We are writing to make you aware of an issue affecting our communities of Four Mile Run (The Run) and Panther Hollow, which border each end of the Junction Hollow portion of Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park. All are in danger of being erased by corrupt development practices of city government and its private partners.
In 2015, Mayor Peduto’s office and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced a plan to build a publicly financed, privately controlled roadway through both neighborhoods and Schenley Park. This plan, then called the Oakland Transit Connector, is now known as the Mon-Oakland Connector or the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project. We were never consulted about the plan before it was announced—a violation of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act.
We learned of the Mon-Oakland Connector from an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that reported, “The URA this month approved a $3 million application for a state grant to help pay for the first phase of the project…” The grant application, filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (Single Application ID: 201507311048; Web Application ID: 8068967), contained numerous falsehoods as detailed in a letter from a concerned Panther Hollow resident. A section of the grant application states:
The act of knowingly making a false statement or overvaluing a security to obtain a grant and/or loan from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may be subject to criminal prosecution.
For more than four years now city officials, consultants, and private partners have misled and outright lied to residents, the public, and the press regarding the Mon-Oakland Connector. Through additional RTK requests, we have obtained proof of their deceit.
We want to know where you stand on this issue. The District Attorney of Allegheny County has a duty to investigate corruption on the part of public officials. If you win the office in our upcoming election,will you investigatethe PA Sunshine Act violation, the fraudulent grant application that was unlawfully redacted in response to a RTK request, and other evidence of corruption?
We look forward to your prompt response. It will determine whether we and our supporters cast our votes for you on November 5th.
Since last year, the PWSA has had $41 million in funding to fix an urgent public safety issue in the heart of Pittsburgh. Please call 412-255-2423 to ask them, “What’s the holdup?”
As you watch the video above, imagine that Four Mile Run is your neighborhood. In a way, it is.
Those of us who live here see “The Run” as unique, but it has the basics that most neighborhoods share: houses, sidewalks churches, businesses—and a community of people. Imagine these are your streets and homes filling with water, your neighbors becoming trapped on top of their car, your children at risk of drowning.
If you live in Pittsburgh, you’ve likely traveled over The Run on the Parkway East. You may frequent or live in the better-known neighborhoods above us that get this water first—and more and more of this water ends up in The Run as unchecked development covers acres of land with impervious surfaces like asphalt.
As the flooding steadily worsened over decades, your neighbors were told time and time again that our city lacked funds to fix it. So it was a big deal when PWSA secured the $41 million earmarked for the problem. Now, even with funding finally in place, more than a year has passed and work has not started on this important and necessary project.
At the June 20 public meeting about the 4 Mile Run Stormwater Improvement Project and Mon-Oakland Mobility Project, residents had many open or unanswered questions. We compiled a list from several neighbors in The Run in advance of the meeting. You received a copy of these questions at the meeting, and they are included below.
The URA document referenced in question #8 can be found here. When asked this question at the meeting, you asserted the document does not exist. We acquired the document through a Right to Know request submitted on December 5, 2018. It clearly shows that the URA’s vision for the stormwater project provides that “major transportation options under discussion” should take precedence. This contradicts repeated public statements from you and other officials, and raises serious concerns for us because of our neighborhood’s flooding problem.
Residents have been pleading for many years with city officials to address the stormwater and sewage flooding their streets and homes, which can be seen in these photos:
Multiple experts in the fields of infrastructure and stormwater management have told us that forcing a roadway into the stormwater plan is likely to harm flood control. As PWSA Chief of Program Management Alex Sciulli stated in your joint presentation at the June 20 meeting, development—which replaces green space with hard surfaces such as asphalt that don’t absorb rainwater—is a major cause of the flooding we’ve experienced.
We’ve been told that the watershed project and the roadway project are separate yet being done “in tandem.” That level of coordination requires detailed plans. When will you share full details so that resident-approved independent experts can evaluate them before construction begins?
At the January 2018 public meeting, Michael Baker Corporation presented 6 possible routes (including 5 offered by residents). [DOMI director Karina Ricks] expressed a preference for the Swinburne route but said it was not viable because of the landslides on Swinburne. Why is Swinburne unviable for smaller lighter AVs, yet currently open to at-times bumper-to-bumper traffic including cars, trucks, UPMC shuttles, emergency vehicles, and school buses?
The newest map shows the proposed roadway running right along the bottom of Swinburne, which has experienced landslides in the past and present, and which DOMI designated “unviable” as a route. What is the true reason you are so attached to the route through Schenley Park? Why do the private partners want this land so badly?
According to sources, there is a discussion happening behind the scenes about trying to buy out residents who live along Four Mile Run/Boundary streets—whose basements always flood when there is heavy rain. Is it true that you are going to attempt to buy or force those folks out through those or other means?
