Tuesday: The Center is Dragged, the Politics Changed.

If you are interested in the Civic Arena site and reduced-rent housing and opportunities, then UPDATE: Councilor Lavelle introduced a new initiative and a meeting was held on Tuesday resulting in a unanimous, affirmative recommendation to Council from the Planning Commission.

Meanwhile under the spotlights, Pittsburgh’s 2015 budget passed Council with flying colors, 8-1, and we’ll return to Harris momentarily.

Our City of Champions fixed the Great 2013 Tax Cut to where its framers mathematically intended had reassessments been finalized. We compensated for suddenly increased but prudent pension funding. We have data-driven parking policy poised to strike this year, and we have “truth in budgeting” in as much as disclosing a slight .2% deficit pending resolution of how exactly to bring residential landlords into the group effort at excellence. Finally, the Peduto administration brought permitting, licensing and routine building inspections into the fold of priorities.

We still have no buy-in from the “big four Nonprofits”, disappointingly. We know this matter historically to be difficult and well-nigh intractable. Hopefully, UPMC’s retreat in now accepting Highmark insurance reimbursements just as federal open enrollment was closing is an admission that sometimes its bluster in public negotiations is not to be taken seriously. Maybe Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Highmark should caucus separately, because with UPMC, it’s always so dramatic.

Back to budget politics, Councilwoman Darlene Harris summed up her no vote as first and foremost, not approving of the move of buildings inspections out of Public Safety, and further some vague allusions regarding the Fire Bureau, and how these and more seem to typify “everything” moving away from “blue-collar” and towards “white-collar” workers.

Politically, this strikes a lot of the right notes if Harris wants to hold onto her base coalition. Council President Pro-Tem Theresa Kail-Smith had abstained through the preliminary round, and it was not a coincidence — this was a hard vote for some.

But as a matter of policy, the active presence of all Mayor Peduto’s new, or young, or highly educated, or from-outside professionals is something Pittsburgh will just have to tolerate as it modernizes and gets better. The real challenge will be getting the older guards and the newer guards to work in a United Guard.

The dynamic parking conversation really exhibited the emergence of the coming realignments of Pittsburgh City Council.

Our Allegheny County 2015 budget passed fairly easily as well, with some discussion about public transit and drilling revenue priorities. Meanwhile, Operation: Hoist Petard continues apace.

Sooner or later, someone is going to ask the state Auditor General DePasquale to look at the Airport and Sports & Exhibition authorities, and he will say, “No thanks, for event tickets and some things I’m too preoccupied and will to defer to the local processes.” County Controller Chelsa Wagner will then ask, “Well, then can I do it now? It’s a service.” Nobody is impressed that the SEA secured an internal review, nobody thinks ACE Rich Fitzgerald can’t green-light the audits, and nobody is scared about learning who receives Steelers tickets by organization. As well as political operatives. And maybe plus-ones. Oh my word, are we are considering revealing the identities of years’ worth of plus-ones? Great Caesar’s Ghost! We may need to consult some independent ethics experts for guidance.

Speaking of the utility of independency and expertise: Councilman Ricky Burgess is proposing that Pittsburgh stop accepting surplus military hardware. It seems like an important discussion, perhaps one that the citizens’ review board should be rigorously involved in. Safety and efficiency are dear priorities along with prudence. Oh, and congratulations to the new brass! Be brave, hold true to your convictions.

In the wider world, there is torture, and there are wounded veterans of war. Here at home as well as everywhere, black lives matter and black and brown womens’ lives matter, and many wonder what we should do as majority cultures and an oft-legitimized occupation to act on our recognition of our ongoing cycles of misery and mistrust. The Forks of the Ohio are working on it, along with others.

12 thoughts on “Tuesday: The Center is Dragged, the Politics Changed.

  1. Brian Tucker-Hill

    Speaking as a highly (some might say over) educated professional from outside the region who was once new here (some might say with barely 20 years in the area under my belt, I still am new), I have never had the slightest problem being welcomed by older natives into all sorts of interesting and productive discussions about local issues. Non-natives who commit to living here may sometimes be viewed with curiousity (although maybe less so these days), but in my experience almost never are they treated with hostility. Maybe it is a deep legacy of the high immigration days that are still within living (or one generation removed) memory.

    In any event, outside of a view particular politicos and such with a vested interest in the old way of doing things, I don’t believe a “United Guard” is actually going to be a very heavy lift among the people of Pittsburgh.

