The Continuing Saga of City Heights Capital Improvements in the Time of Austerity

The City Heights Area Planning Committee (CHAPC)  meeting held on Monday October 15 was spent presenting information and answering questions about the capital projects on the master list.  I was impressed with the in-depth knowledge that the committee members had about those projects.  They were familiar with project locations, alternative sources of funding and how far along the projects were in regards to design and construction.

I discussed the context for the meeting in a prior post. The master list of projects is bare bones- installation of sidewalks, street lights, drainage projects, a number of small parks, renovations for a senior center, repairs to the police shooting range and a new fire station.  During the course of the meeting committee members and the audience were given the opportunity to add additional projects to the list.

All of the additional suggestions were added to the list with minimal discussion. Those additions included a drainage project, completion of the Central Avenue bike path between Park De La Cruz and Adams Avenue, two designated skate parks and my own suggestion of wireless hubs to provide internet access throughout the area.

Finally, we were asked if any projects should be dropped from the list.  Discussion ensued about redefining the elements of the proposed police shooting range modifications.  This project was on the list as a result of City staff and department decisions and not direct citizen advocacy.

It is important to note how capital improvement projects have historically been determined for the area.  According to committee member Jim Varnadore, the City’s Engineering and Capital Projects (E&CP) staff works in tandem with other departments with input from the City Council to determine the list.  He did not specifically mention the role of a strong mayor, nor the influence of advocacy groups, both citizen and special interest.

Jim did make a point of delineating which projects on the list were driven from the top down versus those that were generated from within the community over the past eighteen months of CHAPC’s outreach efforts.   The obvious question is whether it can be assumed that those City departments are operating in an equitable and transparent manner resulting in decisions that are reflective of the City Heights community needs.

While Engineering and Capital Projects staff have suggested that the Community Planners Committee provide outreach efforts into the communities, the ultimate decision making powers– ie E&CP, City departments, the strong mayor and the City Council, hasn’t changed.

On November 5 the CHAPC will decide upon a prioritized capital project list.  Their goal is to present the top five projects.  I encouraged them to submit every single project as a number one priority for the community.  I was dead serious.  Jim Varnadore responded that while the committee didn’t dispute the validity of doing so, the City would impose its own prioritization.  I responded that the City does that anyway and that their ranking process is not transparent.

Between now and November 5, the CHAPC is committed to continuing its outreach with City Heights community groups and associations.  And then they will winnow down the project list to five.  They undertake this task with transparency and integrity.

As I mentioned in my prior column on the topic, charging our community with prioritizing all of these needed projects is like asking a parent to decide whether one child gets prescription glasses at the expense of another child’s reading tutor.  Once that prioritization is made on a local level, the question remains which of the those projects will make the final cut.  I will write about that process at length in a future post.


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Anna Daniels

I left a moribund Western Pennsylvania mill town the year that Richard M. Nixon was not impeached for crimes against the American people, and set off in search of truth, beauty, justice and a beat I could dance to. Here I am.


  1. avatar says

    Anna, now this is what I’m talkin’ ’bout. Down and dirty, nitty gritty neighborhood news – and news from a local planning committee at that (one that I helped set up back in the early 1990s). This was great – the details astounding – and very helpful to planners and community activists in other communities – like Ocean Beach – because the OB Planning Board met tonight on this very same issue. Attendance at the OB PB meetings has been very slight – what was your meeting here?

  2. avatarAnna Daniels says

    Frank- There were three of us in the audience advocating for specific projects. I was impressed that President Katherine Eaton ran the meeting in an informal manner which encouraged participation by non-committee members. CHAPC intends to take its outreach efforts to established community groups to encourage maximum input. There are not that many established neighborhood/community groups. There is no Teralta East neighborhood association in my area for instance. How to represent these kinds of areas will be a challenge to CHAPC.