Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rigging the Lottery

I'm not big on lots of quotes in my posts, but I couldn't pass up all the juicy whining tidbits I've included below.

The only justification when the drink tax was instituted was to give the County a way to pay for their share of transit system expenses. Period.

Roads may be "transit-related" but they are not "transit systems." The drink tax was not instituted to pay for road repairs.
County Solicitor Mike Wojcik argued that if the Legislature meant the Port Authority specifically, it would have said so, and bridges and roads can be defined as transit-related.
Laws in this state stay on the books for decades longer than they should (Johnstown Flood Tax for example) and if Harrisburg could envision a time when this Pennsylvania county might have more than one "transit system", or god-forbid change the name of their "transit system", then god bless them.

The drink tax was not instituted to add money to the county's fund balance, unlike what Amy Griser wishes.

County budget director Amy Griser testified that a $21 million hole in the budget would wipe out the county's fund balance and make it more difficult and costly for it to borrow money.

The drink tax was not instituted so that the county would never again have to raise property taxes, unlike what Rich Fitzgerald is dreaming of.
Council President Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat, said that if Mr. McCullough and his allies win the suit, it would amount to a "straitjacket" on county spending and force a property tax hike to fund crucial infrastructure improvements.
Poor planning is no excuse to break the law and take advantage of taxpayers. Please, Judge Judy, don't let the whiners in the county rig the lottery. I want smart cards.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Eat Those Words

Once again the controversial drink tax is in court.

As I've mentioned in my previous rantings, Onorato and his team have repeatedly said that we should be proud to join the ranks of other cities with a dedicated tax to support public transit.

Clearly, when County Council regretfully passed this tax, they were under the impression that the drink tax was intended to support public transit (and its only incarnation in the county - Port Authority.) Similarly, when I complained about the unfairness of the drink tax, Erica Cohen personally responded to me on behalf of Onorato to say:
While the drink tax and rental car fee were not
the County Executive's preferred options, they were the only options
provided by state lawmakers as a dedicated funding source for mass
transit. With the approval of the 2008 County budget, we have joined
other metropolitan areas in creating a dedicated funding source for mass
transit that does not include property taxes.
Now, Dan wants to use it to repair roads and bridges. Unfortunately, I do believe that there is probably a loop-hole in there for him in the wording of the state law. I also believe that Dan the Tax Man was well aware that the drink tax would bring in excess monies and was hoping for this budget boon. Thankfully, Mr Onorato does not get to be the final judge in this case. Judge Judith F. Olson will determine it for us.

While, the County Council is lowering the drink tax this year, I can only hope someone on County Council has the brains to learn from their mistakes and detail explicitly in triplicate exactly how the money is to be spent and exactly how the money is to be distributed.

Are We Going Somewhere?

Councilman Peduto - the only person on council that appears to be putting forth bold ideas and attempting to sidestep council politics - has put forth yet another bold and interesting idea in council today.

Peduto's idea is partially converting a freight line that runs through Hazelwood/Oakland/Lawrenceville into a commuter line. More public transportation is good. Building on existing infrastructure to work on a project that costs potentially less than $100 million instead of a project costing in the billions is a very smart use of our resources.

However, who is going to take this train? Carnegie Mellon folks who want to reach their robotics center from the central campus? The people who want a relief from parking in Oakland and are willing to park their car at either end of the line in a cheaper less crowded garage? Would this connect to the new Children's Hospital and give parents and UPMC workers more access to this grandiose new Lawrenceville destination? And where does this plan fit in the grand over-arching scheme of Pittsburgh public transportation dreams? Does such a dream plan even exist? There are a ridiculous number of freight lines throughout the city. How many of them could potentially be converted to commuter rail?

And most importantly, are these connections valuable enough to CMU or UPMC or someone else to drive some public-private partnership money?

At an upfront cost $9,000 it's worth finding out the answers.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mincing Words

The headline of the day:

Pittsburgh to use 45.3 Million Surplus for Debt

This article was found on not 1, not 2, not 3, but at least 4 sources.

Was this a public relations stunt promoted by the ICA to encourage Dowd to shut up? Why do so many people care about Pittsburgh's surplus last year? And how can you use a "surplus" for debt? Doesn't being head-over-heels in debt mean that there is no such thing as a "surplus"?

Let me put this in Joe Six-Pack terms.
When you get a Christmas-bonus, which do you do:
a) buy a flat-screen TV?
b) use it as a down-payment for your $400,000 McMansion summer home?
c) put it toward your high-interest credit card debt?

If you're Joe, you choose option a) or b) and you plunge our economy into a recession. If you're smart, you choose option c), and live to borrow another day.

Let's hear it for the news media advertising that Pittsburgh is choosing option c).

Though as I hear it, are we?

The Merger

Am I beating a dead horse by talking about the PNC / National City merger?

The merger has been approved. Theoretically, this seems good for Pittsburgh because a bank based here is getting more and more powerful. However, I'm sure there are a lot of people in the region who will lose jobs because of National City leaving.

What about the current National City skyscraper? Does PNC really need another tower with their name on it in Pittsburgh? Won't they want to get rid of that office space because it brings down their LEED-certified building count? (Plus, isn't it kind of ugly?)

"It doesn't strengthen Cleveland at all," shareholder Melanie Deutsch told The Associated Press, calling yesterday "a sad day for Cleveland."

Nobody is quoted in the Trib article as saying that it's a good day for Pittsburgh. Is that just good old-fashioned Pittsburgh self-deprecation?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

F****ing Equitable - or why my gas bill is going up 7% this winter.

The price of natural gas has plummeted. I've been over-paying through the nose for my natural gas rate which has not plummeted on my gas bill. Where is this extra money going?

Dominion has dropped their gas rates significantly.

Equitable is trying to raise their extraneous rates.
Do they want people to freeze to death this winter?? Don't they know dead people don't pay bills??

Now I know why my neighbor opted to heat his house by wood burning stoves... in the city.

Ahh... state-approved and managed pseudo-monopolies. Gotta love them.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Are you disappointed with the mayor's wish list for the city?

I understand your disappointment. There are no public transit initiatives on the list. And there are very few green initiatives. There ARE some crucial water and sewer improvements on the list.

In terms of public transit, it's important to keep some things in mind though.
Controversial as it is, we ARE currently working on the North Shore connector. There is a LOT of federal money contributing to that project. We are also working on Point State Park - which will be a major boon to the city when it's finished. I'm psyched about all the connecting parks that are in progress.

My question is why isn't Maglev to the airport on the list?? That is totally shovel-ready. A lot of money and time have been spent on this project already. I understand it's another controversial project, but it would clearly be a positive addition to the area (I refuse to comment on whether it's worth the money.)

In terms of becoming a city with nationally respectable public transportation, though, we need to connect Oakland and Downtown with something other than buses and cars. Light rail seems like the best option, but I don't know for sure. I'd be happy with a monorail if necessary. Unfortunately though as far as I know there are NO solid plans for this connection.

Also, there is a TON of resistance to the Oakland-Downtown line for some reason. I don't know why... It's disappointing to me to realize that that project is NOT shovel-ready.

Friday, December 19, 2008

More Simple Math

I admit I don't know too much about the Mon-Fayette Expressway. Being a city dweller, it doesn't really affect me. However, I know that things like bridges and ports and sewers draining into the rivers do affect everybody. Plus, I can do simple math.

Cost of MFX: $5.2 Billion

Cost of EVERYTHING else the county and city wants: $2.2 Billion

That's an easy choice. (And you know the powers-that-be won't give us enough for both.)

Let's get EVERYTHING and bypass the MFX for now.

P.S. Mr Ravenstahl, can you learn to share? Would it have been very difficult to ask City Council to come up with a list of their top priorities and make sure that those items make it on the list? It's a big list. There's room for everyone to give some input. I'm sure that this process is a political mess around the country. That's to be expected - talk to anyone who's just one the lottery and has their friends and family knocking down the door. But let's try to make it as easy as possible.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Throwing a Dog a Bone

On rejecting Baba Ds application to serve alcohol at their restaurant:
I think it is a safety issue for the residents that live there, for the people that drive on the streets, for the students that are consuming all of this alcohol when alcoholism is a disease," said Councilwoman Darlene Harris. "And for us to allow more alcohol on that street, we're contributing to that."
Ms Harris, I beg to differ. For you to not insist on drunk driving laws being enforced, or public urination laws, then you are contributing to the problem. Rejecting Baba Ds is a bone that you're throwing South Side residents instead of actually attempting to deal with a serious problem.

