Monthly Archives: August 2008

Loose Ends

PittGirl wants Dan Onorato to read this letter very badly, so we’ll up the chances of that a smenth. Maybe Kevin Evanto will read it.

Michael Lamb owes Pittsburgh’s Lesbian Correspondent $500. The Comet will begin compounding the interest immediately. Did anyone else catch that Chelsa Wagner played a helpful role abating the illegal dumping?

Emboldened with news like this, we’re only going to start making more crazy and outlandish statements. To wit: Does anyone take the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership very seriously?


The P-G has some video up on the One Hill / Penguins / City / County CBA signing ceremony.

(Quick question — given the relatively infinite quantity of time and space available on the Internet, why not film and post events like this in their entirety — from soup to nuts? Just a humble suggestion)

Carl Redwood summed it up best, and frequently: this is not the end, this is the beginning. Or rather, this is a notable landmark along a continued journey. David Morehouse of the Penguins absolutely and explicitly agrees, which frankly is encouraging.

We all know what we have in front of us today is a better piece of paper than the one we had eight months ago. It’s still parchment. There’s only less reason to burn this one.

The nature of our agreement is such that many of the details must be worked out still further down the road. For example, we know approximately how the community is going to have input on the Master Plan — but we haven’t remotely discussed the nature of that Master Plan yet. We know approximately how the community will apportion development funds — we just don’t know where those funds will come from.

Mr. Onorato said that development “just can’t stop” at the Mellon Arena site, which will be redeveloped by the Penguins, but must extend deep into the Hill.

He envisions development on a par with that taking place around Heinz Field and PNC Park on the North Shore. (P-G, Mark Belko, whose absence is always felt with regret)

That should be read as a cautionary note. As we know, development on the North Shore ends starkly at the railroad overpasses, and there are few if any arrangements for inflow / outflow. Furthermore, the development arriving to that shore has not and does not seem like it will cater to the nearby residential element.


There is a good amount that is in fact in this agreement — and assuming good faith, everyone is on the same page as to how to proceed. The grocery store most definitely will happen (and it’s looking like it will be the good one), thanks to URA and Penguins funding. The Penguins are chipping in other funding as well, though as yet only to targeted initiatives. Critical concessions having to do with labor and wages are set in stone.

More importantly, everyone participating has come to a consensus that things are going to change. Everyone has spoken to a shared vision. No one should be able to deny a sense of urgency, a true sense of priority. There is our great debt, there is our ambitious Promise, and there is the Hill District — the core obstruction and the great opportunity of our region.

Finally, this should generate among Hill residents and among all city residents the confidence that things can be made to change if we shake things up, leave our comfort zone, engage in the drama of our community — if approach our public officials with both a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to confront — and if we do it patiently and faithfully, so that we can learn how to do it as we do it. The best parts of this movement thus far have been the unplanned ones.

The results that this parlay will ultimately yield — not on paper, but on the physical landscape and in the lives of city residents — will depend upon how hard everyone is willing to continue to work, and how creative and open everyone can manage to stay. Now is not the time for cynicism. A major community benefits agreement was just signed in Pittsburgh. This is the time to prove such things can work beautifully. This is time to celebrate.

Behold, the power of the blogs…
(awaiting confirmation… partial: NYT)

Monday: Crunch Time

Hoping to help families during a rough economy, the Pittsburgh Public Schools this school year will offer free breakfasts to all district students, plus free lunches to all students at 41 schools and early-childhood centers. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Inwardly, the Comet has cued the balloons and jazz music! This is the kind of performance-oriented reform we’ve been agitating toward.

In a memo, Mr. Peck said students who eat breakfast at school may behave better, have fewer health problems and score better on standardized tests.

“School breakfast really is the most important meal of the day,” he said.

Great job, Mr., uh — Mr. Peck, School District food service director.

Mr. Peck said the expanded free-meal program the district is introducing this school year is not uncommon among urban districts with high poverty rates.

We guess that’s what we are, huh?


The Pittsburgh Police Bureau does not have statistics on car-on-bike accidents. Mr. Ravenstahl said it will start tracking such incidents. (P-G, Rich Lord)

How about car-on-car accidents caused by bikes?

