Monday, August 31, 2009

Public Hearing Held In City On Verizon Cable Agreement

Pittsburgh City Council today held a public hearing on the proposed licensing agreement with Verizon Inc. to provide cable service to the city. Over 90 people were registered to speak at the hearing. Many people who were opposed to the agreement were members of Pittsburgh Community TV or PCTV, the city's public access station. The PCTV members were opposed to the licensing agreement because the station receives its funding from a percentage of Comcast Cable revenues and if the agreement with Verizon is approved then it is expected that Comcast's revenues would drop therefore lowering the funding level of PCTV. Part of Verizon's agreement with the city would require them to create PEG (public, educational and government) channels. Comcast operates 3 PEG channels for the city. Also at issue during the meeting were allegations that Verizon uses illegal aliens to construct the infrastructure needed to provide its cable, telephone and Internet services.

City Controller Michael Lamb spoke briefly at the hearing and said that with the increased competition among cable companies the city would see an increase in revenues from the cable companies and possibly a drop in prices as a result of the increased competition. City Council still has to vote on the agreement with Verizon before it is official. Part of the agreement would require that Verizon provide service to the entire city within 6 years and as they build up to providing complete service not discriminate in where they make service available. That means that both more affluent and economically depressed neighborhoods in the city will have equal opportunities to purchase service from Verizon.

Agreements on Land for Flight 93 Memorial

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that the National Park Service has reached agreement with all 8 landowners to acquire all of the property needed for the Flight 93 Memorial and National Park.
United Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville in Somerset County September 1, 2001 as passengers wrestled with terrorists for control of the plane. It's believed the terrorists planned to crash the plane into the White House or U.S. Capitol.
Secretary Salazar says they reached agreement on purchase prices with 7 of the 8 landowners. He wouldn't say the department used eminent domain to acquire the 275 acres owned by Zvonavec Inc. including the spot of impact of the jet. Salazar said the department and Zvonavec agreed to allow the courts to determine the fair market value. If the department used eminent domain, the landowner would have been forced to accept the court's determination. The total land acquisition costs are expected to be $9.5 million.

Salazar says these agreements are a critical step forward..."The fields of Western Pennsylvania are hallowed ground for a nation that is eternally grateful for the passengers of Flight 93. They are heroes and today is a milestone in commemorating their contribution to our country. I could not be more proud that the Flight 93 Memorial will soon stand in their honor."

Ground is to be broken this fall and construction begin in November on the $58 million, 2,200 acre Memorial and National Park. Salazar says it is on schedule to be completed by the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Race, Sex and Insurance are Factors in Liver Transplants

A recent study published by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh finds disparities in the liver transplant system by gender, race, and type of insurance. The retrospective stud looked at the records of 144,507 patients who were admitted to Pennsylvania hospitals for a liver related diagnosis between 1994 and 2001. The study found that overall 3% were evaluated at a transplant center, which is the first step toward getting a liver transplant. Among males 3.4% were evaluated while only 2.6% of females were evaluated. The disparity is even large for “whites” and “blacks” where the evaluation rate for whites was 3.0% and 1.9% for blacks. The impact by insurance finds those who have commercial insurance were evaluated 5.2% of the time, Medicare users were evaluated 3.1% of the time and Medicaid users were evaluated just 1.4% of the time. Lead author Cindy Bryce, Ph.D., says even when issues such as type of liver ailment were factored out of the equation the disparities were still apparent. She says she thinks several factors go into making the disparities. The gaps begin to lessen as patients move from being evaluated to being listed for transplant and on to actually receiving transplanted livers. Bryce says doctors could be making fewer referrals for one set of patients than for another, there could be barriers for patients to get to the transplant centers from remote hospitals, there could be other financial limitations and there could be some cultural differences at play. Bryce says she would like to be able to do a study of the patients as they move through the system to better understand some of the aspects not related to actual referrals but she says it is very difficult to track the patients in “real time.” She says this study has “opened the box” and now the disparities can be further studied and new policies, practices and programs can be put in place to help close the gap. Bryce warns though that this could result in more demand for the already limited number of organs available for transplant.

Pittsburgh Public School P.E. Teachers Learn Yoga

Today and tomorrow, 25 physical education teachers will be trained to incorporate yoga into their P.E. classes using the Yoga Ed Curriculum, a standardized model of physical and emotional wellness. This curriculum is used around the nation and meets physical education requirements. The Pittsburgh Public School District formed a partnership with Yoga in Schools to do the training.
Joanne Spence, Executive Director of Yoga in Schools, says yoga will benefit students in both mind and body as they learn self-care and self-awareness while building physical and mental strength. She says they could use these exercises for the rest of their lives to relieve stress and remain physically active.
Stence says this will be a permanent program and hopes to extend it to any other schools that are interested.

Pension Amendment Proposed

Pittsburgh's Municipal Pension Fund Board is drafting an amendment to ask the Pennsylvania House to give the city two years to come up with the capital to stabilize its pension fund which is at only 28% of its obligations for retirees and current city employees. The Ravenstahl Administration has proposed leasing city-owned parking garages and using that revenue to bolster support for the pension fund. The board will present the amendment to State Representative Joe Preston of Pittsburgh who is a member of the State House Rules Committee. If the House rejects the amendment, then Pittsburgh's pension fund would be taken over by the state. The Ravenstahl Administration has warned that could mean increases in annual payments of at least $25 million in 2 years.

Budget Conference Panel Tries Again

With private negotiations stalled and the budget impasse 2 months old, the Pennsylvania House/Senate conference committee will reconvene in Harrisburg Tuesday morning
The last time this happened, the session devolved into bickering, and no real progress was made.
Political scientist Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College says he doesn’t expect much more this time, mostly due to the meeting’s public nature.

"The problem with doing it in public is that the sausage making part of it could turn out to be ugly. I’ll give you A, you give me B. you want this aspect of a policy in health care, you give me this aspect of a policy in education."

Madonna says that type of blunt negotiating is better suited for private sessions. The gap is closing—Democrats and Republicans were two billion dollars apart when the impasse began.
Their current “spend numbers” are separated by just 400-million dollars now.

State Preparing New Healthcare Program

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the Department of Aging are working on a program called The Integrated Care Initiative that would combine medicare and medicaid coverage in Pennsylvania. The state is working on the program because of the amount of people who are dual members of the programs and experience multiple payment systems, provider networks and benefits. It is believed that by combining the two programs into one provider, receiving medical and supportive services would become less confusing for the consumer. The program will not begin accepting enrollments until June of 2010 and will not be fully up and running until January of 2011.

Hospitals Prepare for the G-20

As city, state and federal officials prepare the Pittsburgh area for the G-20 Summit, local hospitals are getting their emergency rooms ready for whatever may come their way.
Thousands of people will be in the region. Historically, Allegheny General Hospital has been the designated White House Hospital, where the president would be treated if he got sick.
There are two other trauma hospitals in the Pittsburgh region. They are UMPC Mercy and Presbyterian.
Hospitals outside the region, such as St. Clair Hospital, are also getting ready.
We visit all of the hospitals.
Listen to a longer version of this story here.

Point Park Makeover Continues

The next phase of renovations at Point State Park has begun, and subsequently many of the riverside areas have been closed to the public. Specifically, the wharf areas and walkways along the rivers, restrooms, the fountain, woodland areas, and boat tie-ups will be blocked to pedestrians.

Visitors can still access the city-side lawn, the Portal Bridge, the Great Lawn, the North and South Shore walkways, and both the Fort Pitt Blockhouse and Museum.

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokeswoman Christina Novak says the iconic fountain will be closed for improvements and maintenance. Although the jet will be shut off for a year or more, it will make appearances during special city events, like the G20 summit and the Steelers’ season kickoff. Alcoa, Riverlife, and DCNR will fund this temporary fix.

When completed, improvements will include historical interpretations throughout the park, more shrubbery in the woodland area, and new pedestrian walkways and promenades. The $30 million renovation began in 2006 and is funded by a combination of state and private investments.

Pittsburgh Officials Try to Amend Pension Reform

Now that the Pennsylvania House has delayed action on Senate-passed legislation on pension reform, Pittsburgh officials are working on an amendment to that measure. Under the Senate bill, municipal pension funds that have less than 50% of the amount needed to meet retirement obligations will be taken over by the state. Pittsburgh's fund has only 28%.
The House was to have voted on the legislation today, but instead the Rules Committee delayed a vote until after Labor Day.
Pittsburgh Council President Doug Shields says that gives the city's Municipal Pension Board some time to develop cogent proposals "to modify and mitigate the impact of what's going to occur....that is get Pittsburgh's Pension system in line and healthy."
Shields says the amendment would be designed to give the city time to come up with the capital for the pension fund through leasing city parking garages or another revenue source. He says that the proposal will not seek to disturb the "overall proportions of the bill" because there are provisions that are very good...."helpful for Pittsburgh and the Commonwealth as a whole."
Mayor Ravenstahl, Shields and other officials met with union leaders and city workers Thursday evening to assure them that their pensions are secure but the reform legislation will lead to less attractive pensions for future city employees.

Chinese Students to Stage G20 Welcome

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association at the University of Pittsburgh is planning a special welcome for the Chinese foreign ministers who will be arriving for the G20 summit next month.

