Monthly Archives: July 2007

Two Curious Phrases

Some very shaky legal ground.

That is how Pat Ford, mayoral development czar, dissuaded an attempt by the City Planning Commission to get in the way of Downtown signage.

Turns out that the state Municipal Planning Code does not apply to cities of the second class. That is, to Pittsburgh. (Let alone first-class Philadelphia, h/t EM).

Long live the Home Rule Charter!

Perhaps there are other standards for shakiness out there, but we have not yet heard them.


Galaxy of legal risks.

That is how Don Kortland, general counsel for the URA, described the consequences if the city failed to reach a settlement with the Garden, allowing them press forward to the Supreme Court.

We should say so.

Kelo et. all vs. City of New London

As reported in the P-G:

Don Kortlandt, the URA’s general counsel, said he approached the theater’s legal counsel after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed the owner of the North Side porn theater another defeat on appeal Dec. 27.

So the URA went to the Garden with a $1 million-plus offer. A sign of weakness.

What if the characters in today’s City Paper cover story realize they can drastically alter the URA, and a hundred other economic golems like it?

How big would the payout have to be for a whole neighborhood?

Wednesday News Selection

Pittsburgh’s planning commission will forge ahead with approvals needed for the proposed Majestic Star Casino, despite objections the Pirates and Steelers voiced at a public hearing yesterday. (Rich Lord, P-G)

As soon as the Majestic Star settled its beef with the Science Center, it got license to run the table.

Which is fine by the Comet; we are not bursting with sympathy for the Steelers and Pirates.

However, as a matter of due process, this is a little troubling:

Commission Chair Wrenna Watson said she spoke with acting city Solicitor George Specter. “We are to move forward, unless we have some sort of order of court,” she said. That means an Aug. 7 vote.


PA State Rep Cheslea Wagner (D-Brookline) comes out swinging in a P-G op-ed against Dan Onorato‘s plan to fund mass transit with drink taxes and car rental taxes — for Allegheny County.

Some of my colleagues have likened this new tax to one that exists in Philadelphia, proposing that “if Philadelphia has a 10 percent drink tax, why not Pittsburgh?” My response is simple: What’s right for Philadelphia is not necessarily right for Pittsburgh. The fact that Philadelphia has a drink tax is no excuse to lay the same burden on our businesses.

That’s a fair start, Wagner, but you might as well start thumping Dan-O with geese — and with gifts.


Trib columnist Eric Heyl releases his own Ravenspeak lexicon. Example:

Yellow journalism (very bad noun) — Any news report or opinion piece depicting the mayor as possibly less than dashing or dynamic, or implying that he can be evasive, misleading or ethically suspect. (Example: This column).

Editorial Comment: One of us! One of us! One of us!

Impeachment is Going to Happen

We were surprised to learn (h/t 2PJs) how quickly the impeachment train is building steam.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Rallying the troops against Al-Qaeda in Iraq and everywhere else, President Bush determines that significant numbers of U.S. forces must continue battling insurgents and establishing security straight through most of 2009. (NPR)

In other words, he is determined to make it as hard as possible for us to ever leave.

In a sideshow, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress so widely, so transparently, and so spontaneously that an independent prosecutor will soon get to work. (NPR)

No way America tolerates this.

Previously, on URA …

May 21, 2000: Dan Fitzpatrick, P-G

Four decades after promising to give East Liberty “one of the finest residential and shopping complexes in the United States,” Bob Pease is back in the neighborhood he tried to save from ruin, talking about how some of his plans went awry.


After the URA demolished 1,200 homes, reduced the size of the shopping district by 1 million square feet and closed the middle of East Liberty to automobiles, the neighborhood lost hundreds of small businesses, according to one report. In the four decades that followed, it lost more than 4,500 people.


May 23, 2000 Dan Fitzpatrick, P-G

May 24, 2000 Teresa F. Lindeman, P-G

May 25, 2000 Mike Rosenwald, P-G

May 26, 2000 Dan Fitzpatrick, P-G

Editorial Comment: Where has the MSN been on the URA these past seven years?

