Last week, after attending a 4 Mile Run Watershed workshop, I had a brief conversation with an official of the Urban Redevelopment Authority concerning the Oakland Transit Connector project. As you are all aware, the project is a city initiative to construct a roadway from the Almono site in Hazelwood to Carnegie Mellon University and other sites in Oakland. This project would pass through and decimate two neighborhoods, The Run and Panther Hollow.
The URA official mentioned that one reason for this roadway project is that it currently takes 40 minutes by bus to go from near the Almono site in Hazelwood to Oakland. This project has once again brought to the surface a myriad of problems. I would like to share ten solutions for consideration by Oakland’s three councilmen, the councilman for The Run, community organizations, and others who either support or are undecided about this roadway project.
1) Express public buses must be employed from the Almono site in Hazelwood to Oakland. Such buses traveling down Second Avenue onto Brady Street underneath the Birmingham Bridge would be on Forbes Avenue in Oakland in approximately seven minutes at most times of the day–without impacting any adjacent neighborhoods.
2) If needed, an additional roadway could be built adjacent to Brady Street for the exclusive use of buses.
3) Instead of the Almono site’s future tenants traveling to the universities in Oakland, the universities and health institutions should expand at the Almono site to satisfy the tenants’ needs, and the needs of the people of Hazelwood.
4) The fundamental focus for the development of the Almono site must be for the enhancement of the quality of life for the people of Hazelwood.
5) There must be a moratorium on any further expansion by universities and developers in Oakland.
6) There must be honest in-depth Impact Statements on how any future development plans in Oakland affect its longtime residents.
7) Plans for any future expansion by universities and developers in Oakland must be presented to the city council for approval.
8) The local media must end their silence and not sit by idly as Oakland becomes systematically destroyed by its two major universities and developers, both in the residential and business districts.
9) The watershed problems that residents of The Run have suffered for far too long must be resolved immediately without any quid pro quo requests by supporters of the Oakland Transit Connector.
10) Human dignity must be the highest priority in any decision-making, for when that belief is fully understood and implemented, problems become easier to resolve.
On July 31, 2015, the city of Pittsburgh submitted an application for a $3 million Multimodal Transportation Fund grant to the State Department of Community and Economic Development and the Commonwealth Financing Authority for a roadway project that would destroy Panther Hollow, one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods.
Courage is often defined as the willingness to seek the highest truth, or as honesty even when it is not in one’s own best interest. Cowardice is refraining from seeking the highest truth, or hiding the truth. Numerous inquiries to the city and other officials who support this project went unanswered and are well-documented on the website: www.SavePantherHollow.com
Council President Bruce Kraus, you represent Panther Hollow, but chose not to attend a meeting last month that would have given you an opportunity to voice your solidarity with those of us who oppose this roadway project. By the events of these past five months, it is apparent that your personal friendship with the mayor is greater than your caring for the community you represent. We cannot force you to change that.
However, here is a consideration that may help you choose greater caring for our community, and also help others understand our commitment. At a City Council meeting several months ago, you talked about your past alcoholism and how you have refrained from drinking alcohol since 1988. That is truly a remarkable and commendable accomplishment. There is nothing that anyone could say to you that would break your commitment and lead to your downfall and destruction. Similarly, there is nothing that anyone could say to those of us who oppose this roadway project to break our commitment to preserving and protecting Panther Hollow.
Here is another consideration. You have been repeatedly ignored and deceived by the secrecy of the supporters of this roadway project, and their actions have formed a cloud of suspicion about the integrity in city government. Therefore, you must ask yourself this question—a question that others in city government, in the judicial branch of government, and in those media outlets that have remained silent about this issue should also ask themselves; What is my highest priority: my dignity in my profession, or my loyalty to the mayor?
This is the year of the city of Pittsburgh’s bicentennial celebration. It would be hypocritical of the mayor to talk about his Italian roots, and about immigrants’ and their descendants’ many accomplishments that made this city great, while attempting to destroy one of our first Italian neighborhoods. We hope the mayor will abandon this roadway project, and instead focus on collaborating to preserve and protect our historic neighborhoods that truly make us say: “Lucky we live in Pittsburgh.”
On November 9, I hand-delivered a letter to your office concerning a proposed Oakland Transit Connector project that would destroy Panther Hollow, one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods. On December 1, your office also received a copy of my public comments at Pittsburgh City Council focusing on the lack of integrity in city government. I am writing once again because of the grave nature of this roadway project. It threatens to destroy not only Panther Hollow but also The Run neighborhood in Greenfield.
On July 31, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Acting Executive Director Robert Rubinstein submitted an application for a $3 million Multimodal Transportation Fund grant to the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Commonwealth Financing Authority in secret. The application was not ratified by the URA board until August 13. There were no prior meetings. The first notice to our two communities about the roadway project was an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 29. The application for a grant filed by the URA was created and filed without notice to the public and in violation of the Open Meetings Law of Pennsylvania, also known as the “Sunshine Act.”
City officials held the first community meeting about this project last week on December 7. That meeting raised further questions about the integrity of the application. Our communities trust you will address the following documented concerns.
1) The application states: “This project will be a public-private partnership between the City of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.” I sent an email to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher asking about his involvement in this project. Here is the response from Attorney Paul Supowitz, Vice Chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, on October 2: “As he has had no involvement, Chancellor Gallagher asked that I respond to your email to him. The University has not been involved in any discussions about the roadway project. We first learned of the URA’s application to the Commonwealth for funding when the article appeared in the Post-Gazette several weeks ago.” At the December 7 community meeting, I asked Director of City Planning Raymond Gastil to tell us who at the University of Pittsburgh said that the university would be a part of this agreement. He had no answer. I sent him an email the next day with additional questions about the university’s involvement, but there has been no reply. The URA’s assertion of the University of Pittsburgh’s partnership is not true and correct. It is deceptive to the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA), the decision-making body for the grant application.