Whoa! When did we become Lou Dobbs on this issue?


Suckers that most public officials are, they bought the threat — skates, sticks and pucks — and came up with a mix of public, gambling and private dollars. Ground was broken Thursday for a new $290 million arena. There’s a Penguins-benefiting multimillion-dollar development sweetheart side deal, too.

Lemieux calls the moving threats a negotiating tactic. But let’s call it what it was — a lie.

And we would remind Lemieux and public officials who rationalized his remarks of this remark by a fella named Cicero, the Roman orator and statesmen:

“What is come by dishonestly vanishes in profligacy.” (Trib, Edit Board)

Okay, this is light-years beyond the Post-Gazette’s sanctimonious boosterism and eager complicity on this particular subject — a subject which does raise its head in our city in various forms from time to time.

Yet the Trib actually places too much blame on Mr. Lemieux for our taste. Businesses must negotiate, and it is going too far to call negotiating postures “lies”.

It’s our public officials, who bought the threats as though crossbows were being pressed against their chests, and who then rolled over like cuddly kittens onto their backs, who are to blame.


414 Grant Street connects a couple of dots and makes some wild allegations involving this story.


The One Hill Coalition, along with the Penguins, the SEA, Mayor Ravenstahl and County Executive Dan Onorato will take part in a signing of the Community Benefits Agreement on Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m. at historic Freedom Corner in the Hill.

A fitting backdrop for a laudable and historic arrangement, that is markedly imperfect and incomplete.

The appointment of a planning board that is genuinely representative of the Hill District in all its contentious and well-meaning splendor — that would carry a strong likelihood of a political reunification of the Hill under its present leadership — would make it perfect.

Prevailing upon both the Penguins and the City and its Authorities to identify some very modest funding by which we can get the Neighborhood Partnership Initiative off to a good start; wishing it bona fortuna — to demonstrate to other potential donors that placing real responsibility in the hands of Hill residents is an idea actually worthy of confidence and investment — would make it fully complete.

Obfuscation: Thick?

This is posted more in the interest of disseminating intriguing local political YouTubage than it is out of any particular desire to revisit the city council meltup / blowdown yet one more time.

It is notable, however, that this video (which fell off the back of a truck) appears to cut out and restart at 2:17, at what was obviously a key juncture.

Shields: Did you or did you not contact M.J. Tocci to get this RFP at [$]91,000-plus negotiated down?

Trant: Yes.

Shields: Thank you. When you you asked her to do that, were you aware of what the scope of the contract was?

Trant: I was aware — yes.

Shields: Did you ask her to get all the other stuff out of there and just get to the wage and disparity study which was the original intent?

#Apparent Video Edit#

Trant: We talked with Selena [Schmidt, chief of staff to Shields]

Shields: And I disagree with that too, I’m gonna — I have one footnote for this Council. I had a conversation…

Motznik: Would that chairman — would the Chairman let the Director answer the question?

Shields: No wait a minute — because we have a pack of lies here, Jim, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of this, and what she just said was a lie.

So it’s not completely clear from this what she said.

At some later point in the meeting, Shields did get to reference the conversation he had attempted to “footnote” — which he claims he held with mayoral chief of staff Yarone Zober. That portion of the meeting did not make it into this video, either.

Friday: A Complete Lack of Journalistic Balance, Proportion, Objectivity, Self-Awareness or the Slightest Hint of Shame

But with a $290 million multi-use building that also will be home to concerts and circuses and various stage shows, and aimed at reuniting the Lower Hill District neighborhood with Downtown, the franchise and the city have made a lasting commitment. (P-G, Robert Dvorchak)

Is it aimed there. How’s that?

“There are no right wingers. We’re all Democrats,” Mr. Steigerwald said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

(Are we. How’s that?)

The public, of course, will kick in $7.5 million a year for 30 years in state development funds to help pay off bonds for the $290 million project, while Pittsburgh’s forthcoming casino will contribute an equal amount. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who will get a state-of-the-art venue after playing in the oldest arena in the NHL, will also put millions into the deal. (P-G, Edit Board)

$4.2 million.

