Monthly Archives: February 2008

Design, City Streets and Shared Prosperity

Footage shot by
Chris Ivey on December 11, 2007 (THE BIG GAMBLE: Relevant Reference Part 1), at the first session of the City Planning commission hearing on the Penguins arena master plan. The hearing was continued on January 14, whereupon the master plan was approved.

0:05 – Rev. Foster, executive director, Central Outreach research and referral center
2:07 – Bomani Howze, vice-chair, One Hill CBA coalition
3:58 – Howze starts speaking about traffic design.
5:17 – Glen Grayson, pastor, Wesley Center AME Zion Church


Here is a portion of what Howze had to say regarding traffic design:

… There should be some type of consideration of how the street grids, and the mistake that was made 50 years ago, could be made right today. Right now, the street grids are blocked off from Crawford. There’s an opportunity here to connect Wylie, Webster, and Bedford avenues in a better way, that allows the Hill District to have some shared prosperity.

The Comet was in attendance at the commission hearing on that day.

We cannot recall blogging even obliquely about any “street grid” in the Hill District until well into 2008, so it is entirely possible we picked this up from him.

Monday: Four Quick Items

Michael Lamb tells us things are moving along smartly in the Controller’s Office, though there remains much to do. He says he has discovered some “exciting opportunities” in the area of collecting delinquent city taxes. (Go).

Carl Redwood informs us that yes, Councilwoman Payne is being supportive of One Hill. However, when asked about the community meetings she holds to inform her constituents and solicit input regarding arena development, Redwood said, “Oh, I think there’s only been maybe one of those over the past six months.” (Juxtapose)

Has Jeff Koch finally gotten himself DDT’d? Are we about to send him to the Isle of Dennis Regan? (Listen)

MODEST COMET PROPOSAL: Just send it (P-G, Joe Smydo) here! (CP, Chris Young)

Rich Lord: “I Called Pat Ford!”

Last week an intensifying struggle over how development is done in Pittsburgh went to the courts.

Next week, it may go to City Council. (P-G, Rich Lord)


The battlegrounds are a mammoth casino garage, a glass-clad arena and a glowing billboard — examples of progress to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford, and of broken process to a growing chorus in the design community.

Welcome to the End of Act II.

The Comet’s only major quarrel with this article is its reliance on “design” as the central thread. “Design” is an imperfect construct for the situation. This is really a matter of control — over land, resources and processes.

We only worry that “design” will give some Pittsburghers the cooties.

“We’ve got attorneys driving the vision of the city of Pittsburgh, and we’ve got to take it back,” [Ford] said Friday.

If we had attorneys coming at us from all sides like a troop of angry gorillas, we also would be making the Bush 2000 argument about taking the issue away from lawyers! What’s next, unelected activist judges in black robes?

Those attorneys represent city residents. The administration should have been playing by the rules.

“We should be focused on leadership, collaboration and process. We should not rely on 3 inches of rules to tell us how to be vibrant.”

You think there are too many rules? Tell us which ones to omit. We’ll vote on it. We will also decide what qualifies as VIBRANT.

The development process is likely to change even more. The URA, which now reaches into the planning process more than ever, is considering “significant organizational changes proposed by Pat Ford to further his vision,” according to an e-mail by its Deputy Director to Councilman Patrick Dowd, who wrote probing the authority’s budget status.

Oh, it is that you have a plan! The Pittsburgh Patriot Act! The mayor must be empowered to act swiftly and decisively as Developer in Chief!

“People are just using the judicial process to question the outcome that they do not like,” Mr. Ford said. “We happen to like it.”

We think people are using the judicial process to ensure they are accorded equal protection under the law.

To court, then. Several times. This won’t hurt a bit.

You realize this is our city, right?


The Song: Got Me Under Pressure

The date: July 28, 2007. The band: ZZ Top.

Craigslist: The New Arena Battleground

A busy Friday in the Rants & Raves section of the popular local e-classified.

I encourage everyone that opposes the One Hill demands to call or email your elected officials and ask them to say HELL NO! to One Hill.