2) The application states: “The land for this project is owned by the City of Pittsburgh.” This statement was proven false at the December 7 meeting. The city’s presentation showed that the roadway would traverse in Panther Hollow through part of the parking lot owned by the University of Pittsburgh, and the adjacent university-owned hillside. In addition, Mr. Ray Gastil said that the roadway would also traverse railroad property. When I mentioned to Mr. Gastil that this was not city property, his reply was that it is only a sliver of property for the project. The assertion in the application that the land for this project is owned by the City of Pittsburgh is also not true and correct, and is deceptive to the CFA.
3) On November 30, I made a right-to-know request to the URA for exhibits that appeared to be missing in the applications given to me by a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on October 8 and by Councilman Bruce Kraus on November 2. I received an email on December 2 with the application and a letter from URA Attorney Nathan Clark that said: “There were sections within the application that were not applicable, or for which the URA had no attachments. These pro-formatted sections of the Application continue to have an “updated document” heading, even if no documents were uploaded.” I also received hard copies of the application and letter by postal mail on December 5. Both applications stated: “Final DCED Multimodal.”
4) On November 18, however, I had received the application filed with the Department of Community and Economic Development which has documents in it that were not a part of the applications given to me by the URA. All supplemental and supporting materials submitted by the city, URA and Almono LP officials after July 31 must be true and correct, and included in a citizen’s right-to-know request to the URA. Here is some of the information in the missing documents:
A) The Oakland Connector Budget dated September 22, 2015 lists what was eliminated from the original application budget. The project cost was reduced from $7.2 million to $4.2 million. It also states that the funds for the project would be $3,000,000 from the Multimodal Transportation Fund and $1.2 million from the City/URA/Almono LP. On September 25, 2015, another budget document was submitted stating the funds for the project would be: $2.8 million from the Multimodal Transportation Fund; $1.2 million from the City/URA/Almono LP; and $200,000 from federal funds. However, there is no documentation from federal officials that $200,000 was approved for this project. The CFA has been deceived about the funds available for the project, and there has been an overvaluation of a security amount to obtain a grant.
B) Letters show the $1.2 million funding from City/URA/Almono LP. Mayor William Peduto wrote a letter dated September 1 to the DCED stating: “This letter is to confirm that the City of Pittsburgh is dedicated to the success of the Oakland Transit Connector Project and will be committing $400,000 in the 2017 budget for the construction of this project.” This budget is one year away and there are no assurances that the city council will approve this amount. The mayor’s assertion shows that the voices of our two communities are irrelevant to the city. Our voices, however, will be heard. Again, the CFA is being deceived by the very real possibility that these funds may not be approved. The mayor has overvalued a security to obtain the grant.
C) URA Board Chair Kevin Acklin also wrote a letter dated September 1, 2015 to the DCED stating: “The URA will be committing $400,000 from our Major Projects budget to be used for the construction of this project.” The URA board’s November minutes on their website showed no approval was made for the $400,000 amount. No other minutes were available on the website, so I requested the September and October minutes. Those minutes also showed no approval for that amount. The assertion by the board chair shows that the voices of our two communities are meaningless to the board. Our voices, however, will be heard. The CFA has once again been deceived with a false statement that these funds are available for this project. The board chair has also overvalued a security to obtain a grant.
D) Regional Industrial Development Corporation President Donald Smith wrote a letter dated September 2 stating: “Almono LP will be committing $400,000 from the Almono-Hazelwood Tax Increment Financing District to be used for the construction of this project.” It is unclear at this time whether or not this involves public money.
The application was sent by the URA on July 31, but it was not ratified until August 13. Exhibit 14 is included in both the DCED and URA applications. It states: “A resolution confirming the request of funds from the Department of Community and Economic Development for $3,000,000 to be used for the Oakland Connector Project will be adopted by the URA board at its next meeting on (August 13th) and submitted shortly afterwards.” This exhibit suggests absolute certainty that the fund request would be adopted and submitted, indicating an intentional lack of community discussion on the matter.
In late September and early October, I emailed letters to various officials asking about their knowledge of this proposed roadway project. I did not receive answers to my questions from these individuals: Mayor William Peduto; Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin; Councilman Bruce Kraus; Director of City Planning Raymond Gastil; URA Acting Executive Director Robert Rubinstein; Regional Industrial Development Corporation President Donald Smith; and URA Board Members: Jim Ferlo, Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, Representative Ed Gainey, and Ms. Cheryl Hall-Russell. In addition, I made an inquiry to Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh. This was the response from John Hannon, Associate Dean of Student Affairs: “Detailed information related to the calendar and activities of Dr. Suresh, as president of a private university, is not made available to the public.” Our two communities are placing our trust in your office that our questions will be answered.
The Oakland Transit Connector project warrants an investigation. You are responsible for seeking justice and protecting the rights of all citizens of Allegheny County, and that is paramount to any political or social relationships. You have demonstrated that integrity throughout your entire career as the district attorney.
Longtime residents of Panther Hollow and The Run continue to pass on from this world. As they are no longer with us to fight for the preservation and protection of their home communities, we now fight on their behalf for the legacy they have given to us. At the end of the December 7 meeting, I asked Director of City Planning Raymond Gastil if this roadway project would continue if the $3 million grant application was denied. He nodded his head yes. Sadly, this means further anxiety, fear, pain and suffering for years to come for the residents of our two communities. From young children and their mothers and fathers to elderly widows, we are all relying on your continuing integrity to do the right thing for our communities, simply because it is the right thing to do.
Supporting materials provided: (Corresponding numbers are on the back of the informational sheets)
1) November 18 Multimodal Transportation Fund grant application received from the Department of Community and Economic Development;
2) December 5 Multimodal Transportation Fund grant application received from the Urban Redevelopment Authority;
3) Letter to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher requesting information about the University of Pittsburgh’s knowledge of the proposed roadway;
4) October 2 email from University of Pittsburgh Attorney Paul Supowitz stating the university has not been involved in any discussions about the proposed roadway;
5) December 8 email to Director of City Planning Raymond Gastil requesting information about the University of Pittsburgh’s involvement about the proposed roadway;
6) Oakland Connector Budget dated September 22, 2015 showing the reduction of the projected costs from $7.2 million to $4.2 million;
7) Oakland Connector Budget dated September 25, 2015 showing a Federal funding listing of $200,000;
8) Letters from Mayor William Peduto, URA Board Chair Kevin Acklin and Regional Industrial Development Corporation President Donald Smith showing funding commitments totaling $1.2 million;
9) Exhibit 14 of the July 31 grant application showing the application will be adopted at the August 31 URA board meeting;
10) Minutes of the August 13 URA board meeting for the ratification of the grant application;
11) Letters to various officials that went unanswered; and
12) A copy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article of August 29.