Pittsburgh has a serious drunk driving situation throughout the city and it's magnified on the South Side. I walk home from drinking at the bars on Carson St (in an orderly fashion without stopping to publicly urinate along the way), so maybe someone else can enlighten me on the following. Where are the drunken checkpoints??? Where are the cops that check to see that every single car that crosses a bridge leaving the South Side (let's pick the Birmingham Bridge and 10th St Bridge) isn't filled with drunken imbeciles thinking they can drive?

If you crack down on drunk driving, there will be less drunken driving. If people are worried about getting caught, they will be much more likely to take a cab, take the bus, or have a designated driver.

While we're at it, let's encourage the bars on the South Side to take more responsibility. Let designated drivers into bars without a cover, give them free soda. Have deals with taxi companies. Force the bars to contribute a sum to Port Authority such that late night bus rides are free for everyone from midnight to 2am.

I don't think there's one person that thinks that Mallorca, La Pommier, or Dish encourages public drunkenness. Yet they all seem to have liquor licenses. Stopping Baba Ds from serving me a glass of wine with dinner isn't going to fix your problems. Addressing the actual issues will at least treat the problems.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Get Wishing!

Dear Mayor,

Please wish for something for the city of Pittsburgh.

Even if it's just LED lights city-wide, make a wish. Add it to the list. Santa's not checking if you were naughty or nice.

Yours truly,

P.S. Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Lancaster, State College, and York have all done it!

My Smokebox

When you pass a joke of a smoking law, you must expect the jokers to take advantage of it. In this case, it's the casino-owners who are claiming that their smoke-free area slots are making less money than their smoking area slots. And lest you think it's for their sake that they want to increase the number of smoking area slots, it's actually to benefit the people of Pennsylvania. They don't want to cost Pennsylvanians money.

According to a spokesman for the Meadow's casino,
"State taxpayers are losing a lot of revenue" by limiting slots for smokers to just 25 percent of floor space.
How thoughtful of them.

Casinos are allowed to expand their smoking area if they could "prove" after 90 days that the smoking area slots made more money. Of course, they didn't have to "prove" that the slots had an equal opportunity for usage. They also didn't have to "prove" that those slots had equal opportunities for winning. Maybe these guys should take side jobs as NFL referees offering "conclusive evidence" for overturning challenges.

My whacked-out theory: Eliminating smoking in public places will actually begin to deter smoking in general. Philip Morris seems to agree:
"Smokers facing these restrictions [no workplace smoking] consume 11%–15% less than average and quit at a rate that is 84% higher than average."

The more you make exceptions to the rule, the more you're encouraging smoking, spreading lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses, and exposing more people to second-hand smoke.
Again, Philip Morris seems to agree:
"Milder workplace restrictions ... have much less impact on quitting rates and very little effect on consumption ."

But maybe I'm just harping on this because of my Aunt that passed away due to a smoking-related illness. It sucks. Moving to Pittsburgh from New England was like stepping back in time to the 70s when smoking was cool. The only friend I had in college that smoked was from Pittsburgh. The high rate of smoking in this city is a major problem that should be addressed.

The city of Pittsburgh should pass a serious smoking ban. Harrisburg should allow Allegheny County (and any other county that wishes) to legally pass a serious smoking ban. And the folks in Harrisburg should be ashamed of their half-assed joke of a law.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Long Term Thinking

Most of us at home have at least debated switching to energy efficient lightbulbs. Now, the city is thinking about it on a grand scale. I applaud it. Personally, I've seen my electricity bill plummet after switching over to energy efficient bulbs. It's an investment that's good for the environment and good for your wallet as a taxpayer and as head-of-household.

Cheers to Councilman Peduto for making the grand gesture to switch all of the city street lights to long lasting LED lights.

For more info check out the full plan.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

neighborhoodwalk 2 - public art

neighborhoodwalk - public art, originally uploaded by cjette.

This is the newest public art in my neighborhood.

This representation of the South Side Slopes was forged out of the same steel as the US Steel building and will thereby last forever. The artist included abstract details such as houses, trees, streets and stairs.

This piece of art was made possible by the Elm Street program.

For more public art, check out other neighborhoodwalk 2 entries.

Now That's Inflation

After 20 years, in the middle of a recession, E&O Partners has decided to raise the rent at the Penn Brewery location by 360%.

Potential reasons?

a) The rent was ridiculously low here.
b) There's some ridiculous feud going on between the owner and brewer.
c) E&O has someone lined up to move in and pay this new price.
d) E&O is stupid.

Real estate hasn't really declined in Pittsburgh versus the rest of the nation, and we're a good place to ride out a recession, but filling a niche market location at a new much-higher rate isn't easy.

End Result?

A cool building will be vacant for at least a year or some, but there's a chance Penn Brewery will eventually move to the South Side and I'll be able to walk there. I recommend the as-yet untouched South Side High School location. A brewery/condo partnership in a former school would be a perfect fit for this well-educated city of drunks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's Missing?

Yesterday, Mayor Ravenstahl issued a directive to post justifications for all contracts issued since the last time he insisted that city departments publicly post contracts.

And tada!

"City staff worked into the evening and by 8 p.m. had posted online 29 justification forms for city contracts" Only 84 to go!

I discovered these bid justifications on the finance department's website, but clicking on a few of the justifications leads to a lot of NAs and no actual information. Hopefully, these are place-holders for information that will actually be filled in.

A brief look at the Parks and Recreation Department's bids reveals that all were less than $10,000 in value and not actually advertised. All 4 posted happened to go to the same biddee who also happened to be the only biddee but coincidences aside at least they always pick the lowest bid. Hmmm....

These forms are really lovely. They are just missing one teensy-weensy insignificant detail if you ask me. THE DOLLAR AMOUNT OF THE ACTUAL BID!!!! Not even a spot for it on the form. Who designed this form??

2 more directives and another 60 days and maybe we'll have some actual transparency. In the meantime, can the Parks Department stop blindly giving away all contracts to J.T. Sauer & Associates, Inc.?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Give Me a Break

There is a bi-partisan effort in Harrisburg to eliminate automatic cost of living adjustments (COLA) for elected officials. In Pittsburgh, the lone Reverend Burgess proposed to cancel raises locally and no other councilman can even bother seconding it for a vote.

Give me a break.

Yes, it's a token.

But I'm not getting a raise this year. Are you? Is your neighbor?

Not even brought to a vote in Pittsburgh City Council.

Thanks for trying, Burgess.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pension Funds

Big News or not?

We all know pension funds suck right now. We are all scared to look at our 401ks. We all are freaking out over whether we're going to have a job tomorrow or next week or next month.

Let's take some perspective. A quick search brings up the following losses nationally.

Iowa state pension - 19% or $4 billion

Wyoming down 25% or $1.5 billion

State of Kansas employees down 27% or $4 billion

Locally in Franklin County, Pennsylvania:

"The pension fund, worth about $66 million at the beginning of the year, was worth about $51.5 million as of Sunday, according to Franklin County treasurer David Secor.

The county's annual required contribution to the employee pension fund will more than double in 2009, from an estimated $1.5 million this year to $3.5 million budgeted for 2009."

In the lovely state of Massachusetts - $14 billion loss

"The Massachusetts state pension fund may shift part of its equity-heavy $39.3 billion portfolio into cash after posting a $14.4 billion loss so far this year. The fund, which will distribute up to $900 million to retirees this year, has been forced to sell its most liquid assets, mainly US bonds, as it makes monthly payments"

Here in Pittsburgh - $124 million loss

"The city pension fund's investments had to earn 10 percent to keep pace with $6.7 million a month in pension payouts. Instead, they lost 25 percent."