Dan Onorato Phone# 412-350-6500 Email-

Luke Ravenstahl Phone#412-255-2626 Email-

Let them know that, unlike most of the hill residents, YOU WORK, YOU PAY TAXES, AND YOU VOTE! (LINK)

Unlike most Hill residents?

Leaving aside the working and the paying taxes for the moment, a great many Hill residents voted in November — and a great many more will likely vote again this April, and the next.

The residents of the Hill District deserve no special treatment or consideration, let alone a handout. If they really want to improve their neighborhood, I suggest they roll up their sleeves and get busy. Nobody is going to give them a free ride, if they’re not willing to buckle down and do most of the work themselves. Their sense of entitlement does their neighborhood a grave disservice, and is frankly viewed with disgust by other City residents. (LINK)

First off, nobody in the Hill has yet suggested they are unwilling to do a great deal of work.

They would just like access to some city resources, e.g. public land. In addition, the record shows that City residents appreciate the public funding made available by way of community development corporations, which are controlled closer to home.

Most of that money derives from community development block grants (CDBG’s) anyway, which is explicitly intended to benefit poor communities.

Do you know what is really viewed with disgust by City residents? The sense of entitlement held by certain developers, architects and contractors to that same pot of money for themselves.

Why are we giving them free $$$$CASH$$$$ handouts (when they can’t even demolish a building correctly), and why are we letting them mess around with our money in a neighborhood that is largely uninterested in what is being pitched?

Interview: Jim Motznik

“I’m not the big bad wolf,” Motznik begins. “I’m not the old-time Democrat making back room deals.”

Councilman Jim Motznik is keen to tell us that he originally ran without the party’s endorsement, in the special election of 1999.

In fact, he took the extraordinary step of running as an Independent (he switched his registration back the next day).

He did serve on the Allegheny County Democratic Committee for some time previous to that. He ran for a committee seat initially because he was frustrated that the city was not salting his street. He had heard that was how to ensure services like plowing and salting. “It gives you a voice. Nothing was getting done.”

“That’s why I’m in politics,” he states plainly. “I wanted my street salted.”


We asked Motznik about the good and positive things on which Council has been working. He was quick to bring up splash parks, like one in Beechview. The pool and the recreation center have been closed for years and years. Retrofitting these pools will transform a part of the neighborhood, and do so within the city’s means.

He is also thrilled about the new nuisance property ordinance, which he says is “huge!” He says it originated in 2005 under then-Council President Gene Riccardi. Unfortunately, according to Motznik, the legislation was necessarily “disruptive.” Mayor Murphy thought to himself, “This is way too much for me.”

Today, in the era of Mayor Ravenstahl, Jim Motznik is our most senior city councilman.


“Those days, we had issues that we talked about and argued about. It was our jobs.” He refers to the era of Riccardi, Hertzberg, and Ferlo as “the golden age.”

What’s so different today?

“These days?” he asks. “These days, if I have a difference of opinion, I’m stupid.”

He thinks very little of the familiar trope of counting exactly which council members have a college degree and which do not. The way Motznik breaks things down, three things matter more than anything else for a member of Council: street smarts, common sense and compassion.

“There’s also a jealousy out there, because I’ve been here the longest, and I’m not gonna back down.”

“There’s a little jealousy also,” he allowed, “because I’m close to the mayor.”

How did that come about?

“He’s a hard worker, no[redacted] guy. First year, we rejected the Mayor’s budget.”

Motznik paused to let that sink in — he informed us that that does not happen every year, maybe not for decades. Mayor Murphy’s budget had a $17 million line-item for gambling revenues, which still haven’t arrived. It was a “placeholder”, Motznik says, but a bad idea that had to be rejected.

“That was created in my office, at my conferences.”
As we know, those were the conferences at which Councilman Ravenstahl learned a lot about the city budget process. According to Motznik, Ravenstahl then got into the habit of coming down to his office for general advice. The rest, as they say, is history.

We asked if such closeness to our mayor is still as good as it’s always been — with reference to the Shields presidency, and his reshuffling of committee chairmanships. Motznik maintains that the committee chairs have no real power. “Just smoke and mirrors.”