We are in the midst of Pittsburgh’s biggest scandal and cover-up to date. The Urban Redevelopment Authority wants to build an Oakland Transit Connector roadway from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh through Panther Hollow to the Almono site in Hazelwood. This would destroy one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods. The following is an overview of the situation.
1) The Oakland Transit Connector application filed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority to the Department of Community and Economic Development/Commonwealth Financing Authority for a $3 million Multimodal Transportation Fund grant was filed fraudulently. Fraud is defined as reckless misrepresentation made without justified belief to induce another person to act. The grant application stated: “This project will be a public-private partnership between the City of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University…The Urban Redevelopment Authority will execute the construction of the project and the operator of the shuttle will be a shared entity that includes the universities and large employers.” This supportive relationship was proved fraudulent by an October 2 email from the University of Pittsburgh’s Vice Chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations when he stated: “As he has had no involvement, Chancellor Gallagher asked that I respond to your email to him. The University has not been involved in any discussions about the proposed roadway. We first learned of the URA’s application to the Commonwealth for funding when the article appeared in the Post-Gazette several weeks ago.”
2) The completed application also states: “Not only have the Oakland institutions expressed a need to use this transit connection, their interests extend as to how they may work within the project over time relative to their research and development initiatives around autonomous vehicles.” This statement is also contradictory to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s assertion that the University has not been involved in any discussions about the proposed roadway.
3) The grant application mentions that the act of knowingly making a false statement or overvaluing a security to obtain a grant and/or loan from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may be subject to criminal prosecution. The Department of Community and Economic Development and the Commonwealth Financing Authority will have to determine what course of action they need to take.
4) The grant application was filed on July 31, 2015 without any public meetings, a violation of the Open Meetings Law of Pennsylvania (also known as the Sunshine Act). The Panther Hollow community’s first notification of this grant application and roadway project was an article in the August 29 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The grant application stated: “A resolution confirming the request of funds from the Department of Community and Economic Development for $3 million to be used for the Oakland Connector project will be adopted by the URA board at its next meeting on (August 13) and submitted shortly afterwards.” This suggests absolute certainty that the fund request would be adopted and submitted, indicating an intentional lack of community discussion on the matter. The ratification of the $3 million grant application two weeks after the application was submitted was the only meeting.
5) Pittsburgh’s City Council President represents the Panther Hollow community but has never expressed an interest in the welfare of the residents or how this roadway would impact their lives. He was asked on two separate occasions to provide the community with a copy of the grant application but ignored the request. He either was not able to obtain the application from the mayor, the city’s chief of staff or the Urban Redevelopment Authority, or intentionally withheld it from the community. The grant application that our community was able to obtain, from a different source, has five exhibits missing. The councilman representing the adjacent neighborhood of Greenfield, which will also be severely impacted by the proposed roadway, said he requested the application but the URA failed to provide a copy.
6) An email was sent to the president of Carnegie Mellon University (See Carnegie Mellon University and Media Updates below) requesting information about his involvement in the proposed roadway project. The first response indicated the University has little concern for the communities they impact. The second response that “Detailed information related to the calendar and activities of Dr. Suresh, as president of a private university, is not made available to the public” showed a lack of probity.
7) Over a dozen emails went unanswered that were sent to various officials requesting information pertaining to their involvement in this project. Recipients include the mayor and his chief of staff; the director of city planning and zoning administrator; city council members; board members of the URA; and the president and project manager of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation, property managers of the Almono site.
8) The Almono property is owned by four of Pittsburgh’s largest foundations: Heinz Endowment, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation, and McCune Foundation. Calls to the president of the Heinz Endowment and a trustee of the Benedum Foundation were ignored.
9) This cover-up also extends to the local media, which for the most part has sat by idly as plans progress for the destruction of an historic and iconic neighborhood. The major local television stations have chosen not to report on this matter. One daily newspaper chose not to interview any Panther Hollow residents, while the other daily paper published a single story involving the Panther Hollow residents and a letter to the editor.
The above is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, for there is much more to be uncovered. We the people of the Panther Hollow community will prevail.
On October 1, 2015 I emailed Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh requesting that he provide the Panther Hollow community the following: the dates of all meetings he attended concerning a proposed roadway corridor through city-owned property in Panther Hollow to connect Oakland to the Almono site in Hazelwood; the names of those present at the meetings; the locations of all meetings; his first knowledge of the Multimodal Transportation Fund Grant application; and his first knowledge of the proposed road corridor. I received no response.
On October 12, I walked in front of the President’s office building with a sign reading:
On October 15 I received an email from the Associate Dean of Student Affairs stating, “While CMU has not officially endorsed any specific plan for transit through the Hollow, the potential for this link to enhance economic development and job creation is compelling.” This sentiment indicates that human dignity is not the highest priority of the University.
The response ignored the wishes of Panther Hollow residents who want their neighborhood protected and preserved. One of these residents is an 85-year-old widow who recently had a pacemaker implant operation, and whose health has been adversely affected as she faces the dread of losing her home and the destruction of her neighborhood. Another resident is a widow whose husband passed away one month ago and is completely overwhelmed with grief. Yet another resident is an 80-year-old widow whose father arrived in Panther Hollow over 100 years ago, who raised her family there, and who wishes to live the remainder of her years in a neighborhood she dearly loves. Each longtime resident of Panther Hollow has his or her own story, but even if there were no residents, the neighborhood must be preserved for what it represents to the culture and history of Pittsburgh.
