Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trial set for Martin Esquivel-Hernandez; advocates call for Pittsburgh to become a sanctuary city

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 5:12 PM

Advocates for Martin Esquivel-Hernandez calling for Pittsburgh to become a sanctuary city - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Advocates for Martin Esquivel-Hernandez calling for Pittsburgh to become a sanctuary city
On Dec. 8, for the first time in seven months, Martin Esquivel-Hernandez was able to see his wife, Alma Brigido, face to face. Esquivel-Hernandez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, has been detained in a private prison in Youngstown, Ohio since May, when he was picked up by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) from his Pittsburgh home. His three children have visited him in prison throughout the year, but Brigido, who is also undocumented, wouldn’t visit out of fear of being detained by ICE.

But the reunion between husband and wife inside the federal courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh wasn’t a joyous occasion. Esquivel-Hernandez’s visit with his family was brief and ended with him being returned to prison in Youngstown. Brigido and the three children exited the courthouse with tear soaked faces and prayed outside the doors.

Pittsburgh City Paper reported last month that Esquivel-Hernandez’s lawyer, Sally Frick, was negotiating a deal so that he would only be charged with a misdemeanor, instead of felony illegal re-entry. This would have release Esquivel-Hernandez from his cell in Youngstown and given him a good chance at avoiding deportation.

However, Esquivel-Hernandez rejected the plea on Nov. 8 because the office of Western Pennsylvania District U.S. attorney Soo Song would only negotiate the charge down to illegal entry after deportation, a slightly different charge that still would have left Esquivel-Hernandez charged with a felony.

“Even this lesser offense still puts [Esquivel-Hernandez] under the priority for deportation,” said Frick. “We are trying to give him the best chance for staying in this country legally.”

Frick spoke to CP after the hearing and said an illegal entry after deportation charge is considered a misdemeanor upon an immigrant's first offense. Frick said the U.S. attorney’s office told her that since Esquivel-Hernandez was already caught at the border and charged with this in 2011, an illegal entry charge would be upgraded to a felony. However, Frick said there are cases in districts close to the U.S.-Mexico border where undocumented immigrants have been charged with misdemeanors even after their first offense.

The U.S. Attorney’s office refused to comment on this case.

Antonia Domingo of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, who is advocating on Esquivel-Hernandez, said Song could also drop the case against Martin, which would be a boon to his chances of remaining in the U.S.

“They are completely able to [drop this case],” said Domingo. “And it would make sense since they are using government taxpayer resources to prosecute a man that does not deserve it.”

Frick said the U.S. attorneys have given her no indication they are willing to drop the case. But there is precedent for dropping illegal re-entry cases, including a case dropped against Francisco Aguirre-Velasquez, from El Salvador, this May in Oregon. And former western Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney David Hickton dropped an illegal re-entry case against Alfredo Ramos-Gallegos in 2014 in Erie. According to the motion to dismiss the case against Ramos-Gallegos, Hickton wrote in 2014 the U.S. government dismissed the case in "the interests of justice."

A jury trial is set for Esquivel Hernandez for Jan. 3, 2017 at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 3B at 700 Grant St., Downtown.

In response to the news that Esquivel-Hernandez would not be freed, a group of 60 advocates took to the streets and marched from the federal courthouse to the city-county building. Brigido spoke to the group about how Esquivel-Hernandez’s continual detainment is affecting her family.

“We were hopeful that he would be home for the holidays, but unfortunately that will not happen,” said Brigido in Spanish. “How am I supposed to explain to the children that their father will not be there for what is suppose to be a joyous time.”

Maria Duarte, a Chatham student an undocumented Mexican immigrant, asked Pittsburg city leaders to make the city a “sanctuary city,” where local law enforcement refuses to cooperate with ICE if they don’t have a warrant. Advocates say this policy is meant to protect law-abiding undocumented immigrants. Public Source reported last week that Pittsburgh City Council is considering making Pittsburgh a sanctuary city.

“We are here to demand that Pittsburgh declare itself a sanctuary city,” said Duarte to the crowd. “When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back.”

