Friday, February 24, 2017

Pittsburghers call on PWSA to improve water quality and service

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 5:22 PM

Pastor Vincent Kolb at PWSA board meeting - CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
  • Pastor Vincent Kolb at PWSA board meeting
At the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board meeting earlier today, there wasn't an empty seat in the house. While many were there to simply witness the board proceedings in light of recent high-profile incidents, including reports of high lead levels, nearly a dozen called on the board to improve the city's water quality.

Among them were members of the Our Water Campaign, a newly formed coalition made up of local organizations Pittsburgh United, Clean Water Action, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, Sierra Club, Nine Mile Run Watershed, New Voices Pittsburgh, Thomas Merton Center and One Pennsylvania.

"There is no one in this room who wants you to succeed and thrive more than we do," said Tom Hoffman of the Sierra Club. "As leaders of [PWSA], you speak for us and are accountable to us."

One of the major topics of concern expressed by several speakers was the flush-and-boil advisory issued by PWSA earlier this month due to possible water contamination. The advisory impacted 100,000 Pittsburgh residents.

"During the advisory, I was forced to spend extra funds to ensure that I had clean water for my family," said activist Glen Grayson. "Though I was able to buy water, I thought about the seniors and other people on fixed income who really weren't able to buy water."

Another area of concern are high lead levels that have been reported in Pittsburgh homes. Several speakers called on PWSA to supply every single home with water filters

"I can not longer continue to pay my rate, along with paying for extra water and a water filter," Grayson said. "That's an example of something that should be done now. We shouldn't have to send a letter to get one. Just like we don't have to ask for a bill, we shouldn't have to ask for filters."

PWSA is currently being investigated by several governmental bodies, and last week Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released his own report on the authority. Issues at the authority have prompted some to consider privatization, a step adamantly opposed by many of today's speakers.

"We oppose privatization," said Kim Dinh, a member of the Our Water Campaign. "We need to expand public control, not expand private control. Privatization will also increase prices, thus affecting low-income communities. Clean water is a human right, not something that is marketable."

But today's speakers weren't placing all of the blame on PWSA. According to a December press release, PWSA has over $750 million in debt, and in 2016, the authority spent $54 million paying the principal and interest on this debt. Pastor Vincent Kolb, who spoke at the meeting on behalf of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, said half of PWSA payments from customers go toward paying off the authority's debt instead of improving the water system.

"This is not just a PWSA management problem. This is a Wall Street problem, and Wall Street got a free pass," Kolb said. "Like other cities and authorities around this country, we in the Our Water Campaign are going to demand that banks that sold us a bill of goods do what is right — restructure and forgive the oppressive debt that is keeping us from having the authority we deserve."

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Sierra Club steps up the search for 'missing' Sen. Pat Toomey with downtown protest

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 1:00 PM

  • Photo by Renee Rosensteel
What do you do when you can't get your United States Senator to answer your calls, your questions or hold a town-hall meeting? If you're the Sierra Club you project the largest missing person flier ever on a downtown building.

Our Renee Rosensteel was on the scene last night and filed this video report:

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pittsburgh police release security camera video but not officer body-camera footage in arrest of Steelers coach Joey Porter

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 3:00 PM

This week, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police released two security-camera videos showing parts of an incident that led to the arrest of Steelers position coach Joey Porter last month. The footage shows two different angles of Porter attempting to enter an establishment in the South Side where he was allegedly denied entry by a bouncer.
Joey Porter - CP FILE PHOTO
  • CP File Photo
  • Joey Porter
The police have not released footage taken by a body camera worn by officer Paul Abel who confronted Porter while he was working an off-duty assignment in the South Side. And police spokesperson Sonya Toler says they will not be releasing the footage because the bureau's "policy, which is currently still in draft form, prohibits the release of body worn camera footage."  But some Pittsburghers hoped the footage would shed light on the incident.