The associate dean’s response is also indicative of a destructive consciousness that, though old, the University perpetuates. President Suresh was a student in his home country of India when Pitt Chancellor Edward Litchfield attempted to destroy Panther Hollow in the 1970s in order that Pitt might build massive research facilities. The chancellor used the same rhetoric as President Suresh uses today to justify the destruction, claiming it necessary for economic development and job creation. This old way of thinking must change.
My response to the email was to reiterate my request for information from President Suresh. A second email from the associate dean stated, “I regret that we will not be able to accommodate your request. Detailed information related to the calendar and activities of Dr. Suresh, as president of a private university, is not made available to the public.” A leader of a university who makes plans to destroy a neighborhood and then refuses to answer questions is not the kind of leadership that our community or the City of Pittsburgh needs or wants. Another protest took place on October 23 in front of the CMU campus with a sign stating “Suresh Must Resign.”
Our community is very grateful for the October 11 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette informing us of the proposed corridor and the accompanying letter to the editor. But why have all the other local media organizations remained silent? Fifteen letters to various city officials and other collaborators have gone unanswered. This should be a clear indication to the media that there is more to this issue than what is already known, and that there may be additional wrongdoing. That silence weakens residents’ trust of their city and local media.
Pittsburgh residents deserve that their media leaders adhere to the highest standards of integrity and want answers to the following questions:
1) Who was involved in writing the 75-page $3 million Multimodal Transportation Fund Grant application? When and where was it composed?
2) How many meetings were held to gather material for the grant application? Where did the meetings take place and who attended?
3) The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Acting Executive Director Robert Rubinstein signed the application. How many meetings did he attend in the preparation of the application? Who else from the URA attended these meetings?
4) The application stated, “This project will be a public-private partnership between the City of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The land for this project is owned by the City of Pittsburgh. The Urban Redevelopment Authority will execute the construction of the project and the operator of the shuttle will be a shared entity that includes the universities and large employers.” Is there a written legal agreement between these four entities? Who claimed that this collaborative relationship exists?
5) The University of Pittsburgh’s Vice Chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations contradicted the above assertion when he wrote in an October 2 email, “As he has had no involvement, Chancellor Gallagher asked that I respond to your email to him. The University has not been involved in any discussions about the proposed roadway.” Were there any other University administrators that assured city officials and the URA that Pitt would be a part of this partnership?
6) The application was submitted on July 31. Our community had no knowledge of the grant application until an article appeared in the August 29 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Page 75 of the filed application Exhibit 14 states, “A resolution confirming the request of funds from the Department of Community and Economic Development for $3 million to be used for the Oakland Connector project will be adopted by the URA board at its next meeting on (August 13) and submitted shortly afterwards.” This exhibit suggests absolute certainty that the fund request would be adopted and submitted, indicating an intentional lack of community discussion on the matter. Who wrote this exhibit?
7) The five members of the URA Board of Directors ratified the grant application on August 13. An email from the URA’s Chief Communications Officer said that this was the only meeting on the topic. Was this meeting the first time these five members saw the application? Were any of them in attendance at meetings about the application prior to August 13? Who gave assurances to the board members that the University of Pittsburgh was involved in discussions about the proposed roadway?
8) Council President Bruce Kraus was asked on September 23 to provide our community a copy of the grant application, but he declined to do so. Councilman Corey O’Connor stated on October 20 that he asked the Urban Redevelopment Authority for the grant application but the authority did not give it to him. Why were our councilmen not given access to the application?
9) How many meetings did Mayor William Peduto attend and with whom concerning the grant application or a proposed roadway corridor through city-owned property in Panther Hollow to connect Oakland to the Almono site in Hazelwood? Who did he meet with at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University?
10) The minutes for the ratification of the grant application on August 13 read, “Mr. Acklin stated he has started to attend the partner meetings on behalf of the city with RIDC.” How many meetings did the city’s chief of staff attend with officials of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation? Where did the meetings occur? Are there minutes of the meetings? How extensive was his involvement with the writing of the grant application? Who did he meet with at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University? Who else did he meet with this year concerning the roadway corridor?
11) On Page 72 of the filed application Exhibit 9 is a letter of support from Director of City Planning Raymond Gastil expressing support for the application. How many meetings did he have and with whom concerning the application and proposed roadway?
12) The Almono site is owned by four of the largest foundations in Pittsburgh. What involvement did President Grant Oliphant of the Heinz Endowment have concerning the writing of the grant application? Did he approve the application? How many meetings did he attend and who did he meet with concerning the proposed roadway? These questions could also be asked of Trustee William Pat Getty of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, and leaders at the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the McCune Foundation.
13) How much money has the city already spent regarding the grant application and the proposed roadway corridor? Does the City Controller have reason to conduct his own investigation? Have federal funds been allocated and spent concerning the grant application and roadway corridor?
14) The state has given millions of dollars for the Almono site development. Have state funds been spent concerning the grant application and the proposed roadway? Does the State Auditor General have reason to conduct his own investigation?
Community efforts will continue until the $3 million Multimodal Grant application is either rescinded by city officials and/or the Urban Redevelopment Authority, or rejected at a scheduled hearing by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. We take these actions not only for the living longtime residents of Panther Hollow, but also for the blessed dead longtime residents who built, protected, and preserved this iconic neighborhood.
SAVE PANTHER HOLLOW. Those three words are easy to say, but they present a tremendous challenge to our longtime residents in stopping a proposed roadway through the heart of our neighborhood. Those seeking to destroy one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods are among the most powerful entities in the city. We fully intend to triumph over this proposed roadway, and we will do so in a manner in which we uphold our ideals, principles, self-respect, and dignity. A journey such as this, to maintain continuity and connection to the past and to preserve a beloved neighborhood, is truly what makes one’s life more meaningful. In accomplishing this feat, we bind ourselves to our history, to one another, and to our own spirituality.
Panther Hollow is a part of the larger neighborhood of Oakland. It is situated in a valley below the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The city of Pittsburgh’s plan, known as the Oakland Transit Corridor, would build a roadway connecting Oakland to a development site in Hazelwood. The roadway would also run through the adjacent neighborhood of Greenfield in a small section known as “The Run.” We have aligned ourselves with the good people of Greenfield because the city’s proposed road corridor would destroy their neighborhood as well.
