G, Team Effort)
See? Everything’s hunky dory.
“Erin and Luke Ravenstahl announced today that they have a proposed solution to Pittsburgh’s declining population,” the mayor said in an official release. “A joyful and grateful Erin and Luke are pleased to announce that they are expecting. (Post-Gazette, D. Majors)
Erin attributed the development to the mayor having had a “pervasive and consistent modus operandi,” and of operating “under the cloak of wedlock.”
Congratulations to the happy couple.
Miller’s final question was, “Are there any adults left on Grant Street who are going to clean up this mess?”
Good question, and that’s not a shot at Luke. The issue is, we told him, PF knows where all the bodies are buried.
If the theme of any investigation becomes a preponderance of special favors given in an official capacity to certain interests within the context of mutually advantageous personal or political relationships (aka corruption), this is usually pretty simple. One political party rolls the other one up like a carpet.
We have one political party. We’ve had it for a while. That’s why this is so deep.
Failing that strategy, the “adults on Grant Street” would have to be persons who Mayor Ravenstahl and his predecessors have until now purposefully frozen out of the Reindeer Games of Pittsburgh. Or those too new to it all to have gotten involved.
Bill Peduto. Doug Shields. And the three new members of council.
NOTE TO MBB: CW ain’t getting any guiltier.
Meanwhile, here are some recent Post-Gazette endorsements you have no reason not to support:
Brenda Frazier: Experienced, conscientious, caring, and a forward-thinker.
Jake Wheatley: Strong on education, strong on health-care, strong in the community.
Steve O’Donnell: Detail-oriented, articulate, knowledgeable.
Common Thread: The P-G Edit Board seems to appreciate persons who, more than anything else, are their own persons. So do we.