"Body camera footage has a lot of different purposes," says University of Pittsburgh professor David Harris. "One is to help the public understand what happened, but it is also meant to serve as evidence in an ongoing investigation. Because it can be evidence in an investigation, there might be reasons a police agency may want to keep that footage out of the public eye. The difficulty of course is for several years now, law enforcement organizations have adopted body cameras with the idea these would be public accountability tools and that's what has members of the public upset when the footage isn't released."

While Harris said he couldn't speak specifically about the body camera footage in the Porter incident, he said he hopes law enforcement organizations educate the public about the purpose of body cameras.

"I do think it's really important for the police to thoroughly educate the public on what to expect regarding body camera footage because right now it seems like there's a mismatch," Harris says. "And that mismatch can lead to misunderstanding."

In a statement announcing the release of the security footage Acting Chief Scott Schubert reiterated his support for Abel.

“In order to clear the air regarding conflicting reports in the media surrounding the circumstances that led to the arrest of Mr. Porter, I reviewed video available from several vantage points, including the arresting officer’s body-worn camera. I have concluded that the officer’s account of the incident is accurate and our officer conducted himself in the professional manner that is to be expected. Once the altercation began, the officer turned on his body-worn camera as soon as he was safely able. I support the actions of Officer Paul Able in this arrest,” Schubert said.

But a lot of coverage of the event, including City Paper's, didn't comment on whether or not the arrest was proper. Most coverage discussed why it was proper for the media to bring up Porter's history of legal run-ins, but not Officer Abel's. Abel's past includes criminal charges for alleged improper conduct while on the job.

On Tuesday, before the footage was release, Porter plead guilty to disorderly conduct and agreed to pay a $300 fine. He was originally also charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, resisting arrest, public drunkenness and defiant trespass.

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh hosts “A Celebration of Seeds” on Saturday

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 1:54 PM

The last time I tried to grow a plant, I failed. I thought I had everything I needed — soil, water, sunlight, but the few sprouts I managed withered pretty quickly. I found out later that I had essentially drowned the little things. Whoops.

  • Courtesy of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
But you can start things off right by attending A Celebration of Seeds: 5th Annual Seed and Plant Swap, this Saturday at the Carnegie Library in Oakland. If you’re a newcomer to gardening, start with the Seed Starting Workshop, at 11:30 a.m. This is where you’ll learn not to drown your plants. You’ll also get to talk to gardening experts who can help you fine-tune your ideas about an indoor or backyard garden.

At 12:30 p.m., learn how and why to save your own seeds for your next crop at the Seed Saving Workshop. At 1:30 p.m., they’ll have Seed Stories, where you can swap garden tales and best practices with other green-thumbed types. Bringing extra commercial or saved seeds (open-pollinated, non-GMO, non-hybrid seed) for swapping is encouraged.

All day long there’ll be plenty of hands-on activities for the kids to get in the gardening spirit, too. And the library will have a collection of free and fresh seeds to start you off with. In a couple of months you’ll be growing your own veggies or herbs and shaving money off your trips to Giant Eagle.

Held in collaboration with Grow Pittsburgh and Phipps Conservatory, the free event takes place Sat., Feb. 25, from 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. at CLP-Main, 4400 Forbes Ave., in Oakland.

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Dance for a good cause tomorrow night at Pittsburgh's In Bed By Ten

Posted By on Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 12:59 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Matt Dayak
In Bed by Ten, the popular dance party for people who don't stay out late, returns tomorrow Fri., Feb. 24, with an event benefiting the Western Pennsylvania Fund for Choice.

The WPFC is the abortion fund at the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, an independent clinic that opened in 1975 and that annually serves more than 4,000 people from the tri-state area. The WPFC helps ensure that people can get health care regardless of their ability to pay.

In Bed by Ten runs 6-9 p.m. at Lawrenceville's Spirit.

The suggested cover of $5 benefits the Western Pennsylvania Fund for Choice.

Spirit is located at 242 51st St.