The city’s plan for this road corridor first came to our community’s attention via an August 29 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The project was unanticipated by the Panther Hollow community, and created anxiety, fear and dread, especially for the elderly residents. Neither Mayor William Peduto, nor Chief of Staff and Chief Development Officer Kevin Acklin, nor our Pittsburgh City Council members, nor leaders of the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University had the compassion or integrity to inform the longtime residents of this plan. Without the newspaper article our community would still be uninformed.
Pittsburgh’s mayor is Italian American, and his chief of staff was born and raised in Oakland. Despite this, the two of them kept this plan, and any agendas associated with it, secret from our community. The longtime residents of Panther Hollow and others impacted by this plan will not be sacrificed for the desires of city and university administrators or the financial benefit of others. That this roadway plan was initiated in such an unjustified way underscores the grave challenges facing our community. This secretive manner in which the Urban Redevelopment Authority ratified a $3 million dollar application for a state grant to help pay for the first phase of this project warrants investigation to determine if there were any illegal actions or violations of city, county, or state laws.
This is not the first time the city, universities, developers, and others have attempted to destroy Panther Hollow. In the 1970s a plan was proposed to build University of Pittsburgh research facilities in Panther Hollow, but the actions of the men and women of our community prevailed in preserving the neighborhood. We honor the individuals who made it possible for our neighborhood to continue existing. We fully expect those who support this new roadway to regurgitate the 1970s rhetoric about how essential the roadway is to the growth of the city and universities. Panther Hollow was preserved then without harming growth, and the same will be true in preserving Panther Hollow today.
It is not easy to bring to light the wrongdoings of our two major universities, but problems continue to grow when neglected. Panther Hollow was an established community with hundreds of residents before the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University existed in Oakland. The community’s ongoing problems with Pittsburgh’s two major universities are rooted in the elitist attitude and greed of their administrators.
It is important to separate the researchers and innovators of these universities from the administrators. World-renowned Dr. Thomas Starzl, known as the father of organ transplants, would often meet with Oakland residents to share coffee, donuts, and good conversation. Dr. Starzl and other innovators from Pitt and CMU who have created astonishing feats for the good of mankind deserve our highest praise and gratitude. This positive impact seems to be lacking at the administrative level of these two universities insofar as decisions which may impact their host communities.
The University of Pittsburgh has decimated much of South Oakland with its uncontrolled growth, while Carnegie Mellon University has done the same to North Oakland. In the case of Pitt, ownership of approximately 100 buildings, nearly 9,000 dormitory beds, and 30,000 students in Oakland is not enough. This greed-based expansion dates back to the 1970s when Pitt demolished renowned Forbes Field. Pitt then persuaded the state to invoke eminent domain on the homes, businesses and church across the street, with the stipulation that only university buildings could be constructed there. At the time, South Bouquet Street had approximately a dozen students and over 200 residents; today there are 700 students and three residents. Carnegie Mellon University behaved with similar disregard when they purchased a building occupied by a hospice service, and then converted it to a dormitory for students.
Belief precedes experience. For there to be long lasting and positive changes for our community, it is of utmost importance that there is a change in the beliefs and attitudes of university and city administrators. At a community meeting about a decade ago, a now deceased resident of Panther Hollow asked a Pitt associate vice chancellor when would Pitt’s expansion in Oakland end. The insolent response was: “Never.” This associate vice chancellor, who has never lived in Oakland, also appeared before the city council in 2010 seeking approval for Pitt’s Master Plan. On his map of Oakland he pointed out various places for Pitt’s expansion and referred to them as “areas of opportunity.” We call those places “home.”
The city council hearings for approval of Pitt’s Master Plan, a plan that will impact our community for generations, were chaired by our current mayor. The May 6 hearing lasted only 15 minutes with no mention of how the plan would affect the Oakland community. The May 12 hearing was concluded after 58 seconds. At the third hearing, the council voted 9-0 to approve the Master Plan. Those hearings practically gave Pitt carte blanche to expand into our neighborhood, and are a clear indication of the strong alliance between Pitt and city officials, which is so destructive to our community. The alliance between the city and CMU is just as strong and just as destructive to Oakland.
Panther Hollow provides the city of Pittsburgh with a strong sense of place. For the longtime residents it is the dwelling place not only of our memories but also of our greater desires. Because of its rich Italian American heritage, Panther Hollow is an ideal location for an Italian Cultural Center. Instead of wanting to destroy our neighborhood, the vast resources of the city and universities should be focused on preserving Pittsburgh’s proud Italian tradition and should make this vision a reality.
Our community fully understands that city and university officials, developers, and other supporters of this roadway project may continue with their uncaring ways and ignore our calls to abandon the roadway through Panther Hollow. We may need the legal assistance of courageous and compassionate individuals who are committed to supporting this cause. As such, in the future there will be a crowd funding link to help with a defense fund. We hope you will take the opportunity to become involved, because insatiable greed is a cancer that can spread to any neighborhood.
Defining moments are life changing. You can walk away or decide to stick your neck out. We ask that you project yourself into the future and then look back to the present. We hope you will then say: I became involved and made a difference to SAVE PANTHER HOLLOW.
This morning’s comments will focus on the community of Panther Hollow. Many of those individuals who seek to destroy Panther Hollow with an ill-conceived roadway project have never made the time to know its residents, or experienced the neighborhood’s peace and serenity.
The historical and cultural significance of Panther Hollow, one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods, is well documented on the website www.PantherHollow.us. The neighborhood continues to have an Italian sense of place. Preservationist organizations and historically-minded citizens understand the importance of protecting and preserving this iconic neighborhood.
Mayor William Peduto, who often talks about his Italian roots, does not share that belief. The mayor’s allegiance is with Carnegie Mellon University and the Almono site’s profit-seeking owners and property managers, among others. As a councilman, he allowed the universities to destroy much of Oakland. However, the line is drawn at Panther Hollow.