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Pittsburgh church replaces vandalized Black Lives Matter banner

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 2:18 PM

PHOTO COURTESY OF FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH
  • Photo courtesy of First Unitarian Church
On the morning of Nov. 23, Minister David Herndon arrived at First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh to find an unwelcome surprise. A Black Lives Matter banner the church had put up just a few days earlier had been vandalized. The banner now read: Blue Lives Matter More.

"When I came to work that morning, I couldn't tell it had been vandalized at first and I caught sight of the banner and thought isn't this great that our neighborhood is so accepting," Herndon says. "But then I got closer and realized."

That day the church posted a picture of the vandalized banner to their Facebook page saying "Sad to think that even in our progressive, inclusive, multicultural neighborhood that our Black Lives Matter sign would be vandalized!" The post has since been shared more than 1,300 time and the church has received an outpouring of support.

"It's been amazing the support we've seen from people who are not part of our congregation who have reached out," Herndon says. "Over time my reaction has been to strengthen my resolve."

The original lawn banner had actually been a stand in for a much larger banner the church planned to plaster on their bell tower. And yesterday they put that banner up.
black_lives_matter_3.jpg

"Our denomination has been actively involved in racial justice since the 1950s and 60s. We went on record as supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and we wanted to support it here in Pittsburgh as well," says Herndon. "The congregation has been hugely supportive for the most part."

While the response to the new banner on the church's Facebook page has been largely positive, there are those against it. The comments section under photos of the new banner is riddled with "All lives matter" posts and one parishioner said he'd be leaving the church.

"So leaving my church and sad to do it but all lives matter. Every single one. Shame on you. And all of us members that we have created this deviousness. So sad on what my church has done. Disgusted," wrote Tom Waite.

Others wrote that the banner was an affront to police officers. But Herndon notes that he has a family member in law enforcement and says the church's message is not about vilifying police.

"We're not trying to be against police and law enforcement," says Herndon. "We respect those people and understand the risk they take to perform their jobs."

Now he's inviting members of his congregation and outsiders to have a discussion around the Black Lives Matter movement. He hopes discourse around the issue will lead to greater understanding and prevent future vandalism.

"It's our way of saying yes of course all lives matter but this one particular group have been marginalized, excluded, oppressed, really since the first slaves arrived," says Herndon. "We're trying to call attention to the reality that people of color in this country have lived under oppression for a long long time and continue to today."

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Community rallies around Woodland Hills High School students

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 1:01 PM

Minister Victor Muhammad speaks to a crowd of protesters outside of Woodland Hills High School. - CP PHOTO BY STEPHEN CARUSO
  • CP photo by Stephen Caruso
  • Minister Victor Muhammad speaks to a crowd of protesters outside of Woodland Hills High School.
On Monday night, Gabriel Gray stood outside Woodland Hills High School draped in Christmas lights, and a passerby might have confused his luminescence with holiday cheer. But Gray was standing vigil in search of something that can’t be bought in a store.

“'Tis the season to shine light on the truth of situations,” said Gray, a Homewood resident.

What Gray sought to illuminate was the story of Woodland Hills principal and football coach Kevin Murray, who was secretly recorded by a 14-year-old special needs student while threatening the pupil nine months ago.

Now, that same student is facing wiretapping charges, for a different recording made in September, while Murray is on administrative leave. But many in the community are rallying to the student's side.

The protesters first gathered outside the main entrance to the school, where a school-board meeting was scheduled. Wrapped in coats and hats to ward off the December cold, about 20 people chanted “educate, don’t incarcerate” while holding signs decrying Murray and displaying sound bites from the recording — like “I'll knock your [expletive] teeth down your throat” and “when we go down to court, it's your word versus mine and mine wins every time” — next to a picture of the principal’s face.

Participants included representatives of the Alliance for Police Accountability, a criminal-justice reform group; 1Hood, a community activist group; and the Education Rights Network, an activist group for special-needs students.

Brandi Fisher, president of the APA, called on Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala to drop charges against the student, saying he was “criminalized while already a victim.”

She also cited the 2014 case of Christian Stanfield, a South Fayette High School student who was charged with wiretapping for secretly recording two students who were bullying him. Zappala spokesmen Mike Manko said at the time that the district attorney’s office did “not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation."