In 2015, public officials stated to the press that the city would go to court to overturn Mary Schenley’s deed in order to seize the publicly owned and protected property of Schenley Park. Are you still planning on going to court to force that outcome?
At the September 2018 meeting, PWSA head Robert Weimar stated, “We only have one chance to get this right” regarding the storm-water plan’s success. We agree, and expect access to detailed plans so that an independent, resident-approved expert can evaluate them before construction begins. When will you provide those plans?
Will you provide a list of all “project partners” with their contact information—email addresses and phone numbers?
Multiple experts have told residents that forcing the roadway onto the watershed plan will compromise flood control. A URA document titled “Project Narrative for Heinz Endowment” states, “Measure of success: We will produce several construction alternatives … and couple them with the potential design options that will not preclude any major transportation options under discussion.” In plainer language, this paragraph says that a successful flood control plan won’t interfere with the proposed roadway—in other words, the road takes precedence. This directly contradicts repeated public statements made by you [K Ricks], PWSA, and other officials. Given the true priorities behind both projects, what guarantees can residents expect regarding the success of the watershed improvement plan? When will a community benefits agreement with those guarantees be enacted?
How was it determined that the route through two neighborhoods and Schenley Park is the only viable route? Swinburne would have to be stabilized to prevent it from collapsing onto the proposed roadway. So why spend an additional tens of millions of dollars to build a new road instead of using Swinburne as the route?
On April 18, some residents of The Run, along with Pittsburghers for Public Transit and the Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition, sent Mayor Peduto an open letter. We made specific, actionable demands to actually include the public in this so-called public process concerning the Mon-Oakland Connector—things like announcing the meetings at least 14 days in advance, revealing the total amount of public funds spent so far, and formatting the meetings so that all attendees can hear all the questions and answers. When will we receive a formal response, and why are you continuing to take up most of these meetings with presentations and breakout sessions?
By choosing AV, you are eliminating jobs, thus reducing the tax base. How will the City make up for this loss of revenue and pay for basic services like roads, bridges, infrastructure, etc.? Will robots pay taxes?
The Planning Commission approved a last-minute tripling of residential density in the Hazelwood Green plan over objections by the Greenfield Community Association and the Run Resident Action Team. Karina Ricks admitted in 2017 that if Amazon accepted Pittsburgh’s bid, the Mon-Oakland Connector would be inadequate for the increased number of users. Why are you investing public money into a roadway that is already obsolete before it’s even built?
Isn’t it a conflict of interest that some of the people involved in decision making about the roadway and storm-water projects stand to profit from developing Hazelwood Green?
We have the agenda from a 2000 “community outreach project” meeting titled “The New Junction Hollow Vision.” The agenda advocates for a short, intense “charette” process—that means a meeting of all stakeholders where conflicts are worked out. But the meeting involved only residents of Oakland and the Oakland Community Council. Hazelwood Initiative is mentioned but not Panther Hollow or The Run—the neighborhoods that are actually located in Junction Hollow, the communities that would be affected most. Do the Oakland organizers of this meeting still think Junction Hollow belongs to them, and that they can decide its future? Why would they not include the communities of Panther Hollow and The Run?
A URA document titled “Exhibit 1” states, “The implementation of the Oakland Transit Connector model can address a majority of these barriers and will open the opportunities for continued economic growth across Oakland and into adjoining communities.” The barriers: People already live here. There’s a public park here. Development can only address these “barriers” by eliminating them. No one consulted those “adjoining communities” about the Mon-Oakland Connector before deciding to proceed with it. And during the series of public meetings last year, DOMI filed another grant application connected to the roadway without telling residents. City officials have lamented the continuing distrust around this project, but how can they be surprised?
Some people would like to attend these meetings but can’t because they are taking care of kids. Will you use part of the Knight Foundation grant to facilitate their participation by providing kids’ activities and supervision for future meetings?
DOMI’s presentation for the February 2018 meeting included a chart that gave “Autonomous Microtransit” a higher positive ranking than conventional shuttle buses and improved Port Authority bus service. This despite the fact that no data supports the assertion that AVs have a greater ability to “deliver in the near term” or “promote sustainable mobility and development”—in fact, the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector requires completely new infrastructure and a new fleet of vehicles. Why is AV being so aggressively put forward as the solution and whose interests does this serve?
Will people to be able to use the Mon-Oakland Connector if they don’t have a smartphone or don’t want to provide personal information? What happens to the personal information a Mon-Oakland Connector app would collect?
What will happen to the Mon-Oakland Connector fare system after the fares are no longer subsidized (after 2 years)?
