Court testimony reveals another way Pittsburgh and county officials justify sidestepping state open records law in Amazon case

Who owns Pittsburgh’s bid to host Amazon HQ2? The answer to this question appears to be a critical point in determining if the public has the right to see what the city and Allegheny County have offered to Amazon to lure its second headquarters to Pittsburgh. On the stand in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on Thursday, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development Stefani Pashman testified that PGHQ2, a private subsidiary of the conference, owns the bid and merely shared copies of it with the city and county. City and county lawyers argued before Judge Terrence W. O’Brien that the city and county do not own the bid, which means the governments can’t be compelled to release it and that they don’t have the right to anyway. “They own the proposal, it’s their proposal,” said George Janocsko, a solicitor with the county law department, during arguments on behalf of the government Thursday.

Pittsburgh-area officials signed NDAs that could shield incentives offered to Amazon for up to five years

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration carefully orchestrated how the state would maintain a competitive edge as it helped Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and other entities vie to be the home for Amazon’s second headquarters. Keeping the details of the incentive package close to the vest was chief among the priorities to ensure bids coming out of Pennsylvania had an advantage. Non-disclosure agreements were signed in early to mid-October, before a bid was ever submitted to Amazon. And Wolf’s officers wrote in a clause, reserving the right to keep information about the state’s quest for HQ2 under wraps for up to five years. The governor’s office is fighting in court to not release information about incentives the state offered to Amazon.

Activists, public officials protest Peoples’ proposal to overhaul Pittsburgh water authority

About two dozen activists, public officials and onlookers gathered in front of the Peoples Natural Gas headquarters on the North Side Wednesday morning to oppose the company’s efforts to, as they say, "privatize the city’s water infrastructure." Holding signs, attendees engaged in a call-and-response with Rev. Vincent Kolb, a member of the Pittsburgh United’s Our Water Campaign and a minister at the Sixth Presbyterian Church. “Do we want to see our water become a commodity?” Kolb asked as the protesters stood behind him. “No!” the crowd responded. During the event, a few officials gave short speeches and the Our Water Campaign launched a petition drive to gather support for keeping PWSA’s assets public.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's water treatment plant in Aspinwall. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Public-private partnership or ‘privatization scheme?’ New details emerge about Peoples Gas proposal to fix city water infrastructure

New information has emerged about an aggressive push by Peoples Natural Gas to take control of parts of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s infrastructure, a deal the company hopes it can strike by promising to fix some of PWSA’s problems.

Details of Peoples offer — which to activists and public officials who have heard the company’s pitch in recent meetings looked like an offer to privatize parts of the city’s water system —  indicate that the company is offering to leverage its capital and expertise to solve Pittsburgh’s water woes. Led by Morgan O’Brien, the company’s CEO and president, and Kevin Acklin, a Peoples executive and former chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto, Peoples has been pitching its idea to city council members, PWSA officials and local activists. O’Brien has also courted Peduto, as the Post-Gazette reported in February. Acklin wrote in an email Tuesday that he wasn’t present at the meeting with the mayor or the meetings with city council members as his presence would violate city ethics rules. He said those meetings were conducted by O’Brien and other Peoples staff.

The Hill District has a lived experience and a roadmap for how community benefits agreements could work locally. In 2008, a CBA was negotiated between the Pittsburgh Penguins, several city and county agencies and the One Hill Neighborhood Coalition, which represented almost 100 groups in the Hill District at the time. (Photo by Maranie Rae Staab/PublicSource)

This Pittsburgh group wants all developers getting public subsidies to agree to community benefits. Including you, Amazon.

When Amazon launched a national search to find a home for its second headquarters, the corporate giant said it was looking for a site that could offer access to major highways,  a population of more than one million people, tax breaks and other financial incentives. Cities across North America, including Pittsburgh, spent weeks and money ($300,000 to $400,000 in Pittsburgh’s case) to formulate pitches that would stand out to Amazon as a suitable HQ2 location. A group focused on equitable development in Southwest Pennsylvania believes it should be a two-way road. If members of the Community Power Movement had it their way, the city would be demanding just as much in return from Amazon as the company is requesting from the applicant cities. No one really knows what regional officials have asked for in return, other than the implied infusion of jobs and development.

O’Harold Hoots, a displaced resident from the Penn Plaza complex, was the first of nearly 40 opponents to the proposed development to speak during Tuesday's meeting of the planning commission. Hoots asked that the commission consider the human face of those that would be negatively affected by the redevelopment.

The people who filibustered Pittsburgh’s planning commission over plans for the former Penn Plaza site

Jackie Smith, Ashley Cox, Dan Kubis, Rachel Brown, Adam Clark… The list read before the City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission on Tuesday afternoon included the names of almost 1,300 people who wrote letters to the commission, opposing the development plan proposed by LG Realty for the former site of Penn Plaza Apartments. After more than four hours, the commission voted to approve design plans for the $150 million development in East Liberty. One year following the controversial demolition of Penn Plaza and after six months of mediation between the community and developers, LG Realty presented plans to put commercial retail space, a park and several office buildings at the former site of affordable housing. About 30 to 40 people spoke at the meeting, some of them in support of the project. A few of them took their three minutes of time at the podium to read the names of the people who submitted letters opposing the Pennley Park South Redevelopment Plan.