Descendants of early immigrant families visit to show their children the neighborhood where their grandparents lived. Last week, I met with a childhood friend visiting with his younger sister and significant other. We walked past every house recalling the people of the past and beautiful memories there, and ended the day by visiting with longtime residents who never moved away. That was a magical day of remembrance.
There is a famous movie playing this time of year called It’s a Wonderful Life. In a poignant scene, Jimmy Stewart says to his angel, “I wish I was never born.” The angel shows him what the neighborhood would look like then. In a similar fashion of projecting into the future, would the name of our neighborhood be changed to Pedutoville? Would the site of the Italian social club that provided for the welfare of newly arrived immigrants become a four-hundred bed dormitory for Carnegie Mellon University students? Would the area where children played for countless days of fun and laughter instead be filled with CMU President Subra Suresh’s autonomous vehicles? Would eminent domain cause all the longtime residents to move away?
There is a force that cannot be fully described in words, and that is beyond our imaginations, which the residents of Panther Hollow have for this sacred place and the mayor and his supporters do not. That force is called love. And that force that residents have for their beloved neighborhood will prevail. There will be no roadway through Panther Hollow.
My comments will continue this afternoon at the Standing Committee meeting.
Lack of Integrity
The lack of integrity in city government is again the focus of my comments. The mayor’s plan to build a roadway through the communities of Panther Hollow and The Run was deceptive to the public when a $3 million grant was applied for in secret. However, it was also deceptive to our councilmen Bruce Kraus and Corey O’Connor, who were unaware of the plan until a month after the URA submitted the application.
The deception and disrespect to our council members continued last week. In an interview with the Pittsburgh City Paper, a reporter asked Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin when the idea for the transit connector first materialized. He responded that it was “irrelevant,” and thus the secrecy continues. The council members were also deceived when the URA gave them the application. Numerous important documents were missing. Some of these documents included letters to the State Department of Community and Economic Development from Mayor William Peduto, Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin, and RIDC President Donald Smith, as well as budget sheets showing the project cost was reduced from $7.2 million to $4.2 million.
Council members were further deceived when the city said that lights were needed on the bike trail parallel to the proposed roadway, due to a vast increase in bike traffic because of the Greenfield Bridge closure. Residents of both communities will tell you this justification is untrue. City administrators further insulted our council members’ intelligence when the city revealed that these seventeen light structures will be removed when the bridge reopens. Honest individuals will tell you this lighting work is connected to construction projects on Second Avenue and Almono, and has very little to do with any bike traffic increase.
The application for the $3 million grant itself is deceitful to the decision-making Commonwealth Financing Authority. Numerous individuals who support this roadway project have not commented or have refused to reply to inquiries. These individuals can continue with their arrogance and avoid answering to the communities and media. However, they may not be able to do so with the district attorney’s office. A four-page letter was hand-delivered to the office of the District Attorney Stephen Zappala. This roadway project warrants an investigation, and our communities trust in the integrity of the judicial system. The letter can be viewed on the website www.SavePantherHollow.com. We will continue to shine the light on this roadway project and we welcome further support from the media.
Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority expects to learn next week whether it will receive up to $3 million in state funding to help build a road for shuttles through Oakland’s Junction Hollow.
The shuttle-only road would be part of a larger, $7.2 million project to provide a faster, more direct link between Oakland’s universities and two development sites along the Monongahela River — South Oakland’s existing Pittsburgh Technology Center and a 178-acre site in Hazelwood where $1.1 billion in development is planned, including space for high-tech research and development.
“We clearly recognize the potential for this link to enhance economic development and job creation,” Carnegie Mellon University spokeswoman Abby Simmons said.
But Carlino Giampolo of Oakland’s Panther Hollow section, just north of Junction Hollow Trail, is concerned added traffic and noise would “destroy what I think is one of Pittsburgh’s most unique neighborhoods.”
The URA’s application for state funding said the proposed shuttle route would “run south down Boundary Street (Panther Hollow’s main thoroughfare) and then move onto the Junction Hollow Trail until ending where it meets Boundary Street again” in Greenfield. From there, the shuttles would follow Saline Street en route to the Almono site and Pittsburgh Technology Center, according to the application, which shows the route extending through Hazelwood.
Giampolo is concerned that the project would eat up homes and land, destroying the secluded neighborhood.
URA Chairman Kevin Acklin, who is Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff and chief development officer, said the “course of the connection has not been determined and will be subject to robust discussion with the public and stakeholders.”
At the same time, Acklin said “our strong preference is for the transit connection to parallel as much as possible the existing rail line” that runs through the area and avoid Junction Hollow Trail. He said the route ideally would veer off Boundary Street in the area of Joncaire, without entering the Panther Hollow neighborhood.
Acklin said the road would use public land along the railroad right-of-way. If the city used the eastern side of the tracks, it would need court approval because the land sits in Schenley Park, Acklin said.
“There will be no disruption of neighborhoods that happens as part of this connection,” Acklin said.
About two to 12 shuttles would run hourly, and they would carry an estimated 250 daily passengers, URA documents show.
Once an enclave for hundreds of Italian immigrants and their families, Panther Hollow sits in the shadow of the Cathedral of Learning at the bottom of steep Joncaire Street, largely tucked away from Oakland’s hustle and bustle. Giampolo — who some residents call the “Mayor of Panther Hollow” — said college students now outnumber the fewer than two dozen longtime residents.
Aside from some students’ occasional late-night activities and the trains and cars that rarely pass through, Giampolo said, “It’s serene and peaceful down here. You can hear the birds chirping. … We don’t exist to benefit Carnegie Mellon and Pitt.”
South of Junction Hollow Trail, in Greenfield, Dave Proctor of Proctor’s Garage said he welcomed the connection.
“It’s progress. If it helps develop that (Almono) site, I say do it. It would be good for everybody,” Proctor said.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Pittsburgh City Council
October 20, 2015
Lack of Integrity in Government
For the past eight years I have spoken before this legislative body of the suffering of the longtime residents of Panther Hollow and Oakland because of the University of Pittsburgh’s never-ending expansion. While Pitt has severely impacted South Oakland, Carnegie Mellon University has been doing the same to North Oakland. I repeatedly asked that this council and the city’s executive branch have compassion for the residents, and have insisted that human dignity must be the highest priority of the universities and our government. My words went unheeded.
