Thursday, March 30, 2006

Steel City Media is All Over this Blog

Someone is reading this blog; somebody in the notorious print media. Who knew?

If I had known they were reading this thing, I would have worn pants.

The pity is that they selected this post which, while good, was not the best one I've done recently. I mean, so much of that post was just a rip off the PG article, which was subsequently sampled in the CP. Now we just need to have the PG quote the CP article and the circle of life will be complete.

Now where did I put those pants?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

For Sale: One School (Used) $1M OBO

I have a friend... well, an acquaintence... who works for the Pittsburgh Board of Education. When we found ourselves at an event together, he'd offer to sell me South Hills High School for $1. Everytime he did that, I'd laugh, he'd laugh... we both knew it was a joke and that $1 was far too much money.

Which is why I found this article so funny.

The financially strapped city school district faces difficult choices as it seeks buyers for as many as 27 school buildings, including several to be closed under the district's new reorganization plan.

The issues include whether to sell to charter schools, which could both take the buildings off the tax rolls and take a bite out of the district's budget, and how far the district should go in acceding to what the neighborhood considers the best use for the property.

Richard R. Fellers, chief operations officer, said school board members will try to balance financial and neighborhood concerns during a stepped-up effort to market surplus property. But he said the district wants to sell buildings as quickly as possible and prefers buyers who will return them to the tax rolls.

The district's approach already has drawn criticism. City Councilman William Peduto, claiming the district has mishandled the proposed sale of the former Regent Square Elementary School, is demanding the district use a better process for selling other buildings.
Comedy gold.

Here's the deal: schools built before, let's say, 1978 are deadly. That's not a joke; asbestos, lead paint, and hazardous materials in these buildings are at ridiculously high levels. A study I am familiar with, which would have converted a school to a non-school use, showed a $300K cost in removing the hazardous materials from the school... and that was an estimate before the costs of actual rehabilitation were figured in.

To put you parents out there at ease, however, these hazardous materials, asbestos in particular, are not deadly unless disturbed. So, as long as you don't try to rehabilitate any of these buildings you are fine; once you start tearing down walls, however, you'd better start wearing hazmat suits. Parents, don't let your children grow up to be irresponsible contractors, is all I'm saying.

The School District needs to shed a few buildings, that point is not in dispute, however, the discussion as to the "highest and best use" of these buildings is bollocks! BOLLOCKS I SAY! Assuming that the school isn't a historic property (which many are and which affects what you can do to the building) and that there are no contaminents (which, I would say, the majority have) and that the building is even adaptable in the first place (which, given the hallway, class room, and other miscellaneous spaces, is difficult), you may have one or two buildings that could be competitively put out on the market. Those, of course, will be the first to go.


I'm sure the PBOE can set up an Ebay account, although its rating may suffer over time:
School was a little cracked, that was a disappointment, but fast shipping good.
I'm not optimistic.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Harold Miller Strikes Back

A weird sot of economic optimism coming out from the consulting firm of former Allegheny Conference on Community Development president Harold Miller. Basic summary: if not for the bad parts, the Pittsburgh economy would be good. Here's the take from the Pittsburgh Business Times...

What [Miller] found is that the Pittsburgh's job growth in high paying areas such as science, health care and engineering grew 13 percent between 1999 and 2004, almost double the national rate of seven percent.

In addition, job growth here for health care practitioners and health care technicians also far outpaced the national average, growing by 12 percent between 1999 and 2004, compared to a national average of seven percent.

Pittsburgh lost manufacturing jobs and production jobs during the period, but so did the rest of the country, Miller pointed out. And Pittsburgh actually lost production jobs at a slower rate than the rest of the country during that period, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Additionally, Miller points out that there has been significant growth nationwide in government employment, while in Pittsburgh the government sector has shrunk. You can see the whole report here, should you be interested, and Lord knows that I am.

As a side note, I'm glad to see that Miller is at least attempting to analyse job creation in a semi-honest manner, by prefering percentages and ratios to absolute number and comparing those to the national percentages and ratios. Very often from non-academic (read: political) actors, you'll see a lot of emphasis on absolute numbers of jobs created. These numbers, while important, do very little to show a true comparison between how the Region/MSA is doing and how the Country as a whole is doing.

For example: if you create 100 jobs in Medicine, that's great, but if other regions have far outpaced you, that may not be so good. Similarly, you may create 1000 jobs in Medicine, but that may only represent a tiny percentage of the total employment in Medicine in the country.

From my brief take on the report, it seems to be fairly cogent although I have two quick critiques:

(1) Miller doesn't show his math or data set, nor does he make them available (except for a brief snippet saying that they are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the equivalent of pointing to a farm and saying "go make yourself a sandwich.")

