Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We Lost the Battle, We'll Win the War

Yesterday, we had a very interesting City Planning Commission Hearing, at the end of which the Commission voted to approve the Pittsburgh Penguins' plan for the new arena in the front yard of our Historic Hill District neighborhood.

Just before the hearing began, at about 1:30pm, Mayor Ravenstahl, Councilwoman Tonya Payne, One Hill CBA Chair Carl Redwood and One Hill Lead negotiator Evan Frazier had press conference talking about how negotiations were going. It was hilarious, for so many reasons (hint: watch Tonya Payne). See for yourself.

Many persons came out to support our cause, all across the City of Pittsburgh and we appreciate that. The overwhelming majority of persons who came out wore red or put on red ribbons to signify Hill unity (full and shared representation), the right for us to speak out and be heard and the message that "We Won't Repeat the Defeat!"

We stood outside in the hallway and then a policeman came out and announced that the hearing on the Hill would begin shortly and that only the persons who signed up to speak at the last hearing would be able to speak this time because this was a continuance, not a hearing---and that the list contained only seven people. Lots of grumbling, I challenged that and the policeman told me to speak to the Chairwoman inside, which is where I immediately went when I got in the room. Unfortunately, a number of our supporters left before ever entering into the room to challenge that miscarriage of justice.

I told Chairwoman Wrenna Watson that many of us had not signed up and that I had not received my full time as the head of an organization last time. She insisted that I did receive my full time and I was not buzzed at 3 minutes. The timer lady (what would she be called, btw?) said that I was not buzzed at 3 minutes, either. Of course, I checked when I got home and I was buzzed at 3 minutes and 28 seconds. I'm going to follow up on that because . . . "Nobody puts Baby in a corner!"

More importantly (and seriously), our hero of the day was Momar Milliones, a member of the Hill Faith and Justice Alliance (the coalition of which I am a part) and one of the original persons who stood up on that bitterly cold day in January to make sure the Pens did not steamroll our entire community (including our elected officials). Momar patiently waited for his turn (as he was one of the original seven supposedly permitted to speak), immediately asked for his time not to begin and made a calm, rational but determined plea for the public, the PEOPLE to be able to speak.

The most profound moment of his speech is when he said there are rare opportunities for the average citizen to participate in a process such as this, the process was flawed from the initial sign up and that the Commissioners should do the right thing and allow the citizens to be heard.

The Commissioners voted and all Pittsburgh citizens were permitted to speak, including Sal Williams, who spoke in support of the Pens (and the 50 surface parking lots, vacant lots and abandoned buildings he owns, mostly on Fifth Avenue). Interestingly, I've learned that former Councilman, Sala Udin, tried to prevent the continued development of surface lots in Uptown and the Hill as early as the year 2000. Very interesting.

"Yo, Sal, how come you ain't got no brothers up on the wall?"

No, I never got my minutes back but I did sit there and patiently listen to everyone's comments and took pictures of all of them.

The City Planning Commission was disappointing not necessarily because they voted "yes" but because they seemed to violate or otherwise go against their own criteria---even outside of the CBA. Some of them had not seen the updated plans for the parking garage. Some of them did not understand the logistics of what they might be passing. Others felt burdened by all of the supposed amendments that would have to happen in the future---but passed the plan anyway despite their own criteria for approval (why, Commissioner Mistick?) Here is a classic example :

Commission member Barbara K. Mistick said she wasn't satisfied with the amount of parking that will be available.

The Penguins plan to build a 500-space garage that could be expanded later to 780 spaces, but the 2,400 spaces available at the 16,900-seat Mellon Arena eventually will disappear once the land is developed, she said.

"Do the math. Now you've got 18,000 seats and you're giving up 2,400 parking spaces," Mistick said.

Despite her misgivings, Mistick voted in favor of the plan along with E. Paul Dick, Monte Rabner, Todd E. Reidbord and Mary Lou Simon. Voting against were Chairwoman Wrenna L. Watson, Barbara Ernsberger and Lynne Garfinkel.

And still others, like Todd Reidbord, for example, left the hearing right in the middle of testimonies to go watch the Pittsburgh Panthers play basketball, skipped tons of important information that could have changed his vote and then return to pass the Pens' arena plan.

We also discovered that the City Planning Commission can sort of guess what the social impact of a particular development might be---even something as large as this---without a social impact study.

So, with all that said and done, we lost the battle but we will win this war.

Do not fear, friends. Nobody was really surprised by yesterday's vote.

In the meantime, an excellent review of Mindy Fullilove's "Root Shock" appears here at Null Space. This will be good for all of the people that don't understand the root causes of friction, division, crime, struggling infrastructure of organizations and problems with development in urban, African American communities like the Historic Hill District.

Get your read on.


Bram Reichbaum said...

You explained to me very convincingly that the administration's Noor Ismail promised you a couple more minutes at the continuance and justified it. Jennifer @ Pgh United confirms this.

Raise Your Hand! No Games said...


She did. I actually spoke to Noor first. She told me she needed to ask the Chair, leaned over and spoke with her and immediately shook her head and said, "she won't allow it".

So, I stood there and waited to speak directly to Wrenna Watson. Then Wrenna said "no", and that she "noted [my] objection" and the timer lady came over and insisted that I had my five minutes. We went back and forth a bit and then I gave up because it wasn't just about me, it was about the whole breakdown of the system and I knew it would be handled again but I gave up my right to speak right then and there.