By Carlino Giampolo
October 27, 2015
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:
Save Panther Hollow
One of Pittsburgh’s First Italian Neighborhoods
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.