For more information, see here or here.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A conversation with this week's Pittsburgh City Paper cover artist Joe Mruk

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Pittsburgh artist Joe Mruk with his City Paper cover illustration
  • Pittsburgh artist Joe Mruk with his City Paper cover illustration

If you're tempted to hang up this week's City Paper cover on your bedroom wall, you're not alone. That's because our "Most Listable City" illustration was created by Joe Mruk, one of Pittsburgh's most recognizable poster artists. 

Joe's posters for bands and music festivals are intricate and surreal, often taking the viewer into a fantasy world. Flip through his online portfolio or his Instagram, and you'll find everything from multi-armed ladies to mythical creatures in space. A poster for Pittsburgh garage rock band Wreck Loose shows rabid cannibal rodents; another for New York’s King Buffalo shows beautiful conjoined twins sharing a spider's body. Creepy? As hell. And totally awesome.

Joe, a graduate of California University of Pennsylvania and a current resident of lower Lawrenceville, is a full-time illustrator who also does fine art and woodwork in addition to his poster art. We caught up with him over email after he was finished with this week's cover illustration.

What's your favorite thing about Pittsburgh's art scene?
In Pittsburgh, I found it fairly simple to get a start by having shows along the Garfield corridor of Penn Avenue during their "Unblurred" events every first Friday of the month. There is so much opportunity to be had there for fledgling artists, and landing a show by contacting gallery owners is the best experience for someone who has been working on their portfolio. I haven't participated in a show for awhile now, having mostly replaced my time painting with commissioned illustration work, but, earlier on, those shows served as plateaus to mark creative growth. I strongly urge anyone with a wish to facilitate their first show to participate in the Unblurred events!

You freelance under the identity Red Buffalo Illustration. Is there a story behind that name?
I wanted a name with a specific image but a broad iconic flexibility. For awhile now, leading back to before starting my freelance career in Pittsburgh, I was painting a lot of animals with intense colors, and that theme will likely never leave my work. And it's far more interesting, for me, to take the liberties of illustration into psychedelic territory by coloring things in unlikely combinations — green bulls, blue horses, red buffalo. I'm teaching a week-long summer arts camp on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and it has made perfect sense to be drawn into a world where the buffalo (tatanka in Lakota) serves as a central spiritual symbol of strength and providence.

You've done a ton of poster designs for local musicians over the years. How did you first get involved with the city's music scene?
One of my best friends, Craig Freeman (from the band Lost Realms), pushed me into creating show posters, and then I got more work mostly through word-of-mouth and spreading it out over social media. Honestly, my work ended up being a much better fit for music-based illustration than the fine-art world I was immersed in during college. I gravitate toward simple narrative tendencies, and I love the transportive quality of music, so I hope I've been able to provide good visual interpretations of the narrative qualities of all different types of music!

Has a band ever requested more copies because fans stole all your posters before the show?
Luckily, I'm seldom the guy who provides the copies. I barely ever screen print anymore, and it's much cheaper for the bands to have their posters printed digitally to spread them farther out into the city. I love screen-printed posters, and I know an important and classic poster element is lost by not utilizing that process, but the compromise is that I can provide more colors digitally, and decrease that cost of printing. It makes the pieces more like paintings. Sometimes other print companies are contacted by bands to screen print my work, and sometimes they sell out! I did a poster for Lotus recently that sold out quickly, so the band requested a color variant for a second edition! I'm always psyched when that happens.

Have a band you're dying to work with?
Too many to count. My heart skipped a beat when I was provided the opportunity to do a Godspeed You! Black Emperor poster. Future dream posters would involve working with Califone, Stereolab, Janelle Monae, the Olivia Tremor Control, the Black Angels ... there are hundreds of bands I'd love to wrap some art around!

You also illustrated a poster for a fundraising event last year for John Fetterman. Was that your first foray into politics?
Yes, that was my first piece of propaganda. Fetterman's poster felt righteous because he has been doing so much for the city and Braddock in particular. Through demonstrating a fresh perspective on the potential for urban renewal, he's a symbol of the working class taking initiative to improve our cities not through gentrification but through the power of working alongside existing communities.