We appear to be in line percentage-wise with the rest of the country. How have other cities with a similar pension value fared? Will this hit us even harder than other areas because we were severely under-funded to begin with? Is this a good opportunity to invest as much as we can in the city's pension fund? Is there going to be a nation-wide bailout of pension funds? These questions and more I'm hoping someone else can answer for me or at least discuss.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's About Time

Pending paperwork, the "controversial" drink tax will be lowered from 10 percent to 7 percent for 2009.
The controversial drink tax, which took effect in January, is to be dropped from 10 percent to 7 percent, but that could force the county to raise property taxes as soon as next year, said Councilman William Robinson, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee.
I understand that the economy is sinking nationally and there may be some concern that a tax based on consumption is not reliable in a poor economy. However, one thing I'm willing to bet on is that when people are down in the dumps, they buy more liquor. My gut says that we'll see an increase in liquor spending in 2009. Of course, we may not be going out as much so the County may want to consider an extra tax on store-bought beer and wine in order to capitalize on the recession.

Finally, Mr Robinson, I have to ask you a question. You made an extra unexpected $8 million this year from the drink tax!!! If you were so concerned about the county having enough money next year, why not save some of that money instead of voting to spend it anyway Dan the Tax Man chose?? Also, why shouldn't property taxes increase as expenses increase?? Why the insistence that bar drinkers in this county should pay for any and all cost increases in this county???

EDIT: Make that an extra $12 million and counting...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PAT Officials Are People Too?

I am surprised to learn it as all of you. PAT officials make mistakes, drink coffee, and can actually come to a tentative agreement with transit unions.

Asked how the authority and union leaders were able to accomplish in Washington what they were unable to accomplish in more than a year of negotiations in Pittsburgh, he [Bland] said: "Hard work and lots of coffee."

In good news, there does appear to be a tentative agreement, potential bus stoppage has been averted, and there will be no nasty court battles ensuing after imposed contracts. We will just have to wait to find out the terms of the agreement. Hopefully, they will satisfy the enigmatic Onorato enough to disburse the $28 Million and more that the county owes Port Authority. Who is asking tough questions about this? Is it a professional paid writer? Or is it a blog? Yes, I stooped to that level.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Waiting with Bated Breath

4 days of transit negotiations have now occurred in Washington, DC. Perhaps a recent record for the transit union and PAT officials?

In the spirit of the season, we can countdown to potential strike day.

5 days left.

Maybe that's when our County Chief Executive will step in?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Smart Cards Need More Funding

"But county officials say they can't afford to give the transit agency the extra money for the new fare cards."

It must be true because I read it un-refuted in two sources. Thanks to Channel 4 and the Trib. Can we have some journalistic integrity that at least asks the following questions:

Where is the money from the 10% drink tax is going? The drink tax that was created to pay for Port Authority? The drink tax whose proceeds have still not made it to Port Authority after 10 months of being collected? Interest earned on $28 million at 4% over one year is $1.1 million - exactly how much Port Authority is asking for.

I know I just can't stop beating this dead horse...

I just want to get on a bus and wave a card and ride in peace - no fumbling, no questions about how much I owe, more speed when I'm driving behind a bus, no more former Pitt students abusing their expired school IDs.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smart Cards Dumb People

And in more news of the maniacal moron who controls the County...

Remember that 10% drink tax that was supposed to be dedicated to the funding of mass transit in the county??

Remember how that drink tax brought in about $8 million more than was needed?

Remember how that maniacal evil-doer Onorato decided he didn't need to spend that extra $8 million on Port Authority?

Remember how he hasn't actually given ANY of that drink tax money to Port Authority yet and will force a shut-down in the next month by continuing to withhold the money?

Imagine smart cards. Imagine that Port Authority has lined up 96.66% of the money needed to implement smart cards in 2010. Imagine walking on the bus and waving a little card and NOT fumbling in your pocket for exact change.

"If the authority can somehow provide the $1.1 million local share over a two-year period, officials said, installation of 1,100 fare boxes could begin on buses and trolleys by August and the system could be operational by January 2010."

Where oh where would they find $1.1 million? Wonder why I voted for Mickey Mouse in the last County Executive vote? Can someone please run against this man in the next election?

Round and Round

"Highmark is among companies encouraging workers to consider alternatives [to public transportation]. Of its 4,000 Downtown employees, about 2,400 use public transit, said company spokesman Aaron Billger."

Some people say that public transportation is non-existent in Pittsburgh.

Some people say that the buses don't run often enough.

Some people say that the drivers get paid too much.

Some people say that...

2,400 out of 4,000 = 60%.

60% of the employees at one company use Port Authority.

Sure, public transportation in this city isn't as convenient as you'd like. Sure, it doesn't run enough at night. Sure, whine whine whine.

But public transportation is NOT convenient.
Even in New York City, the paramount of public transportation in this country, "on average, those commuting by public transportation spend 18 more minutes commuting, each way, than those traveling by car."

So why do people in New York City take public transportation? Because insuring and parking a car in New York City is exorbitant. I've slept in New York's Port Authority terminal because I missed the last bus. "I pity the person who gets stuck in Port Authority over night." I've complained a gazillion times about the travesty of Boston's T shutting down BEFORE the bars close.

The bus system in this city exists not to cater to tourists, not to cater to those who'd prefer not to drive. It caters to those who CAN NOT drive. It caters to those who work downtown and don't want to pay exorbitant parking fees if they can even find a parking space. And it caters to those who don't mind a little inconvenience for saving some moola and not driving drunk or having to sit behind the wheel in a traffic jam. Period. Just like any other city in this country.

Yes, the buses can do a better job, and I hope they will. Yes, everyone have a right to complain and a responsibility to voice their complaints. Yes, I have a right to rant. On my blog.

Most importantly, though, there's a little issue of a contract that is plaguing every union in the country and in particular Port Authority. Pensions and health insurance will drive us all to bankruptcy slowly but surely. What will you do on December 1?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One More Piece of the Puzzle

If you've looked at a Bike PGH map, you often feel like you're putting together a puzzle. We have a potential amazing bike trail around this city, as long as all the pieces fall into place.

There are 3 major pieces that I'm watching right now:
1) Connecting the Point and the Mon - scheduled for late 2010 as part of the point state park work.
2) Connecting the Point and the Strip - construction potentially starts next summer with the new Convention Center park pending more money.
3) Continuing the South Side trail all the way to Homestead/Waterfront - waiting on a deal between Sandcastle park and Dan Onorato. Supposedly they're "near accord". Perhaps since he's ignoring the Port Authority plight, he can focus some more energy on this issue.

Whatever the case, after a few months of trying out the Community Bike program, I'm on the verge of getting my very own bike - my first since my pink and purple middle-school Huffy. Maybe I'll take a hand-me-down from my parents, maybe I'll stop by the FreeRide program at Construction Junction, maybe I'll splurge at one of the specialty bike stores in the city, but I'm doing it. I'm an official convert of riding bikes on the river.

Thanks to the Friends of the Riverfront who seem to be the main organizers for a lot of this incredible trail work. I can't wait to see it fully unfold in the next few years. In the meantime, you'll see me crossing back and forth over the Hot Metal Bridge.

(Photo courtesy of kordite at flickr and the creative commons license.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Au Revoir, PittGirl

We'll always remember your hatred of pigeons and your silly football captions.

I only recently discovered PittGirl in the grand scheme of things, but I definitely enjoyed reading her. Now she's gone.

If a particular vindictive smarmy asshat decided to rat her out, realize that you have succeeded in hurting PittGirl, but you hurt Pittsburgh, too. One word: Karma.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Art and My City

What is your definition of art?

Is it a world premiere musical?
Is it a movie festival?
Is it a street with a view?
Is it a museum opening?
Is it a 92 year old building lit up with flowers?
Is it a giant transformer?

It's all happening in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh, like many cities, is a city that can not be easily defined. The next out-of-towner that comes up to me and lets me know that "Pittsburgh isn't that bad" will be hearing an ear-full. They won't deserve it. They'll mean well. They'll be complementing the city in their own way. But would you walk into someone's home and say: "Gee. This house isn't that bad."? I didn't think so. Pittsburgh is my house, my home, my life. I chose to be here. It's definitely not "that bad." And it pisses me off that people think it is.

And I promise if I ever make it to Cleveland or Youngstown or Buffalo or Topeka, Kansas, and I go to a hip coffee shop or watch a band in a funky venue or admire some striking piece of public art, I won't say: "Gee. Your city actually doesn't suck." Instead, I'll inwardly appreciate it and let my friends at home know: "Wow. Clevetowno is a fun place to visit."

