Tuesday, March 04, 2008

My sole reason on the sign is for the peeps.

Will of Council - Sign at Grant St. Transportation Center

WHEREAS, following a recent fact finding meeting held by City Council on the issue of an LED Sign for the new Transportation Center, City Council believes the Zoning Department, in consultation with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, acted in error regarding its interpretation of the language and regulations contained in the Pittsburgh Code; and

WHEREAS, while language is often subject to legal interpretation, it is clear that the authors of the Home Rule Charter and the Pittsburgh Code of Ordinances clearly intended to ensure that the right of the people to participate in major decisions, particularly land use matters, was the foundation for the very existence of the Regulations; and

WHEREAS, given the current controversy over the zoning process, and the fact that the Mayor and all Members of City Council recently signed a formal pledge that prioritized “excellence in service, increased access to and confidence in all City services by ensuring equity for all Pittsburghers;” and also committed to “improve the quality of life for future generations by identifying current land use opportunities and challenges facing the City” and “ensure the ethical operation of the offices,” it is only appropriate that the matter of the LED Sign be rescinded at this juncture.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh hereby requests that the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh direct the City Zoning Administrator to take the necessary steps to rescind the current permit issued to Lamar Advertising for approval of an LED Sign on the Transportation Center, and direct that a new application be filed and processed under the guidelines of a Conditional Use Application as outlined in the City Code; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh also requests that the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority rescind the Lease Agreement between Lamar Advertising and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.


That is the buzz, above. Kraus did make a minor change, as he left something out.

I watched the end of city council today and took some notes as Mr. Kraus entered his plea about the sign that is NOT a sign to some. He put the above statement into play, and then in the next breath said he'd hold it. Here we go again -- much to do about nothing, yet.

His sole (only) goal is to protect the people and the process. It is never about politics.

Kraus says Grant Street is everybody's Main Street. We all share the communality. All the people of Pgh have the right to have their voices heard. To Kraus, the only reason to bring this forward at this time is to protect the peeps. Then other non-reasons are stated. Plus, the other other aim is to protect the taxpayer from litigation.

Kraus double talk: "The process is so flawed at this time that the only remedy is litigation." But, he puts in a statement that isn't litigation.

As soon as he gets onto the soapbox, he says, "I am willing to hold this."

He does NOT mean, "hold this dear." He means -- not act. He says a bunch of stuff and then does NOT want to have it come for a vote. He acts to hold. He takes two steps forward where no others want to tread and then he takes other steps to retreat. It is both a move and a non-move. It is a leap without any new height. It is a government official begging the private business entity to fix the problem before council.

Last week I said that the six hour council meeting looked a lot like a dog chasing its tail. This week, the Kraus measure has the circle running of folly going around and around -- but in a different direction.

Kaus is asking for his own statement to be held at this time. The self-censure comes after the speaking. If Lamar (the corporation) would voluntarily pull the obtained city permits, then, Kraus thinks, a transparent process can begin.

Then, Kruas feels, "this should be put out to a RFP. (RFP = Request for proposals) There are a number of other companies that are interested, as revealed in the P-G. It is good that Kraus is reading the newspapers. By the way, a RFP is better than a no-bid contract. But, the aim of a competitive bid process would be best.

Tonya Payne had other reactions. She is happy that Kraus is going to hold rather than rush to a vote. She passed out literature to other members of city council about what the LED sign(s) will look like. Then she went onto to connect the new LED sign to the blight that runs through the rest of the district.

This new LED sign does not take away blight. But, the arrival of the LED sign comes with a side-deal that other paper billboards will be removed from other parts of the city. Billboards = blight, so it must be.

Payne said that she doesn't know if people know how hard of a job it is to do community development. It is a tough, tough job. People in Ms. Payne's district are in favor of the sign. They have engaged people in town and in The Strip.

"We're elected officials. We are to protect every street and every person. They call councilperson Payne. They ask me to advocate for this sign."

Payne continued: "Is it legal for the city and the mayor to ask for the rescinding of the sign? You can always file a protest at the zoning board of adjustment. If you are so into 'process' you can file a protest with the zoning board.

"We also need to understand the whole intent of the sign. It is to remove blight." Lawrenceville people call to remind her to take down the paper billboard. They want signs removed. They want to get the LED signs. "You can use the LED signs in a number of ways -- like an Amber Alert. You can't do that on a paper sign," said Payne.

"To change an electronic LED sign is just as easy as sitting at a computer -- and boom. It appears. We have to be cautious to ask Lamar to rescind," said Payne.

How many paper billboards are going to be removed if Lamar pulls out? At the end of the day I'm going to advocate for the people in my district she said.

Rev. Burgess:

He pats councilperson Payne's advocate efforts. But then he said his concern is not for the merit of the sign. Burgess is concerned with Lamar Advertising. The court case with Monroeville is on his mind. In the interest of open government, Lamar would stop from all activities with the construction of signs." They should go through the appropriate city process he said.