President Ying Yang says that as many as 2000 Chinese students from states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will eagerly await President Hu and other officials from their homeland at the airport and their hotel. She says housing all of these visitors is going to be quite a job – students from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon will be able to accommodate a few, but the larger problem remains unsolved.

Once that’s settled, though, Ying says she hopes to give her guests a little something to do. She wants to host a series of lectures relating to the G20 and trade issues, with some high ranking Chinese officials as the keynote speakers. Ying says most of all, though, the students just want to get a glimpse of their president while he’s in town.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

NRA Angry about G20 Proposed Ordinance

A provision in a proposed security ordinance for the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh next month has the National Rifle Association upset. Pittsburgh City Council holds a public hearing Wednesday on ordinances that would ban gas masks, PVC pipe to link protesters, noxious substances and "contraband" weapons to thwart police efforts. The "contraband weapons" description comes from a dormant assault weapons ban, approved by Council in 1993 but quashed the next year by the state.
Attorney Meghan Jones-Rolla, who represented the N.R.A. in its suit challenging the city's ordinance to require the reporting of lost or stolen guns, called the proposed G20 ordinance a back door attempt at an assault weapons ban. Council President Doug Shields has suggested an expiration date on the ordinance, but the Ravenstahl Administration has not included a sunset provision.
A spokesman hinted that if the ban is passed and kept in place, the N-R-A could move its 2011 national convention out of Pittsburgh.

Ribbon Cutting for New Library

Although it's been open for 2 weeks, there will be a grand opening party today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the Carnegie Library's Allegheny Branch on Federal Street on the North Side. After the ribbon cutting, Ian Lawler, one of the library's young cardholders will place the final book, "Allegheny Story," by William Rimmel on its proper shelf.
The $6 million dollar facility has a children's section that takes up nearly half of the building. spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes says they've been working the last 3 years with North Side Community members to plan and design a new library building after a lightning strike severely damaged the old library.

Friday, August 28, 2009

City Council Gives Preliminary OK on G20 Money, Wants County to Pitch In

City council voted today to give preliminary approval for the G20 funds requested by Public Safety Director Michael Huss. In all, he is asking for $16 million, 14.3 of which will come from grants from the state and federal government. That leaves $1.7 million for the city to cover, and a number of council members expressed frustration at the lack of financial support coming from Allegheny County. Council member Bill Peduto said he would write a letter to County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, and compared the lack of funding to the county throwing a party and having the city pick up the tab. He said that Pittsburgh residents shouldn't carry the entire financial burden. Huss told council that he anticipates using all of the funds and will have stringent accountability standards for all the money and overtime hours. He plans to use a model similar to the one they implemented during the Baseball All-Star Game in 2006.

During the public comment section, a number of speakers reminded council members that as they consider public safety measures they shouldn't allow first amendment rights to be tossed aside. Protest organizer Casey Capitolo acknowledged that security officers would need a space to operate during the summit, but said that Point State Park was the wrong venue, because it is a public space that numerous protesters are planning to use for educational purposes and demonstrations. Beth Pittinger of the Citizen's Review Board wondered where the code of conduct was for police officers and their treatment of protesters.

Council is waiting to vote on the conduct ordinances–which include wearing masks and using certain types of obstructive materials during the summit–until after a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, September 2 at 1:30PM.

ACHD Offering Free Smoke Detectors

The Allegheny County Health Department is once again offering free smoke detectors and installation of them for those in the county that need it. ACHD Spokesman Guillermo Cole says they are giving priority to 17 communities that have significantly higher fire rates than the countywide average. He says the average in the county is less than one in 1000 housing units per year, while rates in these priority areas are as high as 5 or 6 in 1000 housing units yearly. These high risk areas include Braddock, Duquesne, Etna, Homestead and Wilkinsburg. Cole says they will provide a smoke detector for each level of a home.

Factors that make a fire more likely in a home include the age of the structure and if wiring through the house is done properly. Although a smoke detector cannot fix those things, Cole says countless studies have shown that detectors save lives.

ACHD is also offering a fire safety class for those that receive smoke detectors to help with prevention.

PAT Fares to Hold Steady

The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) will not increase its fare for short-distance riders in the near future, but long-distance travelers will have to pay a bit more. While the base fare of $2.00 will remain for Pittsburgh’s heavily trafficked, central bus corridors, an additional 25 cents will be charged to those who want transfer tickets or are going to “Zone 2,” which is comprised of more outlying areas.

The “Zone 3” designation will also be scrapped, says spokesman Jim Ritchie. He says PAT wants to cause less confusion on fare rates, so all of these routes will simply be merged with the Zone 2 area. He says this is part of an ongoing effort to “whittle down” the use of zones in the Port Authority’s fare system, which once had five of such districts. Zone 3 was the term for any destination outside Allegheny County, says Ritchie.

USW Head: We'll Still Fight G20 Policies

Despite their opposition to G20 policies, some labor groups like the United Steelworkers of America have been directly involved in planning the upcoming summit in Pittsburgh. DUQ’s Katherine Fink caught up with the head of the Steelworkers Union, Leo Gerard, at the Netroots Nation conference earlier this month. Gerard talked about why he sees no conflict between his group’s politics and the G-20 planning effort. Listen to the interview here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Killed in Duty Death Benefits

A state senator is pushing a bill that would provide uniform benefits throughout the Commonwealth to public safety workers killed in the line of duty. Senator Sean Logan, a Democrat representing Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, says the current system has inequalities because each municipality has its own death benefit plan. Some municipalities don't provide anything.

"If you get killed in Pittsburgh, or if you get killed in Scranton or Erie or in Monroeville, the benefit to your spouse or children should be the same," he says.

Senate Bill 369 applies to paid firefighters, law enforcement officers and ambulance service or rescue squad members. If killed in the line of duty, this bill would give the amount of the worker's monthly salary to the recipient. Money that isn't covered by workers compensation the state would absorb.

Although Logan says he would like to, benefits cannot be provided retroactively because it is considered unconstitutional. Therefore, families of the three Pittsburgh Police officers killed in Stanton Heights in April would not have these benefits, if this bill passes in the State House.

The bill passed in the State Senate last year, but died in State House at the end of the session. It recently passed unanimously in Senate, and is going to House to be voted on.

Last Free Outdoors Festival on Saturday

Venture Outdoors is hosting its third and final free outdoors festival of the summer this Saturday, August 29. It will take place at the Allegheny Commons Park across from the National Aviary from 12 to 4p.m.. Venture Outdoors Program Coordinator Courtney Bell says there will be a variety of activities such as rock climbing on a rock climbing wall, kayaking on Lake Elizabeth, treasure hunting with GPS units and bicycling tours with bikes and helmets provided. She says the event is in part with the Family and Community Programs Initiative, which is to promote outdoor activities and provide alternatives to going to theme parks or movie theaters. Bell says the festivals have been growing in popularity, and are expecting at least 500 people this Saturday.

Sewage Plant Tries to be Green

The Moon Township Municipal Authority will start reusing waste gas to power its operation. Rather than letting methane gas produced by the sewage treatment process burn off in a flare the Authority will capture the gas, clean it, and pump it into three 30-kilowatt microturbines. The 3-4 foot high, 18-inch square, boxes are expected to generate 832,200 kilowatt-hours per year saving the Authority about $66-thousand annually. That is about 25% of their yearly electricity bill. The state is kicking in $425-thousand dollars for the $580-thousand project. Consulting engineer Terry Soster says normally a project like this would have a 9-year payback, which may have prevented the Authority from make the purchase. Despite the long normally payback period, Soster says he hopes to use this as a model project to help sell the idea to other waste treatment facilities. He says the new turbines should be up and running this time next year.

Drake Well 150th Anniversary

Take a tour of the Drake Well Museum where they are celebrating Colonel Edwin Drake striking oil in Titusville 150 years ago. Alexandria Chaklos reports.

Listen to the report.

Photos: top: Bill Stumpf, history interpreter, tends steam engine at well
center: Replica of Drake's original engine house and derrick
bottom: Barbara Zolli, museum director

Protest Group Still Awaiting Word on Permits

The Thomas Merton Center is planning an information session and mini-rally today at the City-County building to protest the lack of communication from city officials and what they call the “Federal bullying of Pittsburgh” regarding protesters’ rights. Merton Center spokes person Melissa Minnich says despite reports in the media that all of the protest permits had been approved by city administrators, they have yet to hear back on their status. The Center has requested five permits which include using Point State Park as a protest site and directing a march from Oakland to Downtown. She says they are training participants to use non-violent tactics and believes that the Secret Service has stymied their efforts protest in places where they will be noticed during this high-stakes summit of world leaders. The mini-rally will take place at 5:30 this afternoon on the steps of the City-County building.

CCAC Prepares to Break Ground on New Science Building

The Community College of Allegheny County is preparing to begin construction on a new $20 million science facility. The K. Leroy Irvis Science and Technology Center is named after the late state lawmaker and will sit off Ridge Avenue on the north shore. The five story, 66-thousand square foot building will house all of the school's science classrooms, offices, labs and equipment for every science discipline. CCAC Public Relations Director David Hoovler says the school's current science buildings are at least 40 years old-- and some of them are much older. He says science courses are in demand, especially for biotechnology careers and nursing degrees. Funds will come from a combination of government grants and fund raising efforts by the school. Officials break ground September 18th.

