Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's not a shakedown

Paul Ellis, an attorney for the One Hill Coalition, responded to some myths about the Penguins CBA in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here are a few excerpts:

* Myth No. 1: "Hill Residents are trying to shake down the city, the county and the Penguins."

If someone takes something from you, and you demand it back, does that constitute a shakedown, or charity? Of course not.
Many people cannot relate to the Hill's requests because their communities have been physically and culturally intact for the last 50 years, with responsive, funded programs and services. Where were the cries of foul play from these people when local government displaced thousands of Hill District residents to build what is now Mellon Arena for the Civic Light Opera and eventually the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by a series of broken promises? Can you imagine your entire thriving neighborhood being destroyed?
It is inconceivable that anyone who knows the history of the Hill could fail to understand that Hill residents are trying to avoid the repeat of a devastating act of divestiture....

* Myth No. 2: "All they want is a handout."

It is a statement that is both insulting and hypocritical. The implication: Why don't they just do for themselves?
In fact, most Hill District residents are hard-working citizens just like everyone else in this largely blue-collar city. The hypocrisy lies in the fact that the Penguins are not doing for themselves. They are using hundreds of millions of public tax dollars to reconcile their debts, give investors a nice return and take advantage of prime real estate conveyed for free. What private business group couldn't thrive with that kind of public financial support?
To suggest that Hill District residents should create miracles in employment, health care, public accommodation and quality of life on their own is to ignore the source of the Penguins' funding: the public.
A community benefits agreement could help transform the entire culture of the community, and if Hill residents weren't fighting for equity, they'd be criticized for being apathetic.
As it is, we're criticized for seeking a community center, but expected to keep our kids off the streets. We're excoriated for wanting a master plan by those who have a voice if development is proposed in their neighborhoods. We're the targets of condescension for wanting a grocery store by those who have conscientious grocers nearby. We're ridiculed for seeking life-sustaining jobs by those who already have them. We're blamed for wanting a role in the development of land that was taken by our own government to benefit others, including the Penguins.
Residents of the Hill are very much trying to do for themselves, but certainly a level playing field is not too much to ask.

* Myth No. 3: "The community benefits agreement would benefit only Hill District residents."

The same individuals who criticize the Hill's residents would demand a legally binding understanding if major development was proposed in their neighborhoods with their public dollars.... A stronger Hill District would make for a stronger Downtown, encouraging business investment and residential opportunities while luring more visitors, conventions and commerce.

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