(2) Miller doesn't really explain his industrial classifications very well, except to say that they are based on NAICS (North American Industrial Classification System) codes. So, what is he including in these classes and should they be more refined to provide more detail as to what sectors in these particular classes are actually improving?

His strengths, however, are important and should be repeated here:
  • The Pittsburgh Region’s universities and health care systems have been growing consistently and can continue to grow with appropriate funding support from the state and federal governments. These institutions create many high-quality jobs directly, and they also create new ideas that lead to new businesses and new jobs.
  • The universities and medical centers are not the only location for the kinds of scientific occupations that develop new ideas and new products. The continued presence of long- standing corporate R&D Centers for companies like Alcoa, Bayer, PPG, and U.S. Steel, and the recent successes in attracting research centers for Google, Intel, RAND, Seagate, and others, prove that southwestern Pennsylvania is an ideal spot for growing R&D jobs of all kinds. An aggressive marketing effort targeted at R&D jobs could accelerate this trend.
  • There is still a significant base of manufacturing businesses in the Pittsburgh Region, and the higher than average retention of production jobs through the recession suggests that the region remains attractive for high-value-added manufacturing work. By addressing business climate issues affecting established businesses, and by expanding support for entrepreneurs starting new businesses, the region can build on this base and create additional high-wage production jobs in the future.

  • Growth in these kinds of jobs will, over time, lead to population growth in the region, which in turn will lead to higher rates of job creation in the population-dependent sectors of the economy, and move Pittsburgh closer to the national job growth rate.
    Well... that and slots.

    Monday, March 27, 2006

    Authoritah pt. 3

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    I'm late on this one, but it fits into the theme. Voila:

    If the sewer lines that run through the city of Pittsburgh suddenly shut down, every toilet from South Fayette to Ross to Monroeville would be useless.

    That's why suburban municipalities should contribute to the cost of maintaining the pipes that run from the city's borders to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority's treatment plant in Woods Run, according to an audit released by the city controller's office yesterday.

    The audit calls on the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which maintains the lines, to negotiate new agreements with 25 bordering municipalities whose sewer lines connect to the city's. The authority has old agreements with 10 municipalities and has collected $2.24 million from them since 1991...

    Authority Executive Director Greg Tutsock said the authority wouldn't shut pipelines down but would appeal to a spirit of cooperation. Suburban municipalities "have a stake in making sure these [sewer] lines work," he said. "To be partners, we have to all work together."

    He said it would take time and legal research to decide how best to pursue suburban help.

    Sewer providers for all 83 of the municipalities served by Alcosan are under the consent agreement, which requires a dramatic reduction in the amount of sewage that flows into the rivers. A regional organization, the 3 Rivers Wet Weather Demonstration Program, seeks to coordinate their efforts to comply.
    For those of you that are interested in things like sewage, you should check out this map showing regional draingage areas, sewage lines, and municipal boundaries.

    Actually, when you check out the map, you'll notice something unsurprising: drainage areas do not reflect municipal boundaries. Drainage areas have been carved out by thousands of years of geological and glacier movement; municipal lines were carved out by drunken surveyors... or at least it seems that way.*

    This is an important point and should be emphasized as it reflects local policies on storm and waste water matters: what happens in one municipality directly effects what happens further down the drainage area of the next. If South Fayette clear cuts a hillside, the resulting runoff will flood Moon Run in Robinson, with little impact on South Fayette itself. Robinson Township's decisions effect Crafton, which effect the City... etc. The result is a clasic negative externality example in which the costs of a decision are not borne by the decision maker.

    To emphasize this relationship, it is put as this eloquent appeal: "We All Live Downstream."

    Or, less eloquently: "Shit Flows Downhill."

    And, of course, Pittsburgh is near the bottom of that stream/hill, so it will be up to the City to deal with the shitty issues, either in concert with its neighbors or alone... which is, now that I think about it, pretty much a good metaphor for regionalism 'round these parts.

    And O'Connor's Water and Sewer Authoritah is at the forefront of this divisive public policy issue.

    *Honestly, have you taken a look at O'Hara Township on a map? It looks like Fox Chapel is Star Jones trying to muscle her way into the buffet.

    Rule #19

    I'm pausing so everyone can catch their breaths during my Authoritah postings... I promise I have only one more to get through... so that I can bring you another Rule of Bureaucracy.

    I've really been kicking them out recently; I must be more cynical observant than usual.

