Monthly Archives: September 2013

Pass Transportation Funding! Make the Governing Happen! And other tales…

Old Tappan Schools

Hark!

There are doings a’transpiring on the transportation bill…

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, who opposes [Senate Bill 1], said he intends to call a vote.

That could come as early as next week. (Trib, Brad Bumstead)

If the House really has absorbed that it needs to once again do basic Government 101 stuff (without being distracted by dueling liquor trick-shots) then better late than never. Good job, fellas! Cometmaniacs, if you ever travel on any roads and bridges, ride on buses or subways, or know anyone socially or professionally who does, now is a truly excellent time to WUPHF your legislators (both D’s and R’s) and firmly recommend that they ought to keep the trains running on time.

Iiiiiiiif however the plan is to get everybody ginned up to pass “Senate Bill 1” and then amend it by decreasing its total funding allocation to, say, $4.37 and a coupon for half off a 6-inch Quiznos sub — and then bounce the legislation back to a strongly-unified Senate so we can all finger-wag for another year — that would be most unfortunate.

Rumor has it that Turzai may try to resurrect the Hess Amendment:

The sweeping amendments to a Senate-approved transportation bill would eliminate many of the fee increases on motorists that were aimed at raising more money for public transit. The amendments would also require Philadelphia and other local governments to pay a higher share of the costs of transit and would allow counties to levy a $5-per-vehicle fee on local residents, as well as to raise sales taxes, realty-transfer taxes, and earned-income taxes. (Inky, Paul Nussbaum)

In other words, state funding for transit would be thrown under the bus, but metro areas are told they can always pick up the entire tab themselves if they can stand it. But we’ve been here before.

Obligatory duck

We know that steeper and “left-field” taxes are not really a practical option at the local level due to competitive pressures from just two miles down the road. We know that fees on motorists make intuitive sense for transportation, and that broad-based efforts distribute the burden. We know that as things stand, urban motorists are disproportionately subsidizing rural motorists in a number of ways, and that’s not even going to change. And we can see that the businesses community understands perfectly well how public transit is important to state and regional competitiveness and healthy bottom lines.

The only folks who don’t choose to acknowledge all of that are the truly radical anti-state fundamentalist clerics. Let’s try to resist giving the Commonwealth over to them. We have real jobs to do. Let’s pass the popular Republican Senate bill and move on.

*-UPDATE: There is another rumor going around as to how even a “clean” version of SB1 might get voted down, which is too whackadoo for me even to think about except to say it’s definitely Harrisburg enough. Call your Democrats. (Keystone Politics; see also PoliticsPA)

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It’s a shame we can’t implode the Stadium Authority immediately, but hastening that day is better than nothing. It will be nice when the land between PNC Park and Heinz Field is… uh… just like the rest of our City. (P-G, Mark Belko)

It’s probably starting to sound really silly to say things like, “Whoever that next mayor turns out to be.” (Trib, Bob Bauder; Bill Zlatos)

I know I linked to this story already, but about the “crystal glassware”… we’re starting to hear rumors about a certain company making these annual custom-engraved sets. Why would the Steelers choose to give those to public officials? There’s a lot I don’t understand about business. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

Our buddy Hank Sciortino dahn’ the ICA got a raise, despite everything. (P-G, More Iah Balingit) Several of you are outraged over this, with particular respect to how the oversight board withheld millions of dollars of the City’s share of gaming revenue for months upon months, and ultimately released it without the accumulated interest… interest which probably was used to pay for Hank’s exorbitant salary and vacation time. Well, the Pittsburgh Comet is outraged too! Duly! Two-timing ninnies.

Here are some tweets from last night’s District 7 event. On Wednesday the 9th, the Bloomfield Citizens Council is hosting a forum among all candidates moderated by KDKA’s lead non-Marty Griffin investigator Andy Sheehan.

Have a fabulous weekend!

Monday: You can’t say “Ethics” without “Thick”

clean version

The Steelers have been subpoenaed: P-G, Rich Lord.