For the record, rural Arkansas is that bad, and Nashville is a fun place to visit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Up Or Down

When I go for a walk in my neighborhood, I decide on a direction - up or down. That's life on the South Side Slopes. My sidewalk is stairs. My street is deadly with a dusting of snow. This dead-end motorist trap intersects with two sets of stairs headed down to the South Side Flats and one trail headed up to Allentown.


Today, I'm taking the trail since others will say more about the flats than I can. On election day, I took the trail and saw two bucks, two turkeys and a squirrel. Who says you have to go as far as the Laurel Highlands to be in the wilderness? I was only accompanied by squawking birds on this cold morning.

At the end of the trail is a potential park. Or maybe the next Grow Pittsburgh location. Now, it's a vacant lot with a great view.

Heading into Allentown proper, I look for signs of life at the future police station.

I may do some last minute shopping at Schwartz Market. "Downtown" Allentown has Chinese take-out, a florist spanning 3 storefronts, a video store complete with DJ booth in the window, Paisano's where the man stacking pizza boxes waves at me, a hardware store, a pharmacy which somehow hasn't been taken over by the Rite-Aid-Walgreens-CVS bonanza, multiple hair salons, and a professional photographer. Yet it somehow feels like all of these places are on the verge of going out of business with their hand-painted signs and aging workers.

If it's Friday or Saturday, I buy some meats and cheese at Michelle's Diner. The old-fashioned diner feel is alive and well at Michelle's with overflowing amounts of Pittsburgh and Coca-Cola paraphernalia and a long bar with shiny ruby-red seats waiting for you to sit. They serve a mean cheeseburger.

After my downtown stroll, I take the "urban" route back home and enjoy a view of my "neighborhood". With the leaves continuing to fall off the trees, this view gets better every day. In truth there are many more stories to tell and pictures to take before you can get a grasp of this one Pittsburgh neighborhood. Who can explain the gleaming white geeses littering the well-manicured lawns? Or the graffiti plaguing the old houses? Theresa's crib is flying a new flag for Thanksgiving. A hawk circles above while church bells ring in the distance. This is my neighborhood.

This post is courtesy of Rust Belt's neighborhoodwalk day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Silver Linings

As of the latest city budget pronouncement, our city pension fund contained $330 million at the mid-year instead of the necessary $890 million. The market has since plummeted. What's the silver lining here? Let's assume a standard 20% level of loss. That's $66 million. If we'd had the necessary amount, we would have lost $178 million instead.

As Warren Buffett has said: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful." The market is fearful right now.

I encourage the city to take Warren Buffet's advice and invest as much as possible in the pension fund right now. The market is most certainly not at its bottom, but it is at a relative bottom. If we can invest now, and the market recovers over the next year, we'll be in a better position than we've been in a decade. It hurts to lose money in the stock market. It hurts more to just continue to keep losing because of poor planning.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Oui Oui!

Delta is going to announce nonstop flights to Paris starting in the Spring from Pittsburgh. Being a regular international traveler, this makes me very happy.

Hopefully, I'll still be able to take the 28X Airport Flyer in the Spring.

Hopefully, other bus routes around town will have sensible names instead of being referred to by their antiquated trolley routes, too! Okay, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Seriously, though, in a city where a high percentage of the bus-riding population rolls over every 4 years, should we really call their most popular bus route, the 54C? Should Port Authority have to put full-page advertisements in the City Paper every week in September just to drill in the 54C to incoming freshman? Can't we just call it the "College Crawler" or "South Side Drunk Bus" or "Happy Hour Hauler" or perhaps the Port Authority can pay some professional creative-types to come up with more accurate names?

Back to Paris, it's only fitting that Paris and Pittsburgh will become partners in crime this Spring. Their ridiculously extensive public transit system almost rivals our own for spaghetti lines. At least theirs is color-coded though. We could take some tips. No, Steve Bland, you do not get to take a "business trip" to Paris.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Bus Stops Here

With the Port Authority's on-going labor negotiations and cost-cutting measures, I wasn't surprised to learn that buses are being reduced on the far-off traffic-congested route to the Century III Mall. Personally, it's a route I avoid because of the traffic.

Unfortunately, the reason the bus connections to the mall are being reduced isn't to save money, it's to reduce "number of people who basically loaf and spend little money." Naturally, malls are privately-owned for-profit companies that care about their bottom line. They can choose who they want on their premises unlike public property. However, this mall also serves as a branch for the Armed Forces Recruiting Center, a Goodwill store, and Phase 4 Learning Center - an alternative high school diploma program for at-risk youth. Maybe some of these loafers are kids who are walking around debating whether to join the army. Or maybe these loafers are looking for jobs. Or maybe these loafers are working on their homework. Whatever the case, these service-oriented organizations probably won't last long at the mall anyways. I'm sure the rent will get raised to make way for the new American Eagle Aerie. Hopefully, their new locations will be more bus-accessible. Shame on Port Authority to bending to the wishes of the mall.

Let it be known: Loafing at the mall is a time-honored tradition practiced by millions of teenagers every Saturday. If loafing was going to be the demise of mall-dom as we know it, it would have happened a long time ago.

In the meantime, if Century III Mall wants to increase the quality of its patrons experience and the likelihood of their patrons spending money, I suggest an entry-fee, more security personnel, and/or incentives to spend money.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08309/925246-100.stm)

Monday, November 3, 2008

la la land

Maglev from the airport to downtown. It would be sweet, wouldn't it? I'd also like a subway from Oakland to Downtown. I'd also like a more regular train to Cleveland, DC, Harrisburg, and New York City. I'd also like a subway from Oakland to Downtown. Oops. I mentioned that one twice. In my dream list of public transportation extensions and improvements, Maglev makes it on the list for me in the year 2108 - unless I can get to DC, New York, or Philadelphia on it. The Post-Gazette and the Trib have gracefully ignored the latest potential grant money for Maglev support. Instead, you'll have to rely on the journalism of WPXI for your Maglev gossip.

The federal government just found $45 Million of overlooked Maglev dedicated money for which they're accepting applications. Of course, it would be stupid to not apply for free money from the government, but let's be honest with ourselves. It's living in la la land to focus our attention, high hopes, and potential billions of dollars on Maglev. Let's finish the North Shore Connector while envisioning a perfectly viable light rail solution to the airport. And at the same time, let's put some serious focus on making the buses better (giving PAT money and assisting in union negotiations would help there) and having a real public transportation system that actually connects Downtown to Oakland. I'm personally a fan of this plan for public transportation in Pittsburgh.

Am I living in la la land, too? Sure, but I do have high hopes for public transportation in Pittsburgh after we get past the current union crisis. I hear Sophie Masloff was heavily involved in ending the last transit strike. Maybe if she doesn't win the presidential election, she can step in again locally. Personally, I'll vote her in for County Executive.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

City told to fix police station it is vacating. Perhaps they should leave it as it is and open it up for an annual Halloween party. What's better to scare kids with than cockroaches and mold? They might also consider doing some work on the place they're moving into up in Allentown.

In other construction news, after a long delay, the Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh is well on its way. Perhaps they will actually meet their latest grand opening date of January 20, 2009. Something tells me that if the drink tax stays at 10% instead of dropping to at most 7%, there will be some more delays. Luckily, they're at least brewing most of the beer on the premises and can side-step the notorious Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Houses appear to be getting worked on or demolished thanks to the neighborhood sweep program. That translates to one less eyesore on my street. If only progress didn't pair with corruption...

And straight from the horse's mouth, the Ravenstahl's have welcomed their baby Cooper.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Here We Go, Obama

According to the New York Times and Congressman John Murtha, Western Pennsylvanians are racists. There seems to be a lot of debate and head-scratching as to how Obama can win the election in this state (and so many others) while people judge him by the color of his skin. I have one word for the pundits: Steelers. The entirety of Western Pennsylvania in addition to being racist and rusty and old is also Steeler Country. It's not full of white-Russian-rooting Penguins fans. It's not even full of good-old-American-pasttime rooting Pirates fans. It's full of fans of Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu and Mike Tomlin. Of course, western Pennsylvanians can look past race and vote for Obama. He's the best candidate and they know it. Just like the Steelers.