Mayor William Peduto
414 Grant Street, 5th Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
April 18, 2019
Dear Mayor Peduto,
We are writing to inquire about our community petition delivered to you via Change.org in 2016, to which you have yet to respond. The almost 500-signature petition concerns the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)/private partner-proposed roadway through Schenley Park and adjoining communities, previously known as the Oakland Transit Connector and now called the Mon-Oakland Mobility Plan or Mon-Oakland Connector. A screenshot of the petition appears at the end of this letter. We have filed Right to Know requests with several City departments and are now officially reasserting our demands for a complete accounting of costs and details regarding the Mon-Oakland Connector—including a list of all individuals and corporate entities involved in the genesis of this plan—as well as an immediate halt to development activities
As you know, residents of Panther Hollow and The Run—along with supporters throughout the region—adamantly oppose this project. We are committed to protecting our communities from being colonized through predatory land speculation and gentrification. We are also concerned about our neighborhoods becoming park-and-rides for those wishing to use the connector. We are equally committed to protecting Schenley Park, which belongs to all Pittsburgh residents. The proposed plan would convert what is now primarily a bike and pedestrian path into an essentially private roadway.
We refuse to be a sacrifice zone for development of Hazelwood Green and used as guinea pigs for an experimental technology in its infancy.
Secrecy has been one of the hallmarks of this “public-private partnership” since its inception. Residents of the affected communities (and even City Councilman Corey O’Connor) first learned about the proposal in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the URA had already filed a grant application with Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development. Community members have not forgotten that the URA responded to their 2015 right-to-know request by providing a redacted copy of the grant application.
The secrecy continues, despite repeated statements from Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) director Karina Ricks affirming a commitment to transparency: “To ease concerns, Ricks said she has emphasized transparency in the public meetings.”
DOMI filed a grant application for the Mon-Oakland Connector on April 13, 2018, bypassing consultation with either neighborhood. They did not mention their application at all during the last public meeting about the roadway on May 22. When the grant was approved in July by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, DOMI still did not inform affected residents. Additionally, residents had to pressure Councilman O’Connor to look into the information being withheld.
DOMI and others involved in the proposed roadway have not provided sufficient information at community meetings to meet the standards of transparency. Considering this ongoing absence of transparency, we add the following to the original demands of our petition:
Any meetings tied to this roadway must be open to the public, including those associated with PWSA, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, DOMI, and any other agency or organization—governmental or private. These meetings must be posted with a minimum of 14 days’ notice to allow working people to arrange their busy lives to attend and have their voices heard.
Any meetings regarding this project must include a Q&A session where every attendee is able to hear all questions asked and all answers given. No more “breakout” sessions where attendees are divided and thus denied the opportunity to receive all information equally.
By the next such meeting, answer our existing demand to reveal the total amount of public funds spent to date on developing and selling this plan—as detailed in Right to Know requests filed on December 5, 2018, with The City of Pittsburgh, the Department of City Planning, Department of Public Works, DOMI, and the URA. Because the costs of this project will continue to mount unless all spending halts immediately, we expect an honest cost-keeping record to be provided to the public on an ongoing basis.
We have additional concerns about the proposed micro-transit’s multiple safety implications. DOMI’s current ridership projections show 394 weekday riders from The Run—a community with only 172 households, according to the City of Pittsburgh’s count. That means a reality-bending 102% of Run residents using the micro-transit on an average weekday. DOMI’s projections certainly allow that most riders would come from elsewhere. This will lead to increased vehicular traffic in the area and increased dangers to pedestrians and cyclists—as well as further decreasing air quality. Furthermore, autonomous vehicles have more safety issues than advertised, according to recently reported information.
The Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement Project is the top priority for Run residents. The current plan to force the connector on top of the $40 million stormwater project will inevitably compromise flood control, as well as access to and enjoyment of Schenley Park—all to benefit real estate speculators, developers, and the anonymous private partners.
Over the past three years, your administration’s intention to seize public park land with blatant disregard of community objections stands in direct contradiction to your statement: “You should never use government in order to take somebody’s property. The precedents that that would begin would be devastating to democracy.”
Pittsburgh’s recently released Amazon bid (which you fought in court to keep secret) promised a publicly financed autonomous shuttle system through Schenley Park—the Mon-Oakland Connector! We want to know why you make deals with private interests at the expense of your constituents. Pittsburgh’s citizens have been harmed enough by public-private partnerships that choose profit over people. Mr. Mayor, which side are you on?
We expect a prompt and truthful response to all our demands. We expect the press to question you until you respond. We ask public employees and others to do what’s right rather than participate in this duplicity, which will stain everyone involved. And we invite everyone reading this open letter to join us in demanding the accountability we are owed by our local government.
Residents of The Run and supporters
Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition