Monthly Archives: June 2010

Mayor’s Pensions / Parking Draft Agreement Released. Serious Consideration May Begin.

Who is this prodigy and what did he do with Our Mayor?

Mr. Ravenstahl said his planning team has learned from the mistakes Chicago officials made in leasing their parking meters. One criticism was a lack of scrutiny by city legislators.

“Here in Pittsburgh, they have 2 1/2 months,” he said of city council members. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

That’s two and a half hardcore months now after almost two years of extremely public and straightforward conceptual debate. (For our conceptual take see here and here.)

By now I’m sure you’ve all read — really read — the critical three-part Chicago Reader series on the Daley administration’s parking lease deal (1, 2, 3) which has served as the oft-circulated attack piece on the proposal by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Its own complaints over what went down in Chicago are as follows:

  • HASTE: The authors were outraged that the process was rammed through too quickly and with too little information made available.
  • SECRECY: The authors were outraged that certain financial consultants were chosen without even the pantomime of a public process.
  • STICKER SHOCK: Citizens were outraged and unprepared for rates to increase as they did.
  • CLUMSY: Citizens were outraged that the City and the vendors botched the initial roll-out by trying to move too quickly with parking meter transition.

Thanks in part to Chicago, this Pittsburgh deal is being publicized and scrutinized to death, the Mayor has given Council a 2 1/2 month window with a fleshed-out draft agreement, and Council gave itself $250,000 in the form of its very own financial consultant.

That should really take care of “HASTE” — and at least the “SHOCK” part of “STICKER SHOCK”.

What about secrecy and game playing? Check this out from Part 3 from the Mayor’s skeptics’ own hit piece. After relating an umpteenth story of Mayor Daley imperiously brushing off concerns about transparency in hiring consultant contractors:

But other cities have found other ways to do business.

For instance, in January Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that he wanted to explore leasing his city’s public parking garages and meters in return for cash he could pour into the city’s pension fund. A few weeks later the authority that oversees Pittsburgh’s parking system invited firms to submit proposals for an analysis of the idea. It received nine responses and determined four were qualified. Next a committee made up of city officials, an authority attorney, an authority board member, and a union representative interviewed the firms before recommending a winner at a public meeting of the authority’s board. Board members then approved up to $100,000 for the study.

The winner was Scott Balice Strategies, a woman-owned financial advisory firm based in Chicago. (Chicago Reader, Joravsky & Dumke)

Woman-owned. Ha! How can you beat that?

Balice Strategies went on to advise the Ravenstahl administration through its undertaking of a similar public process (very un-Chicago) which selected investment bank Morgan Stanley to further advise and construct the concessionaire’s agreement and to put it on the market. So especially considering City Council’s new additional study, this really has been a heck of a lot more transparent and by-the-book.


It bears mentioning that this Chicago Reader piece seems to be the most critical piece on the web about the Chicago lease deal. Although some critics remain, other people are now going around with their heads held high and lauding what happened in Chicago as a model, given it had some unfortunate problems.

One part had to do with faulty equipment, ascribed to a too-speedy and aggressive roll out of new parking meters. Let’s not do that.

The other part was pricing:

Even without this information, the city council voted 40-5 to approve the deal, and within weeks Chicago Parking Meters as much as quadrupled hourly rates at meters all over town, igniting outrage among motorists. (Joravsky & Dumke Part II)

Ah! Outrage! We don’t want quadrupling!

Some neighborhood parking meter rates will quadruple next month. Neighborhood spots that used to cost a quarter an hour will cost $1 an hour—and jump to $2 an hour in 2013. (Chicago Tribune, Mihalopoulos and Dardick)

Wait a minute. Parking meter rates quadrupled to a dollar an hour? It used to cost a quarter in Chicago to park at a meter for an hour? Those citizens were clearly spoiled. It seems reasonable that they should have experienced a sizable increase.

The cost of an hour’s metered parking Downtown would increase from $2 to $2.50 next year and go up another 50 cents annually in each of the following four years. (Post-Gazette, Joe Smydo)

So in 2015, an hour of parking Downtown on the street will cost you $4.50. A shade more than a doubling.

Are we spoiled also? It bears reminding ourselves at this point that we are an old city with a lot of aging infrastructure, increasing responsibilities and many more obligations. If market forces can be part of the solution, why not take these into account? Is it that necessary, or that effective, to specially value casual business traffic Downtown in this way? Lots of people already are Downtown for their office jobs (all day lot / garage parkers) and there is an especially alluring Cultural District and other amenities (evening lot / garage parkers).