    There was a maxim that said "90% of Everything is crud." That's not quite accurate. It would be more accurate to say that "Half of Everything is below average." Of course, that would mean that half of Everything would also be above average. Problem is that the half that is above average can deal with things that are beneath them, even though it pains them; those that are below average, can't quite grasp the above average crowd. Above average people can stoop to doing below average things; below average people can't reach to do above average things.

    Ergo, the result is that Bureaucratic systems tend to be based on the lowest common denominator, or...

    Rule #19: Mediocrity is normalcy.

    Which is also why so many of these posts seriously suck.

    Authoritah pt. 2

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    Read this one yesterday:

    For years Raymond Williams took any job he could get, even working under the table without benefits, while trying to support a wife and five daughters. With limited experience and a criminal record, it wasn't easy.

    Then he met Charles Powell, director of diversity affairs at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, who arranged a job for him demolishing public housing near Mr. Williams' subsidized apartment in East Liberty. After that six-month gig, Mr. Powell connected him with a contractor excavating another nearby site.

    Last week, he was working chilly 10-hour days driving compactors across a barren site where he hopes to buy a home one day and calling it "a blessing and a learning experience."

    On one hand, Mr. Williams, 44, is an answer to a decades-old question: How can people who live in the city's redeveloping neighborhoods get a piece of the construction action? On the other, he and Mr. Powell are flash points in a worsening dispute between unions and the URA over whether the agency should influence job-site hiring, especially when doing so strains labor agreements.

    Mr. Powell said the URA is trying to create "a successful program where community people will set the direction for their lives" by getting construction work in their neighborhoods.
    Another big public policy question, and one that is particularly vexing is a blue collar city like Pittsburgh: how should labor be divided up amongst publicly funded projects.

    The URA is, in fact, up against a wall on this one, needing to fullfill the requirements of Section 3 of the federal Housing and Urban Development Act, while at the same time promoting the interests of the Unions, while at the same time keeping costs down to a reasonable level.

    But then again there's an equity issue at stake here as well, as it relates to job creation. It surely seems unethical to redevelop an entire area using entirely outside labor... but it also seems unethical to give people work once, and never again.

    Well, public policy dilemma #2 for the O'Connor administration and it's Urban Redevelopment Authoritah.

    Authoritah pt. 1

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    Saw this article in the P-G:

    Residents of Oak Hill took their fight for more homes to the Pittsburgh Housing Authority's board meeting yesterday and came away empty and angry.

    "We were treated very poorly," said Oak Hill Residents Council President Eloise McDonald. Board members "walked in, they never spoke to us."

    The board listened to comments from some of the 18 Oak Hill residents in attendance, but took no action on their request for approval to build 200 homes on Robinson Court. That parcel sits atop the Hill District, between their homes and the University of Pittsburgh, which has made a competing offer to buy it and build athletic fields.
    Local Public Policy walks into this blog... you would've thought it would have seen it.

    So, here's the dilemma: sell the property to a developer and build houses or sell the property to the University for more money and build soccerfields. It's not as simple as money; the University will obviously be able to give more money up front to the Housing Authority. There are significant equity issues involved here: is it more or less ethically responsible to build affordable housing on public land, or to build soccerfields? The previous administration was pretty gun-ho about moving residents out of the isolation of public housing and into integrated communities.

    Still, assuming that the Housing Authority sold the land to Beacon/Corcoran Jennison, there would be costs to the City, the URA, PWSA, HACP, and the State, in various loans, grants, credits, and donations, but benefits (in form of increased taxes) over a longer term. A conservative assumption would generate $3.5M in taxes in about 10 years. Assuming that the Housing Authority sold the land to the University, there would be an up front benefit with no up front costs ($3.5M right now), but the long run benefits and costs are kinda hidden, including the impact of keeping the low income residents effectively isolated in West Oakland.

    So, this is really Public Policy Test #1 for the O'Connor administration and his Housing Authoritah.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Save A Bureaucrat

    No... this is not From that other site:

    I believe I could offer the world a lot more than I am right now. I could be helping people in some way - making a difference in their lives. Instead, I feel like an old curmudgeon frustrated by having to deal with paper being passed around at a snail's pace, day in and day out. But how can I justify quitting my job and giving up my security and pension? The only way I can do it is by obtaining enough money that I can afford to quit and then have enough spare time and energy to do something that makes a difference in my life and the lives of others.
    So this guy wants you to send him money so he doesn't have to work; so far, I think, he's up to $59 in donations and a site that is FUBAR. So, for those of you that are stumbling on this place by mistake, there are no Bureaucrats here that wish to be saved.

    There is at least one, however, that would like you to by him a drink.

    Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

    I for one, welcome our new robot overlords:

    Carnegie Mellon University wants to build a research center called Robot City at LTV's former Hazelwood Works to develop the next generation of robots.