Rally After Rally for Education Funding

After tax hikes, education funding is the top issue in Pennsylvania’s ongoing budget impasse. Schools advocates keep appearing in the rotunda to decry budget cuts, and that frustrates Republicans, who insist they want to increase schools money, too.
During an education rally, Tim Allwein, the assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, pushed for a 300 million dollar increase to the commonwealth’s basic education subsidy.
He acknowledges budget cuts are spread throughout government this year, but argues education is different.

"School districts affect children. And I think that it’s one thing for the effects to be felt somewhere else in the budget. But we’re talking about kids. We’re talking about our future."

That stance bothers Matthew Brouillette, the president of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation.

"The notion that only increasing spending by 11 percent, as the Senate Republicans have proposed, is somehow devastating—I don’t think they’re going to get a whole lot of sympathy from people who are struggling today."

Governor Rendell says said he’ll compromise on any issue but education and health care spending, and continues to push for an increased schools budget.

Rendell Reflects on Ted Kennedy

In the wake of Senator Edward Kennedy’s death, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is remembering working alongside the Democratic icon during his long shot presidential bid.
Before last year’s marathon slugfest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Kennedy’s 1980 challenge to incumbent President Jimmy Carter had been Pennsylvania’s last contested Democratic primary. Governor Rendell, the Philadelphia district attorney at the time, was one of the few Pennsylvania politicians to back Kennedy.

"And I think Ted Kennedy—I thought Ted Kennedy could lead us and make a real difference. And as you recall we won Pennsylvania by about 7,000 votes. We carried the state, just barely."

Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna says the Commonwealth’s primary was a “do or die moment” for Kennedy’s insurgent campaign.
It wasn’t enough, though--Kennedy’s bid ended at the Democratic convention, where he delivered his famous concession speech.
Rendell insists the Democratic icon could have beaten Ronald Reagan that November, but Madonna doubts it, saying the election cycle heavily favored the Republican Party that year.

The governor lauded Kennedy’s bipartisanship, and says if the Democratic icon had been healthy this year, a health care bill might have already been signed into law, with “15 to 20” Republicans voting for it.

Marcellus Shale Waste Water to be Purified

The Marcellus Shale is a huge formation of rock with as much as $500 billion worth of natural gas contained in its recesses. University of Pittsburgh researchers will tackle the problem of wastewater generated by drilling this shale, thanks to a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Radisav Vidic is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and heads the Pitt research project. To obtain natural gas inside shale formations, drillers must use water to break up the rock and free up the gas within. The three-year Pitt project seeks to replace harmful chemicals in this water with new additives that will be more environmentally friendly. He says the big idea is to incorporate local acid mine drainage from old and abandoned quarries.

Vidic says the current flowback has five times more salinity than seawater. This dirty water is generally trucked off from mine sites and treated in plants, but many of the environmentally harmful chemicals still end up in groundwater. The Pitt study is one of nine across the country meant to curtail this hazardous mining byproduct.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

German G20 Website Created by Pgh. Accountants

Partners at Malin Bergquist Accounting Firm have launched a G20 website in German and English to promote the region's capacity for more German business. Ardex Americas, Draeger Safety, and Flabeg Solar will be highlighted on the website, which is aimed at German-speaking journalists.

Partner Jeffrey Deane says German companies have an affinity for Western Pennsylvania, and the goal of the project is to bolster that interest. He says the companies were not chosen for their size, but for their stories: all are successful firms that employ many in the region with well-paying, high-tech jobs. Deane says cutting-edge technologies are already being fostered in the area, but more investment can only mean good things for the city and region.

PA Troops Provide Security for Iraqi Lawmaker Meetings

More than 300 Pennsylvania National Guard troops returned home from Iraq Tuesday after serving more than six months of combat operations north of Baghdad. They are the first wave of more than 4,000 members of the 56th Stryker Brigade to return to the U.S.

Some of the soldiers have gotten a first hand look at Iraq’s fledgling Democratic government’s efforts to take shape.
Scott Detrow, who reports for DUQ and WITF in Harrisburg, was recently embedded with the brigade for 4 weeks. Scott rode along as two platoons provided security for a meeting of regional lawmakers.
Listen to the full story.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

18 Suspected H1N1 Cases at CMU

Since classes began at Carnegie Mellon University yesterday, 18 possible cases of the swine flu have been reported to the University's Student Health Services. CMU Spokesman Ken Walters says they have been following CDC precautions to help prevent the spread. An e-mail was sent to students Monday night advising them of the situation and that if they experience flu-like symptoms and a fever to immediately call Student Health Services. The e-mail had also called for isolation until 24 hours pass with no fever. Walters says it's still "business as usual", with classes going uninterrupted. He also notes that 18 cases at a university with more than 10,000 is a very small percentage, and students should not be alarmed. All suspected cases have been mild.

Walters says they are not testing for the flu, in accordance with CDC guidelines saying it is not necessary if it is not the first tested in the community. He says there were 6 to 8 suspected cases at the University over the summer. Allegheny County Health Department Spokesman Guillermo Cole says CMU is taking all the necessary precautions for the situation.

Hill Job Center Opens

Some Hill District residents are still sore about the land grab made when the Civic Arena was built more than 40 years ago and in an effort to make sure current residents are not left out of the jobs being created by the new arena development, a special jobs center has opened in the Hill. The “Hill District First Source Center” on Center Avenue officially opened its doors Tuesday. Center coordinator Ken Nesbit says the center has advantages over other job centers in the city. He says the first advantage is that the center will get early notification of jobs at the new arena and any jobs created by the development of the 28 acres of land where the current arena sits. The center then has as much as two weeks to find qualified applicants before the job is released to the general public. Nesbit says the center is also unlike other job placement centers because it is in the hill district, focused on hill residents and able to offer referrals to special services that may not be available at other job centers. That could include access to drug treatment programs and special job training programs. The “Hill District First Source Center” opened its doors two moths ago without telling anyone and has already registered 200 people looking for jobs. Nesbit says he has already placed 6 or 7 workers. He says that is a good percentage given that fact that the center is often working with people who have major barriers to employment including criminal records, drug problems, few marketable skills, little education and no drivers licenses. Nesbit says one more advantage to the center is that Hill residents don’t have to take a bus to get the help they need. The center is slated to be open for at least two years but Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says he hopes the city will be able to keep the center open beyond that date.

Bayer to Unveil G20 Welcome Banner

The Bayer Corporation is going to be temporarily replacing their illuminated sign on Mount Washington with a sign welcoming G20 visitors. Bayer Spokesman Bryan Iams says the banner will be on display by September 4, reading “Pittsburgh welcomes the world”. He says the sign measures 30 feet high by 225 feet long, and will be displayed until the end of next month. Although this particular sign will not be illuminated, he says it will still have a lot of daytime visibility. Iams says an eye-catching sign on the most prominent area of the city is a great way to take advantage of such a rare opportunity.

Rail Investment Touted

Pennsylvania is submitting about 28 million dollars worth of bids for stimulus dollars directed at high-speed rail development. In the first round of bid applications, PennDOT is requesting federal funding for upgrades to the Keystone Corridor East line, as well as money for a study of how to increase Harrisburg to Pittsburgh rail service.
In October, the commonwealth will submit plans for a high-speed line from Scranton to Hoboken New Jersey, as well as a Maglev route from Pittsburgh International Airport to Greensburg.
Appearing with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a Lancaster County train station, Senator Arlen Specter said the Maglev investment would be worth the cost.

"Is it expensive? Yes. What will it do for the United States, for Pennsylvania? Once we have it, when you can travel by rail 300 miles an hour, it will revolutionize the state."

MagLev, Inc president Fred Gurney says if federal officials simply build on existing rail lines, trains will be constrained to top speeds around 100 miles per hour.

"But if you really want to do high-speed, if you truly want to do high-speed, you’ve got to have separate dedicated track. And that’s where Maglev is very superior, because of its speeds of up to 300 miles per hour. Just slightly over 300 miles per hour."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood avoided committing to using Maglev technology in the high-speed lines that will be funded by the stimulus dollars.

"We’re gonna consider all proposals. As I said, we’ve been out around the country. Our people have talked to a lot of different regions of the country. And we’ll see what comes in. and we’re gonna evaluate them and then we’ll let you know."

The federal stimulus package includes eight billion dollars for high-speed rail projects. Specter argues improved rail infrastructure will cut down on gas consumption and traffic congestion.

Rendell Proposes Expanding Sales Tax

As the budget impasse enters its eighth week , Governor Ed Rendell is looking for revenue in new places. He’s now pushing for lawmakers to eliminate exemptions in Pennsylvania’s sales tax to help fill the commonwealth’s 3.2 billion dollar deficit.
Governor Rendell says Pennsylvania’s sales tax exemptions don’t make any sense, holding up a cell phone to prove his point.

"You pay sales tax on calls you make on this. But if you have a landline at home, you don’t pay sales tax. You pay sales tax on HBO, Showtime, or any special sports stations you order from cable TV, but you don’t pay sales tax on basis service."

