Monthly Archives: November 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.

PREVIOUSLY ON BELKOVISION:

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.

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

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)

Knowyourme

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.

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

Hubpages

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.

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.

Open Thread: Feedback

Yummy Kitchen, Folsom CA

Let me have it.

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)

“BRINGING THE PROMISE BACK TO PITTSBURGH!!!!!!!”

Beowulf

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.

FabSugar

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.

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.
@RDLavelle
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. (Hillombo.org, 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 Hillombo.org 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.

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