“The real power is on the authorities, and look who got those.” He counted them off — Payne, Deasy, Harris and himself.


We began the great airing of grievances of the local blog community against Jim Motznik, starting with those the Comet itself recently espoused.

Why did he oppose Act 47 upon its inception, oppose the legal changes required in its recovery plan, and recently vote to ask the state to end state-assisted recovery early? Doesn’t that lend credence to the impression that he caves in to public employees and union pressure, and would sell the city down the river?

Motznik points out that contrary to popular belief, the final vote to put Act 47 in place was 9-0. The 5-4 vote was a preliminary vote, to which he said he was opposed in order to amend that law, and get certain things done.

The problem is, Act 47 went “above and beyond” what it was supposed to do: control spending and generate revenue. It did those things, Motznik says ruefully, but it does much more.

For example, “City employees lost a week’s vacation. Does that save you money?”

Similarly, he says his opposition to the state-mandated 5% parking tax reduction was meant as an improvement and a revenue-enhancer. Taxpayers would not have been ill-served; the revenue lost by lot owners would have went towards civic debt and pensions.

“We could have frozen it, but the state would have played hardball.”

Next we mentioned the social issues cited in that blog post: reproductive choice and gay civil rights. Does his positions on these kinds of issues leave him feeling at all on the wrong side of history, at least within his own party?

He corrected a few of our misconceptions, which we based mostly on endorsements he either won or failed to win in previous elections. He says he believes very strongly in not legislating one’s personal beliefs, nor restricting anybody’s basic freedoms.

Motznik has attended and spoken at gay pride events, for example. He also voted to support the “bubble zone” ordinance to protect abortion clinics and their patients, and “I even put a bubble zone around my office” to make a point to other council members. We didn’t understand that part fully, but it sounded hysterical.


For the rest of the grievances, we used this post from the Burgher as source material.

Running away from WTAE cameras: The whole story was about an innocent foul-up. He accepted a $150 mileage reimbursement that he shouldn’t have. Reporter Jim Parsons already had an appointment with him, but he wanted to go after him on the street. It was a set-up; Parsons was hiding in the bushes. Motznik regrets both having run, and having not run fast enough.

Unloading on KDKA radio about the earlier Council Prez vote: He was angry that certain people lied to him. He called them liars; what else should he have called them? Jeff Koch gets singled out for mention. He does regret not having maintained perfect decorum.

Proposing cat licensing legislation: Cats are a problem. It was good legislation. It had nothing to do with any koi fish.

Wearing sewer boots to a budget debate: This is one of Jim Motznik’s fondest memories of public life. The budget, as previously addressed, was crap.

Allowing a reporter to listen in to a conference call with the Governor and others: It wasn’t him. It was somebody else. Doug Shields let the information about the forthcoming call out to too many people.

Attempts to bring back rodeos to the city: “Yeah, what’s wrong with rodeos?” Counties to the north, south, east and west all allow rodeos — it’s just like the casino issue. A single rodeo at the Mellon Arena could generate $20,000 for the city.

Attempts to eliminate the Shade Tree commission, put advertising billboards in parks: As to the billboards, he was only talking about ballfield signs along the outfield wall, which is entirely appropriate. As to the Shade Tree commission — come on, do we need one? The only complaints he gets about trees is about dead ones and dangerous ones.

Defending continued use of “walking around money”: That money gets put to good use. It’s a way to help his constituents. Calling it “walking around money” is unnecessarily disparaging.

Blogging: We strenuously encouraged the Councilman to return to blogging, for which we felt he showed much promise. He would have none of it — it’s too easy for people to take what he writes, chop it up and twist it around, he says. At the time, he felt he wanted to get his side of the story out regarding the whole John McIntire story, but no more.


We launched into our routine about creating a win-win-win-win-win situation in the Hill District, by reestablishing the street grid with Downtown — an actual civic and regional asset that has lain dormant and unrealized for too long.

By splitting up a portion of that land in the lower Hill into smaller lots, we told him, and by encouraging a greater variety of stakeholders to hold those stakes, we can create new opportunities and improve multiple fortunes. Instead of arguing about who is getting a bigger slice of some pie, we can simply bake more pies.