Other exemptions include newspapers, hygiene products like dental floss, wrapping paper, trout, and candy and gum. "Clearly clothing and food should be exempt from the sales tax. But I think we need to look at a lot of the exemptions. A lot of the exemptions make no sense, and are solely the product of effective lobbying by special interests. They’re not the product of any rational basis."

Rendell needs to find new revenue in more creative places, now that lawmakers have nixed his proposal for an increased personal income tax.
Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson says the GOP is open to fixing exemption oddities, but wouldn’t want to tax legal fees. He argues larger companies have their own lawyers, but smaller operations have to out-source legal work.

"And so what you wind up with, in a lot of ways, not exclusively, obviously. But in a lot of ways, is a tax on small businesses that do not have those services in-house. And individuals."

Rendell says budget talks are making progress, predicting the final “spend number” will be near 28 billion dollars.

Monday, August 24, 2009

G20 Vol. Training Begins

More than 2,000 people have signed up at the Pittsburgh G20 partnership website to be volunteers during the two-day G20 Summit. The first of five general training sessions was held at Point Park University Monday. Pittsburgh G20 Partnership Spokesperson Bill Flanagan says with that many people offering their time The Partnership will not be able to put them all to work but they want to make sure everyone gets at least some basic training. The first sessions deal with everything from outlining Pittsburgh’s story of rebirth to how to handle controversial questions. Flanagan says volunteers should feel free to answer those questions but to make it clear it is their opinion and the visitor may want to ask others the same question. He says some of the volunteers will be called back for more intense training. The Partnership is especially interested in volunteers with media relations experience and those who speak more than one language. He says they will be using many of them at the welcome centers. The Partnership will be staffing welcome centers at 14 hotels and the airport for the entire week of the G20 to accommodate people who are arriving early for the event. Anyone being asked to work the welcome centers will be contacted after Labor Day. In the next few days, the city will be contacting about 1,500 volunteers for a massive clean up effort September 12.

Four training sessions remain.

Wednesday 5:30pm – 7:00pm at the University of Pittsburgh Connolly Ballroom.
Thursday 5:30pm -7:00pm at the CCAC Boyce Campus.
Friday 12:00- 1:30pm at the CCAC North Campus.
Saturday 9:00am-10:30am at the CCAC Allegheny Campus.

Mayor Has Answers to City Council's Questions

While walking around Fifth and Forbes Avenues in Oakland this morning to identify needed clean-up efforts for the G20, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl got word that City Council will need more information before voting on the six G20 ordinances he requested Friday.

Mayor Ravenstahl says not everything in the ordinances is final yet--for example, the agreements for support from other municipalities and police departments--but his administration will answer all Council's questions about liability issues, the budget, or anything else.

Security perimeters established by the Secret Service may not be as large as originally thought, according to Ravenstahl, and may be made public in the near future. He anticipates that people residing within the perimeters will be able to come and go to their homes with credentials. It will be difficult to get around downtown, he reiterated, though specific policies as to buses and other vehicular traffice are still being determined.

The mayor thinks the city's law department has begun talking with a protest group about a downtown destination for the march from Oakland on Friday, Sept. 25th.

Acklin Wants Mayor's Chief of Staff to Resign

Independent mayoral candidate Kevin Acklin is calling on Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to ask for the resignation of his chief of staff Yarone Zober because of a spat in the media between Zober and State Representative Tom Caltagirone over legislation to deal with the pension crisis. The Berks County Democrat is the main sponsor of 1 of 2 measures that calls for state takeover of the worst-funded pension plans. Pittsburgh's is the worst at just 28% of the $899 million it should have to cover pensions for current employees and retirees. Philadelphia's is next worse at about 50%. Last week, the mayor sent a letter to the legislature asking that Pittsburgh be allowed to opt out....claiming a state takeover would force the city to increase its annual payments to the pension fund by $28 million dollars which would lead to reductions in city services or large tax increases.
The Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System says the city's contribution to its pension plan next year could be between $29 million and $66 million depending on a slower rate of increase of contributions, investment returns and if the mayor is successful in leasing city parking garages and using the revenues for the retirement fund.
That caused Yarone Zober to tell the Tribune-Review that Caltagirone is used to "soaking taxpayers" citing Caltagirone's vote for a pay hike for himself and other lawmakers in 2005 and for House Democrats resuming their pay before state employees were given back pay earlier this month. Caltagirone called Zober an "arrogant snit" who needed to be taken to the woodshed.
Mayoral candidate Acklin says "burning bridges" by criticizing state lawmakers is not going to resolve the pension crisis. Acklin says the solution is probably multi-faceted and possibly includes a combining of several municipal pension plans. Acklin said a state takeover is worth discussing.

Transportation Study Released

The group, Transportation For America, has released a report entitled “Stranded at the Station: The Impact of the Financial Crisis in PublicTransportation.” The report found that 9 out of every 10 transit agencies are facing financial crises at a time when public transportation is being used at record levels. The report found that many agencies are cutting services and raising rates. One of the problems the report found is that federal funding for transit agencies has not been used in a way that really benefits the agencies. Transportation for America spokesman David Goldberg says that federal funds are only allowed to be used on capital projects such as purchasing new buses and building new rail systems and not on general budget items such as salaries and maintenance.
Allegheny County Port Authority Spokesman Jim Ritchie says PAT is raising its base fare in January but by no more than a quarter and that it is working on expanding its service. Ritchie says PAT expects the Northshore connector project to be completed by 2011. PAT is also looking at growing budget deficits in the next few years with funding from the state and county remaining at current levels.

Council says Mayor's G20 Bills Lacking

After being hastily called back into session at the request of the mayor’s office to consider G20- related legislation, Pittsburgh City Council members are wondering why the bills are not ready. Of the six bills the mayor’s office sent to City Council, at least two were not complete. Councilman Patrick Dowd says he moved his bill allowing the city to contract with outside police officers for work during the G20 even though it was incomplete because he did not want to cause a delay. However, he says it is little more than just a cover page and blank attachments. He says there are key questions that need to be answered such as who covers workmen's compensation, disability, or death benefits if an officer is injured or killed. What about any liability issues that arise from an officer’s behavior? Dowd wants the details by 9:00am Tuesday. Council will debate the bills Friday, which is half the usual 8 days between the introduction of a bill and committee debate. He says that leaves very little time for council members and the public to understand the legislation fully. The mayor’s office has also submitted a pair of bills dealing with G20- related budget changes. The first bill identifies $14.3 million dollars in additional revenues from state and federal sources. The second bill lists costs “not to exceed 16 million. Councilman Bill Peduto wants to know what lines in the budget are being cut to cover the costs. He suggests maybe the county should be asked to fill the gap.

PUC to Hold Final Penn Am Water Hearings

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) will be holding its final two public hearings this week on a proposed Penn American Water Co. (PAWC) rate increase. The company has asked the commission to allow a 12.5% annual rate increase to make up for money lost on capital improvements.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says in general, consumers aren’t thrilled with idea; however, some who are satisfied with PAWC’s service say if the rate increase is justified, it should be allowed. She says in either case, those who wish to speak should prepare their comments and put them in writing, so they can be filed with the PUC’s report.

Kocher says the PUC must make a decision by January 23 of 2010, but a verdict may come through earlier than that date.

The first hearing:
August 25, 2009, 6:00 p.m.
Days Inn Conference Center
139 Pittsburgh Rd
Butler, PA 16001

The second hearing:
August 26, 2009, 2:00 and 7:00 p.m.
Washington County Agricultural Fair, Hall 4
2151 North Main Street
Washington, PA 15301

Art Group Hopes to Highlight City's Art Scene

After the G20 was announced a coalition of arts groups called Pittsburgh Is Art formed to try and find ways to get visitors to share in the city's art scene. The group has four messages that it wants delegates and media to see. Art transforms Pittsburgh, Art employs Pittsburgh, Art "greens" Pittsburgh, and Art inspires Pittsburgh. The group is concerned that traffic restrictions will affect the ability of delegates and media to see many of the city's fine arts establishments so they are considering making shuttles available. The group wants visitors to see how art has helped to change Pittsburgh and how it continues to have an impact on the city.

Green Building, in Reverse

Pittsburgh was chosen to host the G20 summit in part because of its efforts to build green. But there aren't just environmentally-friendly ways to put buildings up. There are also greener methods for taking them down. Listen to DUQ's Katherine Fink's report.

(In photo: Brian Swearingen and Bill Sutliff work on removing baseboard from a home that will soon be demolished.

Coro Center Organizes Volunteers During G20

The Coro Center for Civic Leadership is asking students and workers who have time off as a result of the G20 summit to spend that free time doing public service. Coro Center President Sala Udin says he is organizing the first “Pittsburgh Day of Service,” an effort to aid local nonprofits with their missions.

Udin says he wants to go beyond physical help, though; he says he wants to spark conversations with the organizations people volunteer at, to talk about innovation and effectiveness in their field. For example, says Udin, helpers at the food bank would talk to food bank officials about new ways of approaching the problem of hunger. Udin says he hopes a few thousand volunteers will help at about 40 or 50 sites.

Udin says local organizations would be more effective and efficient if they worked together and conversed more. He says he’s using the time made available by the G20 summit as a “springboard” for the program, which he plans to continue yearly.

Both volunteers and organizations who want assistance can register on or call the Coro Center at (412) 258-2673.