Will you answer the call if Trump calls you to illustrate his 2020 campaign poster?
If he did, all I would send him a drawing of a big psychedelic hand, middle finger extending to the heavens, made up of all the immigrants that truly make this country great. With a note that says "Go to hell."

You've taught drawing and illustration classes for kids. What's the craziest thing one of your students has asked you to teach them to draw?
An intergalactic space wolf bursting out of a black hole, most likely.

In addition to illustrating, you also do woodworking, and your online portfolio includes some pretty amazing multimedia art pieces utilizing animal traps. Do you have a favorite medium to work with?
I gravitate toward wood pieces because it's a fairly manageable way to make interesting borders and unique constructions. I'm not a fan of painting on canvas; wood has always made more sense to me. I use a scroll saw to bring illustrative elements into wood panels, and that helps enhance the artwork, not just from the front, but [on] all sides as well. The perfectionism of woodworking has allowed me to corral my obsessive-compulsive tendencies into creative expression!

This week's City Paper cover illustration was for a story on all those lists Pittsburgh keeps ending up on: "Most Livable City," "Best Family Travel Destination," etc. What would you vote Pittsburgh the best at?
Food, food, food. Every week I eat at an amazing restaurant or three. Independent breweries are a close second!

Any art shows or special projects coming up we should be looking out for?
The next volume of my Young Rabbit book series, which is a collection of tales from people around the 'Burgh and beyond, based on a single theme, will be coming out soon! The first volume was "Fight Stories," and the second will be "Ghost Stories." There will be nine in total. I'm also working on a special secret project that will surface by the time I've completed my hundredth poster (which will be a psychedelic poster for a HughShows event!), so keep an eye on for news on that soon!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

CP Video: Protesters stage 'town hall' outside Senator Pat Toomey's Pittsburgh office

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 8:03 PM

Protesters focused on protecting the First Amendment in today's Tuesdays With Toomey event at Station Square.

Video by Renee Rosensteel

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Pittsburgh housing advocates rally for better living conditions at Penn Plaza

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 4:14 PM

More than 80 housing advocates rally in front of City-County Building Downtown - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • More than 80 housing advocates rally in front of City-County Building Downtown
O’Harold Hoots is one of about 25 residents remaining in the Penn Plaza apartment complex in East Liberty. The complex is one of East Liberty’s last below-market-rate, non-subsidized housing complexes, and it’s set to be demolished at the end of March. On Feb. 21, Hoots spoke at a rally in front of the City-County Building and decried the current living conditions of Penn Plaza.

“We are living in inhumane conditions,” said Hoots to a crowd of about 80. “We are awakened by loud construction noises, and I have caught many rodents in the building.”

In 2015, Penn Plaza’s owner, LG Realty Advisors, issued 90-day eviction notices to some 300 families that lived in Penn Plaza. In response to the pending mass eviction, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stepped in and helped negotiate a deal that led to dollars for a city affordable-housing trust fund. Also, Penn Plaza residents received relocation assistance, and LG was allowed to redevelop the property.

The first building, at 5704 Penn Ave., came down February 2016, displacing some residents, while others remained in the other building at 5600 Penn Ave. Myrtle Stern lives there and has lived at Penn Plaza for nine years. She told the crowd the owners are already doing demolition work to her building including, “digging out the ceiling and tearing up the floors.”

Randall Taylor, a former Penn Plaza resident, helped to organize the rally and was very critical of Penn Plaza’s owners, who are attempting to redevelop the property into a mixed-use development, anchored by a new Whole Foods Market and luxury apartments.

“[LG Realty] have displaced hundreds of familes, for what, a few extra dollars,” said Taylor. “We welcome new development, but not at the cost of the old residents of the neighborhood.”

