Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pittsburgh: Land of the Pessimistic Library

Some people look at a glass as half-full, and some people look at it as half-empty. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is the pessimist, while RADs auditors tend to look on the bright side. The difference? Millions of dollars. Where as the library was fearing a $1.46 Million dollar deficit for 2010, RAD found a surplus of $235,071. Likewise the 4-year projected deficit dropped from $4.39 million to just $300,074.

While I'm sure, the Carnegie Library is being realistic in its expectations after this down-market and years of cuts in library funding, I have some advice for them: Count your eggs until they're broken. And don't close any libraries because you're scared of the future.

Scrounging up an extra $100,000 per year in permanent funding is a lot easier and more likely than $1 Million per year. And while the $190,000 salary package of Ms Mistick, the library director may be "in the range" of other library directors, we should really re-consider whether a library director in Pittsburgh who's willing to close libraries in the poorer neighborhoods needs to be paid at "the high end of the range."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Do You Know Where the Homeless People Sleep?

This weekend I participated in the "Reclaim and Revitalize South Side Park" event. Lots of trash was collected and many trees were saved from the grasp of strangling vines. In addition to neighborhood members, we were lucky enough to have about 100 volunteers from Carnegie Mellon University helping out in the park crusade.

At the wrap-up, the students volunteered what they learned from the experience of getting out into the city park. One young woman popped up this doozie: "From cleaning up blankets and mattresses, I learned where homeless people actually sleep."

I personally view it as a failure of her upbringing that this was the first time she was exposed to some of America's underbelly, our unfortunate members of society who are too often swept under the rug and ignored.

However, maybe I had a harsh upbringing. Do you know where the homeless people sleep in your neighborhood? If you open your eyes, you see signs of homelessness throughout Pittsburgh (and most cities in the country) from the beggars in the streets to the blankets and newspapers hidden in various cubbyholes and parks. That knowledge is just as valuable as any class you can take at Carnegie Mellon.

If you want a first-hand experience of how homeless people sleep, check out the annual "Sleep-in For the Homeless" where dozens of people camp out on the steps of the City-County Building downtown with nothing but a sleeping bag to raise awareness of and funds for Allegheny County's homeless population. As of January 2009, Allegheny County counted 1,418 homeless "residents." 17% of them had been in the military service. 14% were victims of domestic violence. 18% of them reported serious mental illnesses. 23% of them were children.

Raising awareness and funds is the only way these numbers will decrease.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pittsburgh Snow Task Force Needs You

One of the greatest fears of anti-health care reform folks is that Doctor's will no longer be paid an exorbitant salary and we will lose great doctors who they presume are only in it for the money. (As an aside, this argument is bogus based on the fact that we have thousands of incredible teachers working throughout this country at sub-par pay.)

According to acting paramedic crew chief Josie Dimon, those pay cuts are already in effect.

"He ain't (expletive) comin' down, and I ain't waitin' all day for him," she [Ms. Dimon] told a colleague, crew chief Kim Long, at the dispatch center. "I mean, what the (expletive), this ain't no cab service."

Is she under the impression that ambulances are cheaper than taxis? For anyone who's ever ridden in an ambulance and paid for it out of pocket, if they had the choice, they would have much preferred to pay the taxi bill. Through Ms Dimon's and her colleagues lack of effort, Curtis Mitchell died on Sunday February 7. This is the worst example of the tragedy of the city's handling of the February snow storms. But it is not the only example. If you have more examples, please contribute to the snow task force site.

Ms Dimon is facing a 5-day unpaid suspension. Some of her colleagues are facing a 3-day unpaid suspension. City paramedics consider themselves scapegoats in this scenario. So tell your snow stories, and let's see some more deserved punishment spread out through other city departments. Pittsburgh deserves better.

Monday, March 22, 2010


This morning I breathed a giant sigh of relief. The Democrats have managed to cobble together a health care plan that passed the House. To see how this plan affects you, check out this handy-dandy health care tool from the Washington Post.

Also, the folks that hired a plane to fly around Pittsburgh this weekend informing voters to tell Representative Altmire to say "No" on abortion funding missed the memo that Rep. Altmire had already announced on Friday that he would be voting "No" on the health care vote. But they've convinced me to vote "No" on gratuitous plane flights causing extra pollution in the air.

Representative Altmire may believe that a majority of his constituents opposed the health care reform bill but judging from the vigil outside his home this weekend and the sit-in staged by Steel Union workers, he has lost some votes.

Representative Mike Doyle (mine) voted for the health care reform. For more information on the bill including local effects, see Rep. Doyle's website.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

3 New Things To Love About the Strip

When I first moved to Pittsburgh, the Strip District was my instant favorite neighborhood. I immediately became a regular shopper there enjoying all of its eateries and ethnic stores. However, I never expected that in a few short years this awesome place would continue to grow and evolve into an even better destination.