And what about Pittsburgh’s garages?

The deal also would bring rates at parking authority garages in line with rates charged at privately owned facilities, Mr. Ravenstahl said.

Rates at some authority-owned garages would go up $1 to $2.25 per day next year. Right now, rates at the authority’s Downtown garages are $9.75 to $13.75 per day. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

I’ve been to other cities. That statement alone is not a scientific survey, though we will be provided with those — but I’m telling you, our garage parking is on the cheap side. It costs a lot to lug your car around, especially where there is great congestion. Fact of life.


By all accounts Chicago has calmed down, and as a city is doing pretty well for itself. But given the above, what does that leave from the outrages that consumed Chicago for a time, and that we are being instructed to fear here?

Precious little.

What are our alternatives?

There is a proposal to Borrow All the Money Now, only to pay it back with interest later, and to raise parking rates to pay for it to the extent that we can anyway — all the while maintaining local politics’ inefficient present political control over a non-core accessory function.

There is a Nonsense proposal about giving our garages and parking meters directly to our pensioners, somehow, and hoping that’s a good idea.

There is allegedly a Double-Super-Secret Mystery proposal being circulated among some crafty officials, which now is starting to seem like the one relying on conspiracy, timing and manipulation — assuming it exists and is not a personal-positioning ruse.

Then there is the real idea that after all this time — virtually at the denouement of Pittsburgh’s experiment in Act 47 Financially Distressed status — we will tell our fiscal watchdogs and the state Legislature (which actually acted to change their Municipal Pension laws on our behalf) to go sit and spin, dare them to seize control over our pension fund, and more than likely wind up in court and lose.

All of this has got me to thinking. It would be a tragically Pittsburghese, fishbowl-politics move, if we crucified a perfectly satisfactory and even surreptitiously beneficial solution, one which would get us through our pensions crisis until our debt service payment levels drop off dramatically in 2017 and until we can begin renegotiating the underlying employment anachronisms — an uncommonly innovative and absolutely progressive initiative — just because some of us can’t seem to tolerate the person enunciating it.

Mass Transit: Austerity Measures Ahead

Here’s what seems to be most pressing with the Port Authority of Allegheny County:

The $372.6 million spending plan passed Friday will require the board next month to propose specific service cuts and a fare increase worth $2 million. There will be public hearings in August and September; the cuts will be approved in the fall and take effect in January — unless the Legislature passes new sources of revenue such as higher gas taxes, higher vehicle registration fees or new tolls. (Trib, Matthew Santoni)

Alright, first issue: Why only “service cuts” and “a fare increase” to address the $2 million gap? Why not “other cuts”? Or even “new revenue sources”?

Surely Hunts Ketchup would pay half a million dollars for the naming rights to the tunnel to the North Shore! Easy!

Council members were largely supportive of the Port Authority’s efforts to cut costs by $52 million in the past four years… (Tribid)

Ah, yes. Just so.

Okay, we should certainly scrutinize those cuts and determine if other potential actionable cuts elsewhere exist, and without dwelling unnecessarily on the past — and we will — but let’s say now, for the sake of argument, it’s really time to Find More Money.

Second issue: Of the options the state Legislature has it before it, I see no conspicuous problem with raising the gas tax. Yes it’s cutting off our nose to spite our face, but I don’t find myself immediately opposed to spiting our face in this way, if it would hasten the straightening out of that deviated septum of ours.

Third issue: If the State doesn’t rally somehow, we can cut runs on the bus lines running the very most frequent runs I suppose. Sorry, if you want to get somewhere critical by bus, you have to learn the schedule and you might have to cram in there real tight. Maybe that includes the Airport shuttle too.

Devil’s Advocate: I suppose we could always stage a wildcat lockout and start anew with fresh employees … but I wouldn’t recommend that.

At Any Rate: Go to the public meetings and tell them what you think. They’re in August and September. So you have about that much time to think this over.

Tuesday: Gearing Up for Summer 2010

PARKING/PENSIONS: Drama subsiding. The parking study will go forward with the previously determined funds, those having been positively ID’d. The mayor’s office and the ICA all agree now, it seems. (P-G, Joe Smydo; Trib, Adam Brandolph)

It sure looked for a while there as though the mayor and even the ICA desired to prevent the parking study from occurring, in order to strengthen the mayor’s leasing plan as an option. At the same time, having read between the lines at FSG and among their principals’ bios around the Net, I think it’s just as fair to say that some Council members really are hiring them in order to attack that very proposal.