The City Ethics Hearing Board is not tearing it up: P-G, Moriah Balingit.

If you want further background on the length and depth of the official City ethics outfit’s “abeyance”, the Busman has a plethora of interesting material beginning in Feb. 2007 up through Nov. 2008.

Do you run an enterprise reliant on underpaying and undervaluing its longtime professionals, refusing them health benefits, dismissing them with no warning and without cause, and claiming that when they finally vote to unionize that you are exempt for some reason? If so, you might be a jagoff: P-G, Daniel Kovalik.

Weekender: Affordable Housing in District 6 and Roughhousing in District 7

Sodahead

In a pair of articles in the P-G about the Penguins’ intentions for the Lower Hill, some jargon regarding “affordable housing” was thrown around. It’s worth explaining.

“AMI” stands for Area Median Income, in this case for the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area.  An affordable monthly rent, including utilities, at 100% of AMI is considered to be 30% of the monthly median income of the average Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area resident.

The hitch is, the average City of Pittsburgh household makes less than that; the average Black Pittsburgh household makes still less than that; and the average Hill District household makes even less than that.

The Penguins are proposing to use “reasonable good-faith efforts” to designate 20% of new Lower Hill housing as affordable, whereas the Hill District Master Plan would have 30% set in stone to be affordable. But the wider gulf is this: according to data compiled by RHLS, even the Penguins’ idea of an “affordable” rent at just 80% AMI would come to $977 monthly for a 1-BR, $1,172 for a 2-BR and on up. Which is consistent with what the Penguins are admitting in describing a development geared only towards affluent young professionals.

And so, vanishingly few African-Americans in the region would come close to being able to live in that new Lower Hill.  However, using the 50% and 30% AMI thresholds in the Hill District Master Plan, the 20% or 30% portion of “affordable” rental units would drop to $611 and $367 respectively for a 1-BR; or $732 and $440 for a 2-BR.

We can accomplish this without compromising financial viability. The Penguins’ selected developers are actually very good at it. The Housing Authority can utilize its pool of vouchers or its CDBG allocations to make up a portion of the rent gap, the URA can do roughly the same thing, and the City can utilize other Inclusionary Zoning incentives. That is, if anyone has an interest in being inclusionary.

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Internet Bird Collection
Speaking of the Housing Authority:
Decrying “steep price tags and an increasing number of contracts” at the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley this week asked federal overseers to provide him with documentation of the agency’s salaries, consulting arrangements and travel expenses. (P-G, Rich Lord)
The Senator now references prior P-G investigations on seemingly exorbitant legal and consulting contracts at the Authority.
It’s funny. Way back when it appeared as though billboard permits were providing the combustable material for scandalous meltdowns, it turned out that HUD’s arm-twisting of the Housing Authority might have quietly sparked more of the drama. It is not inconceivable that Chuck Grassley is trying to jump out in front of something.
Cities which receive federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) must provide an analysis of impediments to fair housing choice, and employ strategies for surmounting those impediments. In 2012, Pittsburgh cited a lack of affordable housing in certain areas of the City, and the concentration of subsidized housing in other areas, as the two main impediments. The City’s 2013 Annual Action Plan to solve this is to develop affordable housing outside of low-income areas. City Planning Commission approval of Specially Planned Districts such as the Penguins’ proposal is discretionary, and by code, the Commission’s compliance with plans and policies adopted by the City is mandatory.
The Justice Dept., HUD, and now Congress are obviously watching Pittsburgh these days. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were picturing us dressed as a glazed ham.
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And finally…

Tony Ceoffe’s campaign has made allegations of Democratic Party Committee wrongdoing a campaign issue since Bill Peduto first endorsed candidate Deb Gross in mid-July (a week prior to the party nomination vote) and continued to do so during its unsuccessful legal objection to her nomination. Yesterday and today, a little more of the same came out:

The tweet by @TonyCeoffe, deleted at least several hours later, read “Barb Kelley the 9th Ward vice-chair stepped down from LU after telling me she was forced to vote for Deb Gross by Ron Deutsch.”