    CMU would use the space to build and test prototypes of robots that would plant grass, mow the lawn, harvest crops, provide cleanup, oversee security and do other tasks. University officials hope the move will bring Pittsburgh closer to living up to the monicker given it by The Wall Street Journal: "Roboburgh."
    As always, a couple thoughts:

    (1) OK, this sounds like a plan for the former LTV site that will take up a lot of space, which could be used for businesses, parks, housing, etc. Is that a socially, economically, or politically responsible position?

    (2) From a planning perspective, the use space on these old brownfield spaces has been a source of criticism (cf. the Waterfront & the Pittsburgh Technology Center).

    (3) Speaking of planning, you can see the plan for Hazelwood here.

    (4) I wonder how this plan works with the second dumbest idea in Western Pennsylvania regional planning: the Mon-Fayette Expressway. The dumbest idea is, in fact, slots.

    (5) Well, on the other hand, this is a positive move towards a cluster of industries in which Pittsburgh has, apparently, a competitive advantage.

    (6) Although, it would be nice to have some sort of connection to Oakland through Junction Hollow.

    (7) What has ALMONO done for us recently? Seriously.

    (8) Roboburgh is a dumb nickname.

    (9) Will this assist in finding Sarah Connor?

    I'll be back.

    Hidden in Plain Sight

    I was flipping through the front pages of the Post-Gazette today, and I saw this picture of El Presidente in West Virginia:

    Image Courtesy of the Post-Gazette & hosted by Imageshack

    OK, the first response was snark... as per usual.

    Second response was a kneejerk anti-Orwellian, comment on the recent propaganda from Minilove.

    But then, I had an epiphany... a vision... a picture in my head... a blinding flash of the obvious: the banner in the background contains only one noun.

    The composition of the banner is not noun preposition noun but rather imperative verb preposition noun.

    Consider these statements:

    Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. -- Vice-President Dick Cheney, Meet the Press, March 16 2003

    "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."-- Vice-President Dick Cheney, Larry King Live, June 20, 2005
    Do you see it now?

    There it is, plain as day: the strategy for Iraq -- "Plan for Victory!" The Iraqi War is obviously a Panglossian experiment in Nation building...

    But at least the President is being up front with us, hidden in plain sight.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Pittsburgh's 5th Big Park: Here's Hoping for 5th Biggest Swingset

    Saw the article in the PG yesterday on the new proposed park surrounding Mt. Washington.

    In the early stages of what park stewards say will be a 10- to 15-year process, City Council also approved unanimously last week ceding 16 acres of public land known as "the saddle" for the park. In recent years, developers have been hungry for those acres up and down snaking Sycamore Avenue. They are hillsides prone to sliding with tree stock badly damaged by a June 1998 tornado.

    The park would almost encircle the plateau of Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights, like a crown. It would tap into existing parks on its way around the rim and connect to hillsides east of the Liberty Bridge all the way around to the West End...
    Couple thoughts:

    First, I can see most of that "Park" from the Smithfield Street Bridge... and it seems rather, um, "vertical." Don't get me wrong, the idea of a vertical park is intriguing, but it'll make it rather difficult to play soccer at a 90 degree angle.

    Second, seriously, most of this "Park" is a hillside, not technically "usable" as a "recreational area." I'm sure that you can install trails and such, but to what and from what? And what about those pesky homes at the top and that railroad track below?

    Third, and this is the good point, this looks like an attempt by the City to centralize a whole mess of vacant unusable space and make something out of it. Lord knows there will be some marginal efficiencies in managing one big park than a zillion little lots and parklets.

    Fourth, wouldn't it be neat to have a climbing wall up the side of Mt. Washington? I'm just throwing it out there.

    OK, let's be fair: it ain't gonna be Yellowstone or even Jellystone, but there are worse ideas for this site.

    "Slots parlour" springs immediately to mind.

    Public Service Announcement


    One homing pigeon, last seen around 525 Penn Avenue this morning.

    Answers to the name "Mr. Feathers."

    Reward Offered.

    Call (412) 555-8477

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    New Rules...

    As I was being probed by the Auditors today, a couple new Rules of Bureaucracy sprung to mind.

    First one comes from a previous posting over at Faceless Bureaucrat, from which I'll quote as follows:

    [O]utsiders to an institution believe that knowledge is like blood in the body--it's everywhere, so what anyone in the institution knows everyone knows.
    Good observation there; I want it to be a bit more encompassing.

    Rule #17: Within any bureaucratic structure, resources (e.g. people, money, knowledge, etc.) are not distributed uniformly.