Coming soon, there are 3 new ways I can't wait to enjoy the Strip.

1. Pittsburgh Public Market - Before I moved to Pittsburgh three years ago, I'd never seen a traditional market house. Then I visited Cleveland (Ohio), Frankfurt (Germany), and most recently Harrisburg. Wow. Market houses are awesome. According to the Strip District web site, the Pittsburgh Public Market will be opening in Spring 2010. They are currently accepting applications for this Thursday to Sunday gig.

2. Strip District Flea Market - A Sunday flea market in the Strip is coming starting April 18. How cool is that. Pittsburgh likes to think of itself as being the Paris of Appalachia. One of my favorite parts of Paris are the wide variety of antique/flea markets. This Strip District Flea Market will bring us one step closer. Hopefully, we'll see a "Mining Sunday" from andreadisaster in honor of this event.

3. Development of the land behind the produce terminal. I was utterly amazed the day I kept riding on my bike from the Point downtown and ended up at a gravel parking lot behind the produce terminal. More signage and a nicer entrance-way connecting the riverfront trail to the actual shops of the Strip District will help everybody have that epiphany.

It's really no surprise that the Strip District is becoming one of the most happening places to live in the city with brand-new options like The Cork Factory, Otto Milk Condos, and 31st Street Lofts.

What's next? I'd like a once-a-week late-night at the Strip where regular 9-5 working folks can do some shopping and mingle without the Saturday crush. What would you like to see? Maybe it'll happen.

Check Your Water Bills

It seems like every month lately, there are new shenanigans from PWSA.

In January, we had the mistaken decimal point water bills where consumers ended up with bills up to 100 times what they owed. The entirety of PWSA's customers also were notified that they were signed up for Utility Line Security.

Now, it's March. The latest twist? Probably due to the previous month's snafus, the billing period has been adjusted every month. I received my January bill on February 18. I paid it before its due date of March 10, but February's bills were sent out a scant 11 days later on March 1 and included a convenient late fee for my on-time payment. This late fee was 27 cents and was not actually itemized on my bill. You may say: Why quibble over 27 cents? I say at 83,000 customers, that's a nice $22,000 bonus for the PWSA for their poor service. If you think the PWSA deserves that extra bonus, feel free to do nothing. Or, like me, you can call (412) 255-2423 and give them a piece of your mind.

Or maybe that extra money is going to the out-sourced Malaysian company that is managing our water bills???

The $12 rain barrels at Construction Junction are starting to look mighty fine.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

West Carson Street and Beyond

West Carson Street has been in the news a lot lately. Last week, community groups were protesting the site of a proposed Strip Club on West Carson Street. They object to its location directly adjacent to the Onala Club, an alcohol and drug recovery center.

Early Tuesday morning, a mere 0.3 miles away along Carson Street, a warehouse suspicously caught fire.

Arson investigators were trying to determine the fire's cause, terming it "suspicious," but unsafe conditions kept them from examining where it started. Fire officials said interior floors collapsed. The building, thought to be empty for 20 years, had no electricity.

Anyone else wonder if protesters got the wrong address? That would certainly send a stern message to developers from a potential renegade community group. The more likely scenario?

The Forza Group which bought the company as an investment decided to expedite the demolition process of their property. (Or as the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat suspects another renegade community group decided to expedite the process for them.) According to Greg Erosenko, a spokesman for the Forza Group, "The company is considering building a hotel there someday."
This of course brings to mind dozens of other abandoned warehouses and houses in the Pittsburgh area that are owned as "investment" opportunities. In the meantime, they are dangerous eyesores for the rest of us. They are dangerous because desperate people like to squat in abandoned buildings increasing area crime, and kids like to play in these very same areas.

My request to the city? Let's stop letting developers leave these dangerous eyesores speckled throughout the city in the hopes of profiting off of these properties when yet another Pittsburgh neighborhood "reawakens."

Regularly, send your building inspectors to these sites and fine the hell out of them for being out-of-code, having unkempt landscaping, lack of proper snow removal, and anything else that's legal. This West Carson Street warehouse should have been demolished (or remodeled) long ago. The only people that pay the price for this developer dragging-of-the-heels are Pittsburgh residents. If we hassle the developers, they'll either do something with the property or pass it on to someone who will.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Snow Shoveling is Not a Minor Thing

While most of us rejoiced when the city announced that after 3 weeks it was resuming its enforcement of the snow shoveling ordinance, Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski has this to say:

"It's a minor thing to me," he said.