Thursday, February 28, 2008

Signs Point to "Yes"

I've been rather busy the last few days trying to shovel out my driveway every 20 minutes, so you'll have to forgive me for being a bit behind schedule on my comments to the whole Bus Station Sign/Zoning Fiasco. I shall try to rectify this.

The real issue here is not whether the sign conforms with zoning requirements (it probably doesn't) or if Pat Ford has the Authority to make that call (he doesn't) or if the Zoning Board of Adjustments should be reviewing this matter (it probably should). No, the real issue, as brought up by Messrs. Otis and Guy-Who-Won't-Shut-Up during the 6 hour gang rape of Pat Ford, is the chain of command and organizational structure of the future Planning & Economic Development branch of the City of Pittsburgh.

Indeed, when Mr. Ford says that he hasn't submitted a URA budget for 2008 because he hasn't finished moulding the organization to suit his desires, I would think that the residents of the City would let out a collective, frightened "Eeep!"

Maybe that's me.

The URA, we will admit, is a strange organization which, probably unbeknownst to most of my readers, has evolved over the last 60 years and now incorporates a bunch of functions that were not part of its original set-up. In other Cities, things like emergency housing repairs or business attraction are more often found in the Mayor's Office instead of an outside Authority.

Now, I will admit that the City process for economic development is a bit, shall we say, Byzantine, so I can understand the need to streamline some of the core processes so that both residents and businesses are not needlessly burdened.

There are benefits, however, to checks and balances in any system, which is why I would be very concerned about any attempt to consolidate Planning functions with Economic Development functions. While there are probably needs for the URA to undertake a more strategic look at its investments, this does not mean that it should be allowed to have carte blanche, as it were, with City Planning.

Ultimately, it will be Council that gets to decide whether City Planning gets assumed by the URA or vice versa or not at all. Right now, there doesn't seem to be the votes for that kind of bold move. In fact, the only thing that I can think of that might cause Council to make that kind of decision would be as a short sighted remedy to a budget hole, transferring the cost of the Department of City Planning off the books to the URA's budget.

In a larger sense, however, while Pat may have at one point been both Zoning Administrator and Director of City Planning (and therefore probably has good advice to give on both matters), he is neither now. He has no more authority (har!) to make City Planning decision than David Onorato has authority (double har!) to make Public Works decisions.

With that said, I thoroughly expect the functions of Public Works to come under the auspices of the Parking Authority, the functions of City Finance to come under the Housing Authority, and the functions of City Parks to come under PWSA.

Or something like that... God help us all.


Anonymous said...


No bid contract to lease the not-a-sign by the parking authority which did not vote on this. Why? because Pat Ford says the sign is "free."

Chair of the Parking Authority Board: Pat Ford

Planning Department gives administrative approval of the not-a sign, violating the city's zoning code which requires a Conditional Use Exception process (requires approval of Planning Commission and City Council). Planning Dept "advised that this is 'okle dokle'" (see Myron Cope) by:

Zoning "Expert" and Supreme Adminsitrator & note taker Pat Ford

Oversisight of Planning Dept. given by Luke Ravenstahal to:

URA Executive Director Pat Ford

Lamar enjoys a "special" relationship with mayor. 10's of thousands in cash contributions to Luke as well as in-kind donations with billboards with Lukes face plastered all over it. Lamar Lobbyist Jim Valasich is buds with Ford and Mayor Luke.

Housing Authority spending questioned by former employee.

Chair of the Board at Housing Authority: Pat Ford

Wylie Properties, owned by convicted federal felon Edelstein, gets Pat Ford to "tell" former Building Inspection Chief Ron Graziano to break building code requirements for Edelstein. Pat Ford calls Edelstein his best friend.

SEE PG "The file indicates that in late March or early April of 2006, Wylie executive Joseph Edelstein met with Mr. Ford and Ron Graziano, the chief of the Bureau of Building Inspection until he was dismissed by Mr. Ravenstahl earlier this month. Mr. Edelstein has become a controversial developer because of his receipt of URA facade renovation subsidies despite a 1998 guilty plea for health insurance fraud.

"Is Joe a friend? Absolutely," Mr. Ford said. "He's one of my best friends. Do I treat him any differently? Absolutely not." He said he did not know the details of the fraud plea.

On April 2, 2006, Mr. Ford e-mailed Mr. Graziano asking that he consider the structure as two buildings, eliminating the need for sprinklers. "Regarding the city's liability," Mr. Ford wrote, "the city can require that adequate fire protection be maintained between the [two] buildings."

Chief Graziano was fired.

Now we know who is running the city: Pat Ford.

O said...

Now we know who is running the city: Pat Ford.

So... is that an upgrade or a downgrade?