    Heck, even the universe isn't distributed evenly, why should information?

    Anyway, as FB points out, to outsiders the whole Bureaucratic structure is uniform: you should be able to slice it and dice it and each piece should be pretty much the same as the others. Of course, that's not true; uniformity breaks down as soon as people start to specialize in different aspects of an organization. Otherwise, we'd all be managers, accountants, PR people, database gurus, project developers, and secretaries.*

    But, with that in mind, here's another twist:

    Rule #18: Money is not created equal.

    One of the most frustrating parts of dealing with contentious members of the public is the common misconception: "You have money to do Project X, so why can't you do Project Z?" The answer, of course, is that "We don't have money to do Project Z," or, more accurately, "We don't have Project Z-type money to do Project Z." Money, for the Government, is not interchangable.

    While it may make sense, from an outsider's perspective, to swap out money from one Project to another, it is, in fact, impossible. If you could swap out money willy-nilly, you would invite fraud, corruption, and, my personal favorite, misappropriation of funds.

    Of course, now that you have the money for Project X, you have to spend it... else they may never give you money again.

    So Project Z isn't going to be funded people, unless you can find more Project Z-type money. You will, however, get a tunnel under the river... whether you like it or not.

    * Actually, that pretty much describes my job. Maybe The Bureaucracy IS fairly homogenous... scary.

    Beware of the Accounting Trolls

    My all too loyal readers* have been probably wondering where the heck I've been over the last two months. Unfortunately, the pursuit of the common good and the public interest (i.e., "the real world") has kept me occupied, to the detriment of my health, my relationships, and, most of all, my little ramblings here. The bulk of this "work" has been taken up by what the heathen barbarian call "an audit."

    The word "audit" comes from same root word as the Latin word "auric" meaning "gold"** and "-ite" meaning "goes away." The first audit was performed by the Romans as a means of torture when beheadings and being thrown to the lions weren't painful enough. It was later used during the middle ages as a punshiment for people having who were having too much fun.

    The audit at the Bureaucracy is just slightly worse.

    For those of you that have never had to go through an audit, here's the general process:
    (1) The auditors select files to be pulled for examination and remove the important documents.
    (2) The remaining files are dumped on the floor of my office.
    (3) The auditors pee on the balance of the files.

    This is a Generally Accepted Accounting Principle, or so they tell me.

    Typically, the auditors will request about 80 documents, 74 of which will be readily available, 5 of which will be in the wrong file, and 1 of which will be totally and utterly missing. Ninety to ninety-nine percent of the time during the audit will be spent trying to find that one document. To make matters worse, that one document won't be something important, but will be something like an invoice for pens. This is the kind of thing that you need 10 accountants and 4 lawyers for.

    So, my current daily schedule is as follows:
    7:30 - 4:29: Audit
    4:29 - 4:30: Everything else that they pay me to do.
    This leaves me little time to think deep thoughts, or even light thoughts for that matter... or even do... well... anything, really.

    On the upside, the audit does prevent the employees of The Bureaucracy from going to "pound-me-in-the-ass" prison. So that's a benefit as I am a frequent soap dropper.

    * I think we're up to 6 now... 3 of which are named "Dave".
    ** Also the first name of one of the best Bond villians, cursed with one of the worst, and most pointless deaths.

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    Open Letter to Client #430

    Dear Client #430,

    Since I began working on your project four years ago, I have noticed a wellspring of antipathy bubbling up from inside of me. At first I believed that this was merely a kneejerk reaction to this assignment, which I judged to be risky, but not imprudent. As the months went on, however, I began to realize that the problem that I had initially, if impulsively, identified was not the project, but you.

    Yes, you. And I'm tired of you.

    I am tired of you calling me, asking for documents that do not exist and complaining to my superiors that I have not gotten you what you need.

    I am tired of you not knowing what you "need" in the first place.

    I am tired of you going over my head, my superiors' heads, and their superiors' heads in order to get your petty demands met.

    I am tired of you claiming that you have accomplished "all this work" when in reality you have accomplished nothing of importance.

    I am tired of you calling me again, asking for documents that still do not exist, and complaining to my superiors again that I have still not gotten you what you need.

    I am tired of your ignorance, your sociopathy, and your manic mood swings.

    I am tired of you berating me for "lying to you," even though I have not.

    I am tired of you berating my employees as being "unqualified".

    I am tired of you berating my age, sex, and gender.

    I am tired of you berating me and The Bureaucracy in public meetings.

    I am tired of your complaining about the pace of your project, even though you do not have the resources to accomplish it yourself.