The Comet contacted the Ceoffe campaign primarily to ascertain whether the deleted tweet absolutely needed to stay buried forever to protect the innocent. Ceoffe’s spokesperson added that Kelly allegedly told Ceoffe after the vote, “Sorry. Ronnie’s the boss. I had to do what I had to do,” that secret ballots are no proof against the Committee grape vine, that the alleged cause of Kelly stepping down from Lawrenceville United’s leadership was merely speculative, and that “the threats and promises of jobs were real, and they definitely had an impact on the outcome of the vote.”

The Ceoffe campaign also added another Committee members’ name to the “threatened or promised something” list: that of Donnie Sand.

Sand categorically denied to the Comet having been threatened by anyone or promised anything. He said he voted to nominate Gross because she seems “more educated and more professional,” and added by way of contrast that “Ceoffe is immature yet, maybe one day he’ll blossom into a better candidate.”

Barbara Kelly politely declined to comment for this story.

Wednesday: I Am The Target

KDKA: Marty Griffin

Swiftly on the heels of Mayor Yarone Zober’s appearance before the grand jury, Frontman Luke Ravenstahl is taking aim at federal prosecutors, saying he is preparing an aggressive defense of what may turn out to be theft-by-perks charges.

If that is what is up, Ravenstahl claims he was duly “ordered” to take bodyguards with him wherever he goes. The prosecution might argue that he himself appoints whichever Public Safety officials issue those orders, and may have selected them according to their willingness to let him utilize what he wanted, when he wanted, no questions asked — or else pressured them to do so afterwords.

However, that whole idea fails to explain a few things about the course of InvestigatePGH:

I don’t know the answers, but none of the above would be explained by one simple flag for “Excessive Use of the Bodyguards.”

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The City’s historic preservation planner issued an affirmative defense of the Produce Terminal’s nomination as an historic structure. Such a nomination would put a crimp in Buncher Co.’s plans to demolish part of it, as its seeks in its Riverfront Landing project in the lower Strip District. But it would not necessarily prevent them from doing so. It would require a lot more work though.
Future Mayor Bill Peduto called attention to Philadelphia’s plan to develop the shoreline of the Delaware River, which calls for “high quality recreational, cultural and commercial activities” and “high quality investment in public parks and trails as well as maritime, residential, retail, hotel and other improvements”. In that order.
Yesterday’s workshop on Inclusionary Zoning featured Frank Hammond of BNY Mellon describing how other areas have adopted legislation to encourage developers to provide more affordable housing: through bonuses for greater density, fast-tracking of certain permits and waivers of certain fees, alternative design standards, subsidies (the kind with strings actually attached) or tax abatements, and partnerships with public housing authorities. He also outlined several reasons that serious shares of honestly affordable housing is advantageous to developers, who are sometimes in a rush to maximize rents yet not necessarily thinking through of long-term implications. Bob Damewood of Regional Housing Legal Services got into an analysis of what the Penguins refer to as “affordable housing” in their proposal that is geared toward affluent young professionals — anticipating likely monthly rents between $1,000 and $1,500 even in that subcategory, and how this would price out almost all Pittsburgh-area African-Americans and the great majority of other Americans.
Meanwhile the Penguins are circulating as part of their very own development plan a sketch of a richly verdant deck over the Crosstown Expressway that they are not planning on building, nor cognizant of when benefactors might build such a thing for them (sometime after the Garden Walkway, most likely).
Tim McNulty, covering yesterday’s election-oriented event in District 7, seconds the Comet’s take on Tony the Tiger’s cautious fence-sitting predilection. Ceoffe himself prefers the part where Deb Gross for an instant takes a measured view of her opponent’s community group’s awesomeness. The Comet endorses Warren G. Harding.
Governor Tom Corbett, in a desperate last-ditch effort to avert a failed reelection bid, has proposed doing something that would benefit some Pennsylvanians. Keystone Politics analyzes Corbett’s proposed “alternative” to Medicaid expansion aka Obamacare and finds it will save consumers less money, is less smart dealing with risk, and parts of it outright irrational. And it necessitates the President altering the terms of the nation’s Affordable Care Act even to be implemented. Aside from that however, it’s a bullseye.