“We are hoping [Zappala] will do the right thing in this case,” Fisher said.

The wiretapping charges directed at the student, however, are not related to Murray’s threats. They stem from from a separate case in September, when the student was questioned by a school employee about a violent crime without a legal guardian present, according to the boy’s lawyer.

Woodland Hills superintendent Alan Johnson denied these claims, insisting instead that the recorded conversation concerned a “non-disciplinary” issue.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is illegal to record a conversation without the consent of both parties.

Other speakers at the rally highlighted the “intersectional issue” of special-needs students and black students in public schools getting pushed out of school — and sometimes into prison — if they get into trouble. Some also asked for the firing of Murray from Woodland Hills High School.

The protesters then headed inside to the school-board meeting, lining the back of the room with their signs. After a choir of students sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” the protesters responded by singing, to the same tune, “we wish we could get some justice.”

The room was packed with Woodland Hills community members as well, some wearing “Wolverine football” sweatshirts for the school’s athletics, and many casting sidelong glances at the demonstrators.

The school board broke normal procedure to try to ease tensions in the room. Board member Tara Reis made a motion to move public comment forward from the end of the meeting. In doing so, she reminded the crowd to avoid using “aggressive or violent language.”

At Reis' remarks, the assembled protesters started to chant to fire Murray, and began leaving the room, escorted by school security.

Afterward, resident of the school district took to the open mic. Many defended Murray’s reputation, though some with reservations.

Heidi Balas, an English teacher at Woodland Hills, defended the principal's threats as a product of “when your heart is in the game and your emotions run high,” while defending Murray for his commitment to the school.

“Other principals treated [Woodland Hills] as a stepping stone,” Balas said to strong applause. “This is [Murray’s] stone.”

Among parents, the reaction was mixed. Many credited Murray, as an administrator and football coach, for his commitment to the kids and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect.

But Darneka Reed, a parent of a child in special education at Woodland Hills, and a special-education teacher herself, said Murray hadn’t been taking her child’s issues seriously, which she asked the other parents to consider.

“If that were your child, you would not appreciate that,” Reed said. In light of this, Reed thought Murray should go. The crowd’s response was tepid.

Speaking from 25 years' experience in social work, Rev. Robert Tedder, pastor of Union Baptist Church of Swissvale, tried to bridge the differences.

“I’m not here to assassinate [Murray’s] character,” Tedder said. “[But] all students, even those with behavioral problems and special needs, deserve to go to school free of harassment.”

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Martin Esquivel-Hernandez could be released tomorrow, Dec. 8

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 3:39 PM

Martin Esquivel-Hernandez (center) at an immigrant-rights rally the day before he was detained. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Martin Esquivel-Hernandez (center) at an immigrant-rights rally the day before he was detained.
The fate of a Pittsburgh undocumented immigrant facing deportation could all come to a head tomorrow, Dec. 8.

Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, originally from Mexico, was detained in May by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and faces possible deportation after his federal sentencing hearing concludes at the federal courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Esquivel-Hernandez’s lawyer has negotiated a plea deal for him, that if accepted, could lower his felony re-entry charge to a misdemeanor. Esquivel-Hernandez was detained this year after attempting to enter the country illegally four times between 2011 and 2012. His family had already immigrated to the U.S. and he was attempting to reunite with them.

Since, he has lived in Pittsburgh with his wife for more than four years, where the couple have three children, including his U.S.-born son, who attend public school. He has also become an advocate for Pittsburgh’s Latino community and is active in two local churches.

If his plea deal is accepted, his advocates are hoping ICE will drop the detainer against Esquivel-Hernandez and he could return home directly after his federal hearing concludes at 1:30 p.m.

However, ICE indicated to Pittsburgh City Paper last month that they will not drop Esquivel-Hernandez’s detainer. For this reason, his advocates are calling for supporters to come together and rally outside of the federal courthouse tomorrow to demand that he not be turned over to ICE.

“Martín should have never been detained in the first place,” said Guillermo Perez, president of the Pittsburgh Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), in a press release. “He wasn't a priority for enforcement the day he was taken, and he still isn't a priority under the terms of this plea deal.”

