By Carlino Giampolo
November 1, 2015
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.