Unfortunately, there are lots of smart racists, idiotic ACORNs, and even some Pirates fans out there. You make a fool out of yourself when you stereotype anyone - as McCain recently found out with Joe the Plumber. Hopefully, when Pennsylvania contributes to the election of Obama, we can all go back to rooting for the Steelers like one happy family.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Love in Cambria

"All I ever wanted to do was love Joann Long, she my soul mate, and now I blew it all, I love her so much I think I lose my mind. All I wanted to do was love Joann and have a normal life that will never be, I love Joann." - written by 51 year-old Mr. Philips, who stole $15,000 from his 85 year-old mother before strangling her and ditching her in some gamelands.

Someone never learned to share in kindergarten.

This reminds me of the bathroom graffiti I read this weekend:
"When there is world peace, we will be so happy."

In good news, there was a generous bump for the Pittsburgh Promise this week. Of course, it wouldn't have helped Mr Philips way out in Cambria County. Let this be a reminder you don't have to live in Pittsburgh to be faced with violence, drugs, prison sentences, and bad grammar. Old white guys in the hills do it too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Comcast really does care. They care for the cost of gas and the cost of health insurance. That's why they're raising cable rates in the Pittsburgh area this December just in time for the holidays. That's an extra 4% or so on top of the 4.5% they raised rates in February.

Recently I was made aware (via the Pittsburgh City Paper) that the city of Pittsburgh actually makes 5% of the Comcast yearly revenue in return for allowing them to sell us their cable here. Some city councilors are concerned that if Verizon comes to town (even if they also take that 5% off the top), the city will end up losing money because competition will cause the rates to drop. Boo-hoo, Pittsburgh. Stop letting us get fleeced by this "caring" monopoly. Give us at least one other choice for high speed internet in this city! Ever think that more people might be inclined to hop on the internet if it didn't cost $57.95 per month for this luxury?

Thanks to Twitter, I got this news directly as it was published by WPXI. Maybe that is a dangerous thing?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Too Close For Comfort

Last night at the sketchy bar up the street in Allentown, one man was shot and killed. One man was shot and wounded. Another man dislocated his shoulder from jumping over the bar in the middle of this madness. Thanks to these villains, both UPMC South Side and UPMC Mercy got some extra business last night.

Here's my official plea to UPMC, don't close the UPMC South Side hospital UNTIL the homicide rates drop in this city. We need you more than ever with the homicide rate on schedule to be the highest in a decade. There have been 55 so far this year.

From the homicide rate article, "Of the victims, 50 were black and 47 died in gun violence. The average age was just over 28."

I'm in the right age group, but fortunately, I have minimal exposure to guns in this city. I also prefer the bars on Carson St and I'm white as snow, so I think I'm still pretty safe.

As I've mentioned before, there is a police station scheduled to open in January, on the same block as last night's shootings. I have a suspicion the violence will be less prevalent in that location after the cops move in.

Of course, one sketchy bar shutting down won't solve our problems. Hopefully, the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime (PIRC) will make a big dent though. If it does, it'll be the best $200,000 this city ever spent.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08294/921365-100.stm)

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Ranting on hold while I enjoy podcamp.

Keep an eye out for more interesting and engaging posts going forward. I hear people like pictures.

Happy to see at least one Pittsburgh politician is technologically savvy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

That One

What part of "Dedicated Transit Funding" don't they get?

I couldn't have put it better myself, but that doesn't mean I won't try.

Special quote from the above Allegheny Institute post:
"The section of Act 44 creating the ability to levy the [drink and car rental] taxes is called “Taxation for Public Transportation”"

In August, the sleazy Mr Onorato said this:
"Every transit agency in the United States has a local dedicated tax except us. We're the only ones who use local property taxes and that's why our taxes are high. Almost all use a local sales which I wanted to use but Harrisburg didn't give me that option." (reference)

So the tax act is intended for funding public transportation. Dan, the Taxman, has said that the tax was for the "transit agency". And yet, now, he's nit-picking the legal jargon to say that he can use the money for whatever road project he wants - after setting aside the $27 million for Port Authority and NOT GIVING IT TO THEM.

I want to have my cake and eat it, too.

I'm so glad this cake-eating monster is in power in the County and withholding money from mass transit without actually getting involved in union negotiations and now will waste OUR tax money on fighting a law suit against spending OUR tax money on MASS transit.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Good Night, States

Good Night, States - as good a reason as any to be proud of Pittsburgh.

This post courtesy of Third Thursdays at WYEP.

What a Surprise?

With prices of asphalt and dirt skyrocketing, it's really no surprise that the North Shore Connector mega-project is coming in over budget. With $700 BILLION federal bailout plans and $18 BILLION in earmarks making the news daily, we've become de-sensitized to a paltry sum like $15 million. Of course, even if the budget for the connector comes in at 10% higher than planned or $43.5 million, we have a long ways to go to "keep up with the Jones'" over in Boston. Their Big Dig came in almost $10 BILLION over budget or 250%.

Now, where is the media pressure for the transit union talks? This North Shore Connector won't be going anywhere in 2011 or any time if there's no one to drive the train.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08290/920282-147.stm)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Go Highmark!

In one fell swoop, Highmark has raised the green roof square footage in the city of Pittsburgh from 31,484 to about 53,484 (about 70%). I'm getting my numbers from the green roofs website. They list 5 sites with green roofs in Pittsburgh, including 2 at CMU and the measly 64 sq ft Children's Museum token of a roof.

Clearly, we as a corporate city have more work to do. If Ford can have the largest green roof in the country, and UPMC is building an LEED-certified hospital, where's their green roof? How about PNC with its flagship LEED-certified branches and office towers?

Highmark plans to lower their energy costs by 12% with this roof. Doesn't that sound like a good plan in the face of unstable energy prices and an unhealthy dependence of foreign energy? Somehow, no one seems to mention green roofs in their stump speeches though.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08289/919942-53.stm)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Gas Prices Dropping?

Both Equitable and Dominion have announced natural gas price drops. I personally am in Equitable territory, and I couldn't help but notice that Dominion's new price is significantly lower than Equitable's new price.

What do I think to myself?

Sweet, we live in the age of "Energy Choice". I can't pick my distributor, but I can pick my supplier. I'm going to save 20% on my gas this winter by choosing Dominion as my supplier instead of Equitable.

The reality?

I call up Dominion, and they inform that their pricing for Equitable customers is completely different than for customers they supply gas for. In fact, instead of the $9.63/MCF commodity charge, I would be charged $14/MCF - about the same as I am charged with Equitable. The $14 may or may not include the extra $1.61/MCF gas cost adjustment. I didn't get a clear answer on that one. If it doesn't, it's higher than I'm paying with Equitable.

I sure wish someone would explain to me how this travesty came to occur. If the utility companies are forced to "not make a profit" and need to adjust their prices quarterly to do so, how come Equitable is so much more expensive than Dominion? And how come Dominion can charge me more than they charge the customers they supply? These are the questions I'll be asking myself when my already high gas bill is 22% higher this winter than last winter and also coincidentally 22% higher than it would be if Dominion was my supplier. That's a few hundred dollars that I would have preferred to use for something else.

The latest news for Equitable? They're moving to downtown Pittsburgh. How did they get the money for it? Are they using the 22% profit they're making on me and thousands of other Pittsburgh residents? No, they're getting state and local subsidies for the move. Oh, well. Maybe some day I'll understand how this trickle-down economy works, but this winter, I'll be lowering the thermostat and putting on a sweater.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08275/916393-28.stm)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Let's Keep This Promise

Lately, it's been hard to wade through the overwhelming national news to grasp at the important local news. Today, this gem appeared hiding beneath all the fancy pictures and big text:

"From Pittsburgh Public Schools, CCAC received 258 graduates, compared with 199 the previous year when the Pittsburgh Promise wasn't available."

Simply put, Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) has higher enrollment this year and a good percentage of that is from Pittsburgh Promise kids. Sounds promising. What's an extra bonus here is that the Pittsburgh Promise could easily cover the entire $1500/ semester tuition at CCAC and not put those kids at risk of losing a chance at education because of the current credit crunch.

Some information that would have rounded out the story would be general numbers from Pittsburgh schools. Did the overall number of students enrolling at colleges increase this year? Or did just more students choose CCAC instead of other options? I think it's to be expected that every year, high schools send more students to college. I'm sure there are many factors that have led to increased attendance at CCAC like its appeal of affordability in precarious economic times and its city wide bus advertisements. Also, time will tell if these new students succeed at their new school or fall behind and drop out. However, I do not look at increases like 30% lightly. That's a pretty impressive number for the first year of the Pittsburgh Promise and if even a small percentage of the increase is directly attributed to the Promise, it's a great accomplishment.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08277/917055-298.stm)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

50% Property Tax?

This is the clearest indictment I can find for base-year tax assessments.

The city is trying to sell properties for under $10,000, some in the vicinity of $3,000 that need total rehabilitation, yet the property taxes are upwards of $2,000 per year. Clearly, it would be best for the city, if investors buy and rehabilitate these properties, but within 2 years they would double their purchase price.

We're talking about a potential 50% property tax rate here.


Because these homes are valued using an antiquated system of base-year tax assessment. 10 years ago, they might have been in fine shape and now, they're symptoms of neighborhood rot that the city should be giving away. Yet the county insists this is a perfectly valid means of valuing homes. I want some of that happy-go-lucky pot they're smoking, too.

Thanks again Dan for your excellent executive prowess!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Signs of Reason?

Mr Onorato in recommending lowering the drink tax to 7% has finally caved to partial reason proving he hasn't yet gone completely insane.

"Because of that [over-abundance of revenue], Mr. Onorato, who said he will use this year's excess drink tax revenues for infrastructure development and debt service, plans to trim the levy to 7 percent in his 2009 budget proposal, which he will present to County Council on Oct. 7."

3 Issues Remain:

1) How come Port Authority still hasn't seen ANY of this money and is at risk of going bankrupt?

2) Why does Dan feel that he can spend the extra money on "infrastructure development and debt service"? If the county needs more money, raise and/or re-assess the property tax in this danned county! Why not set aside a special loan fund for helping out beleaguered restaurants and bars? Or how about more money for ailing Port Authority since that's what the drink tax was collected for? Or how about a simple rebate for these bar and restaurant owners? Ever heard of fostering good will, Dan?

3) What impact does the car rental tax have on all this? Every article always ignores the rental car tax revenue. Is it just generating such a negligible income that it should be removed? Is it hurting our tourist economy in any way? Is it hurting our many low-income residents who rely on renting a car to get out of the city because of our abysmal inter-city public transportation options?

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08269/914883-46.stm)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Give it back!

"County Chief Executive Dan Onorato will present his annual budget address on Oct. 7, when he will reveal how he plans to spend the excess drink tax and car rental revenue."

What kind of a moron thinks it's a good idea to tax the county for Port Authority, tax the county WAY too much and then "reveal" how he will spend the excess?

Dan, you have two options:

1) Spend the money on Port Authority. Perhaps in helping to fix this union mess we're in.

2) Give the money back. And while you're at it reduce the tax for next year so there isn't an excess.

How can one man get away with all this bullshit and yet all the pressure is on potential back-handed dealings of our questionable mayor? Dan doesn't even bother to close the door on his wicked wheelings and dealings - he tells the paper.

(reference: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_589591.html)

Hard to Believe My Eyes

For once, the Tribune-Review has honored us with a positive article about Pittsburgh. "City shifts to younger work force, census says" What next, that the unemployment rate is down relative to the nation or that the housing market hasn't tumbled like the rest of the nation? Well, I won't get my hopes up, but it sounds like maybe one of the powers-that-be were inspired by someone like the late Randy Pausch who implored us all to be more like Tigger. How refreshing.

(reference: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/cityregion/s_589592.html)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Green is Good. Dan is Bad.

How sad is it that I read about a new initiative "AlleghenyGreen" and all I can focus on is this last sentence:

"The initiative, which will mostly be funded by government grants and private foundations, will be overseen by a manager to be appointed by Mr. Onorato."

Who are you going to appoint, Dan? Clearly not your brother as he's already in charge of Pittsburgh parking. Maybe you have a cousin? I hear Mr Ford is looking for a job...

In hindsight, the county also may have wanted to check that their catchy name wasn't already used by a romance novel.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08260/912551-100.stm)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Onorato Foolishness

More fuel on the fire for me despising the policy's of Mr Onorato...

The only reason I can think that our dear County Executive is so peachy-keen on not raising property taxes is not because he cares about dear old Grandma in her 90 year-old house but instead because he cares about his dear cronies and more importantly his chances for being elected to a state-wide or even nation-wide position in the future.

Well, thankfully, in addition to the little old me, the County courts have something to say about static property taxes. They're just not fair - and that means they're not constitutional.

In the past few years, real estate prices in the South Side and Lawrenceville have increased. We should pay more of the percentage of the tax pie. If your home is worth more, you pay more. It's that simple. Except in Pennsylvania where they live in lala land where if once upon a time your home was worth peanuts, you can get the best of both worlds - an increased equity line and lower taxes! And please don't whine to me about the old people and how they can't afford the new taxes. As far as I can tell, older folks with limited incomes aren't really paying property taxes right now, and that's not going to change. Also, they have a majority stake in this county, and they'll continue lobbying for themselves. I don't need to do that job and neither do you. The rest of us need to lobby for ourselves and for those areas who are overpaying because they've dropped in value - can anyone say Hill District?

From the bonehead himself, '"The first thing I will do [if the Supreme Court upholds Judge Wettick's decision] is go to Harrisburg and ask them for a new law," he [Onorato] said. "Allegheny County is not going to do a reassessment any time soon."' I think he missed the elementary school class on how our ingenius forefathers set up a system of checks and balances in our government.

Please, can the county STOP paying our tax money to prevent this??? And can someone take this megalomaniacal dunderhead out of office?

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08250/909908-85.stm)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And I Thought the Price of Gas was High

The City of Pittsburgh was unable to finish its goal of paving 50 miles of street this year and is instead settling for 41 miles. The purported reasoning, the cost to pave a mile of road was $237,000 in April, and it has supposedly risen to $338,000 due to the price of oil. This is confirmed by both the Post-Gazette and the Trib, so it must be true.

I have a recommendation. Next time the mayor promises 50 miles of paving, can he lock in the price for 50 miles worth of asphalt?

From Pittsburgh Councilman, Mr Motznik, "The South Hills neighborhoods and the West End neighborhoods have been neglected." As of right now, no streets in my neck of the woods have been re-paved this year... There's no excuse for neglecting entire neighborhoods. The price of asphalt has been climbing all summer, and there should have been a mid-summer re-prioritizing to actually make sure that the worst streets got re-paved in the face of not meeting their annual goals.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08253/910623-100.stm)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What Could Go Wrong?

Hunting and drilling at the international airport? What could go wrong?

What's up next? Shooting deer from planes? Well, I guess we're not Alaska yet.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Transparency, Oh My

In a city reknowned for its backdoor policy meetings and general nepotism, State Sen. Jim Ferlo is a momentary breath of fresh air. He is suggesting that the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) actually post information publicly on its website when awarding new contracts such as who has bid on the projects and what the final bids were. For a little overhead, that proposal could go a long ways toward cooling tempers and letting everyone know what's happening.

In general, I've found that people tend to get pissed when they don't know why something happened even if there's a perfectly good explanation behind it. For instance, even though the highest-paying parking operators did not get picked for re-lease of all the parking lots in Pittsburgh, the one that was picked promised better final rates for consumers. It's easy to pay a high rent when you're planning on gauging those who park at your lot, and as long as the city is making more money, it's fairly reasonable for them to agree to make less money for the relief of taxpayers.

Of course, at the same time, there's a very valid question that employees shouldn't be fighting for cheaper parking in the garages because odds are the only tax people who park in the garages are paying to the city of Pittsburgh is the tax on parking.

Long live the internet and its potential of information overload!

The URA has done a lot of great things for this city. It'd be a shame if the antics of a particular Mr Ford and some questionable wheeling-and-dealing ruined their good reputation. Here's to Jim trying to shift focus back where it belongs.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08252/910450-100.stm)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Less Flights = Less Flyers?

