Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spray On

Am I the only one who can't wait for one of these new-fangled city spray parks to open up in my area? Currently, there is one in Troy Hill, with construction under way for a Beechview park. I think I can walk to the one planned for Beltzhoover. Adults can use them, right? I'm also proud to see the city investing money in some disadvantaged areas. They may not be re-opening any closed public pools, but they are replacing them with something fun and refreshing. Instead of cutting back on amenities, this is an example of a smart budgeting compromise where the city spends a lot less money than a traditional pool, but the neighborhoods still benefit.

Added bonus: Suburban Moms venturing into Troy Hill for the first time - and enjoying it. Now if only we can get Shady Side Moms to head there...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Welcome to the Race

Yesterday, Franco Dok Harris officially announced that he is running for Mayor.

If elected mayor, he promised to say "yes" to enhancing economic opportunities, fighting crime, investing in education and fixing the city's infrastructure.

Is he also going to say "yes" to higher taxes? I know it's early, but I'm really curious as to where this money is going to come from. I want someone to say "yes" to implementing Controller Michael Lamb's audit recommendations. Let's use the money we have smartly instead of making lots of new grand plans.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Squeaky Wheel Gets Lower Taxes

What is it with this state and unfair taxes? Pennsylvania, at the state and county level, continuously finds way to tax its poor unjustly in spite of State Supreme Court rulings to the contrary.

1) The state income tax is not progressive. Everybody (unless you make less than a measly $6,500) gets charged the same 3.07% or if Governor Rendell has his way 3.57%. How about we increase the income tax to 3.57% only if you are making more than $100,000 per year? $200,000? Can't we take a page out of Obama's playbook? Of course, no legislature wants to bite the hand that feeds them donations.

2) To avoid raising property taxes (where you theoretically pay more if you have a more expensive house), the state is attempting to allow counties to raise their sales tax, which is a patently regressive tax, affecting the poor more than the wealthy.

3) Where they have to rely on property taxes, they do so in a patently unjust manner, freezing property values and punishing those who live in depressed neighborhoods.

And why do we put up with it? Because the people who have the time to complain are not the people working minimum wage jobs trying to put food on the table. Some people might say charging progressive taxes is against the state Constitution which says: "All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects ...," But I say, what's one more bent rule?

Friday, July 24, 2009

They're Back!

You've got to give it to Northside United. They're stubborn, yet they can also adjust their tactics. They started with angry gatherings at planned meetings regarding Continental's North Shore developments, followed by a bus tour of the North Side where they invited politicians to see the blight of the neighborhood first-hand. After multiple arrests from last weeks shenanigans at the Del Monte headquarters (a Continental Real Estate property), they've moved on to the Mayor's office. Next stop, the governor's house in Harrisburg? The White House? I admire their determination in this issue. They've said "Enough is enough." And at this point, no one can doubt they mean it.

Mayor Ravenstahl, can you do us a favor and listen to their cause? After being involved in the landmark Hill District Community Benefits Agreement, it'd be a shame to throw all that goodwill out the window. You want to be viewed as a brokerer of deals, not a stomper of human rights, right?

And if you don't, they could sure make a mess of things when Obama and friends come to town for the G20 in September. That'll make a bigger impression than potholes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Priorities in the Face of G20

My street is on the paving list for this summer, but unless some hotshot is blindly following their GPS on the way to the South Side for a Primanti Brother's sandwich photo-op, no one of any political importance is going to drive down it this September. Does that mean my street is going to get pushed to the bottom of the paving heap? Should it?
"Mr. Ravenstahl said the city will plant trees throughout Downtown, and Public Works Director Guy Costa said sections of streets including 10th Street, Oliver Avenue, William Penn Place, Sixth Avenue, Forbes Avenue and Market Street will be repaved. Railroad underpasses on Penn and Liberty avenues will also be cleaned."
If these items were on a priority list already, I'm all for them. But let's try not to "reddup" Downtown at the expense of everybody who actually lives in the city. I understand that people want to get gussied-up and show off our fair city to the G20 officials that are stopping by. But Pittsburgh was picked for the G20 for its positives and its negatives, for its tumultuous history. Nobody expects to see an immaculate Disney World. Get an army of volunteers to clean up litter and paint over graffiti if you want, but leave the Department of Public Works to do their job. It's far more positive to stick to a sensible, fair plan of paving streets, fixing potholes, and painting sign posts, than to allow line-jumping for a one-weekend event. And it serves the residents of the city the most.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Falling in Love

