On November 21, I attended what I thought would be yet another run of the mill meeting where the Penguins come to the Hill House and make a whole lot of noise about their plans for the lower hill, and we leave wondering what we just heard and what it means for us the “community”. That is not quite what happened.
A large turnout of over 100 community folks, business people, hill leaders, and others turned out at the Hill House Auditorium in anticipation of hearing the plans about the Lower Hill (Irreverently referred to by the Pens as “the 28 acres”)
Initially it did seem like it was about to be a repeat of the same old same old – a kind of leading the lambs to slaughter by way of fried chicken, mac and cheese, string beans, rolls, juice and chocolate chip cookies.
The screen loomed overhead, promising of the pending Powerpoint presentations of our neighborhood. I knew they’d be a variation on the same slides we’ve seen any number of times—giving us a “history of the Hill” a history of the processes that have been engaged over the past two-three years as relates to the Pens and the Community. And along with this there was the COO of the Pens, Travis Williams, waiting in the wings with their 3 sets of urban experts , poised to meet us and attempt to assure this community that they have our total interest in mind.
Between the food, the motivational speeches, banal sentimentality, and a power point presentation of the track record of McCormick Baron Salazar, the next thing we knew, 45 minutes had passed and this meeting was nowhere near providing information to the community as to what they (the Pens) planned to take before the Planning Commission on December 9.
When Carl Redwood, Executive Director of the Consensus Group, brought this out, and said “You guys are slow walking us through this presentation until we run out of time here and we don’t get to debate what these plans are going to be”, is when things begin to go south. His challenge to them opened the flood gates and it seemed that the community decided that would not wait until the Q&A portion to express their disdain at what they have already heard.
I raised the point as follows: “With respect I am suggesting to you that it I snow 7:30 we’ve been here since 6pm, and motivational speeches are NOT what we came here for tonight. We don’t need to be motivated, we need some substantive conversation about the Pen’s plans to make sure this community benefits from whatever is done in the lower hill. Ms. Frankie Williams stated that she for one did not trust for one minute that they were being honest with us, and that she believes they intend to go forward with their plans and we will end up with NOTHING!!
Many others came to the mike to protest this empty process. In the meantime, the Pens and their consultants were trying to take back the meeting. But this was proving to be very challenging. Questions never really got answered, except that in spite of the valiant efforts of the working group on the “Lower Hill” to convey to the Pens that the community was seeking 30 percent affordable housing, they (the Pens) had not agreed to that but were stopping at 20 percent. This created great furor in the room and again voices were raised, while the Pens continued to try to convince this audience that they were making every effort to work with this community to ensure that things could come out fair and equitable for the Hill.
In the meantime there were those who were wondering where the political leaders where whom the Pens kept saying they had been working with to come up with a plan that would satisfy the community’s demands—the Greater Hill District Master Plan, notwithstanding.Marc Little, Executive Director of MWELA (Minority & Women Educational Labor Agency) expressed it best when he asked Travis Williams why had he kept mentioning Councilman Lavelle but Councilman Lavelle was not standing beside him enforcing the events of this evening. He stated too that he was completely frustrated with the wheel spinning process that has not gotten anyone anywhere, a process wherein the Pens spend more time talking about why the can’t do what the community asks, then taking the steps necessary to change the history and landscape of a community that for far too long has been subject to ‘leftovers’ while corporations continue to get the cream.
Councilman Lavelle did come to the mic and expressed his appreciation to the community for coming out and making their voices heard, and for informing the Pens of where they (Community) stand and what they saw as unacceptable. He also said that he had not called this meeting because he wanted to bring “better” information to the community and as soon as he, the lower hill working group, and the Pens where able to return to the table and to agree on a plan that would create a more positive impact on this community in his district, he would call a meeting to let them know, but from his perspective, this was not it.
This meeting showed that this community is finished sitting in silence while the Pens pull the wool over our eyes. At the very least they (the Pens) will be challenged as to the level of their sincerity, and more voices will be heard in protest if they continue to conduct things, business as usual. It was good to watch and take part in.