Under the Obama administration, the priorities for deporting undocumented immigrants include being suspected of terrorism plots, involved in gangs,convicted in “aggravated felonies,” and other offenses. Jennifer Williams, Esquivel-Hernandez’s pro-bono immigration attorney says he doesn’t fit into any of the listed priorities.

“If you follow the ICE guidelines, [Esquivel-Hernandez] should not be a priority for removal,” says Williams.

So why was he detained? In April, Esquivel-Hernandez was cited for driving without a valid license by Mount Lebanon police, who then contacted ICE, who felt compelled to detain him because of his multiple re-entries. Also, stats from Syracuse University show that ICE officials consistently ignore the priority guidelines.

If ICE doesn’t drop Esquivel-Hernandez’s detainer, Williams says he could be thrown into the deportation process almost instantly and they will only keep him in custody “long enough to facilitate his removal.” Williams details that this could take a matter of weeks with Esquivel-Hernandez being shipped from detention center to detention center with little notice to his family and representation.

According to Williams, because Esquivel-Hernandez previously received an immigration hearing when he was caught at the border (an extremely expedited process where it’s normal to have 60 to 100 cases prosecuted in one day, according to Carlos Garcia, of the Puente Human Rights Movement, a Phoenix-based migrant-justice group), Esquivel-Hernandez can be removed from the U.S. without seeing an immigration judge.

Regardless, Williams says she will advocate for him to receive an immigration hearing if Esquivel-Hernandez’s ICE detainer isn’t dropped.

“Its very important that ICE give him due consideration,” says Williams. “To really consider the facts. To consider his family and come to a conclusion that this would really hurt a family.”

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First Night Pittsburgh announces New Year's line-up

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 12:28 PM

With the theme Pittsburgh: The Next 200 Years, this annual New Year's Eve program celebrates the city’s bicentennial for one last night before looking toward the future.

First Night fireworks - PHOTO COURTESY OF PITTSBURGH CULTURAL TRUST
  • Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
  • First Night fireworks
The extensive line-up for the 23rd annual one-day festival Downtown was announced at a press event yesterday by Sarah Aziz, director of Highmark First Night Pittsburgh.

The countless indoor and outdoor performances, exhibits and events spread throughout Downtown now have an expanded footprint over 14 square blocks. Also new is the location of the Highmark Stage, now at the corner of Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street. The stage will be the venue for the headlining Nigel Hall Band. The nationally touring soul and R&B group will kick off its set at 10:45 p.m., leading to the rising of the Future of Pittsburgh Ball and the Grand Fireworks Finale at midnight.

Others new events include the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival's Comedy Showcase, in the CAPA School Auditorium, hosted by Andrea Wetherald, at 9 p.m. There will be a silent disco with DJ Hatesyou in the lobby  of the August Wilson Center at 6:30 p.m as well. The Fire and Ice Plaza, featuring live ice-sculpting and fire performers, has also moved, to Ninth and Penn.

Elsewhere, the Dollar Bank Stage returns to Seventh Street to host music acts, and there will be an additional outdoor stage at Eighth Street and Penn Avenue, with DJ Big Phil.

The evening's events begin at 6 p.m. with the Dollar Bank Children’s Fireworks on the Highmark Stage and a performance by The Jazz Lab, featuring student musicians of the Afro-American Music Institute.

The FedEx Ground Parade, a staple of First Night, starts at 8 p.m. at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and heads down Penn. In addition to many activities for children and adults, all Pittsburgh Cultural Trust galleries will offer extended hours along with three additional galleries in the Wilson Center.

$10 admission buttons give you access to some 100 indoor and outdoor activities, and can be purchased in advance online, at 412-456-6666, or at participating Giant Eagles. Children 5 and under are free. For some shows and concerts, you must register and reserve free seat vouchers online. Seating for vouchered events is first-come, first-served.

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Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood gets its first luxury lofts

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 12:26 PM

Groundbreaking at Bloomfield Lofts - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Groundbreaking at Bloomfield Lofts
A neighborhood with historical Italian roots, Bloomfield is taking a step toward joining neighborhoods like Lawrenceville, the Strip District and East Liberty in the luxury-apartment boom.

