Tuesday: the Wheels in the Sky

Art of VFX, Vincent Frei

by Bram Reicbhaum

*-UPDATE: After amendments, this phase 1 of redevelopment plan is likely a go.

Despite assurances, residents in and around Larimer are of mixed mind as to where the redevelopment proposal forwarded by Burgess et al would take them.

Ms. Sims [of East Liberty] said she fears the plan will push out the low-income residents to make way for a demographic with deeper pockets. Low-income residents in the area, she said, have been burned by revitalization efforts in the past.

“We’re not fighting change,” she said. “We see the big picture, we just don’t want to get cropped out of it. [They] moved into this area for a reason … [They] would like to stay.” (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

Along the same lines but perhaps having a bit more to do with cost/value, a Post-Gazette Editorial Emanation offers a long and insistent, “Be careful.”

Meanwhile in InvestigatePGH news:

Debbie Lestitian, 47, of Brookline, entered the grand jury room of the federal courthouse Downtown, marking the first time in recent memory that a former member of a quasi-independent city authority has testified before the secret panel investigative panel. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

The last time in recent memory the Comet wrote about Lestitian, it was during that which we will now call Stage AE gate, and she had questions of her own.

(And no, I have no idea where the Gateway Clipper is supposed to fit on the cork board. *-UPDATE: Nothing solid.)


Judge Colville said he assumed Judge James could undo the nomination if he agreed with the Ceoffe side, and that he would “chew on” the injunction request and review it with the other judge. “I anticipate, though not make the promise, I will not grant the motion” for an injunction,” he said. (Early Returns)

Such restraint is likely to remain the order of the day, but who knows anymore.

BONUS: The SouthSide Works will see more apartment complexes springing up if all goes according to plan, and the South Side Planning Forum and its Design Review Committee are blown away. (PBT, Tim Schooley)

19 thoughts on “Tuesday: the Wheels in the Sky

  1. BrianTH

    I don't understand the logic of the PG editorial. There is plenty of time between now and when the HUD application is due for Council to evaluate the Larimer plan and its funding options.

    I'm not unsympathetic to the concerns of existing low-income residents, but they have as much to gain as anyone from moving to a mixed-income model with revitalized commercial districts and improved green spaces.

  2. Bram Reichbaum

    The more I read it, the more it sounds like the P-G is saying “No thank you,” while couching it in terms of “going slower” inevitably developing that area. The cost is high to the City; the deadline and past headlines suggest a bit of a rush; there are no do-overs in redevelopment for 30 years; they're not themselves urban planners; and the present political matrix is not providing what they see as quality assurance.

    I'm looking forward to Council's next discussion because you're right BrianTH, Council is in a position and has the staff / aggregate experience to evaluate this bid solely on its merits.

  3. Anonymous

    One thing, there is not “plenty” of time to evaluate this. Council takes off the whole month of August!

  4. Bram Reichbaum

    Huh. My own impression may have been contoured by the tenor of the live discussion and statements not made. But rereading that breakdown after some days it does seem more clearly a question of whether we can do this while preserving our fiscal dignity, or how any fiscal indignity we suffer might be forgivable through appeal to exceptional merit. Thanks.

    Still, the financing solution sounds like it is preconditioned on a fruitful negotiation, and negotiations can take right up until any brink if the parties aren't careful.

  5. BrianTH

    Of course it is enough money you shouldn't just find it lying around in the budget somewhere, even in a fiscally sound situation. There may be multiple options, but I strongly suspect they will all involve some prioritization of this project over something else someone cares about.

    Which is fine–as noted I think it is a big decision, and the ultimate vote might not be unanimous either way. That said, I also do suspect this is the sort of investment which would end up being cash flow positive, which should be considered in terms of making those prioritization decisions.

  6. BrianTH

    By the way, I believe the Housing Authority (HACP) contribution to the Larimer Plan would also be coming out of their HUD funds as part of the Moving to Work (“MTW”) program. That doesn't make it any less important to consider local priorities for the use of those funds–in fact the whole idea behind the MTW program is to give local housing authorities the flexibility to consider a lot of different options for providing low-income housing.

    But in terms of ultimate revenue sources, that is really federal, not local, money. And I suspect to some degree, that will be true of at least a significant portion of the City funds as well (e.g., they mentioned perhaps using some CDBG money, which is also HUD funded).

    All of that is part of why I think it is very likely this plan, if executed, would be cash-flow positive for the City in the long run: the total amount invested, and the likely increase in City revenues as a result, would likely greatly exceed the draw on the City's local revenues.

    To me the real question is therefore not so much a question of whether this is something the local tax base can afford, but rather whether this seems like a good use of the relevant funds. And in fact that seems to be more or less how Council was looking at the issue (at least if the PG article I linked is accurate).