Ceoffe seizes Initiative in Election about Nothing

No Maas

… not that there’s anything wrong with that!

In the Special Election for City Council District 7, Tony Ceoffe Jr., who waged a provocative but unsuccessful legal challenge of opponent Deb Gross’s election as the Democratic Party nominee, has gone on to organize the first candidates forum.

A release in mid-August announcing its date and location stated that his forum “tentatively” would be moderated by Charlie Deitch of the Pittsburgh City Paper. A gruesome-sounding leg injury soon sidelined the reporter, but also got the alternative newsweekly out of a sticky situation.

“We were very clear with them from the beginning that if the candidates couldn’t get together, we wouldn’t be interested,” said Chris Potter, editor of the City Paper. “We didn’t want to be put in a position where we could be used as a cudgel by one candidate against another.”

As it happens Gross was not interested in attending a debate organized by one of her opponents, alleging these should be hosted by community groups and follow certain mutually agreed-upon guidelines. Yet the Ceoffe camp soldiered on, stating the forum would be held “Town Hall style,” by which they meant no moderators but rather microphones set up for the audience to ask questions. The other three candidates agreed to attend, glad for the exposure on Ceoffe’s dime.

Last week a replacement as moderator was secured: Nancy Hart, of the excellent independent online Urban Media Today. So this first debate will proceed, and probably without its front runner to the delight of the rest of the field.

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Tony Ceoffe Jr. until this race was the Democratic chairperson of the City’s 6th Ward, and vice-president of the community group Lawrenceville United. His father, District Magistrate Tony Ceoffe, was the prior chairperson of that ward and was L.U.’s Director from ’05 to ’09.

A message from Ceoffe’s campaign chair confronts the resulting impression on head-on:

The day I met Tony, I was volunteering at the polls for Bill Peduto in the mayoral primary. Before meeting him that day, I had only known Tony as the son of a district magistrate of the same name who lived across the street from my good friend in Lawrenceville. To me, at that time, Tony was just your standard local politician, part of the nepotistic democratic machine in Pittsburgh. What I soon realized was that I couldn’t have been more wrong. (Neighbors for TC)

Ceoffe was working the polls that day for Peduto rival Jack Wagner. He explains that Wagner reached out to him after Michel Lamb dropped out of the race and remained more accessible to him throughout, and that most other committee members in his ward supported Wagner in that contest. In prior contests, all indications are that the Ceoffe clan actively backed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Yet indeed there is much to suggest Ceoffe is not a garden-variety “old school” Pittsburgh pol, or maybe that he represents the first of a promising “Old School 2.0”.

He calls himself a “progressive” and has made opposition to fracking, support of making UPMC pay its fair share, and an “Open Data Policy” centerpieces of his agenda. He worries about gentrification putting out seniors and low-income residents in his rapidly changing district. He says that Peduto has proposed some “great initiatives” and that “we can’t elect somebody that’s just going to stick it to Bill”. He has made extensive and effective use of social media. He pro-actively engages with bloggers such as yours truly, despite what are our plain political leanings and in one notable past instance a familial dust-up.

And he is impossible not to like.

Truly, we tried. We chased down people after events for follow-ups and even held our own focus groups. People appreciate his enthusiasm, are impressed with his intelligence, think he’s a “good guy” and would like to see him do well. Most importantly, people feel as though if elected it would be easy for them to productively interact with him in office.

On the flip side, when pressed for details they call him “a politician” in that he did not offer many decisive answers, that he either talked circles around topics or replied that he would “have to study that at the Council table,” and that it was hard afterwords to remember what it was he said exactly. Yet they were willing to cut him that slack. They like that he is good at “that game” and seems to relish it.