“We are happy to invest millions of dollars into this neighborhood,” said Jason Lardo, owner of ICON Development, which is financing and rehabbing an old factory. “It's beautiful for the neighborhood to embrace us.”

Lardo, who spoke at Dec. 6 groundbreaking event complete with live jazz and a cocktail bar, said that six of the 18 units have already sold, and that most of the buyers are from a younger crowd. Bloomfield Lofts offers condos for sale ranging from $269,000 to $451,000. Add in up to $324 in monthly homeowner’s-association fees, and these units are sure to become some of the most expensive homes in Bloomfield. According to U.S. Census figures, the average home price in the section of Bloomfield where the lofts will be built was $139,000 in 2014, up from $87,000 in 2010.

The building, on Cypress Street, sat vacant for more than 20 years and previously housed a laundry company. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was happy that some investment was coming to the neighborhood and that the building was being repurposed instead of torn down.

“When you look at a project like this, you can see its history,” said Peduto at the event. “It’s great this building could find a new way to accomplish an adaptive reuse.”

However, the new luxury condos also contribute to Pittsburgh’s upscale-apartment boom that has increased rents throughout the city, especially in Lawrenceville and East Liberty, driving longtime low-income residents into the suburbs. (Bloomfield had largely avoided upscale development over the years, but still saw its average rent rise from $642 in 2010 to $875 in 2014, according to Census figures.)

The Bloomfield Lofts are pure market-rate housing, and don’t have any affordable-housing components. Peduto said that in the future he would like to see new housing developments like these include affordable units, but said those require different financing structures where developers seek government subsidies.

But Peduto said projects like Bloomfield Lofts can help keep some other rents down, since Bloomfield has experienced demand (the population has grown slightly over the years, according to the Census) and new units help to grow the housing stock instead of putting more pressure on a limited number of homes.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Final week for "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" at Quantum Theatre

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 4:30 PM

Never-predictable Quantum Theatre surprises again, this time with a chamber opera about neurology. It’s a heady show, with gorgeous music (by Michael Nyman) beautifully played by a small orchestra and beautifully sung by the three-person cast.

Kevin Glavin (left) and Ian McEuen in Quantum Theatre's "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEATHER MULL
  • Photo courtesy of Heather Mull
  • Kevin Glavin (left) and Ian McEuen in Quantum Theatre's "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"
The source material was a 1985 nonfiction best-seller by Oliver Sacks, a collection of essayistic case studies about people with unusual neurological conditions. (The title character, a famous concert singer, can see just fine, but his brain can’t process visual images; instead he uses music to navigate the world. He easily masters schematic thought – he’s brilliant at mental chess – but in one scene it takes him two minutes to name the glove in his hand a glove.)

Quantum’s production is this 1986 work’s Pittsburgh premiere. Here’s Ted Hoover’s review for City Paper.

One remarkable thing about the opera itself is that the libretto, by Christopher Rawlence, Michael Morris and Sacks, is drawn almost verbatim from Sacks’ book. And if you don’t consider that notable, you try finding the music in lines like “I could make no sense of what I’d seen in terms of conventional neurology.”

(Side note: The late Sacks, who was a longtime favorite on public radio’s ace show Radiolab, himself had an unusual neurological condition known as face-blindness.)

The show, staged in a vacant first-floor office space in East Liberty, has four more performances. Wednesday's is sold out, but tickets remain for Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

The venue is at 200 N. Highland Ave. Tickets are $38 and are available here.

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Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority responds to lead concerns with series of community meetings

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 4:07 PM

Sarah Bolenbaugh, an engineer at PWSA, shows a piece of lead pipe to the crowd. - CP PHOTO BY STEPHEN CARUSO
  • CP Photo by Stephen Caruso
  • Sarah Bolenbaugh, an engineer at PWSA, shows a piece of lead pipe to the crowd.
For the past 26 years, Adam Butkus has lived at 306 S. Neville St., in a home built in 1865.

After hearing about Flint, Mich., where lead contamination has made the city’s water undrinkable, he became concerned.

“I saw these horrific conditions,” Butkus said, referencing Flint, which was declared in a federal state of emergency for eight months earlier this year due to its water quality.