This open, transparent process would strengthen all the citizens faith in the institution and the city. Lamar is a huge company. They do a lot of business with the city. That their concern of the city would get them to withdrawal. They go through the process. That transparency would be good for their business.

Some on City Council want to ask Lamar to cease and dismiss. Go figure. Both Burgess and Kraus have hopes that Lamar is going to act in ways that are counter to its best interest. Things have been paid for, delivered and are about to be installed. They think Lamar will want to offer up for bid something that they already jumped through city hoops to acquire.

Kraus again: The merits are not on the sign. Sole concern is the voice of the people, in all matters with zoning. We are locking out the people. I only want them to have a voice. They have been shut out. Now we are going to ask the people to write the check for the legal fees. Kraus is still willing to hold the measure and not push it ahead. Otherwise, Kraus said, "We will let the legal process sort this out."

Ms. Payne: The people in her (downtown) district were not left out of this process.

Mr. Kraus
: The people in the rest of the city were left out.

Mr. Motznik turn. He is against the measure too. "Voice my objection to the resolution. It has been read into the record. Facts: We have differences of opinion. I'm not going to fight anyone on it. Within the resolution, I do not agree that anyone acted in error. There is some confusion on interpretation. Some council members interpret other ways."

"Whether or not Lamar should rescind, I feel they went through the process that we have and they have a legal permit. Lamar has been going through a process since '03. To eliminate a number of billboards to eliminate blight. We are opening up ourselves up for a law suit.

"Strongly disagree that this is the first LED on Grant Street. Packet shows what Lamar has done -- exactly. See what is going on. See what's been done. Photos show on Grant Street that LED came up. First time with photos 3 outdoor ad signs. Lamar removed them, eliminated 282 sq. feet. Invested in the building: Before / After photos. Shows that the city is viable and open for business. $200,000 investment wasn't required.

Next, Saw Mill Run Blvd. Two outdoor signs on concrete silos. Ugly billboards. Lamar spent $150,000 to remove the eye sores. I grew up playing in the woods behind this area. There is a private partnerships that we form with the city and Lamar. These are good neighbors we are dealing with.

Next is Saw Mill Run and Rt. 88. Four outdoor signs eliminated and replaced with one LED. Before and after pictures presented.

It is not for or against billboards. I'm thrilled that they are eliminating them. The befor and after photos are astonishing. Intersection of Broadway and ??, some $30,000 was spent in landscaping to properties because I asked them to.

Beechview, again. Clean up.

Motznik is a big supporter for props to show exactly what is going on.

These are examples of how Lamar is helping with community advertisements. Beechview Centenial Celebration at no cost, etc.

I don't think things were done in error. The administration used that process to eliminate blight.

A lit sign shows life (like downtown Manhattan) that the city is open.

I'm sure Lamar has done the same thing (clean up of older signs) in other districts.

Mr. Shields:

I don't take issue with the elimination of blight.

Mr. Peduto:

I had a deal that I would not speak if Mr. Motznik would not speak. I want to add my name to Rev. Burgess in support. We are not going to agree. That is good.

My issue is nothing about a billboard. My issue is about the same set of rules for everyone. The expansion of non-conforming use is Zoning 101. A conditional use application is required to come to city council for approval. There has to be a public hearing. Any exterior changes greater than $50,000 has to come to city council. With a $7M sign, it has to go before the planning commission.

It is about fair and equal application of the law for everyone. We have a responsibility in writing the laws and insuring that they are carried out.

Not even getting into the bids -- open -- or whatever. We ...

There is a time that the laws that city council places are not being fallowed. I have a legal and moral obligation to speak my mind. I don't know if I can find that in the city code.

I'll wait a week.

I'm in your (Kraus/Burgess/Shields) corner on this one.

Mr. Deasey:
It would be appropriate to hold until after Mr. Specter gives us a legal opinion.

Mr. Dowd:
Thanks Mr. Kraus. I'm still not clear that it is an appropriate time to speak on this matter. I had heated words with Mr. Peduto. I'd like to keep myself at bay until we start down that road. I have some real questions as to our role as council. As individuals, we are citizens. We can speak. After we come together as five, we are a body. As a council I'm not clear what actions we are permitted. As individual we can speak out. We can stand before the cameras. As a body there is a different point here. Not sure where responsibility ends and beings. I'm not saying anything on the sign. There is an appropriate moment and we are not there yet.

The resolution is asking the chief executive of the city to command a regulator to make a specific action. I am not clear yet. Where in the code are we authorized (as a body) to command / to direct a regulator to make s specific decision?

I am deeply concerned about process.

We need to understand what our role is in this process.

No one has rendered a decision -- which is unconscionable. That is reprehensible. We pay people to do that work.

Or, until we can point to a specific point in the charter.

So I urge us to think very carefully about what our role is.

Not that we 'feel' that we have a right to do certain things. We are after clarity and we are after rule of law.

Mr. Kraus:

Thanks Mr. Motznik. I suppose that the litigation process will determine the validity. The golden triangle area district may not apply.

Lamar has been a great neighbor in many ways. I come from a background in business. I often take the high road to insure that my customers come back to me.