Weber 1300

His is a fascinating personality contrast with Deb Gross (the results of our interview are contained here). Gross is more likely to pause to think before beginning an answer, speak deliberately, and even use silence to convey more than Ceoffe might in a more rambling response. In answer to a question about Lawrenceville United’s contributions to public safety in the neighborhood, for example, she raised an eyebrow and asked in return, “Have they?”

After a few beats she went on, “One thing L.U. has done well is provide a valuable community table. That is certainly one thing they do of enormous value.” Her slight sighs also seemed to suggest an opinion that there was something less-than-praiseworthy in some of the staunchest opposition to a prior Baum-Liberty development proposal, as well as to expansion of the Thunderbird Cafe — that nonetheless were tough to capture in an interview write-up.

It can be challenging to elicit even these sorts of vague hints about hot-button issues from Ceoffe. His responses to the Butler St. club expansion and his posture towards the Buncher Company’s sprawling development plans seem to carefully straddle each fence.

An answer to a question about the City’s staying in or departing Act 47 Financial Distressed Status, for example — a question calculated to assess his willingness to upset the City workers which comprise some of his support — was that he would have to study the matter further at the Council table.

However, in answer to another such question about using GPS units in City snowplows and other public works vehicles, Ceoffe remarked he would support that “wonderful idea”, as it fits into his Open Data Policy.

His boldest stances seem to fall along politically convenient lines.

“I’m completely opposed to fracking in the City,” he says, and is therefore wary of Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s proposal “to have the County taking over our public parks. Is that going to impact the City parks?”

I pointed out that this proposal was merely for shared management of the parks, not an ownership transfer, and that besides which the City parks would still be located decidedly in the City which has a drilling ban that all Council members supported.

Ceoffe replied that the City’s drilling ban is legally problematic — “just like campaign finance,” another Peduto initiative. “It all gets back to the same thing.” Yet Ceoffe offered no remedies to strengthen either the drilling ban or campaign finance reform.

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When I referred to this as an “election about nothing,” that is not meant to imply there are not serious issues facing District 7 neighborhoods, nor that the identity and talents of its next Council member will not be important.

But so far the issues in this election have been all about process, or optics, or the relative traction of each major candidate’s negative caricatures of the others’ personality — neither of which bears much resemblance to reality by the way. In an election held in a weird interlude during which a new in-crowd buoyed by optimism has yet to be able notch any successes or commit any mistakes, it is particularly hard to drill down to substance.

When I look at the choices available in this election, I seek out the choices these candidates made in the past. Being on one “side” or the other has not been a matter of joining Team Red or Team Blue to me — it means, did you stand up to a politically skilled but myopic, obtuse, politically hackneyed and incompetent regime when there was little to gain? Were you willing to take stands that involved relinquishing certain job opportunities or other opportunities for political advancement? For example when I learned that Gross was involved with Ground Zero, a now-storied affiliation of individuals plotting the seeds of institutional change in Pittsburgh way before this blogger arrived, that signaled much to me. Despite the fact that the tables have very recently turned, I haven’t seen anything from other candidates which demonstrates an insistence on speaking truth to power when it is inconvenient or unhealthy.

That’s just me. And I am as entitled to my own opinion as you are to reject it.

In truth, Gross’s campaign seems from this vantage to be just as light on substantive specifics as her opponent, and a little flat besides. Not to mention a bit overly-reliant on her vast cornucopia of political endorsements — so it is natural for Ceoffe to try to “judo” that strength into a liability.

He is doing his best. You have to admire the chutzpah. But the choices he has made in the past probably merit a little more time spent in the political wilderness, and he probably will get it. The next election in District 7 is only nineteen months away, wherein both can run as Democrats.

Tony’s Ceoffe’s campaign slogan, “Policy and Passion over Politics” is fundamentally divisive. One can strike Policy out of the equation outright since his enumerated policy statements are general or non-controversial, and one can just as easily cut out the allusion to Politics since failure to wind up on the winning side is not the same thing as having eschewed political games on principle.