Looking at his 151-year-old house, he worried about his own water. So when the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority released a report over the summer that showed 17 out of 100 Pittsburgh homes had lead levels above federal standards, he requested a testing kit for himself.

Butkus requested the kit in August. But after receiving and returning the kit in October, he has yet to see the results.

“I’m not really trying to give [the PWSA] a hard time,” Butkus said. “It’s just almost December and we’re still waiting.”

Butkus was one of 50 people who appeared at a Nov. 29 PWSA public meeting to hear a presentation from Bernard Lindstrom, the authority’s interim executive director, and other senior staff about lead in Pittsburgh’s water.

In a statement to Pittsburgh City Paper, following the meeting, the PWSA blamed one of the contractors hired to process the kits for not moving fast enough.

Per the contract, samples are supposed to be delivered to customers within 10 business days of the request, and should take around three-and-a-half weeks to process.

The meeting was one of seven planned by the PWSA, each dedicated to a Pittsburgh City Council district, meant to assuage citizen’s fears about the lead findings.

“We are not Flint, Michigan,” Lindstrom said. Instead, Lindstrom blamed poor testing in the past by PWSA for the seemingly sudden rise in lead levels of the past few months.

In District 8, water in 15 out of the 181 homes (8.3 percent) that returned their lead test kits was found above the federal limit of 15 parts per billion of lead to water. The district includes parts of Oakland, Shady Side and Squirrel Hill.

Elevated lead levels are most dangerous for children. Exposure to lead has been linked to aggression, anxiety and depression, along with other behavioral and emotional effects, leading the National Institute of Health to say that there might be “no safe lead level.”

Lead can contaminate water as it passes through lead-lined pipes — or pipes connected with lead-based solder — into people’s homes. In the presentation, PWSA explained that studies have determined that lead is coming from the service pipes leading from water mains into people’s homes. Responsibility for those pipes is split between the authority and the property owners.

But Steve Awodey, a Carnegie Mellon professor in the crowd, said mismanagement created the lead crisis, specifically during the two years the authority was run by a private company. According to a report published in Wired magazine in October, part of the issue might be that Pittsburgh handed over control of its water to a private company, Veolia, in 2012. Veolia operates in 68 countries and 530 other American cities.

Under Veolia, the PWSA switched its lead-control substance in Pittsburgh’s pipes from soda ash to caustic soda, a cheaper alternative, without consulting with Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection as legally required, Wired reported in October.

Awodey felt that someone had “to take responsibility for the changes that were made” that seemingly have created Pittsburgh's problem.

Lindstrom asked for understanding from the event’s crowd to help the PWSA reach its goals for the future, including open data on all replaced lead lines as well as a program to connect low-income homeowners with loans to help them replace old lead plumbing.

“I need more than just me,” Lindstrom said. “Our people and our city need to come together.”

But as he left the meeting, Awodey felt frustrated. The Point Breeze resident thought Pittsburgh had gained a lot of ground as a livable place in the past few years, but the lead revelation stood to reverse the city’s gains.

“Nothing will drive young families out of cities faster than lead in the water,” Awodey said.

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Pittsburgh celebrates Krampusnacht in Market Square

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 11:23 AM

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Krampusnacht, a European tradition that honors Krampus, a horned "half-goat, half-demon" who is said to punish misbehaved children during the Christmas season, took place last night in Market Square.

Revelers dressed up as Krampus and posed for photos before embarking on the Krampus Krawl, a bar crawl following the old European tradition called "Krampuslauf." According to the event's Facebook page, "the procession often takes on the appearance of a parade, with the hairy beasts performing for onlookers." There was also a balloon artist and the band The Cheer'ly Men performed for onlookers.

Our photo intern Luke Thor Travis, who captured the scene in our photo slideshow below told us, "It was funny seeing all of the little kids and families clear out once they arrived."