It reads like the folks at FSG specialize in work as “expert witnesses”, as in, once you are in court, suing somebody, defending yourself, pursuing your share out of a bankruptcy, litigating or re-litigating a contract — when you have a case to make and it needs persuasive but authoritative-sounding support. This does seem like a distinct service from providing dispassionate critiques on the front end. Not to say they’re incapable of rendering that service, but their bread and butter clearly seems to be elsewhere. Only fair to note that for later.


CPRB / GOVERNANCE: City Solicitor Regan cites the “intent of the code” in arguing that the ACLU is wrong and that Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is in the legal clear on how he’s dealing with the royally jacked up Citizen’s Police Review Board situation (Trib, Adam Brandolph).

POLICING / PUBLIC SAFETY: A long and tense police standoff in Homewood ended yesterday with nobody harmed. Thank goodness. (P-G, Nereim & Fenech; Trib, Team Effort)

At least some in the community feel the police went a bit heavy by cordoning off so much of the neighborhood. The kind of thing that might not have happened elsewhere. Might not have happened had Stanton Heights not occurred of course. Also of note, our old friends the tear-gas canisters and the LRAD made a return appearance.

In addition, the much anticipated Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime (PIRC) received what would seem to be its final official authorization today, and should be ready to go into effect. Council members Rudiak and Kraus successfully tacked on an amendment tying continued funding to satisfactory progress reports. There was some discussion of how similar “accountability” measures ought to be attached to a greater variety of initiatives.


DEVELOPMENT/PRESERVATION: An ALDI grocery store may set up shop on E. Carson St., a historic district. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones) This should provide a smaller-scale laboratory for examining the pro’s, con’s and compromises possible with adapting a reverence for history to the yen for progress.

In addition, please note that I’ve changed the address for Reuse the Igloo! to a preferable site with greater content. Please make a note of it. There have been arguments flying around dissing the SEA’s process along the lines of what the State commission implied; read the latest one by Jeff Slack in the Trib.


ENERGY / ENVIRONMENT: Councilman Patrick Dowd has been tweeting and Facebooking about having toured a Marcellus Shale drilling site yesterday. He mentioned that industry security was following his party around in a somewhat shady manner, but hasn’t yet shared as widely what he took away if anything. Lots of folks are eagerly anticipating whether we’re going to find drilling company names in Dowd’s campaign finance records — as one way of deciphering whether his zoning bill is a sincere effort to prevent as much environmental degradation as possible.

Here is an article in which the drilling industry concedes that municipal governments presently get to exercise some zoning discretion (Times-Tribune, Laura Legere). The question is, can we ever authoritatively determine or pro-actively affect how much? Local control should be a popular issue.

Great(?*) Piece on HB 2479, or “Arizona PA”

*-See comments.

by Scott Vine of Lancaster, published in the Post-Gazette. It merits a sizable selection:

Consider the possible effects of a law requiring police in Pennsylvania to check the legal status of anyone of whom they have “reasonable suspicion.” Consider my son’s baseball team, which is well-coached by a Latino and a Jewish American and whose players belong to families of various ethnic backgrounds. We come together weekly to enjoy the national pastime.

Imagine one Saturday the kids are playing and the police have a reason to be in the parking lot. Two officers approach and ask each parent who looks Hispanic for his or her papers (assuming the process would unfold like that in other countries and that the white and African-American parents would not be asked).

We watch this, as do the children. What does this teach them? When the police leave, what remains?

Go read the full piece. And here is a link to the website and to the report mentioned, and shown above. I feel like this proposal would do awful things for our regional and global economic competitiveness.

ACLU Calling ‘Shenanigans’ on Mayor

An noteworthy memo from ACLU attorneys flew over to City Hall late yesterday via fax. It reads:

Recent nominations by Mayor Ravenstahl to replace CPRB board members whose terms have expired do not seem to have been made in accordance with Chapter 662 of the City Code.

It asserts that board members serving on expired terms cannot be treated the same as “vacancies”, that Council must in any case submit three nominations per seat formally via Resolution, and that “the most prudent approach” would now be for the City to consider all current board members as having been reappointed by fiat.

The ACLU also embedded a video into its faxed letter:

The Song: Run-Around

The Admonition: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

quiz time [answered below]

Just curious, I guess. Can anybody figure out what these twenty cities have in common? Hint: only these twenty share these traits.