Councilman Motznik was unimpressed.

“Council will have a say so … but the main person who’ll have a say so is their representative. It wouldn’t be right for me to jump into that.”

Councilwoman Tonya Payne has taken some criticism for doing a poor job representing her constituents, and perhaps even for being too close to the Penguins organization.

“I don’t believe that’s the case at all.”

The URA has been taking a lot of heat as well.

“My only dealings with the URA have been positive,” Motznik contends. “Of course, the URA doesn’t do a lot in my district.” He describes how his district composition is not a good match for many of its initiatives.

We suggest that it seems as though the residents of the Hill District, if either One Hill or the Hill Faith and Justice Alliance are at all to be believed, are unhappy with the way things are going. They want to see something else.

The Councilman in turn suggested that the Comet has been talking to some particularly “disgruntled people.”

Tonya Payne has “a firm grip” on her district, Motznik said. She makes all the residents aware of arena doings by holding community meetings, and she receives all their input in return. Motznik has full confidence in Payne on all matters Hill District.


We asked if, much like the United States and Great Britain, there was a “special relationship” between Councilman Motznik and Councilwoman Payne.

“Sure, absolutely,” said Motznik. “I hit it off with her because we’re in it for the same reasons.” Besides telling the truth and not being full of [redacted], Tonya Payne, like Jim Motznik, is in city politics to provide city services and to help her constituents.

Well, we asked, isn’t everybody?

“Are they?” he asked. “I don’t know.” He suggested some council members seem more concerned with running for something else.

This put us back on divisions in Council, of which he mentioned one more.

“I think a lot of it’s because I’m from the South Hills … and they’re East Enders … and there’s a disconnect there,” he said, apparently puzzled himself. “But we’re all Pittsburghers.”

In fact, Motznik sees reason for optimism in the new council year.

“Things today are better on Council. Those three guys [Burgess, Dowd, Kraus] are here for the right reasons. They weren’t out looking for a job.

“Which I don’t know if you can say about the guys that left.”


Thursday: Something Happening In Pittsburgh

We write one positive article about our local government over the past year, and now yoink!


Commission Chairwoman Wrenna Watson said Mr. Reidbord was present for all of an earlier hearing Dec. 11 where the master plan and CBA were discussed. She said much of the testimony at the Jan. 14 hearing was repetitive.
“So he really did have the information to make an informed decision,” she said. (P-G, Mark Belko)

#1 How did he know the testimony was going to be repetitive when he left?

#2 Hey, can we see the minutes from that meeting so we can judge for ourselves?

#3 Maybe the testimony would have been a little less repetitive if sixteen amendments to the Master Plan were presented by city planning before the public comment period, instead of immediately after?

#4 Since you voted “with the community” and against the master plan, Chairwoman Watson, why didn’t you ask a single follow-up question of our City Solicitor? Why didn’t any of the rest of the no-votes ask questions? What a missed opportunity.


When it rains, it pours.

“They want to be a super-government authority under this guise of a non-profit and I don’t think that’s their role. The government has a role for planning — the city, the county and the state — and I think they’re trying to usurp” that, [Barden] said.
(P-G, Mark Belko)

You don’t suppose Don Barden is reading the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat?


Here’s the payoff to the whole Agenda Committee gambit. Now it’s a “joint agenda” between the mayor and council. No word on whether that made consensus more difficult to achieve.

One [plank] would have the mayor and council publicize “performance measures” against which nearly every city department and bureau can be judged. Excluded are the Planning Department and the Fire and Emergency Medical Services bureaus, all of which are being evaluated for possible structural changes. (P-G, Rich Lord)

How DeSantian.

So long as the public has free, timely and unfettered access to all the data and methodology behind these performance measures, this is a fine idea.

All the ideas in the agenda are fine ideas, IOHO.


B’O’Neill covers the Valentines Day beat. Now that the project is wrapped up, we’re going to take a guess as to who put this together, but you have to tell us if we guess correctly. Was it … wait for it, wait for it … the PROPELL PITTSBURGH COMMISSION? Matt H? Alik? Sonni?