Tuesday: The News So Far

East Allegheny School District suing for having been assigned 35% of Duquesne High School Students. (P-G, Team Effort)

Editorial Aside: What will their argument be? Is East Allegheny particularly nearby? Are they getting hosed just because they’re another hard-luck school?


Wal-Mart steps in to offer a plan to stabilize the Kilbuck County site. (P-G, Don Hopey) They are not allowed to pursue any development until the structural work is done. One lane of traffic on Rt. 65 has been closed ever since the landslide.

Editorial Aside: The article seemed to leave the story’s lead villain, Kilbuck Properties LLC, out-of-the-picture.


The P-G Diana Nelson Jones piece on the departure of URA chief Jerry Dettore features the shock and disappointment felt by others upon hearing the news: folks from the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., Oakland Business Improvement District, and East Liberty Development Inc.

It also has this:

“I was fortunate that the publicity surrounding the mayor’s actions ended up” being advantageous.

“A lot of people in the region I have worked with over the years were interested,” he said. “I have a number of opportunities and offers.

The Trib Jeremy Boren version plays up the bright future on the horizon for the “respected” former URA chief, and includes this note:

A provision that would have given Dettore a “golden parachute” worth a year’s salary if he were fired without cause does not apply because he has chosen to leave, his contract states.

Editorial Aside: Sounds like he got tired of playing games, and elected to leave with his head held high. Imagine that.

Outragious Letter to the Editor

John McIntire wrote a column in the C-P. Andrew Ellsworth of Friendship wrote a letter:

McIntire lacks an understanding of the approval process for signage and zoning ordinances.


McIntire’s proposed action is, in fact, illegal under the state Municpalities Planning Code.

Can we get an open-source legal opinion on this? We don’t see the acting City Solicitor being much help.

The Comet is positive that the letter-writer is wrong. The city has established for itself some limitations on what can be allowed. It has in no way constrained itself from restricting a specific mega-sign for any reason the community deems appropriate.

Why is city planning generally not handled in a courtroom? Why not leave it up to a judge?

City planning goes before a large deliberative body, who is appointed by the mayor — an elected official. The whole process depends on open public comments before any rulings.

Even after that, city planning kicks back up to City Council — more elected officials.

Every step of this process suggests that the people get to have a say. The lack of an ordinance specifically forbidding this mega-sign from the U.S. Steel Tower in no way prohibits the City from exercising its discretion.

The letter writer sneers that the City can not “interpret the ordinances at their whim based on popular discontent.”

As long the interpretation is honest — it’s all about popular discontent.

There are reasons that so many Pittsburghers are so ill-disposed towards the big sign. We are talking about our tallest building, and one that is also a testament to our industrial heritage.

The sign would be by far the largest, absolutely dominating our skyline — and frankly, UPMC has not yet earned the same civic status as say, Heinz, or Mellon Bank. Status that must grow from years and decades of meaningful civic partnership.

The “legal argument” is a naked power grab: it is meant to help big business hijack powers rightly vested in the political sphere. It should be stopped before it sets worse and worse precedents.

The letter writer pleads that if we reject the application of UPMC:

That would follow the dangerous precedent set out by the Bush administration — selectively obeying laws that were meaningfully crafted by other parts of government.

There are so many things wrong with that analogy, we cannot even get started. The ordinances of which we speak are intended to be interpreted strictly, and to leave all other powers in the hands of the executive and legislative branches of government.

Anybody who can find a way to drag George W. Bush into this, is working awfully hard in support of UPMC’s latest power play.

Loading …

Unusually Good Saturday

This sounds like a wonderful meeting on Monday. (P-G, Team Effort). The City Paper ran a cover story on this effort some time ago.

East Liberty residents score a NIMBY. (Kacie Axsom, Trib)

We continue to stand around and watch ourselves pour concrete down a bottomless hole. (Jim Ritchie, Trib)

Dan Onorato is set to participate in an urban summit in Milan, Italy. The Brookings Institution and The Rockefeller Foundation are not known to be engaging in pressing Allegheny County business. (Justin Vellucci, Trib)

Which reminds us, Rich Lord tells us what’s going on. (Rich Lord, P-G)


Students formerly of the now-disbanded Duquesne School District have finally been sorted out into different neighboring districts, though few seem happy with the process, or the results. (Tim Puko, Trib)

Why is the Duquesne School District on the radar all of a sudden? Because Mike Madison said the magic words over at Pittsblog.