Our focus now is on the judicial branch of government to give our community the justice we deserve.
On July 31, the Urban Redevelopment Authority filed an application with the State Department of Community and Economic Development for a $3 million Multimodal Transportation Fund grant. The purpose of that grant, according to the application, was to build a roadway from Neville Street through Panther Hollow continuing on to the Almono site in Hazelwood. This plan would destroy Panther Hollow, one of Pittsburgh’s first Italian neighborhoods.
The application was filed fraudulently.
The application states: “This project will be a public-private partnership between the City of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The land for this project is owned by the City of Pittsburgh. The Urban Redevelopment Authority will execute the construction of the project and the operator of the shuttle will be a shared entity that includes the universities and large employers.”
A University of Pittsburgh vice chancellor emailed me on October 2: “The University has not been involved in any discussions about the proposed roadway. We first learned of the URA’s application to the Commonwealth for funding when the article appeared in the Post-Gazette several weeks ago.”
This assertion contradicts the grant application.
Although the application was filed on July 31, it was not ratified by the URA until August 13. No meetings took place other than for the ratification. Our first public notification was in the Post-Gazette article of August 29.
No council members have spoken up for the Panther Hollow community, or even acknowledged the possible effects it would feel from this project. Twelve city officials have not responded to letters requesting additional information about this project.
Integrity in government is not a window to open when the cameras are rolling and to close when the cameras are off. It is a window that must remain open.
City officials must break their silence and respond to our letters. We ask that they abide by this spirit-freeing principle – be honest, even if it is not in your best interest.
Panther Hollow is a quiet, hear-the-birds-chirp kind of neighborhood in the heart of the city, and its most outspoken resident wants to make sure it doesn’t go from bucolic to bus thoroughfare overnight.
Carlino Giampolo, 69, a semi-regular at City Council meetings, grew up in a house at the end of Boundary Street. As a boy, he was surrounded by 250 neighbors who could all trace their lineage to two villages in Italy’s mountainous Abruzzi region.
His parents’ generation of homeowners is nearly all gone or widowed, but this valley in Central Oakland remains sacred ground to Mr. Giampolo and others. We sat at a neighborhood picnic table striped in the green, white and red of the Italian flag as he unloaded his concerns about a proposed transit link between the nearby universities and the billion-dollar development planned for the Hazelwood Flats.
Those rubber-tire shuttles would have to come through Panther Hollow.
Tommy D’Andrea, 42, a city firefighter and Democratic committeeman, lives about a quarter-mile south. He says the residents of his stretch of Greenfield popularly known as “The Run’’ also don’t want the $7.2 million roadway through their quiet neighborhood.
What these men also don’t like is finding out about it in the newspaper.
Now, given that there’s already a rail line carrying at least eight trains a day through the hollow, there ought to be a way to do this without high impact on Panther Hollow. The worst-case scenario was taken off the picnic table for Mr. Giampolo when I relayed the assertion by Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, that the shuttle could use city right-of-way on either side of the railroad on the hill and not run through the grassy area where we sat.
But Mr. Giampolo said he’ll stand with M. D’Andrea and the people of ”The Run’’ — officially Four Mile Run — to make sure that neighborhood isn’t hurt either.
Again, with the railroad skirting the western boundary of The Run, there should be a way to satisfy the neighborhood and still link university brainiacs to the development in Hazelwood. That 178-acre Almono site, owned by four Pittsburgh foundations, is where an LTV steel plant once stood. The tech boom has sent rents soaring in Oakland, so easily accessed offices just a bit farther south should do well. This new wrinkle in public transit could also benefit the communities now wary of it.
But no one can blame these longtime residents for feeling incidental, not integral, to the city’s plans. Mr. Acklin, who also chairs the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the transit announcement came before there were any neighborhood meetings because the URA needed to meet a deadline to apply for a $3 million state grant.
Neighborhood meetings will come before the year is out, he said. Meantime, the city is still fleshing out the details for this project that could break ground in June.
Officials should expect an earful when those meetings commence.
Mr. D’Andrea said at least one street in his neighborhood hasn’t been paved in 30 years, flood issues have lingered unaddressed and vacant, blighted homes still stand. The answer from city hall is always a lack of money.
“We get no love,’’ he says. So it irked him to pick up his Post-Gazette and read that the city is suddenly moving at warp speed to devote $7.2 million to “basically coddle tax-free entities.’’
When those entities spin off private-sector jobs in the city, that’s good for Pittsburgh. Taking cars out of Oakland also is a good idea — as long as commuters’ cars aren’t simply transferred to residential neighborhoods such as The Run. Those are the nittty-gritty details that are best figured out at street level by the people who have been living on them for decades.
Mr. Giampolo loves his Panther Hollow neighborhood so much his other home in Honolulu can’t hold him. He says, “I’m pretty much here until we get this resolved.’’ A longtime critic of the universities for not addressing the problems students cause in the old neighborhoods, he’s focused on this single issue now.
“He’ll have a seat at the table,’’ Mr. Acklin promised,”but he doesn’t run the table.’’
The grant application was accelerated to meet a deadline, but there should be plenty of time to tinker. The city’s asking for money from a state that doesn’t even have a budget yet.
Carlino Giampolo, the unofficial mayor of Oakland, has loved his community for more than thirty years, which is why he’s fighting the city’s most recent expansion project and pledging to “Save Panther Hollow.”
Giampolo has long campaigned against the University for the preservation of his community in Panther Hollow, a tiny neighborhood which lies along Boundary Street in the Junction Hollow valley below Oakland.
Now, he wants to raise awareness for another campaign against a proposed transportation corridor through Junction Hollow and the Panther Hollow neighborhood.
That road would connect Oakland and its universities to Almono, a former steel mill site in Hazelwood, along the Monongahela River. A coalition of Pittsburgh foundations and nonprofits plan to redevelop Almono into a prime destination for new housing and office space.