Elections are rarely won on the basis of mathematical precision, but if he wants to give it a shot he might reduce the whole formula to one word: PASSION.

Apropos

eil.com

Tribune-Review: Joseph Sabino Mistick

Waag Society: Blog

Mayor Zober: In Charge, Autocratic, Political, Hostile to Communities and Labor

CNN Money

The portrait which the Post-Gazette provides of InvestigatePGH’s latest and highest-profile person of interest encourages what was already widely conventional wisdom.

My own takeaways:

1. In terms of accountability and directives, even Sen. Jim Ferlo now acknowledges a “leadership vacuum” existed for the “last several years” (say, seven?) while crediting mayoral chief of staff / URA chairman Yarone Zober with all that is oft considered good about Frontman Luke Ravenstahl. And a lot of that seems to be organizing and fulfilling deals.

2. Why does the City bother asking residents and stakeholders to come Downtown to line up and speak at public hearings, and why do we seek out and waste the time of so many professionals volunteering as board members, if a boss can remotely fire off an email fixing a decision? It’s not an isolated incident — back when URA Director Pat Ford was around to provide Ravenstahl and Zober with an additional layer of insulation from public accountability, it was Ford who directed the Commission off-record to ignore community input. They often speak denoting it is already settled that projects have to “move forward” expeditiously.

“This is ridiculous” … Zober, on persons seeking community benefit for a subsidized hotel project on cheaply sold public land.

3. Power to shape the Lower Hill — to reclaim it, reconnect it, remedy and reverse mistakes of the past, build a neighborhood where one once was crushed — is now held jealously in the hands of an administrator profoundly skeptical of community groups, disdainful of labor, and presently under suspicion of pay-to-play wrongdoing.

Today’s profile covers Mayor Zober’s development strategy, which he described on camera better than any scribe might paraphrase during that tense interval with North Shore groups. You will go watch both parts now.

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3A. “Every dollar that’s created in taxes… those are community benefits. Those go directly into worker training programs, into keeping our streets safe, clean.” For a short while, economic development equals community benefits was an explicit catch-phrase of the URA.

In actuality, City government does not conduct any worker training at all; if it does, it is a vanishingly tiny fraction of one percent of its budget and contingent upon grants. Tax dollars from a development certainly could be used for job training — but that would necessitate some kind of Community Benefits Agreement.

And although additional police and street sweeping are not typically demands expressed by these communities, even these are never assigned specifically to the poor neighborhoods burdened with the effects of disruptive large-scale entertainment and tourist complexes. Again, such a thing could easily happen — but only in the context of a Community Benefits Agreement.

Chicago Gazette

Ironically, the taxes generated from subsidized development often go straight to paying off the infrastructure necessary to support it by the terms of a TIF agreement. Otherwise it indeed goes to the City — which must use it to fuel the pension fund and bond holders more so than anything else. If any is left over after all that, one could more easily say it goes to subsidize the next development, than wind up in the capital budget and hopefully make it to a burdened community.

3B. “That’s not at the expense of neighborhood development. If you just look at the North Side there’s about $85 million in development right now, from Federal North, to, uh, Garden Theater…” First, the Garden Theater is part of the Federal North project, so that corner is duly noted. As is the new Carnegie Library on Federal, replacing the one struck by lightening in Allegheny Center. For all we know that comprises a portion of the $85 million figure.

The main point being in what has been the URA’s terminology,  “X millions are being invested on the Y Side or End” as though it is distributed by crop duster. Why not jump up and grab it, community members? Not that simplistic.

3C. This leaves “jobs” as the sole and strongest argument for what I (not so effectively) call the trickle-down theory of community building. These jobs fall broadly into two categories: construction jobs, and permanent (usually service-industry) jobs.

Zober is delighted to point out that the building industry trades are supportive of his development approach. A friend of mine recently quipped, “They would build a nuclear power plant in a schoolyard if they could get a project labor agreement.”