  7. Anonymous

    The cash fund positive was about $50k. I'm sick of Burgess grabbing up all the capital funds. I live in Oakland and am broke! I just had a huge property tax increase and am fed up with dems. They rule everything, picking the winners and losers. As I said, I'm fed-up and broke!
    I hope this deal is denied! Stop this!

  8. BrianTH

    If property taxes in Oakland are your concern, why would you oppose investing mostly HUD and private developer funds in greatly increasing the value of property in another part of the City?

    That sounds like a clear win for you, and of course HUD and that private developer will not spend that money on relieving your property taxes if the project doesn't go forward.

  9. Bram Reichbaum

    Council granted the Larimer plan preliminary approval by a vote of 4-0-2 in committee, after the $16.5M in City cost was reduced to $12M and considerations improved scores on some HUD scorecard.

    It now seems likely to pass soon. A fifth vote seemed to be away from the table. And the two abstaining members had defined concerns to assess either the full picture of Housing Authority reserve funds in one case, or the legal nature of the partnerships and its consequences in the other.

    Quite a remarkable thing, this patchwork. We all see Larimer in capitalism's cross hairs, and this is a collected and conscious civic first-strike intended to protect and advance the interests of its present low-to-“moderate” income earning residents (any residents, really) as their area gentrifies and becomes of profit to new interests.

  10. Anonymous

    Where is this money magically coming from?

    So many needs in the City in terms of existing infrastructure repair and improvements —- streets, bridges, & City owned facilities —- how long are we going to continue to put these off just to get another federal government handout.

    Folks keep demanding real street improvements — not going to happen.

    Public safety training academy is close to 70 years old with no real improvements since then and the public keeps demanding more and more police training — put that way on the back burner.

    Need better conditions for bikes and drivers to share the road — keep dreaming.

    Need more money to satisfy the reverend — pull out the checkbook.

  11. BrianTH

    “Where is this money magically coming from?”

    That's a fair question. The public should now how this is being budgeted.

    “So many needs in the City in terms of existing infrastructure repair and improvements —- streets, bridges, & City owned facilities —- how long are we going to continue to put these off just to get another federal government handout.”

    That's also a fair point. However, as they say, you have to be careful not to eat your seed corn. The City should be investing at least some capital in projects likely to generate significant long-term returns in the form of an overall expansion of the tax base. And often the best such investments are the ones with high leverage due to financial contributions from higher levels of government or private investors.

  12. Anonymous

    The budgeting process means that in order to get this $12 million, that same amount has to be cut line by line for projects that departments have requested. Something(s) are going to have to suffer to make this work.

    This will not be short term suffering because we, as a City, are well behind on everything that the capital budget is intended for (road repairs, building repairs (just walk through the municipal courts building, emergency responders vehicle purchases, …the list goes on).

    Part of full public disclosure should include every line item that was cut from the various City departments to get this $12 million. That way citizens can judge for themselves what was lost and what was gained. Full public disclosure should include ALL capital budget requests to include those that don't make it to council for final approval (because they did not make it past the budget office). That way the public would get a full understanding of needs.

  13. Bram Reichbaum

    We are also behind on investing in many of our neighborhoods. But I agree 100% with full public disclosure (as each affected line-item is determined). Honestly the capital budget should exist online as a real-time doc with prior revisions annotated.

  14. Anonymous

    Hey Bram,
    You are usually the first to comment on the PG web site on a lot of issues. How about you thoughts on Rich Lords stories on the housing auth. Notice not one quote from the Rev. Ricky either. You seemed to buy into the Larimore project hook, line and sinker. How does the Auth. put this project forward with Lamb not getting straight answers, the feds. asking questions and Mr Boe misrepresenting himself at the council table.
    Bill Peduto should have been more transparent at the table. I watched that meeting and feel totally misled. I hope the feds. deny this application and that Peduto kicks Rev Ricky off that board and Michael Lamb gets to the bottom of this tax payer bottomless pit!

  15. Bram Reichbaum

    At your special request, I added a comment at the PG:

    Among the worst problems in spending this kind of money on outside lawyers, consultants and lobbyists (and having it come out as a surprise) is that it reduces public confidence (see above & below!) in the important work of the City authority, and by extension our federal government. Excellent that it's seeing pubic scrutiny before any further actions are taken, and the Authority probably requires some housecleaning like everything else in town. But let's take at least two breaths before using the issue to kibosh what could easily be advantageous projects.

    Anon 8:44, I don't follow why you criticize Peduto for transparency; he's not with HACP, and generally we don't scrutinize an outside Authority's entire budget before a Council vote. And I don't know about Burgess being “kicked off that board,” but I agree this fits the template of a minor outbreak of that “Many-hat-ism” I occasionally have written about, so it's possible he might benefit from no longer being Chair as is customary for members of Council on authority boards.


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