    I am tired of you bringing new and exciting ways to screw up your own project and allowing me to migitgate the disasters that you do not even know that you have occured.

    I am tired of you going to the media about every perceived slight, real or imagined.

    I am tired of the way that you so readily subsititute reality for your own personal delusions.

    I am tired of your blissful ignorance of my other clients' projects and their position in the queue ahead of your project.

    I am tired of the work that we've had to do to train you and the offhanded way that you've dismissed us.

    I am tired of your claims that the city/county/state is out to get you and that councilperson/mayor/representative will get back at me.

    I am tired of the long rambling phone calls in which you say nothing or ask incoherrant questions.

    I am tired of explaining what's really going on to mystified third parties that you have engaged.

    I am tired of your stupidity.

    I am tired of your persecution complex.

    I am tired of your expectation of me to drop whatever I'm doing and attend to your "crisis" of the moment.

    I am tired of the councilpersons/mayors/representatives that call me and my superiors on your behalf to complain, but only so that they can tell you that they "talked to us."

    I am tired of you calling me for the third time, demanding documents that still do not exist and will not exist in the immediate future, and complaining to my superiors again that I have still not gotten you what you need.

    But mostly, I'm tired of you, your project, and this lingering air of professionality that I have been able to maintain until this point, as you blindly slash and burn all the bridges you have crossed. You do not realize this, but out of all the people in, not only The Bureaucracy, but The City as well, I am the only one who has continued to work with you. You are damned lucky I even consider returning your phone calls.

    From now on, you will act in a more respectful way and show me and my coworkers the professional courtsey that we deserve as public servants. If you do not, you will find your self abandoned and alone with your project filed neatly within the bowels of my shredder.

    But most of all: go fuck yourself.



    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Reddin' up this Post

    Hurricane Bobby O' has been upgraded to a Class 4 Clean-up Storm.  Read all about it in the PG today. The main feature, it seems, of the new budget proposal includes more money going to cleaning up illegal dumps, cracking down on crime near schools, and boarding up abandoned building, or generally "reddin' up" as that intolerable Yinzer expression goes. 
    A couple things struck me about this article:
    (1) Here's the quote: Asked how the city will afford his priorities, he offered few specifics. "We'll get it started, and when we run out of money, we'll look for more," he said.
    I personally thing the Cowboy method is the way to go here.  I'm a big believer in shooting first and asking questions later or, to be more precise, asking forgiveness later rather than permission now.  I wonder what the lawyers will say, however, when Bobby has to ask for forgiveness. 
    (2) Here's another quote: He [Bobby] said the answer may be better motivated workers, rather than more of them. "Let me see them all sweating a little more," he said.
    Work smarter, not harder... or work like a frightened idiot, take your pick.  Now, I make no claims to having any degrees in public policy or management, but doesn't this sound like the governmental equivalent of Office Space?  Granted, those of us in Local government know that we're not doing this for the money... for what it's worth, I'm doing it for the free parking... those of us in Local government are doing what we do because we get some modicum of joy from public service.  Otherwise, this would be a dreary existence replete with reporting to upper (elected) management who has no idea what you do, but will damned well tell you how you're going to do it and is willing to berate you in public for it.
    So, here's what I have to say about motivation: either (a) make the rewards of public service more tangible, i.e., increases of pay, pension, benefits, etc. or (b) make the experience more enjoyable.
    (3) If Bob really wants to change the face of dilapidated neighborhoods, he can champion a return to the land/building breakout for real estate taxes.  This was something that Bob fought to eliminate when he was on City Council.  
    The current system encourages vacant and abandoned properties, as so much of the taxes are based on the value of the building. So, for example, if I have a $1,000 plot of land with a $99,000 building, I am currenlty taxed at the rate of 2.472% (City & School), or $2,472, per annum.  
    Now, suppose I let the building go to hell, and the value plummets to $24,000; my taxes also go down to $618.  If the value of the building increases to, say, $199,000, my taxes also go up to $4,944.  What about this tax structure is encouraging me to improve my property?  Wouldn't it be more rational to let the whole thing rot as vacant land, so that my yearly tax costs go down to $24.72?  
    On the other hand, suppose I tax the land at 100% value and the building at 1.49% value.  In the first scenario, my taxes are the same: $1,000 for the Land and $1,472 for the building, for a total of $2,472.  Now, if values go to hell, my taxes are still at $1, 357.60; if my value goes up, my taxes only go up to $3,965.10.  There is less incentive here to let my property rot, and more incentive to keep it improved. 
    It's counterintuitive, I know, but the math works. 
    Combined with homestead exemptions, senior citizen exemptions, and other abatements, the old tax strategy would assist in revitalizing old neighborhoods, and discouraging slumlords. 
    But that's just me Bobby; you can go demolish buildings and pick up trash if that makes you feel better. 