According to preliminary plans, if the city builds this transit link, it will run along South Neville Street in Oakland, down from its intersection with Forbes Avenue at South Neville Street, and onto Boundary Street through Panther Hollow. It would continue onto a proposed road along the existing bike trail through Panther Hollow before reconnecting with Boundary Street as it enters Greenfield.
“Connecting the [Almono] site to the rest of the community is a priority,” Katie O’Malley, a spokesperson for Mayor William Peduto, wrote in an e-mail.
But Giampolo worries that Boundary Street becoming part of this corridor could destroy the tight-knit Panther Hollow community. Although he initially agreed to an interview, he later declined as he wanted to develop his campaign further before talking with The Pitt News. The Pitt News called him two more times and spoke to him at his home, but Giampolo still declined to comment.
However, Giampolo has publicized his concerns in blog entries on the Save Panther Hollow website.
The project’s announcement “created anxiety, fear and dread, especially for the elderly residents” of Panther Hollow, Giampolo wrote in a blog post on Sept. 24.
“We fully intend to triumph over this proposed roadway,” Giampolo wrote in the post, “and we will do so in a manner in which we uphold our ideals, principles, self-respect and dignity.”
Save Panther Hollow isn’t the first site on which Giampolo has expressed his views on issues within Oakland. On the Oakland Dignity site, he has published numerous essays and open letters about Pitt’s expansion into Oakland, which he considers destructive to the community of permanent residents, and about student-caused problems like noise and litter.
“For far too long, community organizations have allowed the University of Pittsburgh to dictate how residents of the community were able to live,” Giampolo wrote in a December 2013 post on Oakland Dignity.
Paul Supowitz, the vice chancellor for community and governmental relations at Pitt, said he’s familiar with Giampolo’s concerns.
Supowitz said litter is still a problem. Although he said community initiatives like Keep it Clean, Oakland! — a collaborative project with the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation in which students, residents and business owners adopt blocks and keep them litter-free — have improved the situation.
“I do not think we’re satisfied, especially on the litter front,” Supowitz said.
As for the other student-caused problems, Pat Corelli, Student Government Board’s governmental relations committee chair, said he doesn’t think Giampolo’s complaints pertain to most students living in the Oakland community.
“The vast majority of students living off campus are responsible,” Corelli said.
Still, Corelli said there’s not much of a relationship between students and Oakland’s permanent residents. According to Corelli, many students don’t bother getting to know residents, who, in turn, often consider students to be nuisances.
“I think a lot of students have come to the conclusion that we should have more of a sense of community,” Corelli said.
To help build that sense of community, Supowitz said, Pitt issues the Student Guide to Campus Life, a document meant to make students understand they’re not the only ones in South Oakland and that they have responsibilities as community members.
Supowitz also said recent Pitt “block parties” — where students and permanent residents meet — have gotten them to talk to each other and address problems as they appear.
According to Supowitz, he and Pitt try to respond to Oakland residents’ concerns. He said his office has monthly meetings with community groups like the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, Peoples Oakland and the Oakland Business Improvement District. Although he can’t deny that Giampolo is passionate, Supowitz said Giampolo might have the wrong approach to some local problems. Giampolo doesn’t want to work with established community groups, preferring to act on his own, Supowitz said.
“He’s a person with his head in the right place, but he makes it difficult to work with him because of the way he goes about things,” Supowitz said.
Along with his outspoken activism, Giampolo’s deep history in Oakland make him a figurehead in the community.
The 68-year-old resident has lived in the area for his entire life. He attended Central Catholic High School and graduated from Duquesne University around 1970.
Family members say Giampolo is proud of his neighborhood, which sits relatively unseen at the bottom of Joncaire Street in South Oakland. Italian immigrants from the towns of Pizzoferrato and Gamberale settled into the neighborhood in the late 1800s. Most of those families, including Giampolo’s, still live in that area today.
Giampolo lives catty-corner to his extended family. He also lives across the street from a friend that he’s known for 40 years.
“Down here, it’s a handshake,” said George Casciato, Giampolo’s distant cousin. “In the rest of the world, you have to have contracts.”
A small patch of grass sits in the crook of Boundary Street, the main road through Panther Hollow. Picnic tables striped with red, white and green represent the neighborhood’s Italian pride. The community planted two trees in remembrance of Giampolo’s father, Carl Sr., and his uncle, Bob.
A small plaque under a white arbor in the parklet lists the surnames of the families who first settled in the area. “Giampolo” is sandwiched between a slew of other Italian names.
Anna Casciato, Giampolo’s aunt, said her nephew wears his Italian heritage “like a banner.”
Giampolo works to keep the community clean. He uses his own money to beautify the area, Anna Casciato said, cleaning up the hillside and planting flowers.
Pitt administrators have also noticed Giampolo’s dedication to keeping Panther Hollow clean. While discussing litter problems in Oakland, Supowitz singled out Boundary Street as a particularly “pristine” area.
George Casciato said his cousin fights for the people in the community. He works to inform his neighbors of what’s going on in Oakland and fights for the surrounding community to respect the native residents in Panther Hollow.
“This is our town,” George Casciato said. “He fought, and has been fighting that forever.”
Anna Casciato also testified to Giampolo’s work ethic.
“He wants to do it all the right way and he never gives up,” she said. “He’s someone who gets an idea and he sticks with it.”
Whether he’s fighting for his community or dancing across the country, family and friends say Giampolo always keeps moving.
“I don’t know if he has spare time,” George Casciato said.
And the city assures that it cares about the people living in the communities that the Almono project might affect, should it come to fruition.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority board of directors recently ratified an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for a $3 million grant to design the link, according to an Oct. 5 post on Save Panther Hollow.
Although the project is still in the planning stages, O’Malley said any plans for an Oakland-Almono transportation corridor would engage the community.
“Mayor Peduto and Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin care a great deal about the effects that projects have on a community,” O’Malley wrote in an email. “If and when the transportation corridor project comes to light, community stakeholders will be at the table and community feedback will be vital to the process.