Nanotubes Used in Oxygen Sensor

An experimental device that can monitor oxygen levels using nanotubes has been developed at the University of Pittsburgh and researchers think it represents a major step forward. The researchers were able to fill the tubes, which are 100-thousand times smaller than a human hair, with a substance that glows when it comes in contact with oxygen. Pitt graduate student and lead author Douglas Kauffman says they then passed an electrical current through the tubes which gave them an accurate reading of oxygen levels in a room. He says oxygen sensors have been around for years but can only be used for limited applications because they usually only work at high temperatures and with big power demands. Kauffman says right now the device used in the lab is still a bit bulky but he feels it can easily be scaled own to something that can be mounted on a watch or helmet and run by a small battery. Kauffman says he sees several commercial applications for the technology from sensing low oxygen levels in mines and industrial settings to monitoring oxygen levels on space ships. He says the oxygen-induced glow that comes from the material is not important to the detector but it could serve as a good backup indicator. The research was published in last week’s online edition of “Nature Chemistry.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Carlow Univ. Cancels Classes During G20

Carlow University has joined a growing list of universities and schools canceling classes during the G20 Summit next month in Pittsburgh.
Margaret K. McLaughlin, Carlow’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, says classes will be canceled from Wednesday, September 23 at 4 p.m. through Sunday, September 27...
“Although the scheduling of the G-20 in Pittsburgh has been planned for several weeks, the extent of disruption to Carlow only became apparent last week with the official notification that the organizing location for protesters is at Craft and Fifth Avenues,” which is just about a block away.

Classes scheduled for Wednesday evening, September 23, will be rescheduled for Wednesday evening, October 21. Classes scheduled for Thursday, September 24, and Friday, September 25, will be rescheduled for Monday, October 19, and Tuesday, October 20, respectively. Weekend classes scheduled for September 26 and 27 will be rescheduled for the preceding weekend, September 19 and 20.

Mayor Sends G20 Ordinances to City Council

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced ordinances he proposed to City Council this morning for the G20 summit September 24th and 25th. He hopes Council will approve them by the week of September 7th.

Ravenstahl has asked Council to approve release of 16 million dollars, toward which the federal government will reimburse 10 million and the state, 4.3 million. The 900-person Pittsburgh Police Bureau is seeking help from about 3100 police officers from departments around the country.

Instead of banning things like PVC pipe, gas masks and other masks outright, they will only be considered illegal if used to obstruct, evade dispersal or commit a crime.

Ravenstahl says all 8 protest applications have been approved with certain conditions. A march on Friday, September 25th will be permitted to start in Oakland but will not be allowed by the Secret Service to end at the Convention Center--an alternate destination in downtown Pittsburgh will be worked out.

ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak says ordinance details will be studied and discussed with protest groups and the city to see if all issues can be resolved out of court.

UPMC Outlines Vaccine Facility Ideas

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Jason Altmire pointed to the lack of a national center for vaccine production today, at a hearing in Pittsburgh’s federal courthouse. They hosted University of Pittsburgh Medical Center President Jeffrey Romoff and vaccination experts who spoke on the possibility of such a center.

Specter says UPMC’s proposal for such a facility to be built in southwestern Pennsylvania is innovative and would create 1000 permanent jobs, not including construction employment and related jobs also brought in by the facility. The UPMC pitch would incorporate General Electric as the manufacturing arm of the partnership and the University of Pittsburgh as the research branch, with UPMC overseeing the actual vaccine production facility. Romoff says UPMC would need to win a competitive bidding process before carrying out these plans.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the “21st Century Bio-Defense” center, or 21CB, would cost over $800 million, with UPMC throwing in as much as $250 million and the federal government providing the remainder. The facility would have eight separate suites that could quickly produce different vaccines in the event of an act of biological terrorism or an epidemic.

Senator Specter supported the UPMC proposal, saying that helping the nation’s welfare and gaining valuable jobs would be a dual victory for the city of Pittsburgh.

Audit Shows Abuse of DPW Special Allowance Program

Auditor General Jack Wagner has uncovered what he calls the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s (DPW) mismanagement of $144 million in tax payers money. Under the “special allowance” program, DPW was handing out money to the unemployed for child care, books, clothing, tools and transportation. From July 2006 to December 2007, according to Wagner’s report, there were problems found in 45% of the cases examined.
Republican State Representative Mike Turzai of Allegheny County says this has been an issue since last session. He says “whistle-blowers” from across the state came to hearings to give examples of the abuse of the “special allowance” program, but DPW would not take proper responsibility and action. He says now that Wagner and his “professional” auditors have provided proof of the mismanagement, significant changes must be made.
Turzai says the main problem with the special allowances is the electronic cards, similar to debit cards, given out to people on welfare. Proper documentation was not being recorded, and people were using their cards for things such as drugs. His legislation would eliminate those cards from being distributed, and any money for careers will be given directly to the vendors instead of the individuals in order to assure that the money is being used correctly. The bill will also limit payments for child care, transportation, union fees, testing fees and professional fees.

Victims' Families Criticize Release of Lockerbie Bombing

Relatives of Americans killed when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 are considering their next move after the convicted bomber was freed from prison on humanitarian grounds.
Among the 270 people killed in the bombing were several people from Western Pennsylvania including 21 year old Beth Johnson and her friend Elyse Saraceni, both students at Seton Hill College in Greensburg; University of Pittsburgh Professor David Gould; Army Major Charles McKee, who grew up in Wilkinsburg and Trafford; and, Barry Valentino who grew up in Pleasant Hills.
The group, "Victims of Pan Am Flight 103," plans a conference call tonight to discuss their options. The group's leader Frank Dugan says one possibility is joining protests when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi visits the United Nations next month. Many victims' relatives voiced rage and disgust after Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was released yesterday after serving 8 years of a minimum 27 year sentence in a Scottish prison. Scottish officials says the former Libyan intelligence officer had advanced prostate cancer and has only months to live. The families' anger grew when al-Megrahi was greeted by cheering crowds upon his return home.

Sestak Says Public Option Must Be Included

President Barack Obama might be backing away from fully supporting a public option in his health care overhaul, but Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak says that needs to be part of the final bill. President Obama said a public health care program is one way to reduce health insurance costs, but isn’t necessarily a key part of his initiative.
Democrat Joe Sestak disagrees. The suburban Philadelphia Congressman and Senate candidate says he’ll do everything he can to make sure a public option is in the final bill the House votes on.

"In Pennsylvania you have two corporations that have 70 percent of all private health care plans. It’s almost a cartel. And now they’re going to have to be able to be more efficient, and that means a lower premium. That’s why it’s a necessity if we’re to bend the growth of the health curve that costs so much."

Senator Arlen Specter, initially opposed a public option, but has changed his mind since becoming a Democrat.
Another candidate seeking the Democratic nomination is State Representative Bill Kortz of Dravosburg. Kortz supports single payer and claims that there would be net savings under such a health system
Congressional leaders are pushing for a vote on the White House health care restructuring this fall.

Post-Partum Depression Study

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center researchers are working on a National Institute of Mental Health study out of Magee-Womens Hospital. Whenever a woman has a baby at the hospital, she is asked if she wants to be screened for post-partum depression. So far, nearly fifteen percent of women have tested positive, consistent with the national average.

Listen to the story here.

House GOP Offers Budget Change

A Pennsylvania House Republican leader says the GOP may be willing to accept a higher budget figure, if it doesn’t include new taxes.
Up until this point, Republican leaders have said they won’t accept a budget higher than 27.5 billion dollars. That’s the total in a new bill put forward by House Appropriations Minority Chair Mario Civera. But now the Delaware County Republican said his caucus could vote for a 27.8 billion dollar budget, if the circumstances are right.

"I’m saying if you push em. In other words, if the other side comes back—you’ve got to give room to negotiate—if the other side comes back and says alright, well we’ve got a 27.8 spending plan. Without tax increase, you just about make that work."

According to most reports, Governor Rendell and House Democratic leaders are still pushing for a budget that’s 28.5 billion dollars or higher.
A spokesman for Senate Republicans says the caucus still isn’t willing to go above 27 and a half billion dollars.

Nano Cups Filled in Pitt Lab

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have created “cups” that are only a few nanometers wide that researchers hope will someday help fight disease. Graduate student and researcher Douglas Kauffman says the “cups” are less than 1-100,000 of the width of a human hair. In the lab those cups were filled with an indicator substance, which makes Kauffman believe they can eventually be used as a sort of medical Trojan Horse. For example, the nano-cups could be filled with a cancer-fighting drug and coated with a substance that will seek out the cancer cells. Once the cups are in the cells they can “pour out” the medicine. Kauffman says if done right, the same coating that makes the cups seek out a cancer cell could make it pass through organs that could be damaged by either the drug or the device. The findings were published in this month’s edition of “Advanced Materials.” Kauffman says the University of Pittsburgh lab will next work on coating the cups and perfecting the release mechanism.

Mentoring Program to Begin Training Tomorrow

Volunteers for the “Be a 6th Grade Mentor” program will report to Heinz Field tomorrow for their first training session. An unprecedented 600-plus people have agreed to help out Pittsburgh Public School children as part of the dual United Way and Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania effort.