    1. Gabe

      Should not be hard to unite a guard when good ideas are on the table. Tougher to stay united as budgets bloat, inaction prevails and the “big idea” is a new expensive bus lane to Oakland.

      1. bramr101 Post author

        I hear you, Gabe. I’m not quite where you are on “bloat” because we are judging based solely on Year One — and there is some “truth in budgeting” effect (thanks to sound accounting for investments, and some ill-preparedness on landlords policy) . But several of many initiatives gleam of inaction, and maybe you will agree it should rather be a new expensive bike lane to Oakland. Then maybe BRT out amidst the county Belts, and as strategic.

      2. Brian Tucker-Hill

        For the record: a BRT link between Squirrel Hill and Downtown via Oakland has scored well in cost-benefit studies of possible transit projects, and it is the most advanced project in the sense it is closest to being ready for applications for federal (and state) construction funding.

        I’m actually a little shocked Bram would prefer looking at rapid transit projects in outlying low-density areas. Those usually score terribly in terms of cost-benefit analysis because they require many more miles of infrastructure and lots more land, but have much lower ridership, and even then they typically require massive ongoing operating subsidies per rider. Re-using some existing rail lines for commuter rail is an OK idea because that lowers the capital costs and you can typically charge pretty high fares. But otherwise, there are so many transit projects you could do in denser areas in and very near the city which are going to provide far higher benefits per cost.

      3. bramr101 Post author

        Well when you say “Squirrel Hill”, Brian, naturally that sounds a lot better, as I was born and raised in Squirrel Hill and the idea of swift transportation all the way from there to Downtown sounds delightful. A lot of my skepticism about Oakland BRT has to do with >95% the riders I talk to saying that trip is already plenty swift as it is. Now, what I said about the outlying areas… maybe I didn’t think it through, but I’d rather do things to better network the hinterlands with the hub, or restore access to service within the hub, than fancy-up already sufficient hub service… especially if the “BRT” amenities are only half-cocked. Tell you what, I’ll lay off the BRT until the next round of publicity and details emerge.

      4. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Calling it Oakland BRT turned out to be a serious publicity problem. The plan is in fact to go from Forbes and Morewood in Squirrel Hill all the way to (and possibly into) Downtown via Oakland and Uptown. And in addition to providing upgraded service along that line itself, if done on the “collector” model it would allow every bus route using that corridor to provide faster service. Since that is a major funnel point for many eastern bus routes, the benefits of that approach would actually be pretty widespread.

        It is true that would mostly just upgrade service for (many) areas already being served by buses, and service expansions are also important. But I think we need to start with the background understanding that capital funding and operating funding are largely kept separate by law. So, for example, to the extent there was federal capital funding available for this project, it couldn’t be used instead to restore cut routes or add new routes, nor vice-versa (meaning they couldn’t redirect operating funds to help pay for this project).

        However, this project probably does have positive implications for expanding service nonetheless. That is because the existing rapid bus routes are already among the most efficient in PAT’s system, for obvious reasons–rapid reliable service attracts more riders, and buses closer to full are more efficient. So to the extent the various involved routes attracted more riders, which they very likely would both immediately due to reduced trip times and even more in the future due to transit-oriented development, that would free up operating subsidies that could be used elsewhere in the system.

        That said, there are other ideas for capital projects that have scored at least around as well as this project in studies, like an East Busway expansion to Monroeville. But since this project is among the best scoring, and is also the most advanced, I think it is well worth supporting. But I do recognize there is much work to be done explaining exactly what the plan is and who would benefit, both directly in terms of upgrade service and indirectly in terms of allowing PAT to redirect operating subsidies.

  2. Gabe

    bramr101, Bike lane to Oakland makes a lot more sense than Penn Ave. Maybe they could even have a community process to discuss it first. As for bloat, if the Chief of Police and the Building Inspector report directly to the Mayor, why pay 6 figures to 2 Public Safety Directors? One example of many.

    1. Anonymous

      I’d complain about 2×6 figures to Valerie McDonald and Curtiss Porter, but the foundations are footing that bill for the moment, right? Still, that $ could be moving in a more productive direction…

      1. Anonymous

        Lots of wasteful spending that is the need for increased spending and hence increased taxes and fees and parking rates. Now, apparently we will force developments that can’t make it on their own and need public money to require more subsidy so that they can be ‘affordable.”

        Can’t wait for the plan on how we will need public subsidy in the strip districts terminal building.

      2. Anonymous

        more useless legislation from LaVelle. He might win the most useless councilor of the decade award.

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