Here is the mind-altering portion:

Second World Pittsburgh and Third World Pittsburgh, the closing of Duquesne High School and the condition of the African-American community, are symptoms of a single problem. Describing it fully would take volumes …

… First World Pittsburgh largely takes care of First World Pittsburgh.

We suspect that Mike’s problem will not take “volumes” to describe at all — but it will require a careful and very collaborative editing process, and then chutzpah.


Anyway, and in this new light, let us also consider the efforts of the One Hill Coalition. (Ann Belser, P-G)

Eat Your Heart Out, Agent Ska

Another work-week behind him, Mayor Ravenstahl steps out of the office and heads off to the pub for a quick pint — but not before running afoul of a Pittsburgh Comet stake-out.

After reading yesterday’s Rich Lord article, our first thought was, “Wow! This is the kind of yellow journalism one might expect out of Jeremy Boren!”

“This mayor goes from sometimes 6 in the morning to 1 or 2 [a.m.],” explained Chief Harper.

Our next thought was that perhaps establishing the high cost to taxpayers of overtime dignitary-protection is an attempt to deter the growing insistence on secrecy concerning our Mayor’s whereabouts.

Then we were called [redacted] nuts. Maybe we are.


Upon his triumphant return to the Marty Griffin program on KDKA radio, Luke turned down an invitation by Marty to say whtether this kind of reporting “grates on him.” Later, when asked if the story was “more political than reality,” Luke said:

You know, I’m getting thicker skin, Marty. I am, and I think that’s important: you understand that these stories are going to be written, and … it’s part of what we do as leaders and mayors of cities, and I’m comfortable with that.

This has been a test of the Emergency Thick-Skin System.

Had this been an actual emergency, the satire you just viewed would have been followed by a brilliant display of news analysis, editorial polemic and/or other instructions.

This was only a test.

Tribune-Review gets Golfing Story Straight

CORRECTION: Earlier headline once read Story Changes. That was unfair and inaccurate. See the Busman for discussion. We can only speculate as to how this all looks from the Trib’s perspective.


From the Trib’s Jeremy Boren:

The team paid $27,000 for a two-day golf package that allowed three golfers to play during the tournament June 27 and 28 at the prestigious Laurel Valley Golf Club. Ravenstahl played with the Penguins group only on the first day.


On June 28, the second day of the tournament, Ravenstahl played on the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s dime with two of the hospital system’s executives.

The story may have changed, but Mayor Ravenstahl’s tune has not.

“I don’t think there’s much difference between the UPMC event and the Penguins event,” Ravenstahl said yesterday. “When you’re the mayor, you have to have discussions with those individuals, and that’s sometimes how business gets done.”


By the way, when did the One Hill CBA Coalition get to take Mayor Ravenstahl out golfing at a “high end” event, in order to present city residents’ concerns about arena development? Or is that equally important side of the coin still in the planning stages?

Because Luke is right about how business gets done — waiting patiently in a government office has not done the trick in the past.

Ethics Board Chair Patrice Hughes:

“The Penguins don’t have a contract with the city,” Hughes said. “I don’t think it’s the same thing as UPMC. There’s a nuance there.”
With respect, we feel any nuance is tissue-thin. The Penguins are also deep in negotiation with City of Pittsburgh over a very large-scale and controversial development.

The conflict of interest may be even more apparent in this case.


FWIW, the P-G Editorial Board this morning took a dim view of Ravenstahl’s acceptance of the golf outing.

It’s one thing to be an invited guest by a charity to extend support for its mission and purpose. It’s something quite different to show up as an invited participant by a corporate contractor that has paid your substantial price of admission — in this case $27,000 to sponsor the mayor and two other golfers.

The Comet will have more on the various counter-arguments we’ve heard cropping up on the blurghosphere next week.