Thursday, January 3, 2008

City, County and Pens Propose No C, No B, and No A for Historic Hill District

So, here's the PG article. And here's the Trib. Update: Here's the latest from the PG. I will go through every statement here to show the problems with this proposal.

Officials unveil plans for Hill District
Thursday, January 03, 2008
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl offered representatives of Hill District groups a seven-part community benefits agreement today that included new services, plans and facilities, but not a direct transfer of dollars from a new arena to neighborhood development efforts.

Once again, any discussion of shared revenue, shared prosperity, reinvestment and funding to indigenous Hill District organizations is described as "a direct transfer of dollars", one step above "cash payments".

Reaction from Hill groups was mixed, with the One Hill CBA Coalition issuing a statement that it was "pleased" that neighborhood concerns including a grocery store and job training center would be met, but adding that "vital planks have been expressly ignored."

Many of the vital planks are ignored and it's very disrespectful to the community. And there is no mention of a "job training center" in this proposal. CareerLinks referrals do not a "job training center" make.

The package is a result of "many meetings and discussions" and represents "significant benefit to the community," according to the cover letter accompanying the proposal.

I'm sorry but I have to disagree that there is any level of significance here. I see very little that is concrete in this process, very little guarantee of anything substantive for the community and much of it is also not what the community believes to be what it needs for self-determination. Newsflash: we do know what we need but have so often had little resources to do the types of things that would be holistically impactful. True, there have been "many meetings and discussions". And I think that's why this proposal is so sad---because it looks like the first step of something real and it's considered the last.

The package includes a master plan for Hill development, funded by the city and county.

This is necessary for all parties involved, anyway. In addition, the Pens are not adding one dime to the Masterplan for the rest of the Hill. The city, county and the Pens would be absolute fools not to do a Masterplan for the best location in the city, especially with Downtown's burgeoning development. Yes, this was a demand of ours but let's just keep perspective. We also specifically asked that the Pens pay for the Masterplan. And why not?

Officials will go to the neighborhood to detail social services and recreational and training opportunities available to residents, and to identify any gaps in the available services.

So, they want to give us a presentation to tell us what we already have in our community. And, they want to take two years to make an assessment of it all. First, there is already a list of the services in our community and, second, we can tell you how well they're all going because they're not all going well---hence, the need for proper reinvestment and a Community Benefits Agreement. I think the fullness of the insult has set in now.

The city and county will set up and operate a "resource center" to connect people to services and jobs, including those related to the arena project.

Ah, the "Hill District Resource Center". It sounds big!, exciting!, effective!, yes? The proposal states that this Center will be "in a central, easily accessible and visible location". Oh, yes!

What Rich Lord did not mention (and pardon me for laughing but you have to read the proposal to really believe it) is that there is to be ONE (1) staff person to refer the entire Hill District community to "appropriate existing human services, employment training, assessment and preparation programs, job opportunities and economic development funding programs. This center will be maintained for two years and then its effectiveness will be reassessed and reviewed".

Well, I can tell you now that this will not be effective in any real or substantial manner. Way too much work for one person in a very needy community, way too much stress, way too many phone calls, way too much paper work. This person will eventually break down and become ineffective. Then, when they ask for more help and resources to make the program (a Hill District organization) more effective, they will be told they're asking for "handouts" and "cash payments' and that the city and county will conduct a two year assessment to look at its effectiveness and gaps in the process.

In other words---this is insane.

Both governments and the Penguins would "support the establishment of a viable grocery store in the Hill District and . . . use good faith efforts to cause that to occur," in the words of the proposal.

Right. The "in good faith" effort is quite similar to the "concept" of a grocery store, which ultimately means "much later". And, folks, it's not that the community will not eventually get a grocery store. It's just that when it comes, it will be to make sure that it serves the people who live on the new developments on the 28-acre site and then Hill residents will be considered as part of a total population to make it extraordinarily profitable. In the meantime, we can continue to subsidize other communities and big business that don't give anything back.

Similarly, they pledge their support for a new YMCA in the 2100 block of Centre Avenue, and offer to help win state money toward its development.

Yes, that's right. The YMCA that is not even a member of One Hill, the one organization that is nationwide, already in the middle of a capital campaign and, you guessed it---not what the community asked for. The community asked for a recreation center that would be for the elderly and youth---like the Kingsley Center in East Liberty. Maybe, just maybe, the YMCA could come close to that but it still means that the community cannot control the kinds of programs, services and recreation, not necessarily shaped or defined by an overarching, national organization with its own agenda and priorities.

And, again, we must note the Mayor's revelation that he will be asking for a "handout" (he calls it funding) from the state.

There is no reference to direct funding for development groups in the Hill District or sharing of arena revenues, which some neighborhood leaders have sought. It isn't clear whether the mayor and executive believe they need community leaders to sign off on the proposal to make it official.

Laughable. I don't know if this is Lord's assessment or the officials' but in order to have a deal all parties must sign off. Any indication otherwise is just more paternalism, more racism, more of the same.

Just so everyone is clear, the Hill District community has explored what we need and want for at *least* the last two years---all of 2006 and all of 2007. The planks from the One Hill CBA Coalition from 2007 and the other group of clergy, residents and organizations is based on the terms from 2006 (outlined in the ten point key reinvestment plan of the Hill District Gaming Task Force). The cost of implementing or maintaining those programs and organizations is what makes up the community fund. As Mr. Eugene Taylor, a Hill community member, says in his statement to the City Planning Commission, "we are not asking for a handout. We just want our fair share".

One Hill's statement said that the city, county and Penguins have "drawn a line in the sand calling the [development] fund a 'hand out' and misrepresenting the concept of community control. One Hill is willing to negotiate on this plank, but it is a crucial part of the blueprint. . . .

Well, there is no doubt that any continued references to "handouts" and "cash payments" is just downright ignorant and a purposeful shaping of racist, classist perceptions designed to harm the Hill District community (further). It's also a subtle warning for anyone else in poor, working-class and/or communities of color who are thinking of CBAs and/or gaining proper reinvestment from development projects with public subsidy.

"Without some agreement on a Community Improvement Fund with some form of Hill District community control, there will be no agreement," One Hill's statement says.

Good for One Hill because the folks in my coalition didn't plan on settling, either. The motto is supposed to be "no one settles until we all settle", so it's good to see One Hill following its stated platform without capitulating to the weaker elements among the group that probably think this proposal is an honor instead of an insult.

The letter is addressed to Hill House Association Executive Director Evan Frazier, who was not immediately available, and Monumental Baptist Church Rev. Thomas Smith, who had not seen it yet.

Yes. And that is for "joint sign-off" folks, for the One Hill CBA Coalition and the Hill clergy, residents and organizations of which I am a part (including State Rep. Jake Wheatley). I support One Hill too, it's just that the political corruption and capitulation to the ridiculousness of Tonya Payne and her people drove us out of the process and the organization. C'est La Vie. We still live here and we are the ones who launched this cause on January 28, 2007 when we stopped the city, county and Pens from steamrolling us, so we weren't going anywhere and weren't going to stop fighting for what's right, anyway.

Maybe now we can all be on the same page. Because the fact that it was shared with the media even before the actual community representatives is just more of what I will call mayoral games. I don't know how much Onorato's office was in on that one.

In any event, stay tuned and also show up at City Planning on January 14, 2008, 200 Ross Street, 2:00pm to stand up and speak the truth about power (cuz speaking to them doesn't work the way one might desire).

Next up: my special focus on what the Pens have to offer.

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