Allegheny County United Way President Bob Nelkin says a pent-up demand for being a mentor caused this huge influx; he says his group just needed to ask for people to step forward. Nelkin says the program will focus on the importance of finishing high school to reach one’s dreams. He says the idea is to get to kids before the pressures of high school get to them first.

Nelkin and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt will speak at the event, which is being announced as the largest ever mentor training program in Pittsburgh. Various workshops will also accommodate about 220 of the more than 600 volunteer mentors.

Nelkin says anyone who still wants to get in on the program can still do so; applications are yet being accepted. He says not to worry if you miss this training session: more will be held in the near future. Applications and information can be found on the program’s website.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Impact of Funding Cuts on Early Childhood Education

Concerned parents and child care givers are to gather this evening in Homestead for a forum to discuss the impact on the proposed budget cuts for Head Start and other pre-school programs in Allegheny County. Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, says they are frustrated at the lack of action on a budget....that is "the right budget to benefit children" and the proposed 50% cut in funding for state supplement Head Start and the "Pre-K Counts" program. Hippert says the Senate Republican budget would cut $2.3 million in funding from early education programs in Allegheny County suburban school districts..."that means that 300 children, ages 3 to 5, who are eligible to participate in early childhood eduction will not be able to be served."
Hippert says lawmakers are having to make tough choices in coming up with a budget compromise and so the A-I-U suggests taking the $200 million in the education budget that would have gone to a company to develop state high school graduation tests and new curricula and transfer that money to early education programs. Hippert says the Keystone Exams are not researched-based and have not been successful in other states, but early childhood education has proven to be successful in creating an "equal playing field for children from low-income families who need that good start to education."
The forum is this evening at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead at 7:00.

G20 Protesters Want Park All Week

Groups planning to protest during the G20 summit say sharing Point State Park for a day is not good enough. Several groups have proposed their own "tent city" for the park at the same time police and Secret Service plan to use that space as a staging area. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has suggested the park could be shared on September 23rd, the day before the G20 summit begins. But groups like Code Pink, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and 3 Rivers Climate Convergence say they want to use the park for various activities all week. Joyce Wagner with Iraq Veterans Against the War says her group also objects specifically to sharing the space with police.

Several groups are also planning to participate in a march planned by the Thomas Merton Center on September 25th. Board President Michael Drohan says a permit for the march from Oakland to downtown has not been officially denied yet, but he's been told protesters will not be allowed to get as far as the Federal Building, their planned destination.

Jules Lobel with the Center for Constitutional Rights says his group and the American Civil Liberties Union will represent protesters if they are not given a timely response to their permit applications, or a suitable space for them to make their voices heard.

Health Premiums Rise Faster Than Earnings

The cost of family health coverage far outpaced the growth in median wages for Pennsylvania workers from 2000-2009. A report complied for Families U.S.A, a non-profit organization for health care consumers, shows that during this decade, employers' portion of annual premiums jumped by 83.5% while the worker's portion of the cost of insurance surged by 143.7%. During the same period, median earnings rose by 17.5%.
Families U.S.A. Executive Director Ron Pollack says while the premium costs are rising, people are getting "thinner coverage"......"That's coverage that offers fewer benefits and comes with higher deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance. So while workers are paying more and more for health coverage, they are getting less and less."
Pollack says rising health care costs are threatening the financial well-being of families in Pennsylvania and across the county..."If health care reform does not happen soon, more and more families will be priced out of the health coverage they used to take for granted."
Pollack says the rising costs of premiums also hurt employers efforts to increase workers' pay.

Protesters Will Have Answers Soon, Says Mayor

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says that groups planning to protest the G20 summit in September will know whether their permits to demonstrate have been accepted or not by next week.

State Senator Jim Ferlo of Highland Park wanted to use Point State Park as a “free speech area” the day before the summit begins, but was denied because police and the Secret Service would be using the site. Ravenstahl says the Point gathering would still be possible if the city is allowed to accommodate both demonstrators and security personnel. Ravenstahl says he has asked the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to consider permitting protesters to demonstrate on a portion of Point State Park’s area.

Other groups want to protest in different areas throughout the city, including a march from Oakland to Downtown. Ravenstahl says these groups shouldn’t “assume that the city will say no” to them, because Pittsburgh is doing its best to allow them to protest while working under the authority of the Secret Service.

Diocese Closes Catholic Schools in Pittsburgh for G20

In the wake of the decision by the Pittsburgh School Board to close all 66 public schools in the city during the G20 Summit, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has decided to close 13 Catholic elementary schools and 4 high schools September 24 and 25. In addition, there will be early dismissal on September 23. Dr. Robert Paserba, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese, says they've been discussing this for several week and due to issues of security and transportation arrangements, they decided to close the schools. Since many of the students are transported by city school buses and now that the public schools won't be open, the decision was obvious. Dr. Paserba says that each school will decide on when to make up the 2 missed class days.

Elementary Schools:
· Saint Agnes School, Oakland
· Saint Bede School, Point Breeze
· Saint Benedict the Moor School, Hill District
· Immaculate Conception School, Bloomfield
· Saint John Neumann Regional School, Lawrenceville
· Sacred Heart School, Shadyside
· Saint Raphael School, Morningside
· Saint Rosalia Academy, Greenfield
· Cardinal Wright Regional School, North Side
· Saint Cyril of Alexandria School, Brighton Heights
· Bishop Leonard-Saint Mary of the Mount Academy, Mt. Washington
· Brookline Regional Catholic School, Brookline
· Holy Rosary School, East End

Secondary Schools:
· Bishop Canevin High School
· Central Catholic High School
· North Catholic High School
· Oakland Catholic High School

Override of Line Item Vetos Fails

Tempers flared at the state Capitol yesterday, as Senate Republicans tried to override some of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s line-item vetoes in the bridge budget.
Republicans hold a 29-20 advantage in the Senate, and needed 33 votes to pass their override attempts with a two thirds majority.
Line by line, each measure failed by a 30-19 vote, since Northampton County Senator Lisa Boscola was the only Democrat to vote “yes.”

"I’m putting the people ahead of politics, because that’s the only thing I can do right now. The only way I can restore funding to these agencies that need them right now. For the people who didn’t deserve to be zero-funded, I have to vote today to override some of the governor’s line-item vetos."

Allegheny County Republican State Senator Jane Orie says the motions were a way to restore funding to organizations and programs that shouldn’t be caught up in the impasse.

"It’s incomprehensible, egregious, and quite frankly repugnant to see this governor, a former Philadelphia district attorney, veto funding for domestic violence programs and rape crisis programs when Senate Bill 850 and the governor’s revised budget proposal were identical levels of funding."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow called the override votes a distraction.

"Not a resolve. Not a reaching, a handout, to try and work together to come up with the proper type of balance budget that meets the needs of Pennsylvania. The only thing this is meant to do, Mr. President, is to divide and be divisive."

Earlier in the day, Governor Rendell and Republican Senator Mike Brubaker of Lancaster County exchanged heated words in the rotunda. Brubaker explained he and the governor are both angry about the way budget negotiations have gone.
Meantime, House Republicans have introduced what they’re calling a compromise budget, which would provide 27.5 billion dollars worth of funding.

Pittsburgh School District to Close for G20

The Pittsburgh Public School District is the latest to decide to close during the G20 Summit. Students from all 66 schools in the district will be off on September 24 and 25 because of concerns about getting students to and from schools. There will be early dismissal September 23, the day before the summit begins, although a time has yet to be determined. School officials says about 18,000 students take school buses and another 5,000 take public transit with many of those having to transfer in downtown Pittsburgh where traffic restrictions will be in place. The class days will be made up November 3 and February 2 which had been scheduled as staff training days.
Although classes will be canceled at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), First Lady Michelle Obama and the spouses of other G20 leaders will still visit CAPA for an event.

The Pittsburgh School Board plans to vote next week on whether to buy terrorism insurance to cover buildings that could be damaged in protests.

Comedian Cosby Pushes For Education Spending in PA

Governor Ed Rendell injected some star power into the Pennsylvania budget debates yesterday, appearing alongside comedian and children’s advocate Bill Cosby to promote his education priorities.
Bill Cosby admits he hasn’t been following the details of the 7-week budget impasse, but warned lawmakers against cutting education funding.

"Is it that we don’t like children? I mean, what did these people ever do to you, that you want to cut? These are our children, and we need no more cuts. Everything that happens when you make cuts will show you that you’re working farther and farther away from the paradigm. Away from the example of success. Away."

Though House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin rejects the idea that GOP lawmakers are trying to take money away from schools.

"It’s interesting. In this year’s debate not a single person has talked about or considered cutting education funding."

Republican leaders do want to roll back state education funding, but would use federal stimulus money to increase overall spending levels. Governor Rendell and Democrats want to spend 5.1 billion state dollars and 300 million stimulus dollars on basic education. That’s 187 million dollars more than the GOP’s preferred amount. Rendell argues relying on federal money to increase spending would leave school districts hanging when the stimulus goes away in two years.

Group Wants to Stream Live Theater Online

A local theater company wants to be among the first to stream live performances online. The Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre had planned to stream its performance of "The History Boys" last Saturday, but it pulled the plug after actors' unions objected.