Matt H breaks down the ACDC endorsements. He includes this:

The most disturbing part of the day was when I heard that in the Presidential straw poll Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama 837 votes to 453.

And we say to you this morning, there is a coalition coming together in Pittsburgh that can transcend the politics of personality — and will reach out across divisions based on race, religion, gender and class.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics. They will only grow louder and more dissonant.

Wednesday: The Game

Pat Ford: “I called Pat Ford!” (P-G, Rich Lord)

Our Urban Redevelopment Authority executive director -slash- Parking Authority chairman -slash- Housing Authority chairman Patrick Ford (D-Reagan) flagrantly attempted to violate the City Code by unilaterally approving a Jumbotron-like advertising structure for Downtown.

Because of its size and cost, the sign would normally need zoning board and planning commission approval, but it is proceeding with neither. Pat Ford, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said yesterday that he backed an administrator’s decision to authorize the sign without any other approvals, because the deal will reduce the number of billboards in the Strip District, Downtown and Lawrenceville.

He said city code “is silent” on deals that can reduce “nonconformities” like old billboards that don’t meet new standards.

“My interpretation is, where the code is silent, I’m going to try to improve the greater good of the area,” he said.

You see what he did here. He invented a hypothetical exception to the law — noted that the Code does not mention anything about such an exception — and took that as proof the exception may exist if the Mayor wants it to exist.


Even State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Castro) was quick to opine this dog won’t hunt.

Parking authority Executive Director David Onorato said his agency will pay nothing for the sign, will charge Lamar rent, “and it enhances my building big-time.”

How nice for the Parking authority.

How nice also for Lamar Advertising. They’ll pay some rent. They’d better — they stand to make a killing on ad sales. And the prestige! Right up there with UPMC.

Not so nice for conservationists, or naturalists, or people with plain good taste, it could be argued.


But wait!

“The question is not about the sign at all. Most parties, including myself, seem to think it’s appropriate,” said Councilman Ricky Burgess, who heads council’s zoning and planning committee. “We just want to make sure we’re following a transparent process.” (P-G, Rich Lord)

We’re only quoting him first because the P-G quoted him first. Shut up.

Council President Doug Shields said he has no problem with a sign that might create “a little bit of a Times Square-ish look” near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. But he said he does have issues with the process.

“Would I vote to change the code to allow this type of thing Downtown? Yes, I would,” he said. “But that’s for [council] to decide. We’ll start looking into it and decide what can be done.”

Very well, Council. We grant some benefit to a “Times Square-ish look” around the top of the Cultural District, the head of Grant Street, and the foot of the Strip.

We presume you will delineate for us the boundaries of this type of activity, so as to protect the whole of Downtown (which includes a major war memorial) from falling prey to conspicuous consumption and rank tackiness. To the Legislation Mobile!

Meanwhile –>

With no meaningful opposition to this electronic billboard, why did the administration seek to circumvent the City Code and its many public processes?

The Comet used to think it was because this administration is excessively “pro-business” or “pro-developer.” Subvert public voice under guise of streamlining and efficiency for make benefit major corporate interests.

Funny that Pat Ford stepped in this, considering his own sensitivity on the subject.


Then it hit us. (h/t ADB)

Why must any of this — any of it — have to do with political ideology?

Maybe they simply feel like they owe Lamar Advertising a “solid”.

(h/t Maria, who is on to something, but we feel it has at least as much to do with campaign $$$ as it does with perks and similar.)


In any event, how do we get them to cut this out?

We cannot have the whole of the 5th Floor constantly scurrying to defend itself from encroachments and counter-encroachments, especially when the law speaks clearly for itself. The City has work to do.

Yet talk about the code being “silent” — there are no provisions to discourage this kind of behavior.

Maybe we should be able to cite individuals for Contempt of Code. Maybe if one racks up too many citations, one is prohibited from serving on any boards or commissions. Maybe Contempt of Public Processes can be a different, albeit lesser citation. You see where we’re going with this.

It’s about accountability. Think of it as nuisance property legislation meets No Administrator Left Behind.