That does not make the trades evil, but it does suggest this is merely a case where some of the goals of one subset of labor happen to align with the goals of “Getting It Done” development. The affinity for the trades does not seem to stem from any particular passion for workers’ rights or the struggles of the working man. It should be noted that the building trades are not famous for being particularly diverse or easy to break into either (outside of a Community Benefits Agreement).

As to “permanent” jobs, these also are real and people eagerly apply for them. That deserves its place and weight on the scale. But it should be acknowledged these are the very sorts of jobs which tend to generate noisome demands for improved benefits and conditions. Such demands sadly generate responses such as, “These require no special skills or education! Why do they feel they deserve financial security or health care in exchange? It’s economics. You’re not supposed to stay in those jobs, silly goose. Move on.”

When it is suggested we should arrange for these new jobs to be filled by organized workforces to negotiate some benefits, as in a “project labor agreement” which can be part of a “Community Benefits Agreement,” this is opposed by the administration as often as possible: see Stage AE, or the hotel in Bakery Square.

The key concept is not doing what everybody asks, but BALANCE. If a 1 is granting a developer every consideration and encouragement, and a 10 is total community preoccupation, strike a 5. Perhaps a 6 when one is remedying historic and still-painful injustices as in the Hill, or a 4 where there are few inherent burdens such as near Hazelwood. Mayor Zober seems to be all about murdering the Yin such that Yang can win forevermore.


Art or Consequences

3D. In today’s profile, we learn that Zober has partially inoculated himself against certain otherwise predictable populist criticism by bailing out the August Wilson Center and hustling to achieve what was the “exception” Community Benefits Agreement for the new arena in the Hill.

Here is where I am going to upset a lot of you, initially. But stay with this.

The August Wilson Center was built with the best and highest of civic intentions, on a grand scale and on prime real estate. We have since learned its initial business model is unsustainable. We are also aware that it is not going anywhere, nor should it. [UPDATE 1/21/13: It is going somewhere; we’ve learned it’s gotten so bad, it has to].

But in loaning the Center $2 million at 4.5% interest, Zober and the URA purchased new shares of the responsibility. With that funding 20 months ago, there should have been a serious intention to get personally involved with the cultural asset, and a process set up to begin identifying workable reforms. The URA in particular is well-equipped to communicate tough financial realities and assist in creative problem-solving. If however the URA simply cut a check, that looks more like a short-term fix to a political crisis. A kicking of a can down the road which one does not wish to stop and touch. The price you pay for doing business.

I would argue the Consol Energy Center CBA was as cynical a maneuver towards the same ends.

Efforts to lobby for a legally binding CBA for community-led development were evaded with characteristic charisma from the time the arena deal was struck in early 2007 through the first part of 2008.  But on Wednesday April 9, the URA Director and the mayor’s Press Secretary left the City in a sudden Derecho of perceived conflicts of interest, and on Friday April 11 Zober claimed a “tentative framework” for a CBA was reached.  Such was finally signed four months later, yet partially because coalition partners were exhausted and eager to declare a win the community-improvement fund dropped out and jobs were promised but not guaranteed, nor indeed did they materialize for Hill residents.

Characteristic of an agreement into which its executor was dragged kicking and screaming under resentful duress.

The centerpiece of the CBA was funding towards a grocery store, the cause célèbre and the saving grace of the episode. Ominously, deadlines were missed, funding gaps erupted, and it seemed for a long time as though the City would only be held as personally accountable as it would in sustaining the August Wilson Center. But another four years later, in the run-up to what was expected to be Mayor’s reelection bid, peace was restored with renewed fanfare.

On those rare occasions that the stakes are extraordinarily high and politically applicable, this administration has been willing to play the role of community champion. This is politics after all.

But a fair reading of history indicates just what today’s reporting indicates and what Mayor Zober given the opportunity freely shares: that community and labor demands are noxious weeds which must be cut clear for the sake of cash-crop growth.

