Stephen Zappala, Jr.
Allegheny County District Attorney
436 Grant Street #303
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
July 11, 2018
RE: Oakland Transit Connector
Dear Mr. Zappala:
I am writing to you once again concerning the proposed Oakland Transit Connector project. On December 14, 2015, I hand-delivered a letter to your office, along with supporting materials, stating that this project warrants an investigation by your office.
You have chosen not to respond. However, it is now time to break the silence. The tragedy of this ill‑conceived project continues today, as evidenced by this letter to you. Your silence is a mystery, and from mysteries come numerous possible solutions. Here are a few questions we have for you:
1) Did you read my letter with the supporting documents and decide not to do an investigation? If so, why not? Were you contacted by any City and County political officials, leaders of the foundations that own the old Almono site, or any University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University leaders about this possible investigation? If so, what were you told?
2) If your office did an investigation, who conducted the investigation and how extensive was it?
3) As you know, on July 31, 2015, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) then Acting Executive Director Robert Rubinstein submitted an application in secret for a $3 million Multimodal Transportation Fund grant to the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA). Was DCED and CFA deceived about the funds available for the project, and was there an overvaluation of a security amount to obtain the grant?
4) Mayor William Peduto stated in a letter to the DCED that the City of Pittsburgh will be committing $400,000 in the 2017 budget for the construction of this project. Did the mayor overvalue a security to obtain the grant?
5) The application was submitted by the URA on July 31, 2015, but was not ratified by the board until August 13, 2015. Board Chair Kevin Acklin wrote a letter to DCED stating that the URA will be committing $400,000 to be used in the construction of this project. Did the board chair also overvalue a security to obtain the grant? As you know, he was also the mayor’s chief of staff and has since resigned to work for a public utility company.
6) The application stated that the project will be a public-private partnership between the city of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University. However, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher stated that he had no involvement in this project. University of Pittsburgh Attorney Paul Supowitz stated that the university was not involved in any discussions about the roadway project, and that they first learned about the proposed roadway in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. Were university officials and city officials questioned by your office about this discrepancy? Who is telling the truth: University of Pittsburgh officials, or those who prepared and submitted the grant?
7) Former CMU president Subra Suresh resigned in 2017, making his tenure the shortest in the school’s history. For some, this created another cloud of mystery. Was he questioned extensively by your office about this project? Did he eventually become aware of the injustice this project would cause to the communities impacted, or by the morally corrupt manner in which it was proceeding? Did he decide not to become further involved, thus creating tensions with others at CMU who do support the project?
8) The McCune Foundation was one of the four original foundation owners of the old Almono site. The leaders made the decision to sell their interest to the Richard King Mellon Foundation, thus creating another mystery. Were the leaders of the McCune Foundation investigated by your office as well as the leaders of the other foundation owners – Heinz Endowments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation? What were the results of the investigation, if any?
9) It was discovered that the land for this roadway project proposed in the grant is owned by a railway company, the city of Pittsburgh, and the University of Pittsburgh. The assertion in the application which stated the land for this project is owned solely by the city of Pittsburgh is not true and was deceptive to the CFA. Did your office investigate this untruth?
10) There were two versions of the application: one given to our community with pages missing, and one that was more complete and given to the DCED and CFA. Did your office investigate this discrepancy?
11) What was the involvement of Uber? Were there secret deals made between Uber and the city, foundations, and university officials?
12) The grant application stated there would be $200,000 of federal funds for the project, but there is no documentation of federal approval. Did you investigate this, or is this the domain of federal investigators?
We as a community are suspending judgment, for we want to hear from you directly. Both the #MeToo movement and this project bring to light once again that shame that is masked, denied, numbed, or ignored continues to grow. Similar to this project, the Duquesne Light Company recently purchased a parking lot in our community for $5.45 million in secret, without informing city council representatives, Oakland organizations, or our community.
In 1963, when former University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Edward Litchfield wanted to destroy Panther Hollow to build his futuristic 21stCentury Research Park, he also wanted to demolish your alma mater Central Catholic High School. Litchfield failed and the residents of Panther Hollow prevailed, allowing you and over 10,000 other graduates since to create memories and forge a solid moral foundation there.
Silence is compliance. Stand tall. Stand proud. Stand out. We trust you will respond this time, from your deepest inner integrity about everything you know. In the end, we believe goodness and truth will prevail.
The December 14, 2015 letter is on the website: www.SavePantherHollow.com