Our Editorial Board specified the state and casino contributions down to the first decimal, so it’s hard to fathom why we need only be aware that the Penguins will contribute ethereal “millions”.

It’s $4.2 million per annum, or just under 22% of the total. Unless you count fees waived, externals comped, and cost overruns guaranteed. And there’s certainly no need to mention the exclusive development rights to 28 acres of prime Downtown real estate. Totally insignificant.

Enjoy your ad revenue.

The coming of a new arena is one more achievement, and it deserves to be celebrated by the entire community.

Oh well excuse us for breathing. Or thinking.


None of this would have happened if Rendell had not pushed a Plan B, which was his alternative in case the Isle of Capri did not get the Pittsburgh slots license. If IOC was awarded the license, it was going to build an arena at no cost to the Penguins or the public. In presenting a Plan B, Rendell was only doing his job. He was a leader leading. He was in no way attempting to undermine the IOC’s chances.

For his good work, he was attacked viciously. People on the radio told lies about him. And for what? For presenting a proposal that made perfect sense. As it turned out, the backup plan was necessary when IOC did not get the slots license.

Rendell looked like a genius, and the people who trashed his plan looked too stupid to comprehend. Some of these media members were at the groundbreaking yesterday. Wonder what they think of Plan B — which became Plan A and the only plan — now? That was a mean-spirited time when emotions overruled logic. It’s in the past. (P-G, Bob Smizik)

Are you insane, Mr. Smizik.

We do realize that it’s not your job per se to fret over government and politics, and that you more than anyone else at your newspaper should be cleared for celebration. So far, so good.

Yet you seem genuinely and completely unaware that tax dollars come from — well, somewhere! Not trees, not magic beans, not wind turbines! And that this money could have and surely would have otherwise been spent on — well, other goods and services!

We won’t bore you with the nuance of how the ingenious Plan B was crafted allegedly to ensure $350 million in private investment for the surrounding community, to offset Isle of Capri’s more expansive project — only to be lost down the memory-hole of all interested parties, never to be mentioned again in the respectable media. Let’s stick to the basics.

Your preference to spend the money on a shiny circus tent rather than safe roads and bridges, health care, education or tax relief is the “emotional” one. “Logic”, by most classical Western definitions, would have dictated a hockey arena built with a significantly higher (more equitable?) share of private financing, or maybe no arena at all. OH NO WAIT, WE DIDN’T MEAN IT! PUT DOWN THOSE TORCHES! EYE HEART PITTSBURGH! ALLEEEEEYAAAAAHHHH!!!


Mario Lemieux says the Penguins never were serious about leaving Pittsburgh.

“It wasn’t a possibility,” Lemieux said during a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for Pittsburgh’s $290 million hockey arena.

“We had to do a few things to put pressure on the city and the state, but our goal was to remain here in Pittsburgh all the way. Those trips to Kansas City and Vegas and other cities was just to go and have a nice dinner, and come back.” (Trib, Boren & Rossi)

Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you for the journalism.

For commentary that’s as good as anything we’d write, see the Slag Heap.

“What’s happened is that the Democrats are in a veto-proof majority on council and they’re using that veto-proof majority as a weapon, including meeting in secret,” Roddey said. “We know that they met. We know that they took a straw poll. It’s an abuse of power.

“They went into the public meeting already agreeing to pass the [drink tax referendum] ordinance. It’s important because the debate and discussion never sees the public light. They’ve already decided what they’re going to do.” (Trib, Bobby Kerlik)

If there has ever been a better day for cold compresses, dry martinis and deep thoughts, the Comet has never known it.

See you in the various comments sections. Do not expect intelligibility.

The Merger: 2008-2008

A group of state representatives, mostly Democrat, delivered a coup-de-grace to a possible City-County merger any time in the foreseeable future.

The Allegheny Institute called it. Time of death: 8/07/08 9:51 AM.