Thanks for the intensive investigative reporting from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, we learn that this July there were less flyers than last July. Of course, a helpful and downright useful metric would also involve the difference in flights offered between this July and last July. I'm guessing the drop in capacity was more than the 10% drop in flyers.

It is, of course, hugely unsurprising and highly pleasing that the locally-reviled US Airways saw a 30% decline in their number of passengers while 8 of the 13 airlines that service Pittsburgh saw at least a marginal increase. Since US Airways is on their way out the door anyways, everyone feel free to give them a push in the right direction.

This summer, I've taken Delta and Continental out of Pittsburgh, and I have an upcoming flight from AirTran, and I plan to continue that non-US Airways trend.

(reference: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/business/s_586575.html)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

And So It Begins...

"McCain and Palin made a morning stop at Tom's Diner in Pittsburgh's trendy Southside neighborhood" (i.e. our neighborhood). Tom's is pretty good, but I would have recommended 1889 Cafe down the street. A couple weeks ago, McCain chowed down on a Primanti Brothers sandwich.

Mr Biden is leading our Pittsburgh Labor Day parade on Monday.

After spending my formative years in staunchly Democratic states, it's still really weird to be wooed by presidential nominees.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Poor Mr Ford

Poor bitter Mr Ford. He's such a professional, and on top of whatever severance package I'm sure he will procure, he's been paid his $117,875 salary since April without doing any work.

I do really pity Mr Ford. He's had from April to August to simmer in his well-paid anger, and all he can come up with is an angry bitter unfounded letter of resignation. There surely is corruption and all sorts of under-handed dealing going on in Pittsburgh government (and it doesn't solely revolve around Mr Ford's antics) but if you refuse to actually name names and state facts, name-calling is just that. We need some sticks and stones, Mr Ford instead of your lawyer telling us we have a "gutless mayor."

And Mr Ravenstahl, please clean up your act. Paid leave for Mr Ford?? How about we sue Mr Ford for that extra $60,000 he'll get by the time his official resignation happens in December? That would show some guts.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08241/907593-53.stm)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh Well

A couple months ago, I was pleased to learn that PA does not use federal abstinence-only education funding. Unfortunately, Harrisburg is about to change that. They promise no state money will pay for abstinence-only education, but what does that mean for us? It could mean that any community running short on money might be encouraged by Harrisburg to pursue abstinence-only education. It seems to me that it will result in less state money for sex education (or lack thereof) and it can only mean bad things. Well, you had a good fight for 5 years, but eventually everyone wants their millions of extra federal dollars.

I can just envision the stodgy conservative dimwit now, "but why does it hurt you if some small community in four-trailer-one-stoplight, PA teaches abstinence-only in line with their strong morals? Why are you inflicting your wanton ways on these poor people???" Pretty soon, we'll just have an exception for Philly and maybe Pittsburgh and the rest of the state will be all-abstinence all the time. Yippee for Harrisburg!

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08240/907318-100.stm)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Fear

Transit ridership rose 6 percent during July.

To those concerned about rising usage of the bus and how it's going to affect the Port Authority budget, never fear. Gas prices have dropped since July, and commuters will back off. They'll jump back in their cars. They'll consider trading in their new Prius for a used SUV, and Port Authority will be in the same mess it was in a few months ago but with a higher gas bill. Never forget the fickleness of mankind.

In good news, I just got off the bus this morning after experiencing the best deal in Pittsburgh. $3.10 for a bus-ride to the airport from the South Side. $2.60 if you're coming from downtown. The second best deal? Free wi-fi at the airport.

Friday, August 15, 2008

One last Cinnamon Raisin Bread Loaf

Being a relatively new arrival to the Pittsburgh area, I have not had the opportunity to try out many bakeries. I've had a cannoli in Bloomfield, and I've jumped on the cupcake craze in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. Of course, I've stopped by the Strip to try Mancini's, but I've never ordered a cake from a bakery in Pittsburgh. As of Saturday, there will be one less bakery in Pittsburgh, and it makes me realize that I need to get started before any others bite the dust.

Rest in Peace, Jenny Lee Bakery.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08228/904524-85.stm )

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What next?

Green boats, green cars, what will they think of next? Green airplanes and trains? How about a light rail to the airport or an express train to Harrisburg??

Surely, we live in interesting times. Hopefully, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County can capitalize on them.

In other news, how's Port Authority's budget doing now? Just one bus, the 33X had an increase in ridership of 80% in June. The way I see it, that's a $60,000 (an extra $2 per ride at 1450 riders per week-day) bonus for June. If the lines for the buses downtown at rush hour are any indication of ridership, I believe that statistic. Hopefully, we can turn around and use this impetus to get some solid planning in for the future benefit of Port Authority. Speaking of which, everybody (all 1 of you), should visit and contribute to the pghwiki.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08227/904188-53.stm)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Your Days Are Numbered, Comcast!

Comcast, the day is coming when you will not have a strangle-hold over Pittsburgh, and I will enjoy the day.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08220/902506-67.stm)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Who's Paying?

I really have no opinion on the URA debacle involving Pat Ford. My only opinion involves who is paying Pat Ford's leave salary, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I am.

Pat Ford has been on paid leave since April undergoing a potential investigation from the State Ethics Commission. Since the State Ethics Commission has been unethically dragging their feet in this case, can they please pay Mr Ford's salary for the past 3 months? I'd rather pay for him with my state taxes than my city or county taxes.

Or perhaps we should discuss the ethics of giving someone a three-month paid vacation? Why not investigate him while he's still working? Or if he's that much of a liability, can we please just fire him??

"Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said yesterday he would wait to hear from the Ethics Commission before commenting on the matter." Luke, have you tried giving them a call? Or do you and Mr Ford have a golf outing in the Bahamas you're attending next month?

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08219/902189-100.stm)

Monday, August 4, 2008

I'll Make an Exception

Thanks, Harrisburg! Philadelphia clearly needs more exceptions! Maybe Pittsburgh can hop on board next year!

Why all the exceptions for Philadelphia and sometimes Pittsburgh? Perhaps the other representatives in Harrisburg are sleeping or hunting when they're supposed to be voting? Or maybe they're just taking their money and bonuses and running and being happy while everyone who lives outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is fuming?

Lastly, can Pittsburgh please get that really good exception of charging commuters a wage tax like Philadelphia does? I'll get behind a merger with the county if that's one of their concessions, but then maybe we wouldn't actually need a merger!

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08217/901662-28.stm)

Friday, July 18, 2008


It's good to see the city putting their priorities straight. Murders are more important of a "quality of life" issue than public urination on a Friday night after the bars close. Congratulations to Mayor Ravenstahl and his cronies for making the bold decision to move the police station away from where the new expensive condos are to a neighborhood that could really use some policing.

Of course, I'm a bit biased because I live up close and personal with Allentown and am quite excited to see something going on up there to help both the problems in these hilltop communities and my safety walking my neighborhood streets.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08200/897902-100.stm)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Where Are the Bonuses When You Need Them?

If only we had a way of improving neighborhoods, making Pittsburgh a safer place to live, and earning money for the city all at the same time. Whoever came up with the idea of sweeps for building code enforcement deserves a bonus (unless they did it while campaigning for their boss, then please fire them and unless it's Mayor Ravenstahl himself because then it would inevitably turn into "bonus-gate").

Please, take this magnificent idea to overlooked Allentown (that sketchy place with the good Italian restaurant) and bring some bulldozers in tow. But, while you're at it, visit the South Side. In fact, why not visit every neighborhood including the precious Squirrel Hill and Friendship? Let's make money for the city in an equal opportunity fashion and not give "bad area" owners a chance to feel singled out.

Of course, this begs the question as to why every day police officers aren't trained to keep an eye out for exterior building code violations and enforce them throughout the year as they do their patrols...

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08198/897188-53.stm)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dear County Council

Dear County Council,

PLEASE do not put a referendum on the ballot which says that you will be forced to raise property taxes if you lower the drink tax. That's a blatant lie. You are collecting plenty of money with the drink tax to cover the $30 Million required for Port Authority. Please please please, just give us, the people, the opportunity to lower the drink tax.

And can someone please pay the Port Authority all this money that's been collected on their behalf??


(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08197/897029-46.stm)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Where is Mr Onorato spending our money now??

