Ravenstahl wants parking, pensions summit

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Saying he'll expose City Council's plans to the withering light of day, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl called Friday for a parking-for-pensions showdown, signaling that he does not believe his $452 million garage- and meter-lease plan is buried.

"Right now, the public's left in the dark [about council's parking-for-pensions plan], and that's going to change Monday," he said, adding that he'll invite council to a meeting at 1 p.m. Monday for a discussion of their competing plans. "The public deserves it. I'm going to demand it."

The administration invited "residents, business owners, community leaders" to the meeting, in Council Chamber.

The mayor reversed his earlier resignation to the defeat of his plan, two years in the works, to lease the city's parking assets to winners of an auction in which J.P. Morgan Asset Management and LAZ Parking prevailed. The proposed lease garnered just one yes in a final council vote Tuesday that was followed Wednesday by a 7-1 tentative vote for the council plan to sell meters, lots and Mellon Square Garage to the Pittsburgh Parking Authority instead.

Both plans call for putting proceeds into the city's dwindling pension fund, which otherwise would come under state control next fall.

The mayor said a new iteration of the lease might be coming. "We intend to continue to have the discussion with J.P. Morgan and LAZ," perhaps trimming the 50-year lease term, dialing back parking-rate increases, or arranging for the private firms to share revenue with the city. But any such change would reduce the payout to the city, he said.

"If he's talking about renegotiating the deal with [J.P. Morgan and LAZ], he's basically talking about creating a new deal without a competitive process," said Controller Michael Lamb. "That might be legal, but it's problematic."

Mr. Lamb is one of the architects of the council plan, under which the parking authority would borrow $225 million to pay for city-owned parking. That money would go to the pension fund. The authority would raise parking rates to cover the debt payments and generate $75 million for repairs and improvements.

Mr. Ravenstahl said his plan underwent 17 public airings, while full details of council's plan only emerged Tuesday and are still in flux. Council's plan was formally introduced Oct. 12, detailed Tuesday, approved tentatively Wednesday, and provided to the administration that afternoon. A final vote could come Tuesday.

"Simply unacceptable," the mayor called that timetable.

Mr. Lamb said council's plan, the mayor's lease proposal, and the ramifications of state takeover were outlined at a series of public meetings. Council held six such meetings from Oct. 5 to Oct. 12 in various city neighborhoods.

The mayor and the controller also differed on whether the parking authority could responsibly take on $225 million in debt, which the mayor's administration said would obligate it to make $600 million in payments over three decades. Mr. Ravenstahl said it violated his no-new-debt pledge. Mr. Lamb said there was no problem with such an obligation as long as it was backed by new revenue.

Council members have equated the mayor's plan to a borrowing, saying it foregoes $2.4 billion in revenue from rate increases over 50 years in return for $452 million now. A council study, though, suggested that was a reasonable trade-off.

Mr. Ravenstahl said council was being "disingenuous" by criticizing his lease plan's proposed rate increases, when they are nearly matched by those in the council alternative. "Their rates will do just as much to communities as our rates do," said Mr. Ravenstahl.

Mr. Lamb said the council plan's rate hikes would approach those of the lease plan in some respects. But prices for short-term, weekend and lease parking would be lower under the council plan.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the five-member parking authority board, which had been set to meet Monday morning, will instead meet Wednesday.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, an authority board member, had planned to introduce on Monday a resolution to explore the council plan.

Councilman Patrick Dowd said that the mayor was trying to "manipulate that board" into rejecting the council plan. Mr. Ravenstahl, though, said he had never called any board members to pressure them on any vote.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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