Chief Executive Onorato and Mayor Ravenstahl have been handed a major political defeat. Onorato because he has been shown not to be invincible politically and Ravenstahl for demonstrating a willingness to go against his own better judgment in hopes of currying favor with powerful groups and individuals.

Now the two gentlemen can get back to what they should have been doing all along; putting together plans to have the City contract with the County to provide services such as public works and parks management and maintenance.

Looking at some of the recent comments by our local state reps, it’s reasonable to come to that conclusion.

The P-G, however, is not so eager to dance of Consolidation 09’s grave:

of fresh peaches, also is the time of stale reruns, and not all of them are on television. The evidence comes from a variety of sources, starting with politicians who are skeptical of the plan for consolidation of regional services boldly set forth four months ago by a task force under University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato quickly got on board, but state Rep. Dan Frankel, the Squirrel Hill Democrat, said last week that state legislators from the county consider it “way too premature” for them to start working on legislation that would allow voters to decide if Pittsburgh and the county should merge their governments. We’ve certainly heard the brakes applied to forward-thinking efforts before. (P-G, Edit Board)


1) Plan? There was a plan?

2) A plan for consolidation of regional services? Surely, such a thing would not require state legislation or any referendum.

We sympathize with the idea that change is needed and that knee-jerk resistance to necessary change is unfortunate, but was what was being presented to legislators in this round really “forward-thinking”? And is thinking forwardly enough?

The Nordenberg Report itself cautioned for slow-going deliberation, and highlighted four real challenges to true governmental consolidation that must be addressed:

1. Meeting the continuing needs of the urban center

2. Ensuring adequate minority representation

3. Dealing equitably with current city and county employees

4. Segregating legacy costs

Whether or not anyone had read the report, these concerns were felt in the bones of city residents. Without benefit from the outset of a robust public dialogue as to how we might conquer these challenges — especially numbers 2 and 3 — it was folly to believe anyone would sign off on dissolving anything into anything else.

Mayor Ravenstahl and County Exec Onorato are still to be congratulated for embracing the broad concepts of an ultimately necessary merger — but are to be duly chided for not entrusting us with a serious public conversation about its nuts and bolts, and for seeming to act with a haste that was cautioned against in their own report.

Let’s start talking about 2010, 2011 and beyond. It’s more important to get this right than completed on any artificial timetable.

A Tale of Two Supermarkets

Thanks to a community revival triggered by arena development, and $2 million in seed money chipped in between the city’s URA and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Hill District actually has its choice of at least two grocery store operators.

Mr. Frazier and a coalition of Hill District organizations, including McCormack Baron Salazar, a longtime housing developer in the area; Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, an urban design and architecture firm; and the Hill House Economic Development Corp., proposed that the community should expand its business corridor.

To that end, that group has planned the $24 million, 100,000- square-foot, Centre City Square, which would stretch along Centre Avenue between Heldman and Dinwiddie Streets.

“We should think about this as the long-needed expansion and development of Centre Avenue’s business corridor,” said architect Dan Rothschild, who designed the proposed Centre City Square.

That project would be an expansive complex with a full-service Kuhn’s market, a pharmacy with an elegant plaza, outdoor dining, a cafes, restaurants and retail space.

“This is what the future of Centre Avenue should be,” Mr. Rothschild said. “Our goal is to encourage foot traffic that will bring about development in this area.” (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

Hard not to feel a bit more inspired by this Centre City Square project than by the Save-A-Lot bid.

“They are both interesting proposals. We want to make certain that the store we pick will stay,” Tonya Payne, the City Council member who represents the Hill District. (Trib, Rick Willis)

That is certainly true. Still, something about the idea of a thriving 8-store local operation expanding to 9 as one part of an aggressive, multi-faceted development strikes us as offering even more stability than a 1,000+ nationwide discount chain store, constructed in a rush, that might just as easily opt out and cut its losses with the same lightning speed.

Save-A-Lot would build a 16,500 square-foot store in about six months, said Rick Meyer, a vice president at the chain.

“We’re not going to have some fancy sushi bar. What you will have, though, is every basic food item you need,” Meyer said.