Operations Director Stephanie Riso says she's frustrated, because she's convinced this is the future of theater. She and fellow Carnegie Mellon University graduate Alex Geis developed a new platform called LIPLO that gives theater groups a place to webstream their performances. The Actor's Equity Association and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists were first approached about this idea at least five years ago, but Riso says they've been unwilling to discuss it.

Riso says putting live performances online would allow theater companies to reach broader audiences... and open up a major new revenue stream. At a time many arts groups are struggling, Riso says streaming live performances would make theater company websites much more attractive to potential advertisers. Riso says actors would also benefit, because they'd get a share of that revenue. She's trying now to convince actors to put pressure on their unions.

ACLU to Aid Protest Groups in Lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union has met with several Pittsburgh groups planning to protest the September G20 summit and plans to file a lawsuit if permit requests for rallies and marches are denied.

Pennsylvania ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak says Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s announcement that two sites will be set aside for protests within hearing and seeing distance from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center doesn’t change the groups’ plans for a suit.

Walczak says the mayor is “standing on formality” when he says nobody has been denied a permit to protest the G20 summit yet.

“The mayor can’t point to folks who are getting approved for permits, and that’s tantamount to a denial,” says Walczak. He says this is a violation of free speech rights.

Walczak says the ACLU will meet with the groups again in the next day or two to discuss the suit. He says it’s expected to come about before Labor Day unless permits are granted.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pirates: We Will Play During G20

The Pittsburgh Pirates says they are not going to let the G20 summit put a damper on their plans. While several other businesses and organizations are closing September 24th and 25th as thousands of reporters, protesters and delegates descend on the golden triangle, the Pirates say they will hold their games as normal. The Pirates have a day game against the Cincinnati Reds Thursday and then host the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday, September 25. Pirates President Frank Coonelly says, "With a day game scheduled for Thursday before the meetings begin and a night game scheduled for Friday after the meetings have adjourned, we have a tremendous opportunity to show guests visiting Pittsburgh from across the globe America's national pastime played in the 'Best Ballpark in America.'" Coonelly says his organization consulted with the Mayor's Office, the Police Department and the federal authorities before making the decision. He says the Pirates have been approached by numerous groups that will be in town for the G20 Summit that were interested in adding a Pirates game to their schedule of activities. Road closures downtown are expected to begin Wednesday evening after rush hour and rolling road closures could happen at anytime. Details on the closures are expected much closer to the event.

Church Takes on Blight Problem in Garfield

A local church tackling blighted and abandoned properties in Garfield will host a community meeting on that subject tonight. Valley View Presbyterian will join with residents in blessing the 200 block of North Aiken Avenue as “Holy Ground,” and deeming it a place where drugs, crime, and other afflictions are not welcome.

Valley View Pastor Reverend Chad Collins says protecting neighbors’ safety is the prime concern of the church, though declining property values and several eyesores are other reasons to scour the area. He says the cleanup effort started when his church contacted the owner of an abandoned property and it turned out she didn’t know it was hers. With the help of church groups and the owner, Valley View cleaned up 237 N. Aiken Ave and it is prepared for demolition, says Collins.

Collins says the idea is to contact the owners of remaining abandoned properties and work with them to clean the neighborhood. He says once the 200 block is taken care of, Valley View will expand its sights to the larger scope of Garfield.

Collins says he invited representing Pittsburgh City Council members Ricky Burgess and Patrick Dowd to the event to see what the community wants, but neither will attend.

The community meeting will be held at 601 North Aiken Avenue, Pittsburgh 15206, at 7:00 tonight (August 19th).

Pennsylvania Schools Most Improved

The Center on Education Policy, or CEP, an independent nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., has studied test results in all 50 states and found that student achievement in Pennsylvania has improved across the board and at every level since 2002.

Pennsylvania was the only state with rising test scores at grades 4, 8 and 11 and at all achievement levels in both reading and math. Jack Jennings, CEP President and CEO, says public education is still not where it should be in the country or in Pennsylvania, especially in districts with high concentrations of poor students, but Pennsylvania is moving in the right direction.

Pennsylvania is one of only 5 states that showed improvement at the high school level, where Jennings says there is a national problem. The CEP will release a study on the achievement gap in September.

Human Services Agencies Running Out of Money

Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate are preparing a veto override vote in an attempt to restore funding for community outreach programs. But some of those organizations have already run out of money, and are preparing to close up shop.
South Central Community Action Programs coordinates services for 23,000 people in Adams and Franklin Counties. It's been operating since 1965, but on Friday, Executive Director Megan Shreve is locking up the Gettysburg office's doors. The group has run out of money, because the government funding it relies on is being held up in the budget impasse.
Shreve says that means laying off 80 percent of her 108 staffers, and shutting down services like job placement counseling housing rehabilitation and child care assistance.

"When you see the human toll--when you're at the homeless shelter and you're looking at a family who is there because the dad had a heart attack and lost his job. And now they're in the homeless shelter because they couldn't pay for housing. And I'm supposed to tell them because we don't have a budget you don't have a place to stay? I have never been through anything as emotionally draining as this is."

Shreve recently found out SCCAP's homeless shelter will remain open, but only due to an interest-free loan provided by an individual. She points out the group's funding remains steady in both Republican and Democratic budgets--it just hasn't been authorized because their is no full budget in place.

GOP Tries to Override Line Item Vetoes

When the Pennsylvania Senate gavels into session today, Republican leaders will launch an effort to override several of Governor Rendell’s line-item budget vetoes. When Rendell signed the so-called "bridge budget" he blue-lined or vetoed 258 line items. The governor was trying to pressure Republicans to accept the higher funding levels he wanted for these programs than what the GOP lawmakers proposed.
The override will focus on line items where Republicans and Democrats agree on spending totals, but were blue-lined by Rendell in an attempt to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers.
Those include 7.1 million dollars for rape crisis centers, 41.8 million dollars for drug and alcohol treatment programs, and 18 million dollars for food banks.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says that funding needs to be restored.

"They are time-sensitive and very important services to the beneficiaries of that funding. And we thought it appropriate to at least make the attempt."

Perhaps underscoring the tough spot an override vote would put Democrats in, House Majority Leader Todd Eachus dismissed a question of whether he’d hold a vote on passed measures as a “hypothetical,” and kept other answers terse.

Reporter: "Non-hypothetically, what’s your reaction to this decision by Senate Republicans?"
Eachus: "It’s a tactic."

The GOP would need a two thirds majority to override.

Local Group Helps "Green" G20

The environmental stewardship group Sustainable Pittsburgh has been tapped by the Allegheny Conference to look for ways to make the upcoming G20 summit more environmentally friendly. The group chose to focus on four key areas where Sustainable Pittsburgh spokesperson Ginette Walker Vinski says they felt there could be the most impact. Those areas are: transportation, printing, the media center and the welcome reception. Vinski says it is still unclear just what transportation restrictions will be in place but as members of the media and delegate support staff make their way around the city it would be nice to offer them rides in hybrid cars, access to bicycles, and guides to take them from point A to point B on foot. On the printing front, Vinski says using recycled materials and soy-based inks is a logical start. She also suggests embossing materials as often as possible to eliminate ink altogether. Vinski says her group has recommended the use of recycled materials in the media center as well. She says they would also like to see pitchers of water offered to journalists rather than bottled water and if there needs to be any construction done in the first floor of the regional enterprise tower to accommodate the center, it be done in a green way including the use of LEDs. Sustainable Pittsburgh hopes the conference will start off on the right foot by greening the welcoming reception. Vinski says the focus should be on locally produced food grown on sustainable farms. She also recommends the use of biodegradable dinnerware. Vinski says they have provided the Allegheny Conference a list of business that can provide the greener materials and services. Vinski says now that the suggestions have been put in one place, anyone running a convention or large gathering can follow suit. Sustainable Pittsburgh will meet with the Allegheny Conference later today to review the suggestions. Listen to an interview with Ginette Walker Vinski.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

G20 Perimeters Coming But No One Knows Where

Pittsburgh officials organizing the G20 Summit still do not know where security perimeters will be set up but they know there will be more than one kind and they say businesses better start making plans. A secure perimeter will be placed around various venues including the convention center and the Phipps Conservatory through which no one without a credential will be allowed to pass. A wider traffic perimeter will be established around those same venues where only foot traffic will be allowed. The third type of perimeter will be a “rolling perimeter” which will be used when dignitaries are being transported from one location to another.
The Secret Service is in the process of contacting business owners and residents that may be within a secure perimeter and will be issuing credentials to allow them access. In the meantime, the Pittsburgh G20 Partnership is asking everyone to check out the web site to get the latest information on the planning process. Spokesperson Bill Flanagan says there is also a great deal of information there about building an emergency plan.
The partnership says businesses downtown should look at everything from the relatively small problem of traffic congestion to planning to shut down in a protest zone to credentialing employees to get to work. Pittsburgh Business Coalition for Homeland Security Director Loren Roth says his web page is another good resource for planning for everything from a power outage to a full closure. At the same web site business owners can sign up for nearly instantaneous updates from the county emergency operations center through the “Beacon” program. Mayoral spokesperson Joanna Doven stresses, “no one will be kicked out of their homes and no businesses will be forced to close.”
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is asking all downtown residents to call 412-325-0159 to sign up for updates concerning closures and other summit related announcements.