Regarding building a wicked expensive new sports facility in Allegheny County:

"Few city or county governments around the country operate such expansive sports facilities because they are expensive to build and even harder to maintain, Mr. Heasley said."

Of course, in a county as tight for money as we are, where we needed to implement the drink tax and the car rental tax, where our citizens can't afford to pay a dime more in property tax, where is this money coming from in Allegheny?? Onorato, where is this money coming from? Why are you promising millions of dollars in a public-relations move while the rest of us are being nickle and dimed over a beer at the bar? Why are you wasting our money on a sports field for "non-traditional" games?

This new complex may be "just what we need for soccer in the region," but it is not what we need for success and jobs and moving forward out of our interminable slump. Can we actually focus on our problems and their potential solutions instead of fluff like soccer complexes?

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08196/896962-85.stm)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Weekend Warriors

While some of us will be grilling and drinking beer this weekend or attending various arts festivals, Mr Bluhm and Mr Barden will be in air-conditioned board rooms verbally wrestling over control of the Pittsburgh casino. Perhaps Barden still has hopes that he can name the casino which Bluhm will crush forthwith. Crushing the dreams of Barden while saving the casino makes Mr Bluhm my hero of the month. Now if only someone could come along to crush the megalomaniacal dreams of Mr Onorato.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08194/896645-85.stm)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Thank you, Pennsylvania

Every once in a while, I regret moving to the "midwest". But articles like this remind why I am happy to live in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is one of many states that rejects millions of dollars of federal funding that would force them to "educate" teenagers as follows:
"Under the grant's restrictions, teachers cannot mention birth control or condoms, except to point out that they fail. They must teach that anything but abstinence has psychological, social, and physical harm, and that heterosexual marriage is the standard, to the exclusion of households with single parents and homosexual couples."

It takes guts to stand up to the Federal government even when 21 other states are following suit. I'd like to think that if I hadn't learned sex-ed in school, I would have found other sources of valid information, but I probably wouldn't have. I know most of my peers wouldn't have. Most of them were having sex before leaving high school and most of them managed to not get pregnant or get diseases. I give thanks to states like Pennsylvania that think part of the reason me and my peers have succeeded so well is because of sex-ed programs and education in general. The importance of education in this world can never be over-stated.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08191/895636-51.stm)

Monday, July 7, 2008

We're drowning

Thanks to the Post-Gazette for an in-depth article on the state of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's finances. The authority has been indulging in high-stakes swap contracts that I don't fully understand but seem born out of the recent sub-prime mortgage extravaganza and now crisis.

"Rating agency Standard & Poor's found that the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's swaps presented low to moderate risk, with catastrophic results likely only if the credit ratings of JPMorgan Chase and Merrill Lynch plunge. "

In the recent and on-going crisis, I don't find the likelihood of any major bank plunging to be especially unlikely. And what about the slightly less than catastrophic results?

Time to set out the rain barrel. Luckily, it's Pittsburgh so we get lots of rain. For now, I'll just be thankful that the already exorbitant water and sewer rates in the city haven't climbed further and go do some laundry.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08189/895289-53.stm)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

How I love the look of rusting steel on the riverfront

We've made our bed now we have to lie in it.
That's unfortunately the situation with Barden. If we don't continue lying in bed with this greedy leech, we'll have an eyesore and no new casino on the books. However, the Riverlife Task Force is pissed that Barden is delaying building of riverfront amenities he's been touting.

To the Riverlife Task Force, we all agree with you. We want a casino that has a unique riverfront access, that encourages outdoor use, and that will not maim our riverfront view. However, more importantly at this juncture of work-stoppage and finance-grasping, we want a casino instead of a hulking steel frame in limbo.

The promises to the gaming board are in writing. Clearly, Barden can't currently afford to make more promises right now. Please, badger him when he's actually making money in Pittsburgh instead of considering cutting his losses and running.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08184/894071-53.stm)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fair and Impartial News

I understand that the Post-Gazette doesn't want to be billed as the left-wing media, but give me a break. In an article regarding the recent passing of a bottled water limiting act by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (pure feel-good fluff with no potential enforcement or compliance) the Post-Gazette felt the need to end with this:

"On Monday, the International Bottled Water Association, a trade group that represents water bottlers worldwide, issued a statement calling the resolution erroneous and saying that it 'is not in the public interest and could discourage consumers from drinking bottled water.'"

By the way, I totally agree it's not in the public interest for the public to stop drinking bottled water. Those poor bottled water companies (like Coca-Cola) might end up going out of business and then our economy would truly be in a shambles. Everybody make sure to buy your bottle of water a day. Your economic stimulus check should cover it for this year.

Post-Gazette, next time, can you just talk about how much of a joke it is that this conference wasted their time on a resolution "encouraging" cities to do something that most of the mayors involved with aren't even acting on?

At least Mr Ravenstahl didn't feel the need to fly down to Miami for this golf outing of the mayors...

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08180/893369-53.stm)

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

I'm having a hard time working myself into a rage about Barden today, but he still deserves mention.

I definitely can't work myself into a rage about Schenley high school, but maybe that's because I don't have kids, and I'm a newcomer to the area. I was psyched to see that someone else actually donated some money to the Pittsburgh Promise. Thanks Massey-Buick!

I'm just content and hungover. Don't worry. I'll be back in a rage shortly!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Where's the Bus Fare?

I agree with the premise of having a secure funding source for public transit. I disagree with the premise that said source should be a 10% tax on every drink I have at the bar. Vehemently, I disagree with the premise that said source of funding not actually be given to public transit.

Why is Dan Onorato not giving money to the Port Authority that he's collecting from the drink tax? Why was this ego-maniac given the power to control when the money is dispensed to Port Authority? Why is the County Council not forcing this issue? Why, oh why, is the city considering merging with this craptastic council? Oh, yeah, Twanda Carlisle.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08173/891631-85.stm)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Where You Can Buy a House for $70,000

Today's rant is courtesy of the esteemed Pittsburgh Business Times.
How do you write an article whining about salaries being below average in Pittsburgh without acknowledging we have one of the lower cost of living in the nation? Oh, you don't have any journalistic integrity and you want to make people feel shitty about living here and drive away newcomers? Or you're too lazy to actually look up this data? Any other explanation?

(reference: http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/stories/2008/06/09/daily32.html)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thank You

Well, it seems like the powers-that-be in Harrisburg listened to me, or more likely, I was one voice of many who was sick of the joke that became the smoking bill.

So, thank you to the State Senators in Harrisburg. Special thanks to Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow of Lackawanna (say that three times fast) who led his 10 fellow Democratic Senators in a turnaround vote passing the ban 41-9.

I honestly do hope that Allegheny County is allowed to enact its previous ban if just because it would piss of Mr Barden because they originally prevented smoking in casinos and he's funny when he's angry.

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08163/888929-114.stm)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What is middle class again?

Regarding the recent bill in the City Council regarding campaign reform, I noted this gem:
"The donation limits in the legislation would double if any candidate used $250,000 of his or her own money for campaigns -- a measure designed to give candidates without great wealth the chance to make up some ground if they face a well-heeled rival."

What candidate "without great wealth" can throw around $250,000 of their own money into running a campaign??? And why wouldn't this "well-heeled rival" do the same??

This is almost as ridiculous as saying someone making $200,000 a year is middle class. Maybe in Connecticut or New York City, you can get away with such assumptions, but in Pittsburgh, give me a break. If I run for an office in Pittsburgh, you can bet I won't be spending $250,000 to do it, and the reason is because I don't have it.

"The veto is 'hugely disappointing,' said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause/Pennsylvania, which had hoped to use city campaign reform to help spur statewide action."
To Mr. Kauffman, I say, do you really think the folk Harrisburg care about what Pittsburgh does? They don't even care what Allegheny County thinks as evidenced by the recent smoking ban fiasco. Maybe if Philadelphia institutes some campaign reform, we'll see some action.

To Mr. Ravenstahl, I say, I do applaud you for taking a stand against problematic bills, but if that's really your new stand, I don't think any new bills will ever be passed under your reign...

To the people who are pissed at Mr. Ravenstahl and think he's corrupt for veto-ing this bill, do you really think he won his last election because he spent more money on his campaign?

(reference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08162/888681-53.stm)