Pittsburgh City Council has once again rejected a plan to lease parking assets to LAZ Parking. Councilman Ricky Burges gathered only two yes votes for his compromise plan at a meeting Wednesday.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had hoped to lease the garages and meters for 50 years and then use the upfront proceeds to bring the city’s pension plan up to the 50% funded level in order to avoid a state takeover. Council members rejected the deal and then moved a proposal to do a garage swap and bond issuance with the Parking Authority to shore up the pension fund. Still others on the council think a state take over may be the best option.
The Burgess plan shortened the length of the lease from 50 to 40 years, lowered the fee increase schedule for parking meters in neighborhoods, included revenue sharing and allowed the city to benefit from advertising on and in the garages. He feels his plan addressed all of the concerns voiced by the community and by council members. He says he is willing to work up to the last minute to find a solution. Councilwoman Theresa Smith says council should not leave the building until it finds a way to fix the pension problem.
Councilman Bruce Kraus says any lease deal will continue to fail to get five votes because there are at least five council members who will not allow the city to sell or lease any public assets. “So if we are truly interested in resolving our pension issue… Stop it. Nobody wants it. Can we stop it now and start doing what we need to do to resolve our pension problem,” says Kraus. Councilman Bill Peduto says he will not give up control of one of the few revenue streams available to the city he likened it to “selling the cow rather than the milk.” He says cities across the nation are finding “wall street firms” swooping in to pickup assets. “Do you think they are doing this to help cities pension plans and to help cities get through tough budget times? Then you think that check cashing places are out there to help poor people,” says Peduto
The revised lease fell on a 5-2 vote with two abstentions. LAZ Parking CEO Alan Lazowski says he is not ready to walk away from the deal and promised to meet with any council member to get a deal done before the end of the year. “We have spent millions of dollars in pursuit of this deal, we have thousands of man hours in this deal,” says Lazowski, “We owe it to our company, to our 6,000 employees, we owe it to the infrastructure world that is looking at this deal to say this is important for cities across the country.”
Lazowski says he feels his firm has been very responsive to every suggestion made by council members and he reminds them that he was only responding to a Request For Proposal from the Mayor’s office when he first tried to lease the parking assets.
Council members Smith, Dowd and Burgess says they will work to find a way to prevent a state take over of the pension plan but all three know time is running out to meet the December 31st deadline.