Slideshow
Krampus Downtown
Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown Krampus Downtown

Krampus Downtown

CP photo by Luke Thor Travis

Click to View 17 slides


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A 'Pittsburgh City Paper' conversation with journalist Simran Sethi, author of 'Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love'

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 8:23 AM

bread_wine_chocolate_highres_final.jpg
Last Friday, Simran Sethi, gave a lecture entitled, “On the Emotional Geography of Biodiversity,” at Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus in Gibsonia. Sethi is a journalist and educator focused on food, sustainability and social change. She has spent years traveling the world interviewing farmers, brewers, winemakers, bakers and scientists in pursuit of discovering the importance of biodiversity to deliciousness and the well-being of our food system. Her book, Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, follows that journey. Sethi sat down with City Paper to talk about the loss and love of our favorite foods.

When you say loss what do you mean by that?
Unbeknownst to most of us ... the most delicious and diverse varieties of the foods we eat are disappearing. I told the story of the loss of agricultural biodiversity through bread, wine, coffee, chocolate and beer, but the story extends to every food and drink we consume. It’s a loss of diversity in the soil and the microbes in the soil. It’s the loss of diversity in seeds, in pollinators, in plants, in animals, in fish, in every link of the food chain. The reason this is important is as we move toward what researchers are calling now the global standard diet, a diet that looks the same in most places in the world, we’re losing diversity and resilience in the kinds of varieties of foods that we grow. That means that we’re losing a backup system that we might need in the future.”

How might this affect the future of food?
When we grow foods in monoculture, we are really compromising our food system. The historical examples we have of that are the Irish potato famine where one-eighth of the population died when a single fungus wiped out a significant portion of the potato crop. Of course this is combined not only with agricultural factors like disease, but also with the political forces going on at any given time; but we see this happening over and over again. This happened with another disease that affected grape plants, known as phylloxera. That resulted in what’s known as the Great Wine Blight that occurred in France and Western Europe and affected the majority of grapes that were grown for wine. You look to Latin America and we see in Guatemala and Honduras a declaration of a state of emergency as the result of another kind of disease that has felled the coffee crop there. What we’re seeing is this kind of slow loss throughout the world and in large part, a result of a loss of accountability for how things are grown in far-flung places but also a demand for sameness, a demand that an industrialized system calls for which is highest yield at whatever cost.”

Why choose bread, wine and chocolate to illustrate this?
The book was originally all nutritional staples, so it would have been wheat, rice, potatoes. I was sitting in Italy, I spent four months there doing research at the food and agricultural organization of the United Nations and an NGO looking at agricultural diversity called Bioversity International. I was in my tiny flat in Rome trying to write this chapter on corn, boring myself for starters and thinking Michael Pollan wrote the greatest chapter on corn in the Omnivore’s Dilemma and I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. How am I going to pull off this book?’ And I thought at that moment, ‘oh I’ll sprinkle a little chocolate on top, throw in a little wine for color’ but that was never the crux of the book.

I went back to the United States. I ran into, at the farmer’s market, my sister’s neighbor, whose husband is a chocolate maker. His background is in botany and I thought “this is the guy I need to talk to for my chocolate sidebar.” I ended up going to visit him at the chocolate factory the next day. At the end of the interview, he says, ‘do you want to visit the chocolate factory?’ Chocolate has been every birthday cake, my wedding cake, it got me through my divorce. It was fueling every page of research for the book. Of course, I wanted to go to the chocolate factory.

We get to this machine that melts the cocoa solids back to liquid form and the smell is just amazing and I touch it, this machine, like it’s the Lord or a lover or something, I’m just reaching for it. He’s agog. He takes this picture of me in this hair net with these earplugs. You know, I mean I look absolutely ridiculous. And then I get on the train to go back to the East Bay, and I realized this is what I don’t want to lose. This is what fuels my life. This is what brings me joy.

And so the book then became this exploration of all these foods, maybe that people tell us to enjoy in moderation or to take out of our diet completely…What we need to do was savor them. I thought the easiest way to talk about this was through things that had meaning for me. Chocolate, as I told you, balm of my heart. Coffee. Every day of my adult morning has started with coffee… I wanted to speak from that place of love, of a connection that transcended like, ‘this is just a beverage or this is just a food’ to say, ‘these are the anchors of my life.’… I thought by foraging that emotional connection, that it would touch a place in people where they would do the same. “

Look for an extended audio version of this interview on this week’s Sound Bite podcast at pghcitypaper.com.

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