When I first moved to Pittsburgh, I loved all its shiny amenities. I loved the view of its skyline from Mt Washington. I loved the old steel mills re-purposed as shopping malls and night club destinations. I loved the churches re-purposed as restaurants and music venues. Within weeks, I was a rabid Steelers fan.

18 Months later, I knew more about Pittsburgh. It was winter and even though Pittsburgh gets very little snow, the snow it gets completely debilitates the the poorly maintained, ridiculously planned roads. I was beginning to see the chinks in Pittsburgh's armor. But I had also discovered Penn Avenue's Unblurred, dozens of quaint neighborhoods, shopping in the Strip District, and I was in better shape than ever from the built-in stair-masters surrounding my street. I started watching hockey and was crushed when the Penguins were trampled by the Redwings.

Fast-forward another 18 months to today. This year, I've cheered on the Steelers to the Super Bowl and the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. I've also watched rain pour into my 100-year-old fixer-upper, entered dozens of battles of the will with the city's 311 line (often winning), saw the true awful state of the city's pension, and have made some good friends. I'm only finally starting to live in the city. And I'm finally starting to cheer for the Pirates. I've learned their history as a mega-team, and I've accepted that they're bad now. My 13-year-old brother-in-law who lives in Alaska (and is visiting for 3 weeks) has taught me the wonder of buying cheap tickets and sitting in the stands, enjoying a summer day. Every time they win, it's a small victory, just like when I call 311 to fix a street light, and it actually gets fixed. Do I wish that Pittsburgh was more like the Red Sox with loads of money and talent? Of course, I do. But have I grown to love poor old Pittsburgh with its incredible history and transient population? Yup, I have.

Last night, only 11,741 people showed up to cheer the Pirates on to their latest small victory. Tickets start at less than $9. Buy a ticket. And remind yourself why you love this city. Anyone can be a bandwagon fan and root for the Steelers, it takes someone who loves the city to root for the Pirates - or a 13 year-old kid.

Monday, July 20, 2009

PennDOT Hates Drivers

I understand that road construction is a complicated beast which is exorbitantly expensive and can take many years. But when you have millions of dollars lined up, and a plan in place, why does PennDOT repeatedly and obnoxiously step in the way, slow things down, and make the lives of Pittsburgh residents miserable?

Instead of looking into commuter rail options on Rte 28 years ago, PennDOT is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on adjusting the lanes. PennDOT is currently negatively impacting retail and everyone on East Carson Street to add turning lanes. The city was ready to go ahead with rehabilitating a decrepit McArdle bridge, but: has taken longer than anticipated to get PennDOT to review and certify the plan.

Maybe they were too busy designing signs to spend stimulus money on? No delays there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Playing Dress-Up

When an international summit is dropped on your plate with a notice of less than 6 months, you don't have time to rebuild your city. Instead, you drape it in canvas. Or at least that's what you do when the public eyesore is interrupting a spectacular view.

My only question is why did we wait so long? Why is it OK to buy a building, plan to transform it into a hotel/condominiums but in the meantime leave a vacant mess awaiting a wrecking ball that is smeared with graffiti? If you buy a building, you're responsible for it. If the Reddup crew can fine me for not weeding my property (they haven't, by the way), then major developers should be fined until they clean up eyesores around town.