    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    Special Elections

    On Tuesday, City Council District is going to hold a special election for Gene Ricciardi's old seat. Personally, I feel that a "special election" is the kind of election that rides on the short bus and wears a helmet.

    Coincidentally, you get the same types of people in both, all of whom you can see here in beautiful semimonochromatic colour.

    Personally, as this is not my district, I'm not particularly... erm... particular about these candidates, so I'm not unleashing the full force, fury, might, and majesty of this blog, which, at this point, resembles a snarling chihuahua. Otherwise, Mike Waligorkski would have found himself at the business end of a sharply pointed witticism.

    Anyway, the facts are these:

    (1) Special elections are dumb; dumber than a box of dumb. People, generally, don't go out of their way to vote in these elections, and there's no really good reason why they couldn't be put off two more months until the May primary. 'Twould save us a whole heck of a lot of duplication of effort.

    (2) Look at the map from the 2005 Primary. Here's a copy if you don't have one.
    Free Image Hosting at

    Those of you that remember back 10 months ago, will no doubt, also remember that 58,843 voted in this election... which was, at best, a perfunctory performance for the electorate.

    Now, take a look at the District 3 area. As you can see, the only place that had "better than average (well... median, anyway)" turnout was in the South Side Flats. Oakland, the Southside Slopes, Knoxville, Arlington, Oakland, all had less than 144.817 voters per ward. So we're at roughly (very roughly) 6,300 voters in this district who will probably come out.

    Now, assume that not all of them are going to show up, maybe 1/2, maybe 3/4?

    Now, divide equally across 8 candidates, and you have somewhere between 393 and 787.5 votes/candidate, assuming an equal distribution.

    Now votes are not normally distributed, with more probably going to the Democrat, well, just because.

    Of course, Bruce Kraus got the endorsement from the PG.. or was that Bruce Krane? Or is Bruce Krane Batman?

    I can't remember... anyway, my point is this:

    This special election will be decided by a pretty close margin by nominally a handful of votes, in my estimation, and is largely dependent on which block of voters turns out and which block remembers to turn out.

    And after that, we can vote for homecoming king and queen, like OHMYGAWD!

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    Coincidence or fate?

    I thought that this front page report from the Post-Gazette was interesting, considering yesterday's post.

    In an event that was equal parts news conference, interagency meeting and very early campaign event, Mr. O'Connor led a gaggle of officials, police and news media representatives down Penn Avenue in Garfield, highlighting problems, giving orders, taking suggestions.

    Told North Evaline Street was a drug market, he turned to city police Cmdr. Linda Rosato-Barone: "You going to get 'em tomorrow?" he asked, referring to the dealers, who weren't in evidence.

    "We're going to get 'em tomorrow," the commander promised.

    He huddled with Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., soliciting promises of manpower, wiretaps and grand jury investigations.

    "I'm following the mayor's lead," Mr. Zappala said, adding that he was already deputizing city police so they can pursue investigations countywide.

    Mr. O'Connor took suggestions from Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp.

    "For [police cars] to stop, and [the officer] walk makes a huge difference," she said.

    The mayor issued the order: Cops will park and walk.

    He came in part to show off the closure of the Horoscope Lounge, a trouble-plagued Penn Avenue bar padlocked on Friday thanks to pressure from community groups, the district attorney and the city.
    Consider what O'Connor is presenting here as compared to his predecessor: a mayor focusing on the so-called "broken windows" syndrome instead of mass development projects.

    Now consider what we posted yesterday... more specifically page 27, in which the CED proposes a graduated solution to the problems of blight.

    Is O'Connor tapping the wisdom of CED? Or is he just lucky? Or is he reading this blog?

    Probably not the latter.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Them Eggheads at CMU...

    Saw this over at CMU's Center for Economic Development, and felt it was worth a post here.

    Basically, the CED is arguing that the City of Pittsburgh has become enveloped in a self reinforcing spiral of decay, triggered by the subsidization of highways and infrastructure of the suburbs. The result of the facilitated flight was an increasing burden on residents that remained, which thereby caused more residents to flee. The ultimate result is huge swaths of blight and decay.

    As a side note, I've only half-heartedly believed this theory. I've never been a big proponent of technological determinism, feeling instead that humans have choices in the matter. Moreover, while highways may have facilitated the expansion to the suburbs, they are not the only cause. The baby and post-war booms spurred a demand for housing, which was only available in the suburbs. Redlining made it impossible to bring a lot of this investment into the cities. Racial tensions were an additional contributing factor as well. End of side note.