Pittsburgh Council to Return Early, Deal With G20 Bills

At Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's request, Pittsburgh City Council will return early from its summer recess to take up legislation concerning the G20 Summit next month. Council President Doug Shields says he has spoken with the mayor and several colleagues and that council is likely to return to work early next week. Shields says council would not return this week because of the death of the mother of Councilman Jim Motznik. Her funeral is Thursday.
Shields says he has asked the administration to send over the legislation as soon as possible so council can get to work on it. It's his understanding that the law department is putting the final touches on some measures.
Shields says he doesn't believe that the mayor is trying to ram these 5 bills through council....."It's a function of the scope of the event, it's so big, so pervasive, there are so many details to be worked on in a short amount of time." He added that it's just the way things are unfolding and it all depends on the Secret Service.
Shields says some of the ordinances are minor but with those dealing with the demonstrators, "we will be careful not to tread on First Amendment rights."
The administration is reportedly considering a temporary ban in downtown Pittsburgh on such items as PVC pipe which protesters often use to link themselves together to make it difficult for police to remove them.

Back-to-School Spending Decreases

Back-to-school shoppers are buying cheap and less this year. Dr. Audrey Guskey, Professor of Marketing at Duquesne University says due to the downturn of our economy, parents are bargain shopping and “recycling” their kids’ back-to-school items.
She says this is having a huge impact on retailers because the back-to-school shopping season is their second largest revenue generator of the year, and is a big indicator of how Christmas shopping will go.
She says parents have started shopping a month in advance this year to find better bargains, and have spent about $17.4 billion, which is 8% less than last year.
Guskey says as a result retailers had to cut prices this year. She says businesses such as Wal-Mart and Target have done relatively better than department stores because shoppers are out looking for the cheapest deals.
Guskey has the “ABC” advice for shoppers: "A: All on sale! You can always find a good sale somewhere. B: Buy store brands. Store brands are always cheaper. C: Coupons. There are coupons online, in magazines, etc.—find them."

The Return of the Swine Flu is Expected

With school starting soon, hundreds of thousands of kids across the state will be coming together, touching, sharing drinks, and spreading germs. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is concerned that H1N1, also known as the swine flu, will be returning, as well.
Spokesperson Stacy Kriedeman says the department is encouraging parents and school administrators to take certain precautions that will help prevent the swine flu from returning and spreading. She says they have reached out to schools, providing steps to take and a letter for them to send to parents with information about the virus.
Kriedeman says parents should keep their child home if they have any flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, until all symptoms are completely gone without being supressed by over-the-counter medication. She says the swine flu is more likely to affect people from the ages of 5 months to 24 years old, according to statistics.
She says parents should have their children frequently wash their hands, not sharing drinks or food, and using proper cough and sneeze manners. This goes for college students, as well, especially because it is particularly difficult to go home when ill.
She says the most important thing is that people are aware of how their communities are being affected by the virus.
For more information, visit:
Or call: 1-877-PA-HEALTH

Pittsburgh Org. to Report on School District Equity

A Pittsburgh Public Schools watchdog group, A+ Schools, has begun another effort to gauge and report on consistency in the city’s middle schools and high schools. Executive Director Carey Harris unveiled "School Works" today, a program that Harris says will address inequities across the schools of the district.

Harris says it’s undeniable that different schools in the district have varying successes and failures, and the question is why. A+ Schools is asking for volunteers to take a one-hour training session before interviewing various principals on the conditions at their schools. Harris says interview questions will be based on local and national research and haven’t yet been determined.

Harris says the idea is not to compare schools. “Information will be reported on a system-wide level, not by individual schools. So, for example, we might say x percent of high schools reported y, not Langley said this and Allderdice said this. Individual schools or groups of schools will not be graded, so this is not that kind of evaluation,” says Harris.

Harris says the immediate goal is to get into schools and start interviewing principals by mid-October. She says from the information they receive, they will organize public meetings and advocacy groups by January of 2010. Harris says from there, she would like to branch out and begin to ask teachers, parents, and students the same questions posed to the administrators.

Bickering But No Budget

Budget Negotiations at the Capitol seem stalled, though the partisan sniping is in full form.
Governor Rendell says he’s compromised plenty, trimming his spending plan by two billion dollars and dropping a proposal to hike Pennsylvania’s personal income tax.
He says Republicans aren’t returning the favor.

"So far we’ve given, myself and the House and Senate Democrats, we’ve given, given, and given, and all they’ve done is take take take."

Not surprisingly, Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson has a different take.

"He likes to trumpet two billion dollars in cuts, but Governor Rendell is the only man in the world who can make two billion dollars in cuts and still want to spend a billion more than he did last year."

Appearing at the Capitol, Rendell said he’s open to any budget agreement, as long as it doesn’t cut spending on education, health care and services to the elderly, and it presents a balanced plan for the next two fiscal years.

Spending on Kids Causes Fight

Early education spending is becoming a flashpoint in the budget impasse. Pennsylvania Governor Rendell says he won’t retreat on early education spending even if it means childcare centers have to lay off staff or close their doors as they wait for a final budget. A state budget is now 7 weeks overdue.
Two line items in the Department of Public Welfare budget provide more than 300 million dollars in child care subsidies for low-income families.
Senate Republicans proposed trimming Rendell’s suggested spending on those lines by 17 million dollars, so the governor blue-lined the items, cutting off assistance for childcare centers across the Commonwealth.
Speaking at a rally outside the Capitol, Republican Representative Dan Moul, of Adams and Franklin Counties, said that decision is forcing facilities to close their doors.

"That means all those people that are not only employed by this community action program, but all the families that are destroyed by not having those programs available to them."

But appearing with Rendell, Jodi Askins, who heads the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children, argued the short-term closures are worth it, if it means avoiding Republican cuts.

"Because in the end, what happens is people will have to pick between the kids they formerly used to serve."

She says the sacrifice is worth it, even if some families temporarily lose access.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Market Square Redo Begins

Crews are set to begin the reconstruction of Market Square. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says, "Market Square is the heart of our city. Investing in this historic asset to create an exceptional public space is critical to the continued revitalization of our City Center. I ask that the public be patient as we work as hard and as fast as we can to make the Square an even better destination for residents, visitors, and families." Reconstruction will include new street and sidewalk construction, new functional and aesthetic lighting, and new landscaping. The square will once again be all one level. The sidewalks will be paved with bricks to allow for expanded café seating around the square wit the goal of creating a "piazza" feel. During the work a pedestrian walkway will run along the entire perimeter of the Square. Vehicular traffic will be restricted through the Square. The $5 million reconstruction project is expected to be finished by next summer.

Life Sci Greenhouse on G20 Tour

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato are taking tours of several high-tech and green businesses in the region in an effort to point out some of the reasons why the city was chosen to host the G20 Summit in September. Monday they toured the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. The center hosts startup companies as they work to development early stage technologies into marketable products. Onorato says, "The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse is a perfect example of why our region has earned a reputation of being on the leading edge of science and technology." The Green House sits next to the Hot Metal Bridge on land that was once a Jones and Laughlin steel mill. It is now know as The Pittsburgh Technology Center. Greenhouse CEO John Manzetti stood on the 5th floor patio of the building and pointed to the bridge as a symbol of the past and then at his building, the others in the Technology Center and the development on the Southside as the future of the city. Manzetti says it would be great if any of the G20 visitors from a president to a reporter stopped by. He says, "It's our privilege to get the word out that this region has some of the world's very best life sciences technologies. We are creating companies and growing our talent pool of researchers and entrepreneurs which will allow us bring more innovation and investment opportunities to the market." No tours of the building have been set for visiting dignitaries but Ravenstahl says anyone asking about the region’s transformation will be told about it.

Mayor: Protestors Should be Patient

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says groups that have applied for a permit to protest during the G20 should “take a deep breath.” He says there have been requests submitted from several organizations and the city is, “trying to find good locations for people to protest.” He says no applications have been approved and none have been declined. That includes a request from State Senator Jim Ferlo to use Point State Park as a protest area. Ravenstahl says that application will probable be denied because the city has asked the state to allow it to set up a tent city in the park to house police officers coming to the city to help with security. Ravenstahl says there will be room for everyone to be heard. He says, “by law we have to provide two spots that are both within visual distance and verbal distance from the convention center.” He says the exact location of the protest areas has not yet been determined.
In response to rumors that out of town protesters are breaking into abandon buildings and living in them, Ravenstahl asked anyone who knew of such activity to contact the police department so they could be removed.

G20 Protest Being Planned

A nonviolent protest is being organized to rally against next month's G20 summit. While reasons vary from lack of public input, the global economy, unemployment and war, the primary goal is to provide public education.

Thomas Merton Center Spokeswoman Melissa Minnich says they have not yet received a permit for the protest, but have received a response from Pittsburgh Police.

"If we left it up to them, they would be fine with us marching up to the City County Building. But I'm afraid they have no final say on it because the Secret Service is going to be handling all security issues. So we have no firm answer," she says.

She says they are going to march as far as they're allowed on September 25. The tentative plan is to begin in Oakland on Fifth Avenue & Craft at noon, then lead into downtown Pittsburgh near the City County Building by 2pm, and then end on 10th Street at 3:30pm, a mere block from the Convention Center.

Minnich says they expect this will be the largest event the Thomas Merton Center has organized, estimating thousands of participants.