LG's initial Penn Plaza redevelopment proposal was rejected by a unanimous 9-0 vote from the Pittsburgh Planning Commission and LG has appealed that decision, as well as suing the city, saying the planning commission was too hasty in its decision. Attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents LG Realty, did not return a request for comment by press time. City Paper spotted LG principal Brian Gumberg recording the rally on his phone today, but he left the scene before the rally concluded.

Peduto’s chief of staff Kevin Acklin said he is aware of the complaints of substandard living conditions at Penn Plaza. He added that the mayor’s office sent a letter to LG on Feb. 16, requesting the owners to stop any alleged construction work on the property until all residents vacate and LG provides proof they are meeting the living standards required by the Allegheny County Health Department.

Acklin said the city will seek legal action if LG does not comply. “If [LG] doesn’t provide those assurance by the end of the day, we are tee’d up to go to court,” said Acklin at a press conference after the rally. “If they are unable to certify compliance, then we are ready to go to court to force them.”

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Solidarity rally and march tomorrow in Pittsburgh's Schenley Plaza

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 3:37 PM

The Pitt College Democrats have organized this afternoon event for Sat., Feb. 18, to "show support and solidarity with marginalized groups."

Issues to be addressed in light of words and actions from the Trump administration include reproductive rights, immigration, LGBTQ+ issues, racial equality, disability equality and the environment.

Planned speakers include state Rep. Dan Frankel; Pittsburgh City Councilor Corey O'Connor; Liz Kile, of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania; a spokesperson from the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle; and Alisa Grishman, of Access Mob Pittsburgh.

The event, which has a city permit, runs 2-4 p.m. The march route is TBD.

Schenley Plaza is located at 4100 Forbes Ave., in Oakland.

More information is here.

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Members of Pittsburgh legal community call for resistance against Trump administration

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 3:07 PM

Joan Hill is a labor educator with the United Steelworkers International Union. - CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
  • Joan Hill is a labor educator with the United Steelworkers International Union.
Earlier today, the United States Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental lawyer Emily Collins heard the news shortly before speaking at a rally in Pittsburgh. The event gathered members of Pittsburgh's legal community working to fight the ideology, agenda, and actions of Trump's administration.

"When we have an executive who seeks to dismantle the agency that oversees our environment, it's up to us," Collins said. "When the government isn't there to protect us, it's up to us to step up."

The event, which drew a crowd of about two dozen, was one of more than 12 rallies in cities around the country. Organizers say Trump's administration has been working to "legitimatize racial and religious bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny and homophobia."

"When they come for me because of my race, or they come for someone else because of their religion, what are we going to do? Resist," said Amanda Green Hawkins, director of civil and human rights for United Steel Workers. "We have to resist, and lawyers have always been their to help."

Several of the speakers in front of Downtown's City-County Building criticized Trump's administrative appointments saying they couldn't count on many of the leaders he's selected to fight for civil rights.

"We have Jeff Session as our attorney general," Green Hawkins said. "Do you think we can count on him to protect our right to vote and to fight voter-suppression efforts? What are going to say to him? Resist."

Others criticized Trump's attacks on the legislative and judicial branches of government, such as his attempts to de-legitimize judges who blocked his Muslim ban; they also cited his attacks on the media.

"We all have to remain vigilant, and we all have to remain committed, because what we are seeing now is an assault by the executive on other branches of government," said Jon Pushinsky, chairperson of the Greater Pittsburgh ACLU’s legal committee. "We have to embrace our neighbors. There may come a day when I will call on you to identify as Muslims or any other community that is being targeted."

Above all, the speakers said many of Trump's actions during the first month of his presidency infringe on the rights laid out in the United States Constitution, and they charged themselves with fighting back.

"No amount of [support] gives you the right to counter the Constitution," said Safdar Khwaja, chapter president of Pittsburgh's Council on American-Islamic Relations. "If this was done in any other country, we would be going against that country for human-rights violations."

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