If we act like a city that could get picked for an international summit location all the time, when it happens, we won't hear a chorus of: "Why Pittsburgh?"

Thursday, July 9, 2009

2 More Ways the LCB Is Wasting Your Money

Attempting to be more "customer friendly", the hated Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is unveiling more ways to waste taxpayer money. (As if giving away lucrative customer service contracts based on nepotism wasn't enough.)

1) Mechanized wine "kiosks". In a day and age when cigarette machines have been declared illegal in more states than not, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control board is patting itself on the back for being the first state to introduce wine kiosks. Oh, they say, you just swipe your license in to prove your 21, and breathe to prove your not drunk. Except without an actual person selling you things (or some pretty state-of-the-art-expensive cameras), there's no way to prove that the person swiping is the same as the person breathing is the same as the person buying. For decades college students have found ways around underage drinking laws. Now, the state wants to hand them the biggest loophole ever. I'll admit I originally thought wine kiosks were a great idea, but now I realize that it was just I'd been living in Pennsylvania too long.

2) Boutique wine stores.
"That has been done for decades in small groceries in Italy and is now being duplicated in states such as California and New York, said Mr. Stapleton and Joe Conti, a former state senator who is LCB chief executive officer."
Back up. No, states have not run boutique liquor stores in Italy, nor do they run them in California or New York. The reason that boutique stores thrive is because of the creativity and devotion of their owners who travel the world looking for special wines and cultivate relationships with small vineyards. Instead, we have stores like Palate Partners that are attempting to give customers the boutique experience while being repeatedly slapped in the face by the liquor control board. If I want a boutique store, I'll go to a state that doesn't shackle wine-lovers.

If the PLCB really wants to please customers, it should give us rock-bottom prices or a wider variety of wines. Or how about letting normal stores sell wine??? Why can you buy a six-pack at a bar but not a bottle of wine?

Monday, July 6, 2009

6 More Years of Monopoly?

Within 6 years, Verizon cable will be available throughout the city, according to a tentative new contract with the city. While I'm happy to see a schedule has been planned for the roll-out, I'm pretty disappointed in the timeline. Because of my hill-top perch, I'm guessing my street will be a pretty low priority for Verizon, though I'll probably fare better than the Hill District.

Of course, in 6 years, I won't have wired internet or cable anyways. Wireless options have been growing by leaps and bounds and will make cable as we know it just as obsolete as landline telephones. Cricket will probably beat Verizon in becoming a viable internet option for me. Or maybe the downtown wide wireless internet access can creep up the hill? Either way, I'm just waiting for the day when I can call up Comcast and tell them I'm canceling service because their customer service is abominable.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Compromising Positions

I'm all for compromise. I understand that oftentimes at the political level it's the only way to get things done and some change is often better than none.

In fact, I back laws to support civil unions for gay couples instead of gay marriage because the important thing to me is the result not the nomenclature. I understood that in order to pass a smoking ban at the state level, there would need to be stupid exceptions involving casinos and mom-and-pop bars.

But everybody draws the line somewhere.

And I draw it here:
If you're passing a non-discrimination bill, you shouldn't let anyone discriminate. Either it's right or it's wrong. Yet Allegheny County council just passed a bill that said you can't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity EXCEPT if you're a charitable, fraternal, or religious organization. What??? If you're a blood-sucking corporation, you better not discriminate but if you're a "charitable" organization, you can?

And as Sarah Rose, an attorney with the ACLU says:
"the problem with the current version of the bill is that it gives certain religious organizations an advantage over other groups, thereby violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."Luckily for the religious organizations in Allegheny county, the courts take a long time to sort these things out, so they'll be able to discriminate ad nauseum for the next decade or so.

So here's a shout-out to the Pittsburgh city council who managed to pass an anti-discrimination bill back in 1990 without resorting to illegal compromises. I implore you to do the same in regards to smoking.