    The solution? Well, according to the CED, it seems to be controlling the blight by stopping it before it starts. Instead of massive public works projects, they argue, it is simpler to start with LIHEAP and Credit Counseling programs in order to avoid foreclosures, and slowly escalate and target programs as necessary. The last resort is to use eminent domain to redevelop large segements of neighborhoods.

    Interesting premise and conclusion. Anyway, take a look; it has pictures.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Doubling Down with PHLF

    Got an email in my inbox late, late last night from Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, excerpted here, emphasis is mine:

    We want to alert you to the opportunity to provide testimony to the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission here in Pittsburgh on April 18th and 19th.  Unfortunately there is an imminent deadline of March 6th at which time you need to register your interest in appearing at the hearings at the Omni William Penn Hotel.   The registration form must be received by mail in Harrisburg by this Monday.

    While you may not have a position on the casino proposals at this time, in order to express your feeling in April you will have to complete this registration form now.

    We have pointed out the benefits of the Forest City/Harrahs proposal for Station Square to those interested in neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, and increasing jobs and taxes for Pittsburgh residents.

    This proposal will endow Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation with $25 million and the funds will augment our financial assistance programs, particularly in grants, for those involved in neighborhood preservation and in efforts to save and adapt various historic structures to new uses and to preserve our citys parks and landscapes.  We will also augment our educational program now reaching 12,000 people in our schools.

    In addition, Forest City-Harrahs will establish a new fund of not less than $1 million a year, to be chaired by Franco Harris, to make grants to non-profit organizations working to improve and support neighborhoods, arts and culture, health and welfare and economic development.

    Of the various contenders, Harrahs will invest the largest sum in the casino- entertainment center including a major theater, a total of $512 million, generating initially jobs for 2,000 employees and rising to 3,000 with spin-off reaching 10,300.  Job training will be handled by the Bidwell Training Center.

    Forest City will also build 1,250 condominium units on the east side of the Smithfield Street Bridge to help revitalize a new section of the South Side and bring thousands of new tax-paying residents to the City of Pittsburgh.

    Revenue from the development, which will be used to reduce property taxes, will be significantly higher from this proposal.  They have an independent study that shows they can raise over $100 million more per year in tax revenue that will be used for property tax reductions.  No public subsidies will be involved in the project nor will there be any continuing public maintenance obligations.

    The new sources of grant making that accompany this proposal are definite upon issue of a gaming license.  They are not contingent upon gross or net sales and the money due Landmarks is guaranteed by legal agreement.

    We recommend that you register to testify to the Pennsylvania Gaming Board at the Omni William Penn.  Your registration must be received by March 6th and forms are available on the site listed below.

    Determine which project you feel benefits the community to the highest degree including direct benefits through grants and low interest loans to local non-profit organizations, job creation, gross taxes, and chances of successful fulfillment of plans.  Then support your conclusion with testimony.

    Very interesting.  More interesting when you keep in mind the following:
    (1) Harrah's plans involve the development of Station Square, the conerstone of PHLF's preservation activities;
    (2) PHLF is heavily influenced by Mr. Mellon-Scaife;
    (3) The normally outspoken Allegheny Institute (another Mellon-Scaife shell corp), has been, at best, ambivalent on the proposed casinos, choosing instead to focus on the process of selecting the winning licensee and their assumptions rather than the actual proposed development.
    Although I hate to admit something like this, AI is correct on one thing: the bidding war for these licenses has publicly focused more on community give backs and "circuses" than the real viability of the casino plans.
    Wasn't this a Simpsons episode? 

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006


    My best thoughts always come to me in the shower. I read somewhere that in the "morning person" cycle, this is actually where brain activity is the highest and is the best time for creativity.

    I don't know why my brain seems to think that I'm a morning person. I'm barely intelligible before my 3rd pot of coffee. Obviously the study is flawed; although the ideas I generate while I brush my teeth are fantastic.

    So, because it is foolish to take the computer into the shower with me, ideas fester in my brain for a few hours on the way to and during work, get re-thought, re-written; jokes are thown in, rejected, re-inserted, thrown out again, and eventually re-re-inserted. Eventually by mid-day I have a pretty good idea in my head for what I want to write about.

    And then...

    And then, I have my afternoon stress aneurysm and forget everything. I throw a phone at a client, shred their paperwork, and threaten to eat their puppy alive unless they stop being stupid. By the end of the stressful commute home and the subsequent decompresssion, that beautiful, elegant, and, above all, funny post has evaporated into air... into thin air.

    And here I am. With everything and nothing to say.

    What a let down... and after a two day hiatus.