We know some Hill residents that like sushi just fine — not that any Kuhn’s ever had a sushi bar. It’s a modest enough operation in its own right.

Save-a-Lot boasts prices that can be “40% less expensive”. That sounds hard to compete with, but many from the community are already shopping at the South Side Giant Eagle, and paying for the trip.

It’s likely that many who could possibly manage that will continue to do so if the community were to introduce only a bargain-basement option. In the long run, that would render the neighborhood’s venture an even more discouraging scene.

COMET TWOCENTS: A respectable, full-service grocery store with ancillary development is more likely to inspire optimism in the rest of Pittsburgh’s Hill District — which will be necessary to attract new residents, repatriating residents and a variety of new businesses and resources. It would also do more to enhance the environment for those already residing there.

Respecting that the community itself has the final say, we are looking for some game-changers here, aren’t we? It sounds like the robust Centre City Square development raises expectations far higher, and shows greater confidence in a neighborhood that could really benefit from some already.


Special Dedication…

Mazel Tov & congratulations, but you owe us one trip to the Tennyshoe

Thursday: The Politics Down Here

Businesses might need to prepare for a possible strike or service cutbacks before mid-September, when Port Authority and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 must accept or reject a fact-finder’s findings about ongoing contract talks. (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

Yikes. Not good. Every once in a while, a back-burner issue sneaks into the foreground and scalds you.

Soo… if the Port Authority does not append some disclaimer to their posts on that site explaining to the reader that it represent management’s viewpoint only, I may need to start up an independent “Fact of the Day” web site to respond to their postings. Just in case someone thinks I am not serious, I think I have enough fodder… (Nullspace)

Gooooood, good. I can feel the anger flowing through you. Now, call the County Executive out by name, and your journey to the Dark Side will be complete.


Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Wednesday he wants proof that the state Ethics Commission has exonerated Pittsburgh’s suspended Urban Redevelopment Authority chief. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

This KDKA report from Andy Sheehan (who apparently did break the news on Tuesday) makes pretty clear that Team Ford arrived at its conclusions regarding exoneration via sheer deduction.

Commission Executive Director John Contino could wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting in September to officially close Ford’s case and notify the URA, Fisher said.

“I think for whatever political reasons this guy wants to let Pat dangle in the wind until September,” Fisher said. “There’s no reason for us to wait for this foregone technical conclusion.”

Fisher called Contino a “lazy bureaucrat who doesn’t want to resolve this matter expeditiously.”

We did not seriously just read that, did we? What’s he going to do if this does get more serious? Moon the grand jury?

Mr. Ford’s attorney, Lawrence Fisher, said he received a fax Tuesday from the ethics commission saying it had “not acted with regard to my client.” He then issued a statement to reporters yesterday saying Mr. Ford had been exonerated, the window for investigating him had terminated “and no further investigation of this matter will follow.” He also called for the URA to reinstate him.

Mr. Fisher did not share the commission’s letter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

Summarily, we don’t know much more than we did last week.


For the first time in Pittsburgh’s almost 30-year cable TV history, the stage is being set to give city customers a choice between providers. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)



Arlington, for instance, one of the newly created Accelerated Learning Academies with a 58 percent African-American population, for instance showed a 135.5 percent improvement in third grade reading proficiency over last year.

Similarly, over a three-year period, 11th grade Westinghouse High School students, 98.5 percent Black, improved 135.3 percent in reading proficiency and an astounding 223.9 percent in math — all the while reducing the number of student scores below basic in both categories by 48.5 percent and 29.6 percent, respectively. (Courier, Christian Morrow)

Alright. If these numbers turn out to be legitimate, meaningful and not misleadingly cherry-picked, we’ll … we’ll do something nice for Mark Roosevelt. Or we’ll do something mean to ourselves, whichever he’d prefer.

Right now, we’re not entirely sure what a 223.9% improvement in math means. (Yes, yes. Irony.) Does that mean over three times the proportion of students at those schools and in those grades are scoring proficiently in math? Or that the math scores, as measured on a conventional scale of one to 100, are over three times as high? You know what they say about statistics.

The complete data is due to be released to the public soon / now.