Lamar can volunteer to pull their license.

There is nothing that speaks to blame in the resolution. I'll reserve blame. Why we don't have a legal opinion on this -- (hat tip to Patrick).

They are only required to be at the table to write the checks to go to litigation.

Also there was some insert into the resolution (above) for the expansion of Non-conforming use -- put onto the record.

Mrs. Payne:

I'm hearing that the majority says that the process is flawed. Then we need to change the process. Maybe you should change the whole process.

Mr. Kraus:

Our process is pure and good. The process was not followed. That is the arguement.

Mr. Burgess:

Planning and zoning is the committee I chair. That is a secondary discussion. Later. I intend for us to have that discussion.


In the words of Mr. Ford. 'Then we must agree to disagree.' That can not be the outcome. There must be resolution. I do not think that the mayor has any authority to recind anything. The mayor can NOT recind a parking ticket. The mayor can not help in getting your car out of the tow pound.

Football has guys in striped shirts. Our biz has guys sitting in robes. Then we find a fact finder. Just like they did in the Monroeville case.

Agree to disagree is not the ultimate decision.

Courts are a wonderful thing. That is part of our government. When we get into a pickle -- we need a court.

The photo (from Ms. Payne) is the first time that this is in public.

Sunshine act worries with newspaper in the Parking Authority.

Due concern. We are not here to stick sticks in people's eyes.

We all have serious issues. After six hours, I think we hit the limit. Blah, blah, blah other issues and other work to do. We have perspectives here. We have debate. We have positions. We don't hide. This is a lesser issue with human life (shootings, etc.) He is proud to be with all of you today. We will move to get this resolved.

Move to tragic death of ex employee, with a gun. ... discussion ends.

If I have any of the words wrong -- and wrong to the core meaning -- I'd be happy to edit the statements above. I know that these are notes taken quickly. They are NOT an exact transcription. Send me your notes and I'll edit. Or, just post in the comments on this posting.

Hat tip to the other bloggers too. 2PJ had the text at the top in a google document.


Anonymous said...

Two words for Kraus: saber rattling. More thoughts: All bark, no bite.

I'm shocked that elected officials wasted two days to strut, and not to have accomplished anything on this matter. Its so typical. I thought this council would "different". Its is perhaps in structure, but they are bringing not too much to the table than what has been there before.

I dont need Bruce Kraus to speak for me --- since it is double talk and zero gets accomplished.

Bram Reichbaum said...

In re Kraus: My conception was, he wrote the thing intending to put in forward and get it passed.

Then, in a surprise to him and the other supportive members of Council, it turns out he doesn't have the votes -- although it looks like maybe he will in the future.

So, he puts a hold on it.

It makes sense to me. Would you rather he have went forward with it and had it put down?

And once again -- aside from Kraus's move -- if you were 1 of 9 members of Council, what would you have DONE about the issue? I'm not asking how you would have responded to Kraus's bill, I'm asking what would you have done in his place to remedy the situation?

Mark Rauterkus said...

If he does NOT call for a vote -- he should not put it forward.

Is he afraid to get shut down? -- of course.

He can't be a hero of courage and not have the moxie to ask for a vote.

He is mush. His actions are mush. It is double talk.

You do NOT know if the votes are "yes" or "no" until the vote is called for. Or, at the worst, until AFTER the discussion.

If he didn't know -- he was guilty of being stupid.

BTW, I told you exactly what I would have done -- in the other thread on the other blog.

Is this a new question?

The real fix (remedy) is:

1. Heads should roll. The sign is a sign. Gosh. If they can't figure that out -- they should not be working in this city.

2. Put an emergency hold on all payroll checks to the law department. They need to supply legal opinions in an urgent matter in a simple situation when asked. Otherwise, they are not doing the job. Otherwise, they should not be paid.

3. Also, end all NO-BID CONTRACTS for the city and its authorities.

The root of this issue isn't the people don't get a say, (Kraus sole reason, blah, blah, blah.)

Kraus wants to defend the process and say it just wasn't followed. But, truth be told, the process is filled with holes too. The process is far from ideal.

The whole zoning system is frail. I put a packed zoning hearing meeting to a stop after I pulled out a video camera.

When pushed the zoning decisions go to council anyway. Just ask the people of Mt. Washington.

The root is business as usual. And Kraus just inserts a new verse of folly. He isn't going to rock the boat in meaningful ways.

Solution: End all no bid contacts.

Anonymous said...

Makes sense? No way.

IT was a huge folly to grab headlines as to be doing something, when, he knew, there was 1) no chance that council would support him and 2) he does not have the moxie (thanks Mark) to stay behind his word.

So, its much to do about nothing.

I'd hate to see something more important come before this council and Bruce Kraus.

Will he actually have the moxie to stay behind his words, or will he cave into others, even though he's the one who wants to bring everyone to the table so they have a say.

Little Bruce cried "WOLF"

We need more open disclosure in government. This is proof positive that backroom deals are still status quo for this one party town.

Francy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.