I am one who believes community demands and commercial growth go hand in hand if we are patient, creative and courageous. If you believe as I do, you ought like me be prepared that Zober could be cleared of every suggestion of pay-to-play wrongdoing. Or, if you share Zober’s one-dimensional convictions on growth, you should be prepared to accept it if he has been complicit in corruption which must be taken seriously. Or any combination thereof.

There may exist a Grand Unification Theory of Zoberstahl which explains why we see a one-note growth agenda, certain managerial foibles, credible indications of corruption, as well as the mayor’s own unfortunate personal drama all at once. However it may be wisest not to try to put too fine a point on it. We’re moving forward.

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Wednesday: Nearing the End of an End and the Beginning of a Beginning

Tyndale House

The day foretold in Revelations has arrived when the Pirates shall win and the Steelers shall lose, when the fountain at Point State Park runs red or at least runs, and Dread Lord Zober is summoned before a grand jury.  InvesgtigatePGH prosecutors have now twice brought in one high-level governing official on the same day as at least one titillatingly mysterious mayoral acquaintance. *-UPDATE: Authorities also are seeking documents.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo thinks it’s time to burn the ICA in order to save it. For those asking the function of the ICA anymore, it has rejected proposed City budgets on grounds of phantom revenues, encourage it at length to meet certain purchase agreements and can generally insist upon a certain level of financial discipline to satisfy the City’s creditors. Whatever else are its problems.

The Post-Gazette’s Mark Belko is on location researching and writing a series of top-notch pieces on how other cities have redeveloped or reinvigorated their historic warehouses, and contrasting these with plans on the agenda in our Strip District.

It’s interesting: In the Strip District, Buncher Co.’s plans have been advanced under constant threat that otherwise Pittsburgh can only be left with a sea of parking for the next 20 years. In Oakland, a developer is warning that without him we might be stuck with a parking lot for a long, long time. We could also go back to Stage AE, that is the North Shore Uglitheater as well. It is fortunate that subsidized entertainment venue sticks with nonunion labor, or else we never would have improved upon that sea of surface parking. And in past days here and whenever necessary since 2007, we read dire warnings from Penguins proposal advocates of no alternatives to it except a future rife with surface parking. And werewolves.

Future Mayor Peduto and a major and active Downtown developer identified until now with Ravenstahl seem to be cooperating productively. There are minor and typical differences of opinion on how to leverage further financing for the latest project.

Ginormous Lower Hill article: No more picking factions

Congleton

Get it while it’s hot:

Peduto sent a letter to the Penguins expressing his opinions two months ago.

“I haven’t shared it with anybody [until last week], but it was at about the same time as they were requesting my help in Washington to lobby for this,” Peduto says. “I said I could support it under three conditions,” one of which is the inclusion of the Crawford improvements.

“Number two, there has to be greater involvement of the community. The community is not [State Representative] Jake [Wheatley] and Daniel [Lavelle, who represents the Hill District in City Council],” says Peduto. “It’s beyond that. It’s the Hill House, which has been the ‘CDC’ of the Hill for a hundred years. It’s the Hill Consensus Group. And it’s Daniel, Jake and Marimba, but also [State Senator] Wayne Fontana, [County Council Representative] Bill Robinson, the County Exec [Rich Fitzgerald] and the Mayor.”

“So, there has to be greater involvement of the community, not just those who have been supportive of the Penguins.”

[snip]

“They had the opportunity to be more inclusive in the process, and they haven’t. But I will promise them that they will have a seat at the table. I’m not going to take anyone’s seat away from them,” says Peduto. “But I am also going to make sure that nobody sits at a card table when the discussion is happening at the banquet table. My goal is not to pick one of them and say ‘You’re out and this one’s in,’ my goal is to make sure that all of them have an equal seat at the table when these discussions are happening.”  (UMT, Nancy Hart)

There’s a lot more in there, including updates, and my understanding is more material may still be added. But I thought that was pretty neat.