Albuquerque, NM (+17.6)
Aurora, CO (+17.4)
Austin, TX (+17.7)
Bakersfield, CA (+33.2)
Colorado Springs, CO (+10.7)
El Paso, TX (+10.0)
Fort Worth, TX (+33.9)
Fresno, CA (+11.7)
Honolulu, HI (+0.8)
Las Vegas, NV (+18.2)
Long Beach, CA (+0.2)
Louisville, KY (+2.3)
Mesa, AZ (+16.2)
Omaha, NE (+11.3)
Santa Ana, CA (+0.7)
Toledo, OH * (+0.8)
Tulsa, OK (-0.9)
Tuscon, AZ (+12.6)
Virginia Beach, VA (+2.0)
Wichita, KN (+5.7)

*- another hint: that one really stings.

ANSWER: The 20 cities listed above are A) among the 60 cities in the US with a larger population than Pittsburgh and B) have managed to achieve this without a single major league sports team to their credit. Not a one. You’ll recall how often we’ve been warned that if we lose any one out of our three (3!) major league franchises, we’d become a “minor league” city and wither away. (If you post comments with links to any specific such jeremiads I’ll highlight them). So I find the ability of these cities to attract, retain and employ residents on such a large scale remarkable.

Just to provide a little more context, population trends over the last decade have been added parenthetically. Pittsburgh has lost 6.8% of its population since 2000 — by which time the economy had already transformed enough that many of us feared the Y2K bug. We were worried about failing power grids and financial systems but not mills and factories as I recall.

What does it all mean? In thirty years, when we are faced again with replacing one of our stadiums … if you like cheering for the home team and wish to continue doing so, fine. If you want to argue that we can’t be a “major league city” or an economic success without a _______ team, maybe someone will still have this post bookmarked and ready to go. Or maybe by then all the drilling will have left us looking like something out of the last few pages of The Lorax. Somebody could scrawl “UNLESS” across the scoreboard at Heinz Field.

(Yes, upon further review, Fort Worth is frequently considered part of the “Dallas / Ft. Worth / Arlington” metropolitan area. Yet all of its sports franchises are hosted elsewhere in that triangle, and more importantly Dallas is the only one with name privileges, which I think is relevant if we’re discussing the notoriety and mystique of being a Big League Town and all that which it brings. Besides, Washington, PA is as far away from Pittsburgh as is Ft. Worth from Dallas.)

Oversight Boards Nix Parking Study *

Remember that quarter of a million dollars the Council claimed it found in its couch cushions to pay for its own study of parking issues from financial “scholars“?

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority and Act 47 board said the transfer of money “is deemed to be in violation of law,” according to a letter to council sent by City Solicitor Dan Regan.

Henry Sciortino, executive director of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, advised the city to “immediately cease and desist negotiations with any contractors concerning this matter,” the letter said. (Trib, Brandolph)

ERP! You know, Council seems to be having a bit of trouble lately in the execution department. I’ll suggest again: can we tap our own universities to whip up something FO’ FREE? It’s to everybody’s benefit.

MORE: Infinonymous seems to be implying that this is really going to shake things up this time.

*-UPDATE: Viceroy Sciortino: “I see this (being finalized) in days, not weeks,” he said. “The only way that it’s problematic is if it’s unreasonable.” (Trib, Brandolph)

What Happens in Vegas is Journalsim

Anyone recall ever seeing such substantive, persistent television interviewing of a candidate or officeholder in the Pittsburgh region?

That’s KLAS Channel 8 in Las Vegas, NV (h/t Wonkette)


Some lawmakers want to keep the barn door closed to city drilling; others want it open, then to stand in the doorway and wrangle one raging bull at a time.

“On a personal level, as an individual, I might want to see an outright ban,” Mr. Dowd said Saturday. “I fear what [drilling] will do to my drinking water, and more importantly I fear what this will do to my kids’ drinking water.”

However, legislation barring gas drilling “would eliminate our ability to engage in this conversation,” he said. (P-G, Lord)

Beg pardon? I do not understand what that means, yet.

Better to be safe than sorry.” “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” “Conditional Use permitting approvals are an acutely troubled if not endangered species of zoning regulation.” These are all familiar old sayings.

*-UPDATE: The whispered / implied difficulty is becoming more explicit (though the claims are still strangely limited to reporters’ immaculate gleanings, rather than statements by government officials or industry representatives):

A state Supreme Court decision last year in a case involving Oakmont and Salem Township, Westmoreland County, allows municipalities to use zoning ordinances to limit and direct where wells can be drilled, but ruled that municipalities could not prohibit drilling altogether. (Trib, Brandolph)

For the record, I’m still wondering whether we can buy enough time with an outright or virtual municipal ban in order to reach the era of a statewide moratorium — but I’m also starting to think it’s time to focus on achieving that statewide moratorium.